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yamaha r-3

Mighty two-strokes: Yamaha R-3

Back in 1969, Yamaha launched its third generation 350 two-stroke twin road bike, the R-3. Here's our mini profile

(May 2024, Guy 'Guido' Allen)

If you're looking for the modern YZF-R3 four-stroke, see our buyer guide at bikesales.

yamaha r3

As the shots above from Mecum Auctions show, there's something a bit special about late 1960s motorcycles: light-looking, a few curves and the promise of fun.

The bike you see here, a restored example from 1969 (the model continued into 1970) sold for Au$6700 (US$4400, GB£3500). Even back then, we reckon that was a great buy.

Yamaha launched its predecessor, the YR-1 Grand Prix, in 1967 and the progress from there was rapid. Aside from feeling a bit like a racer with lights, for the time, one of its distinguishing feature was a transmission layout which allowed for the fitment of a left- or right-hand shifter. (And yes, we believe Yamaha was referencing this bike when it launched the YZF1000 R1 in 1998.)

From there the series went YR-2 in 1968, YR-3 in 1969, and YR-5 (which represented a major technical advancement) in 1970. The next big jump happened with the RD350 in 1973.

yamaha r3

For its day, the R-3 was a serious performer. Claiming a solid 35hp at 7500rpm, the 347cc parallel twin two-stroke it weighed a mere 154kg. That was good enough to give it a 100mph (160km/h) top speed with a determined rider and perfect conditions. In any case, it was enough to give most 500cc four-strokes a serious run for their money.

yamaha r3 blog

Lively acceleration, reasonable reliability and simple construction won quite a few fans. Even today there is some residual love for the model, such as the wonderful blog at biker.net. The pic shows friend Ginger, his 1966 Chevy Impala and of course the Yamaha. We're not sure which was first in his affections...

yamaha r3 resto

We can also recommend a quick restoration blog from another owner.

yamaha r3 ad

Meanwhile there's an impressive variety of advertising out there for this model, mostly pitched at the USA market. We particularly like this moody highway scene.

yamaha r3 ad

There were several lifestyle ads, all of which show women and men riders.

yamaah r3 scrambler

Of course there was a Scrambler version, and we suspect this variant would be very hard to find these days.

yamaha r3 brochure


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