THE LAST ENDURO
THE 1973 RT3 YAMAHA
By Matt Cuddy
THE LAST REAL ENDURO
THE 1973 RT3 YAMAHA
The last real enduro built by Yamaha came out in 1973, and while upgraded with a 21” front wheel, reed valves and a gussied up paint scheme, it was still true to the original Yamaha Enduro design that came out in 1968, down to the frame, motor and basic layout.
The enduro that I liked best was the big one, the 360. And since I owned one in high school, it has a special place in my heart as both an evil handling, ankle exploding terror, and a rock solid reliable motorcycle, that seemed to thrive on abuse.
The handler. A 1973 RT3 waiting for an ankle.
By 1973 the whole Enduro line by Yamaha was getting long in the tooth, and the competition by Suzuki, Kawasaki and Honda had started to out-do Yamaha with more modern designs, that looked nifty on the showroom floor, but failed to deliver the goods when you took them off road. For those who knew, the Yamaha Enduro still ruled the world of desert races, muddy eastern slogs, and commuting duties on the street. Nothing was as reliable, or quirky as the mighty Enduro. And the 360 was perhaps the quirkiest.
The other side. The kickstarter! Oh look, a 21' front wheel! Stock!
Endowed with a motor that was strong enough to pull street bikes up to eighty miles per hour, the 360 was plagued with some funky designs that you either loved or hated, one being the kick start design that exploded more ankles than land mines in Cambodia.
You had to use an exact starting drill to crank over the 360, or it would kick back, and send your ankle flying into the sharp seam on the exhaust pipe at mach III. This would cause intense pain, shooting stars and loud blasphemous curses to fill the air, as you hopped around waiting for the pain to subside, and circulation to return to your foot.
Many the times a classmate would want to ride my 360, and I would hand over the keys and say “you can ride it, if you can start it.” Not a whole bunch of my fellow classmates got to ride the 360, as they limped to the nurse’s office for an ace bandage. It even blew the Stan Smith right off one guy’s foot, and left a giant purple bruise on his in-step. Not for wimps.
The '73 360 also shared the same frame geometry that the original enduro used, right down to the crabbed in forks, and over sprung fish oil filled rear shock absorbers. To try and go fast across rough terrain was a dangerous proposition, and the best way to make any time was to hang your butt over the tail light, and let the forks wiggle around with an occasional tank-slap thrown in to keep your concentration in check. Pretty soon you got use to the bad head-shake, and learned that a big handful of throttle would usually straighten things out. Remember I said usually, as in WFO situations with the bike tank slapping violently, all you could do was hang on and pray.
The last enduro also had the rock solid reliability that made the 1968-1973 DT/RT series so popular to the average rider. What other two stroke dual sport could you hop on the freeway with, and after a few dozen gas stops, find yourself hundreds of miles away in Laughlin or Las Vegas Nevada. I regularly rode mine from the Los Angeles suburb of Silverlake, to places like Palm Springs, or Big Bear Lake. Things dual sports weren't supposed to do very well. It never failed to get me back home.
The only thing that needed any adjustment were the ignition points, that would close up occasionally, and get the eyeball adjustment with no ill effects. Try eyeballing the point gap on a Bultaco or BSA of the same vintage, and you’d end up with a big greasy skid mark from the rear tire as the motor locked up solid.
The last true Yamaha 360 Enduro weighed in at around two hundred and eighty pounds wet, and put out 33 horsepower at 6500 revs. The power band was wide, and the bike had enough grunt for slow single track trail work, with enough beans on top for 65+ sustained cruising on the highway. Top speed was around eighty.
Consumable items like clutches, piston rings, and other engine internals wore like diamonds, and the only things that wore out quick were the sprockets and chain, along with the sprocket bolts that you had to keep a close eye on, else they loosen up and snap off on the swing arm.
So here’s to the last of the real enduro line from Yamaha. True to a fault, with handling that could only be described as unique, it endeared itself to a generation of riders who learned to live with the quirks, and were rewarded with uncompromising anvil-like reliability.
In 1974 Yamaha came out with a totally re-designed 360 Enduro that used the '72's MX frame, weighed 20 pounds more, had an ill-designed motor that holed more pistons than a Bultaco Astro running on LOX. It also handled like a safe falling down a flight of stairs, and had Thermal Flow shock absorbers that were set-up for a '55 Buick Special. Some say it was an improvement. Not me.
1974 DT360. A piston holer and porker.