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Yamaha TZR250 (3MA) Restoration

May 2024

Text and photos by Paul Pearmain and Matt Patterson © TYGA-Performance

Like a lot of our project bikes, this one has a long history and starts way back in the late 1990s when this type of bike was not very popular. Frankly speaking, the 3MA was not popular with me neither! I have always loved the NSR250s, Aprilias and even the 3XV but back then, most 3MAs around these parts were seized. They had such a terrible reputation for mechanical failure that I avoided them like the plague. It wasn't until about 2004, that there was one of those planet alignment events and it all came together for me and 3MA ownership. Firstly, I had some money to blow on a bike that I didn't need to justify (not a given by any means!) Next, good ol' Red Baron Bangkok had a trade in 3MA-A1 that they were keen to get rid of as it was taking up valuable real estate that could be better utilized showing off the latest Super Blackbird or ZX9-R. Finally, by sheer fluke, the Red Baron Spares department had another very rough example that was being sold for spares.

The fact that the latter looked like it had spent the last 10 years under the Andaman Sea was a bit off-putting to many but I could see some potential, and the gears started whirring in my head... The thing was, the bike in the showroom had some fairly horrible aftermarket paintwork painted in the Marlboro scheme which I really didn't like. On the other hand, the submarine out the back had complete original bodywork including graphics and decals. Granted, there was a layer of grime over everything but only a few minor scratches which would hopefully polish out. That said, the tank was beyond salvage and I'd need a replacement. So for the princely sum of 9000THB  (around 250USD) at the time, I could afford to throw away the rest of the scabby bike and put the bodywork on the showroom bike that was around 45K  (1,250 USD). So for 54K THB or 1500 USD all in, I had enough to make one pristine bike and another one for spares. The icing on the cake was that the showroom bike had current registration, tax and it even came with a warranty. If you think I am gloating at my good fortune, well yes I suppose I am, I make no apologies because nobody else saw the potential at the time and the bike went to a good home ;).

Once back at base, I can't say anything was rushed but it was handy that we had a friend who used to paint Lamborghini cars for a living and he was bored with retirement so we handed him the fuel tanks and off he went making the Marlboro one look like the original 3MA scheme. In the meantime, I got to work on the grotty OEM painted plastic bodywork. After about 4 hours and several tubes and tubs of compounds, creams, polishes and waxes, it almost looked showroom. A few days later the newly painted tank was reunited with the rest of the bike. I believe we even celebrated this event by buying a pair of tyres for the old girl and as far as we were concerned, that was all the love and attention and $$$s this old TZR deserved.  Meanwhile, the Titanic impersonating bike was parked behind the house to mulch down into a compost.

The registered bike was ridden from time to time but I can't say it got much use. The thing that struck me most was how ridiculous it felt, looked, and sounded. This was the case when I was riding it on my own but totally insane when carrying the girlfriend on the back. I mean, the cliche 'race track refugee' was made for the 3MA! To think that in Japan, in 1989 novice riders stepping into the Yamaha showroom were steered by the salesman to buy the 3MA instead of a sensible commuter bike is pretty incredible. The fact that many daddy's were convinced by said salesman to write a check for said bike for his son to learn to ride is almost unfathomable.

The 3MA just doesn't do sensible at all! I mean an NSR can do slow commuting or wind it up and it screams but the 3MA just refuses to do anything unless you wring its neck and then it just howls in delight. The problem was, it is hard to do this safely on the public roads, especial when the girlfriend was hanging on for dear life. We should probably mention the clanking front end over bumps and the wooden yet spongy front brakes that this particular bike possessed didn't help confidence and safety much either. Looking back almost 20 years later, I can understand why the TZR fell into disuse. There was always something else in the stable more suitable. I mean, the only thing it would do well is scare the living daylights out of you and anybody in a 100m radius with that distinct parallel twin two stroke scream. But screaming can get you in trouble around these parts so it was parked and then of course, in a hizzy fit for being ignored, it started leaking fuel and that was that.

Fast forward to May 2022, our local Biker Cafe had one of their functions and this one was for Yamaha owners. Previously, we had done a Honda event and were spoiled for choice.

Yamahas are a lot rarer in the TYGA garage and apart from a TZM150 with 300kms, we only had an FS1-E and this old 3MA still leaking and sulking in the corner. As usual, it was a last minute effort and Matt got the 3MA working, plugged most of the holes in the fueling system and installed a nice new battery. The charging system had gone South but we only need to ride a few kms to the venue so it would have to do. Luckily, the Yam behaved itself and entered and exited under its own steam (figuratively speaking, I think the radiator wasn't leaking...yet) without disgracing itself. While it wasn't really perfect, it did look like a solid survivor and I was all happy with things until we posted on social media and one of our friends commented something to the effect of why we didn't show any love for Yamahas like our Hondas. That hit a nerve! The next thing that sprung us into action was the interest we received from enthusiasts asking us to make 3MA exhaust systems.

Seeing as we had the bike running, why not get on with making some chambers? Well we had some work to clear and it wasn't until right at the end of the year when the exhaust were ready for launch.

We obviously featured the bike in the fitting instructions and installed on the bike. We even made a video clip of the bike running.

I won't say the condition of the bike was awful but it certainly wasn't up to our usual (Honda) standard, Once the exhaust was launched, we could dig into the bike and start to restore it to the condition you see here. So after a very long ownership period and an even longer preamble to this story, 2023 is when the restoration really began.

I've already rambled on about this bike enough but you will be happy to say that the restoration went pretty smoothly. Most of the bikes components were restorable and we did the usual brakes, forks, carb overhaul. The engine we didn't open but I did spend hours trying to freshen up the outside cases with various chemicals and lots of elbow grease to make the engine look worthy of sitting in the now beautiful chassis. K Pong had his decal guy copy the graphics and we sourced some more panels to copy the design over to. Pong painted the pearl white and applied the various decals with the fuel tank being all paint  and cleared over of course. The inner cowling on our original bike had done the usual snap halfway up and we didn't have a spare so we made a mold and used one of the first fiberglass copies for our project and once in place it looked perfect. we also make a carbon version.

The inside of the panels we managed to save the heat insulation and applied more foil over it. While we were at it, we cut and applied some foam to the lowers similar to how it left the factory. Various fasteners were sourced, and those we could not source, we had re-coated. Yamaha has a confusing system whereby lots of part numbers were replaced with new part numbers which were same, same but different as they say around these parts. The main issue was the change of black to silver which was somewhat annoying so we had several batches of brand new bolts etc re-zinced to the correct colour before use. We installed a new chain, a TYGA rear sprocket, new tyres and fluids.

On the subject of fluids, our 2T reserve tank had discoloured and ruined the fresh look. These are no longer available but I had one hand delivered by a contact from Malaysia (Badrul) and he is the man when it comes to Yamaha two strokes in this region. He helped me out with a few hard to find other items and we've done a lot of business since then. It's always a pleasure to meet other enthusiasts, especially ones who are more knowledgeable than ourselves and learn from them.

Well, I said I had already rambled on about this bike a paragraph ago so I'd better wrap things up. The 3MA has aged gracefully and is no longer the unpopular bike it was 30 years ago. The shape, the reverse cylinder and exhausts out the tail, the beautiful components and the unique sound have all cemented this model as one of the top two strokes to have in any decent motorcycle collection. Prices are not what they once were but then again, they are still significantly cheaper than some of the NSR250s and now is a good time to grab yourself a part of motorcycling history. Of course, if you become a proud 3MA owner, don't forget to treat it to a set of TYGA exhausts, sprocket and some other parts too. We look forward to hearing from you soon!

Matt here. I'd like to add my two pence worth if I may.

First let me get this out there. I love the concept of the TZR250 3MA. A parallel twin, reverse cylinder, high performance two stroke for the Japanese learner market. Doesn't get much cooler than that! The bike looks great and the sound when it's on the pipe is just fantastic. Especially with the TYGA expansion chambers installed. However, this fickle beast needs a lot of love and attention to keep it at the top of its game. And to be honest, Paul's story above makes it sound a little easier than it actually was.

As Paul mentioned, the 3MA fuel system had always been a bit problematic, and as a 'backyard fix' I had bodged an additional fuel cock in line as a temporary (several years) band aid. For the recommission of the 3MA we obviously had to get rid of this and get it back to standard. Thankfully Paul had managed to source a new fuel cock (the one that bolts to the fuel tank) a filter, a few gaskets and what have you. These parts seems to stop leaks from the tank to the carbs, but of course the carbs had now decided that enough was enough and started spewing fuel......story of my life! After a lot of hunting, Paul again came up trumps and got some new carb parts, which once installed fixed the drips.

One thing that a street bike definitely needs is an air filter on the intake system. Well, after the several years of storage, the filter on the 3MA had crumbled into dust. So I pulled out a sheet of Kitaco Filter foam sheet, made a template from the airbox lid and cut myself a new filter. Perfect!

The front and rear brakes were also showing their age. So the calipers were overhauled with new seals (after a lot of cleaning) and the pistons given a good clean up. The master cylinders also needed some attention, but once back together and the standard hoses bled, the brakes didn't feel that bad. A little squidgy thanks to the ancient hoses, but the wheels turned freely. A late addition to the front end was HEL brake lines. This cured the soft feel and the brakes are now as good as you'd expect from a 25 year old bike.

Another problem was that the clutch plates had glued themselves together. Normally, if one is being Neanderthal, this can be cured by revving up the engine and banging into first gear. But in this case, too many years had passed and I had to remove the clutch pack as an assembly so to speak. Then I carefully freed each plate, cleaned them up and put it all back together again. That, and some fresh transmission oil seemed to do the trick and cured that problem.

Another small job included replacing as many of the stock rubber hoses as possible, as they had all gone rock hard and then cracked as soon as you tried to remove them. The electrical issue was a dodgy REG/REC unit. I've probably missed out a few things, but there are always a thousand other little jobs on every bike rebuild.

Apart from all that....refurbishing the 3MA was easy, and it definitely makes you smile when you take it to the red line. A worthwhile restoration.

 

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