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Classic Motorcycle Review - Posted 16th October 2013

Yamaha YDS3 250

This nifty classic 250 went down a storm in the 1960s, and four of them are due to go under the hammer this weekend...

In 1963, Motorcycle Mechanics magazine greeted Yamaha's YDS-2 sporting twin with outright applause. 'The engine is without doubt one of the finest two-stroke units ever built for road use and the machine as a whole rates as one of the best in the world.' No hint of faint praise there…

Air in the tyres was extra on early models... 1964 Yamaha YDS3 - 246cc

The follow-up machine, cunningly called the YDS3, incorporated still more advances: the first sight of the autolube system which provided lubrication via a gearbox-driven pump; redesigned cylinder heads, an extra plate in the wet clutch, bigger 24mm carbs, a stronger crankshaft and better seals. Yamaha used their racing experience to base the YD chassis around their tubular cradle frame which had performed so well for them on the Asama racers. It was a good match for the frisky, short-stroke, twin-carb, 27bhp engine.

The 56mm by 50mm 246cc motor produced max power at an accessible 7500rpm, made all the more usable by its five-speed gearbox which featured well-spaced ratios, and became well known for its smooth, positive shifts. The 250 could cover a standing quarter mile in 16.6 seconds and in normal use would top out at around 82mph - more than a little bit impressive for a 250 in the early 1960s, and due in part to its low mass of 150kg.

Air was standard two years later... 1966 Yamaha YDS3

When you needed to stop, the YDS3 boasted a 'tremendous' twin leading shoe front brake: 'a lot of stopping power for remarkably little effort at the brake lever' according to Cycle World. The rear brake was equally 'powerful and impressive.'

1966 bikes featured both a left and a right side... 1966 Yamaha YDS3

It fired up easily too with 'probably the easiest starting of any two-stroke (and most four-strokes) in the world' and would then run rings around the less nimble opposition with its superlative steering. 'Cornering speed,' said the test rider, 'is limited only by the lean angle at which things begin to drag.'

The YDS3 wasn't built for the racetrack, however, and proved to be eminently practical for road riding. In fact, Cycle World found it hard to fault, with 'a comfortable riding position, a fine ride in addition to the fine handling, and a quality of finish and construction that is really remarkable.'

YDS3 speedo - it doesn't get more 1960s than this!...
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They did grumble about the awkward centrestand - but freely confessed that this was a piddling complaint about a 250 which was as quick as most 500s. Best of all, the YDS3 featured a funky combined speedo and tacho with parallel needles moving in their own half-hemispheres… it doesn't get more 1960s than this!

Original and reasonably complete machines aren't seen for sale too often, and the prices of rare spares can cause palpitations. £200 for a pair of air filters, anyone? Or a whole frame for much the same? A scruffy but mostly complete YDS3 sold at auction last year for £400; the motor turned over but there was no other information about it, and no paperwork.

Never trust a green bike... 1966 Yamaha YDS3 - Sold for £400

So the coming sale at Bonhams on Sunday 20th October 2013 at the Stafford Show provides an extremely unusual opportunity for potential purchasers - not just one, but FOUR YDS3 Yamahas from this era. They come from a much larger collection of Japanese classics and prices are expected to range from £1800 to £2800 for the standard roadbikes. The best of the bunch is complete and original with 7000 miles showing and its engine turns over freely. A cheaper alternative has done 10k miles and mislaid a sidepanel - and its engine is seized. Grab it for a grand and you've got a good basis for a restoration project… or just replace the seals and give it a good thrashing!

The big money is likely to hold on for the YDS3C street scrambler, aka the Big Bear, which was built for the American market in 1966. As you'd expect, it comes with high and wide handlebars, upswept exhaust pipe, chunky tyres, dinky guards, an engine bashplate, adjustable shocks, and gear ratios tweaked to suit short bursts of acceleration rather than sustained high speed miles. This example has covered only 2000 miles and looks to be both complete and in standard trim. Expect to pay north of £5000 for it.

Big Bear featured upswept silencers... 1966 Yamaha YDS3 Big Bear

More info about the auction at
For details of the Stafford Show, see:

Words: Rowena Hoseason
Photos and info: Bonhams auctioneers


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