Motorcycle Histories - Yamaha
"If you are going to do something, be the best" Ginichi Kawakami, Yamaha Motor
Company First President.
Yamaha Motorcycles, under this motto, employing all its creativity, and with a very
strong spirit of challenge, became what it is now: one of the biggest players in the worldwide motorcycling
scene. But Yamaha's history doesn't start with motorcycles...
It is back in 1877 that Torakusu Yamaha started with the Nippon Gakki Company that
later would become Yamaha Corporation: an important manufacturer of fine musical instruments. As the company
grew, they explored several fields of opportunity in the textile industry and others.
During the World War II, the company set up a factory to produce airplane propellers.
This plant played an important role in Yamaha's entry to the motorcycle industry as you will see. After the
war, Yamaha Corporation had to find new ways to use the tooling and experience that had been accumulated during
their times in the airplane industry, and it was then when Yamaha Motor Corporation was founded.
It's important to mention that even though this new company was just another branch
of Yamaha Corporation, it was placed under an independent management. In this case, under the guidance of Ginichi
Kawakami; which turned out to be a brilliant move.
Before producing their first motorcycle, Ginichi Kawakami traveled a lot establishing
what would be very useful relationships. He also sent out his engineers to Europe and had them learn how to build
motorcycles, particularly from DKW; with whom they kept an underground and unofficial long lasting
relationship. One proof of this is that nowadays, the only two manufacturers in the world of mass-produced
five side-valve engines are Yamaha an Audi (DKW - Auto Union).
One of the most important legacies from this international relationships were all the
skills learnt by Yamaha's engineers on two stroke engines know-how. Other manufacturers as Suzuki would not reach
the same level of development in this area till seven years later. Not to wonder why the first bike from
Yamaha Motorcycles the 125 YA-1 was fairly a faithful copy of the 1949 DKW RT 12. The only two important
differences were the four speed gearbox instead of the original three speed gearbox, and a gear transmission
replacing the primary chain drive.
KEY MODELS FROM YAMAHA MOTORCYCLES
Even though the Yamaha YA-1 - baptised "Acatombo" (Red dragonfly) by its fans - had
"nothing in special" and was more expensive than its competitors, it almost immediately became a great
success. It was reliable: before putting it into the market, the prototypes were tested along 10,000 miles of
rough rides . Even the big boss himself, Ginichi Kawakami, rode the bike without any incident from Hamamatsu to
It was beautiful: with this model Yamaha was the first manufacturer to put special
attention to the decoration of the motorcycle. This task was given to GK Design in Tokyo. It's worth mentioning
that this firm has designed the "look" of most Yamaha motorcycles to date.
It was fast: the YA-1 obtained excellent overall results in the most important local
races of that time: Mount Fuji (third place) and Mount Asama (first place).
In fact it was this aggressive attitude in the sporting world that helped Yamaha
Motorcycles gain fast acceptance even though they made a late start in the motorcycle scene (in comparison to Honda
and Suzuki). In other words: Yamaha Motorcycles showed the world they had arrived to be considered good and
fierce competitors from the beginning. Particularly to Honda and Suzuki.
Other important models from that time were:
The Yamaha YD-1 (the competition for the Suzuki TP of that
15 hp 70 mph. 185,000 yen
in comparison to:
18 hp 80 mph. 195,000 yen
The Yamaha YDS-1
The dream bike of all young Japanese between 1959-1960.
Some technical specifications:
20 hp 333 lbs. 85 mph.
Direct rival of the Honda CB72
Since then, the history of models and victories goes on and on...
Today, Yamaha Motorcycles is one of the major players in the worldwide motorcycling
scene. It could go an and on writing about Yamaha Motorcycles, victories, challenges and models but it
would need a whole book…So to learn more about the history of Yamaha Motorcycles, visit this page: http://global.yamaha-motor.com/about/history/stories/0001.html