READER’S RIDES: Yamaha’s Banshee is still alive!

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.

Robert Beltran’s 2001 Banshee has a fully built Duncan Racing National Motor with long-travel suspension by Roll Design. He rides in the San Diego, California, area and says his machine really hauls.
Scott Robinson rides this Banshee in British Columbia, Canada, and also at the Oregon Dunes. The engine was built by LRD with the stroke increased by 4mm. It has an 8-inch-longer swingarm, and the plastic has special graphics hydrodipped onto it.
Brandon Ebel has his 1994 Banshee set up for riding sand in the Boulder, Colorado, area. He says there’s not an original part on it. The cylinders have been ported, and he runs CPI pipes, along with Elka Stage 4 shocks, front and rear.
Nate Bauer rides his 1999 Banshee in the Michigan area. It has Flotek ported cylinders, 20cc Noss Machine heads, Toomey pipes and Boyesen reeds.
Eric Reno’s 1993 Banshee is not afraid of the mud at Michigan’s Bundy Hill riding park. It has FMF pipes, Matoon Machine adjustable timing plate set at +4, .030-inch over-bore pistons, and a Hot Rod stock stroke crank trued and welded.
Spencer Savage enjoys riding his Banshee at Utah’s Little Sahara Sand Dunes. It started off as a 1992 model, but he says he built it up with parts from many different years.
Kolbe Robinson’s Banshee has been highly modified for sand and dirt drag racing in the Pennsylvania area. Along with many other go-fast parts, it runs a 4-mill crank. From a standing start it has covered 300 feet in 4.1 seconds.
There are more and more quads showing up at the asphalt drag strips these days, and this is what Joshua Maze runs in Alabama. He spent a year building up his Banshee with a stock stroke and drag porting.
Here is Lincoln Brien’s 2011 Banshee. What? How can that be when 2006 was the last year Banshees were sold new? Well, Lincoln lives in Australia where they remained available longer. He has his Banshee outfitted with aftermarket A-arms, shocks, pipes, nerfs and more.
Noah Everett, also known as TrailBlogger, spends his weekends riding the rugged trails of Northern California. He has several quads in his stable, but this 1998 Banshee is his favorite. It has many mods to make it more fun in the dirt as well as the sand.
Anthony Basile bought this 1993 Banshee for $700 four years ago. The quad arrived as a basket case and was an ongoing project, but he’s excited with how his hard work turned out. It has been a great, fun machine for the South Carolina trails.
Trenton Crandall’s 2006 Special Edition Banshee sits proudly at Michigan’s Silver Lake Sand Dunes. It has ported and polished cylinders, milled heads, Toomey T6 pipes, V-Force reeds, lightened flywheel, advanced timing and over 30 Wiseco pistons.
Joshua Tonne is stationed in Germany now where quads can be made street-legal. So, he bought this 2000 Banshee and had a local dealer install their blinkers, brake lights, mirrors, battery, wiring and projector lights. To help it run in the fast lane on the Autobahn he installed Toomey pipes, carbs, Stage 3 ported and polished cylinders, clutch kit, V-Force reeds, and much more.
Chris Ney modified the frame and swingarm on his Banshee to run sand drags in Michigan. The 397cc, 4-mil engine has drag porting and runs on alcohol with 39mm Keihin carbs and 2-5 override transmission. His best 300-foot time has been 4.1 seconds.
Here is Ronald Fetty and his 2001 Banshee running 5 seconds flat on the 1/8-mile sand drags at Dunefest in Oregon. His screaming machine has a 4-mil, 421cc Cheetah Cub engine pulling 100 horsepower at the rear wheels. The 6-inch extended swingarm and +1-inch A-arms help keep it pointed straight.
Corey McBroom has his 2004 Banshee set up as an allaround fun machine for the trails of Oklahoma. It has DynoPort pipes, 35mm carbs, Noss Cool Heads, Full Flight A-arms, 6-inch swingarm and more.
Jonathan Ouellet says there’s nothing like riding a twin-cylinder, two-stroke screamer around the hills of Quebec, Canada. He gave his 2002 Banshee a custom graphics look.
There are many hard-core quad riders living in Alberta, Canada, and Tyler Benn is one of them. He happens to be a two-stroke fanatic and keeps his 1999 Banshee running and looking like new. Like many of us he’d love to be able to buy a new one.
Chris Flippo began riding as a kid, and back in those days both he and his dad rode two-strokes. So, it’s only natural that Chris would still have a Banshee today, which he regularly rides in the Fresno, California, area.
Ryan Hale’s 2001 Banshee has FMF pipes, Pro Design Cool Heads with 22cc domes and intake, Keihin 34 mm PJ carbs, Namura pistons and Hot Rods crank. His screaming twostroke twin is regularly seen roosting around the hills of Pennsylvania.
2 StrokeATVBANSHEEDirt WheelsSport QuadYamaha