Our Andy places his posterior on a perfectly lovely little two-stroke that he’s been gagging to ride for years: Yamaha’s SDR200.
Well, today I’m standing in front of one of my teenage crushes and I’m pleased to say she has aged well; very well in fact, so much so that I’m in awe of this skinny little machine!
Again we are looking at a bike not destined for our own shores which is such a shame as I think it would have sold well. All we can say is thank goodness for the grey importers of the day! That said, while the likes of Honda’s CBR400s of various hues and even NC30 V4s, Kawasaki ZXR400s can be relatively plentiful coming in by the container load, the little Yamaha SDR200 is a pretty rare thing to see in the UK, so to get a ride on one was absolutely awesome!
Introduced to the Japanese public in late 1986, early 1987, the bike itself features the humble, single-cylinder 195cc motor borrowed from Yamaha’s DT200R. I say humble, but this powerplant still gives a lovely broad spread of power whilst also maintaining a bit of a rush further up the rev-range as the YPVS opens fully.
Wrapped around that engine is something completely different. You could be forgiven for thinking – when looking at that frame – that you’re looking at some sort of younger/smaller sibling of Ducati’s Monster range, but this Yam pre-dates that family by almost seven years. Yes, this means the frame itself is a trellis item, as it was clear the DT frame wouldn’t be the best bet to use on such a svelte, slim-line machine.
Instead, in came a thing of beauty, a chrome-plated molybdenum steel trellis frame, which would prove to be the centre-piece of the whole ‘look’ of the SDR… Of course, it’s not just Ducati that it reminds you of, but Yamaha’s own R1-Z.
Other chassis items would be shared between various Yamaha products: those three-spoke wheels would later be seen on the likes of the 1990 TZR125 (well, in the UK, at least), and that instrument cluster is a carbon copy of that seen on the four-stroke single from Yamaha, the SRX600, or I’m a kipper. Don’t let any of this shared platform stuff fool you though… this is a unique proposition with some lovely design touches. I mean, the air-filter container also doubles as the underseat side-panels and looks great. Everything on the SDR is sparse and minimalist. Yes, it lacks multi-adjustable suspension (just pre-load at the rear); it doesn’t have a pillion seat (would anyone want a go on the back?); and even a rev-counter isn’t included, which is strange on a two-stroke screamer, but don’t let any of this put you off. It looks so sharp and so clean, nothing is on this bike that doesn’t do a job and its intentions are clear: that big, fat expansion shows that it means business along with the slim-line racer-like seat unit...
Even if the motor is ‘from’ the DT200R, the engine internals have some differences (the piston is different, even if it runs the same DT rings) and the result is that this two-stroke, single-cylinder engine gives around 35bhp through six gears and is only pushing around 105 dry kilos; little wonder this mini-marvel is often called ‘The Whippet!’
Ahhh yes, the ‘Whippet’ and me. Well, as I saddle up, I suddenly realise that I’m a little conscious that I look like a gorilla riding a circus bike which, to be fair, I probably do. But let’s look on the bright side – this bike would probably be a suppository for editor Bertie (sorry boss) but you know what? I really don’t care (and I don’t think Bertie would) because while some people dream of riding the latest ZXY-ZF-CBR whatever, this is one of my dream bikes and I’m grateful for the opportunity to test it: and Bertie, you’d love it, too! We’d just need to prise it out after the ride…
But I digress… Kicking the bike over, I was quite surprised by the amount of compression it had; after a couple of prods to the kick-start it fired into life and was smoking merrily away! Like most small cubic-capacity two-strokes, pulling away is a flurry of revs and clutch slip; oh, and don’t forget the plumes of blue smoke. We know two-strokes have character and doubly so when they look like this: I just love it.
At around 115kg wet and pushing out those 35 or so ponies, I know it doesn’t sound a lot but it’s enough to put a big cheesy grin on my face; you begin to realise now that you don’t have to have 150-plus horsepower to have a really good time. Some of us – and I include me in this - have just been spoilt by the big four-strokes I’ve ridden over the years and recently; they make going fast far too easy. On these little two-strokes you have to work hard for everything and the slightest cock-up of a missed gear or dropping out of the power-band really does hamper progress. Once you get in the swing of things you can make good, swift progress, those mistakes become fewer and farther between, and pretty soon you realise that these two-strokes are SO rewarding to ride.
Because the SDR weighs so very little it can be a little flighty shall we say; the bike is either wobbling or weaving depending on your level of enthusiasm. I think this is down to its narrow tyres (although our test bike is wearing slightly over-sized tyres front and rear), it constantly feels like it is wanting to change direction. However, don’t let this put you off as the bike is an absolute hoot to ride as a result. Down the back roads and country lanes it really comes into its element, but with steering this sharp just watch out for bumps if you are attacking the road as they may throw you off course, although you can quickly correct this thanks to that quick steering. I’m not sure if the addition of a steering damper would be of any benefit but surely you would get better results upgrading the suspension, but I have to say that some of these traits are all part and parcel of the SDR’s character and charm, so to make the thing more neutral (or dare I say it ‘more sterile’) would be counter-productive.
The stopping on this little beasty is taken care of by the same set up as a 1990 TZR125 and were found to be well up to the job of stopping the little SDR, so it complements that motor perfectly. Another word on the engine: yes, you can rev it (that’s what two-strokes love) but it’s also so rewarding and is as happy to trundle around at 30mph as it is screaming its way to 90mph, and will also happily pop the front wheel up in the first two gears! Yes, it’s that flexible and that exciting – even with a gorilla on board! That said, I would wager that you’ll be filling up that tiddly nine-and-a-half litre tank quite often, no matter where the rev-counter needle was sitting: if it had a rev-counter, of course…
But then there’s that ‘special’ factor that you sometimes only get on bigger machines, or really old tiddlers, like AP50s or Fizzies. When we were out and about, the SDR got so much attention while we were doing both the static and riding shots it was unbelievable. And the rarity value: one guy chatting to me while Gary was snapping away was the parts advisor from the local classic motorcycle club and he hadn’t got a clue what the SDR was!
So, standard – these bikes are special – but when tweaked and tarted up, they can be more so (check out our own Pip Higham’s groovy little SDR on page 58). Even some minor changes make the bike look cool as… But some people go even further. Looking online you will see lots of these bikes in Japan which is their home market, the majority of which seem to be modified, although not to the extreme. I also came across a couple of pictures of an SDR200 Cup bike (yup, they raced them) with a fairing and various other mods and additions. I also found a scan of a brochure from a company called Corin who I believe are an accessory shop in Tokyo. As you can see in the picture, there are lots of things you could do back in the day and I guess if you were determined enough you could unearth some of these goodies today on Jauce or Yahoo auctions Japan. But to be honest the more I look at the modified bikes the more I think the standard bike looks gorgeous!
If I’ve whetted your appetite for one of these little gems (and I hope I have), now for the bad news.They are scarce as the F-Plan diet book in Bertie’s bookcase. SDRs do pop up every now and again here in the UK; importers like Gary Mitchell at Fastline do get them in, although the last few that Gary had in were either already sold by pre-order or would sell as soon as they went on sale. A couple have popped up recently at a dealer in London but the condition of them doesn’t look great and at the prices they’re asking I would expect better to be honest (again, see Pip’s on page 58 to see how bad they can look.) I did see one on that well-known internet auction site that went for just under £5k which looked in great condition but didn’t have a standard exhaust; other than that it looked an almost perfect example.
Another option would be sourcing a machine directly from Japan from a company like GJC Trading, which is owned and run by Graham Crump. Graham is able to source you a bike or even arrange to buy a bike you have found and arrange all the shipping, etc., for you. Obviously there is a cost for all of this work but looking on his website the fees are reasonable and he gets really good reviews, so it’s definitely worth a look. Speaking with Graham, SDRs are currently going for between 546,000 Yen (£3490-ish) and 800,000 Yen (£5100-ish) for buy-it-now, and you see them with starting prices as low as 200,000 Yen (£1300-ish). Obviously these prices do not include his fees, etc., so, it’s well worth checking out Graham’s website or Facebook page if you want to go down this route, I’m seriously considering it. If you get the chance to ride an SDR, jump at it. I guarantee you will get off it grinning like a maniac!
“It’s my bike” – John Mayfield
“I didn’t go out with the intention of buying an SDR, I actually went to collect some Suzuki Super Six spares from a retired police officer and while showing me his collection of bikes, there was the SDR. Well, I must have been somewhat keen on the little Yamaha as he offered it to me a few weeks later and I just had to buy it! The looks did it for me. I think it’s absolutely gorgeous and its performance certainly matches its looks! It’s such an exciting ride and the way it takes off certainly outweighs its capacity. I love the riding position as I find it really comfy, much better than it looks. I find the handling is amazing and the brakes are excellent. I have even taken the bike out on track a few times with the VJMC and CRMC, and I love it on the track! The bike isn’t perfect as it has a few scrapes and knocks which it has acquired over the years, but I don’t want to restore it and lose its patina as it is far too original to do that to it. Looking at the overall condition of the bike, I’m assuming the mileage is genuine. I have noticed the values rising but I think this one is a keeper so I’ll not be letting it go!”
Engine: 195cc two-stroke, liquid-cooled, crankcase reed-valve induction, single cylinder with YPVS
Max power: 35bhp @ 9000rpm
Max torque: 20.2ft-lb @ 8000rpm
Final drive: Chain
Suspension: Front – 33mm non-adjustable forks; Rear – Mono-shock adjustable for pre-load
Brakes: Front – single 267mm disc with twin piston calliper; Rear – disc with twin opposed piston calliper
Tyres: Front – 90-80-17; Rear – 110-80-17
Seat height: 765mm
Wheel base: 1335mm
Dry weight: 105kg
Fuel capacity: 9.5 litres
Words: Andy Bolas
Pics: Gary D Chapman