Yamaha Motorcycle History

February 19, 2008
By Motorcycle USA Staff

Yamaha Motorcycles

Always one known for innovation, Yamaha Motor Company is a Japanese manufacturer which began motorcycle production in 1955. The boys in blue have always been at the leading edge of technology, never shying away from taking big risks to do so. They are now the second largest producer of motorcycles in the world (after Honda), and continue to grow their expansive range of two-wheeled, four-wheeled and watercraft machinery every year.

After expanding Yamaha Corporation into the world’s biggest piano maker (where their signature tuning fork logo comes from), then Yamaha CEO Genichi Kawakami took Yamaha into the field of motorized vehicles on July 1, 1955. The company’s background in metal alloys for use in acoustic pianos had given them wide knowledge of the making of lightweight and reliable metal constructions. This knowledge was easily applied to the making of metal frames and motor parts for motorcycles.

Racing has been a priority for Yamaha since the early years, with such names as Bob Hannah, ‘King’ Kenny Roberts, Heikki Mikkola, Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, and recently Chad Reed and the legendary Valentino Rossi, all winning championships both on both pavement and dirt for the tuning fork brand. Not readily known is Yamaha actually produced Formula 1 and Indy Car engines from 1989 to 1997 for the Zakspeed and Tyrrell teams. They currently work closely with Toyota and Lexus, designing and producing some of their high-performance car engines. In ’91 Yamaha even developed an F1-engined supercar called the OX99-11, where two drivers sit in tandem in front of the engine, but the project was cancelled due to the world recession and lack of interest.

This racing heritage and desire for innovation still rings true today. Evidence of this innovative side comes in the form of the YZ-F line of dirt bikes, which were the first to feature a 4-stroke production engine. This continues today with their highly successful YZ250F and YZ450F. Their 450 is now ridden by reigning AMA National Motocross Champion James Stewart, who switched to the L&M Racing Yamaha squad this off season and has been winning since the work go. He’s currently tied with Chard Reed for the AMA Supercross Series points lead after 6 of 17 rounds. Yamaha are also the only Japanese manufacturer to stay true to their roots and still produce two-stroke MX machines, which includes their YZ85, YZ125 and YZ250.

2007 Yamaha FZ1
Yamaha FJR13002009 Graves Yamaha R62009 Yamaha YZ450F
Yamaha’s diverse line of motorcycles has kept them at the top.

Their dirt lineup also includes several entry-level machines. The TT-R line starts at 50cc and ranges up to 230cc, with several different sized options in between. They also produce a child’s PW50 and two off-road versions of their four-stroke motocross bikes, the WR250F and WR450F. Bridging the gap between dirt and street are the WR250X, WR250R, XT250 and TW200 dual-purpose machines.

When the dirt turns to pavement Yamaha continues to lead the way with ground-breaking technology in their extremely popular YZF-R1 and YZF-R6 sportbikes, both of which employ ride-by-wire throttle and electronically controlled intake tracts, leading edge designs for today’s motorcycles. Their all-new for ’09 R1 also utilizes the crossplane crankshaft design taken directly from Valentino Rossi’s world championship-winning Yamaha YZR-M1 MotoGP machine, and looks set to possibly change the inline-four Sportbike world as we know it.

The sporting theme of the R1 and R6 carry over to their FJR1300A and FJR1300AE machines. These sport touring bikes are rip with technology, including the ‘AE’ which features a push-button-shifting, semi-automatic transmission, a first for any bike of this kind. While it hasn’t been very well received, it again shows Yamaha commitment to take risks in the name of progression.

Yamaha also has a complete lineup of personal watercraft and quads, employing the same two-wheeled technology to the worlds of four wheels and water.

Owned by Yamaha but branded Star Motorcycles, their cruiser line has grown to be one of the most extensive in the market. Perceived by many as one of the first Japanese to make a proper ‘metric’ cruiser, their line now features 26 different models. Several variations of the Warrior, V-Star, Royal Star, Raider, Stratoliner and Roadliner make up a model-line that ranges from the small V-Star 250 right up to the fire-breathing, 200-horsepower V-Max.