To fully understand and appreciate the significance of the Yamaha Banshee, you need to know the history of where it came from. The heart and soul of this machine was transplanted from a motorcycle that evolved in the 1970s. In the early part of that decade, every street bike from Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha was powered by a two-stroke engine. A few had three cylinders, but most were twins.
Then, by the middle of the ‘70s, the manufacturers began switching over to four-strokes for their big motorcycles. Most were four cylinders from 750cc to 1000cc. However, Yamaha continued development of their aircooled RD400 two-stroke twin, which eventually turned into a liquid-cooled RZ350. This lightweight screamer became the only two-stroke street bike left, which caused it to develop a cult-like following of hard-core fanatics. These RZ350s became known as “Giant Killers,” because they would regularly beat the big 750s on canyon roads and racetracks.
Let’s continue on to the year 1987 and turn our attention from street vehicles to the off-road world. Threewheelers are phasing out and quads are the hot new thing. Yamaha unveils its new line of quads, and their top performance machine causes everyone to do a double take. We were all expecting Yamaha to have a single-cylinder, 250cc two-stroke, just like Suzuki and Honda, but no, they went way more aggressive.
“Wow, look at that! Yamaha put the RZ350 motor in an off-road quad chassis!” This was the typical, shocked reaction when people saw the allnew Banshee for the first time. We were all very impressed with Yamaha for doing such a radical thing. The Banshee soon developed a cult following just like the RZ350 did. There was no other choice if you wanted a twin-cylinder, two-stroke quad. In fact, it has never had any competition in that regard. This is probably why it never changed much throughout its long production run. 2006 was the last model year for the USA, with 2008 for Canada and 2012 for Australia.
It’s not obvious that Banshees are no longer being made, because you still see them in droves, especially at the dunes. One of the reasons for that is the many hop-up shops that specialize in Banshees. They sprang up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and many of them are still manufacturing their own parts to replace stock Banshee parts. Whatever you need for a Banshee should still be available from someone for years to come. These photos from our readers here show that they had no problem rebuilding, updating and tricking out their Banshees.