By Daniel Levy
“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; whom with 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.
IMPORTANT MODEL FROM YAMAHA MOTORCYCLES
>>> Yamaha YA-1
Even though the Yamaha YA-1 – baptized “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 Tokyo.
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 time)
Some technical specifications:
in comparison to:
>>> The Yamaha YDS-1
The dream bike of all young Japanese between 1959-1960.
Some technical specifications:
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.
Just to give you an idea of how important Yamaha Motorcycles have become:
– The 2004 Moto GP was won by excellent rider Valentino Rossi on a Yamaha motorcycle.
I could go an and on writing about Yamaha Motorcycles, victories, challenges and models but I would need a whole book.