The YAMAHA YA-1 is the first motorcycle produced by the Yamaha Motor Company. It was made from 1955 to 1958.
In the early '50s, after having to replace the factories for the production of musical instruments, which were severely damaged during the war, Yamaha was facing the industrial conversion of factory machines, with mechanical precision, that had been used during the war for the production of fuel tanks and propellers for aircraft of the Imperial Navy, such as the A6M Mitsubishi Zero and the biplane Yokosuka K5Y.
Equally to all European countries, including Japan after World War II, the motorcycle had become a widespread means of transportation, thanks to constructive simplicity and economy of purchase and use. Japanese motorcycle production had increased from 10,000 units in 1950 to 750,000 in 1954, with over 100 domestic manufacturers.
Due to strong expansion of the Japanese domestic market, Yamaha Motor Co. decided to convert to the production of motorcycles, and found in the beginning the need to grapple with high specifications for customers with elite, rather narrow needs, especially in view of the reduced numbers of production potential.
It was the beginning of 1955 when they presented the YA-1, a motorcycle built with particular attention to materials and assembly, enhanced by sophisticated engineering, strongly inspired by the contemporary model DKW RT125, and driven by a 125 cc two-stroke, single cylinder engine.
In January 1955 the Hamakita Factory of Nippon Gakki was built and production began on the YA-1. With confidence in the new direction that Genichi Kawakami was taking, Nippon Gakki founded Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. on July 1, 1955 and made Kawakami the new company's first president. Staffed by @ 275 employees, the new motorcycle manufacturer built about 200 units per month by the end of 1955.
That same year, Yamaha entered its new YA-1, known to Japanese enthusiasts as Akatombo,or the "Red Dragonfly", in the two biggest race events in Japan. They were the 3rd Mt. Fuji Ascent Race and the 1st Asama Highlands Race. In these debut races, Yamaha won the 125 cc class. The following year, the YA-1 won again in both the Light and Ultra-light classes of the Asama Highlands Race. The YA-1 established a reputation as a well-built and reliable machine. The racing successes helped boost its popularity and a second machine, the 175cc YC-1 was in production by April 1956.
Immediately used in competitions, YA-1 won victory in the prestigious race in ascent of Mount Fuji, held in July 1955, demonstrating that the model was free from defects, except for its price of 138,000 ¥. The equivalent to about 40,000 € in 2005.
Competition models were often painted the same orange-red as military aircraft, and the YA-1 was dubbed "aka-tombo", (in English, red dragonfly), like the famous biplane trainer of Yokosuka.
This beautifully minimalist Yamaha Y125 is patterned after the first Yamaha two-stroker. The YA1 was a real sweet looker in her own right, and it looks like this little four-stroke can carry the torch proudly!
Yamaha RD250-Riders impression-Bike Magazine
"MY INITIAL feelings about the Yam were not good, mainly because I happen to hold a personal bias against small machines and all two-strokes. So from the point of view of objective road testing, it was probably fitting that I ended up with the RD. as it shares with the Kawasaki triple a reputation as the hot street 250 for the kid who knows what's what in biking and would sooner not ride at all than punt round on a Russian two-stroke. At least I wasn't going lo go all wobbly at the knees at the prospect of handling the RD chores.
Sure enough, getting astride it the first time it felt like a smelly, shrill fairy cycle. The twin mirrors that come as standard had somehow been removed along the line, so I couldn't keep a good eye out for the cops, and I swear I'd have died of shame if one had arrested me in the first ten miles.
But after an hour or two of riding the RD began to evolve as a highly respectable device indeed. It's rather plain to look at the Kawasaki is better styled by far. as are the Harley and the Duke. But like a plain girl in her best kit, it's neatly trimmed out not too much chrome, the motor nicely finished in alloy and black, a functional instrument housing, and a clean look about the front forks and mudguard. And, lo and behold, a disc brake at the front end.
That I found really superb, for the simple reason that one of my first bikes was a relation of the 250, the old 200, and that had a little drum brake that was about as much use as dragging your heels up the road. The disc is just great, and on the day of the photo session when the whole eight of us were barrelling round London, it seemed to stop the RD as well as anything else managed.
Some 250s can be as exciting in terms of performance as a lukewarm, rice pudding, but the Yam is an exception, as one might expect. It pulls away well, and then at 5,500 rpm the power comes in with a real mini-bang^ enough to lift the front wheel if you've slipped the clutch a little first. It runs out of revs quickly, so that for zippy round-town work you're constantly hunting up and down through the gears, but that's no great hardship, as the box is very sweet, and I never once missed a shift or found a false neutral.
The handling can best be described as "uneasy". Although quite good, it never provoked perfect trust, and the bike had a habit of breaking into a soggy weave on fast sweepers, a curious sensation for a 250. It's probably nothing that thicker oil in the front forks and Konis on the back wouldn't cure, (if that don't work, try a new frame). Round town, though, the RD's fine, able to change direction quickly to get round the No. 15 bus and still avoid the beer lorry coming the other way ten yards oil'.
If you've gathered by now that the RD is a thoroughly good, zippy bike, with the kind of performance and handling that tempts you to toss it about a bit through the traffic, then you're quite right. It is all of those things, and if it wasn't for one horrible, glaring error on the part of Yamaha (and all Jap factories, come to that) it would be a really good bike. The error is the tyre chosen for the machine — the Bridgestone Nylon.
Having said this. I can hear the chorus arising from tight-fisted geezers all over the nation. 'Knockin' Bridgestones again are they? Nuffink wrong wiv 'em mate.' All I can say is that you must ride like a toad, and you don't go out in the wet. These tyres are really lethal.
It wouldn't be so bad if they only put them on commuter style machines, although maybe that's cruel enough, but to fit them to a bike like the RD 250 is lunacy. The Yam is going to be bought because of its performance qualities, and mostly by young lads of 17, so that they've got something respectable to ride while they're passing their tests.
Almost without exception, these kids will act for a while like loonies, till they get to learn what biking's about. And with a bike fitted with Bridgestone Nylon tyres, they'll not only drop it first time they brake hard in the wet, they'll also stand a good chance of losing it in the dry the first time they try braking late and deep for a corner, and tossing it in. If they pick a left hander, the beer lorry'll probably get them. If a right hander, the kerb will. Either way, it's a bit hard to have to learn that roughly.
A bit of a slide that frightens but doesn't bring down is a far better way of teaching. Good rubber allows you the occasional slide and you can still get away with it. If you think that I'm going on a bit, I'll illustrate. The day of the photo session, I whipped it into a roundabout on the way there, with blurred memories of chucking it into Charlie's going through my mind, and the whole thing went away from under me. I managed to kick it up, but it's a damn good job a roundabout's got four exits, because I didn't make the one I was going for.
Out on the strip, the RD was easily the quickest bike through the quarter, burning off the distance in just 15.7 seconds. Now that's good for a 250, and to get it in perspective it's in the bracket that much vaunted automobiles such as the Porsche Carrera will manage.
At just over 90mph, the Yam wasn't as fast flat out as we'd expected, particularly as an identical bike hit exactly lOO.OOmph through the traps when we tested it back in the Dec/Jan '74 issue. Maybe it just shows how identical bikes differ, but splitting the difference between the two speeds obtained would indicate that the average RD will hit the mid-90s with the rider prone on the tank, which merely proves how much it's holding in reserve when you're cruising at today's puny speed limits.
The Yamaha is comfortable and well finished, but mainly it'll be bought because it's fast. It's a two-stroke, so you'd better not mind about leaving a trail of blue fog behind you. Ecology isn't a subject likely to worry its potential owners, so this probably doesn't matter. Fuel consumption is average, I got 44mpg, ridden hard. It isn't going to be ridden any other way. Just change the bloody tyres first."
Yamaha RD250 LC
The Yamaha RD 250 LC (liquid cooled) was launched in 1981 and was the first learner legal bike (at the time) which could actually do a real proper 100 mph. Unfortunately, although learners thought they'd died and gone to heaven when they jumped aboard this little speedy Gonzales racy two stroke, the authorities got scared of zooming learners and decided to change the law and reduce the learner legal capacity to 125cc. So you might conclude that the RD 250 LC was perhaps in part responsible for the powers that be noticing the very fast smaller bike and putting the dampers on motorcycle speed.
However despite what it may or may not have done to motorcycle speed in the 1980s, the RD 250 LC just has a certain something and was one of the coolest learner bikes of the period. Every boy racer had to have one and when they had it they had to go very fast and they had to do wheelies on it. Often they tuned them to go faster so it is quite hard to find one these days which has not been 'improved'!
Even now bikers of a certain age view it as their classic of choice so it has survived the test of time. It emerged at that time because something new was needed by Yamaha to up their game and as a successful successor to the A/C RD series which was seriously ageing and had been around it seemed since pre-history. The new RD 250 LC put Yamaha squarely back at the top of the game as a speedy two stroke and its descendants still rule lightweight road racing to this day.
The RD 250 LC turned the dream of riding a race machine on the road into a reality for many two stroke addicts as any motorcycles which were the competition in the 1980s, were only getting up to speeds in the 80s and 90s, where the RD 250 LC was making it to a generous 100mph due partly to its lighter weight.
Launched in May 1980
Last one made May 1983
Bore and stroke: 54mm x 54mm
Max power: 35 BHP
Fuel capacity: 3.63 gallons
Wheels: 18inch front and rear
Weight: 306 lbs
The Good the Bad and the Ugly
The RD was upgraded from the earlier A/C RDs with, among other things, a new mono shock suspension which provided a stable ride and much better handling than its predecessor. The engine was better too, at 7000 the power band started to kick in and the engine became smooth and comfortable, doing what it was told by the throttle and creating a silky and thoroughly enjoyable ride. Even today this bike is in its element on winding and really fast roads – hence its prowess as a road race bike. I feels really fast but its is ok for commuting as long as you are not in a traffic jam and the lack of mid range acceleration makes it easy to keep to the speed limits!
Also as another bonus it looks cool and will be admired as you zoom by, not necessarily by the modern boy racer perhaps, more likely by those who had one back in the day when they were still learner legal. The instrument dials are large and therefore clear to read.
The fuel consumption is about 45 miles to the gallon giving about 100 miles before the switch to reserve.
Well you know what I said about commuting – this bike is actually a problem in heavy and slow moving traffic. It gets bogged down under 3000 in first so its hard to pull away without much sceaming. Those longer rides are also problematical as constant cog swapping to keep up with the traffic at about 80mph is exhausting and dull. Also because it has a racing riding position with rear set pegs and a seat which slopes to the front you tend to slide forward until you are sitting squashed right up against the tank, and if it has flat bars this is made even worse – fitting high bars can alleviate this a bit though.
The large clear to read dials are good to read, but are also a bit too much of a giant lump of plastic – not so streamlined - bit ugly
Sadly the change in the law which brought the learner engine capacity down to 125cc, meant that sales of the Yamaha RD 250 LC began to tail off and many people, once they had passed their test moved over to the RD 350 LC version of the bike which was the big brother of the 250 and could reach 115 – 120 mph and pull a great wheelie.
However all was not lost and in many parts of the world the Yamaha Rd 250LC never stopped selling and now has a cult following which is still going strong today. In fact you may even be one of them.
Here's a great summing up of the glory days of Yamahas' fabled RD350.
"Before we had any clue about the myriad dangers of triple cheeseburgers, saturated fat, unburned hydrocarbons and street-going two-strokes, there was the RD350. Dirty, foul-mouthed, deliciously quick and relatively affordable, it was a Giant Killer.
Anybody old enough to read a bike magazine back in '75 knew it was true.
From the first '73 RD350 to the last 1975 RD350B, Yamaha's overachieving pocket rocket humiliated triples and fours packing over twice its 347ccs on racetracks and backroads all over the planet. Back when bell-bottoms were cool and Harley's weren't, most anybody's big-bore multi roasted the RD in a straight line. Horsepower was cheap, and any fool could twist a throttle.
But motorcycle handling was still an oxymoron in Japan...except at Yamaha. When seventh-morning services convened at the shrine of the divine apex, street or track, all bowed to the RD. For the proletarian canyon commando, laying down $3000-plus for one of 50 1974 750SS Ducatis was like Led Zeppelin playing the next freshman/sophomore mixer: very bitchin', and highly unlikely. Kawasaki's very fast, very large Z-1 wore a $1995 price tag. But a 1974 RD350 sold for $908: Moet Chandon on a Schlitz budget. Racetrack handling for the masses.
The RD350's street roots stretch back to February 1967, and the YR1--Yamaha's first street-legal 350. But the 1970 R5 350 drew a straight line from brand Y's TR production racers to the street.
Fast forward from the YR1 to the mercifully cleaner lines of the 1970 R5 350. Adding new seven-port, reed-valve cylinders and a few other refinements turned the '72 R5C into the 1973 RD350. Now we're on to something. Even in '73, RD styling was still parked somewhere between tawdry and garish. But 0.010-inch thick spring steel reed valves between 28mm carburetors and the new, seven-port cylinders made all the difference. The 347cc RD twin used classical 64x54 bore and stroke numbers to spin out about 35 horses at 7500 rpm.
Pushing 352 pounds fully fueled, Motorcyclist's admittedly rough-running 1973 test bike covered the quarter-mile in 14.48 seconds at 89.8 mph. Cycle magazine's RD ran closer to its potential with a 14.12-second/93.2-mph blast. Those numbers were underwhelming alongside beasts like Kawasaki's 12-second triples and fours. You could fluster 'Vettes and Hemi 'Cudas roosting away from a light, but the RD wasn't a dragster.
Agile, light, simple and reliable (see "Yamaha RD350/RD400: Charting the Changes" sidebar, p. 64), the RD would take you from work and back Monday through Friday with Clark Kent gentility, offering only the odd oil-fouled B8HS spark plug in protest. It was smooth and comfy enough for freeway travel, allowing gas station pit stops at 100-mile intervals; the thirsty little twin's 3.2-gallon fuel tank called up reserve every 70 miles. Two quarts of oil flowed through the Autolube system every 500 miles or so. But turn up the volume and fuel mileage fit the bike's Bad Boy image. Figure about 26 miles to the gallon if you were loose with the loud handle.
From its birth until Yamaha's FZR400 took over in 1988, the 350 Yamaha two-strokes were pretty much the dominant tool for 400-class production racing on the cheap. San Francisco Bay area RD aficionado Dale Alexander remembers the 350 as a potent, reliable tool once it was set up correctly. "I could race my RD all season for the price of a new FZR400," he says. Before moving on to TZ Yamahas, Formula 1 Suzukis and such, Thousand Oaks, California's Thad Wolff routinely clobbered all comers in the 1979 AFM 400 production title aboard a very rapid RD375 (extra displacement courtesy of TZ750 pistons in chromed bores, spinning a TZ250 crankshaft). "The only competition for a well-set-up RD was another RD," Wolff remembers.
Even without all the good stuff, nothing got through a tight set of corners any quicker than a savvy RD pilot. Motorcyclist's November 1974 test of the RD350B said, "...in everything but all-out acceleration, the Yamaha 350 will probably outperform just about anything on the market in box-stock trim." We griped about hard grips, a little too much engine vibration and footpeg mounts that eroded rapidly at maximum lean. Otherwise, the RD was a gem.
Even a pristine example of the breed (like the 1975 RD350C pictured) will underwhelm derrieres calibrated to current four-stroke sporting weaponry. Still, novelties like really light weight and the two-stroke's rush of dirty little explosions every time a piston heads earthward ("Dang the ozone layer, Scotty, give me acceleration!"). Eco issues aside, it's a deceptively quick little beast to ride.
The RD looks tiny by 1996 standards because it is. Even so, nice flat bars and a seat to match keep six-footers comfy for 100 miles or so between fuel stops. Twenty-year-old suspension bits feel...well, about 20 years old. The little 350 still corners on rails, even if it does wallow and grind its low-slung undercarriage at relatively mild lean angles. But keep rowing the cliche-smooth transmission's six tightly bunched ratios to keep the hydrocarbons burning between 6000 and 8000 rpm and the RD flat out roosts--60 mph arrives in less than four seconds. Even through the tastefully muted stock mufflers, the weed-whacker-on-benzedrine exhaust note is pure heaven.
The RD was the official bike of working-class curvy road cognoscenti in the mid-'70s. As Yamaha product planner Ed Burke says, "The RD was a cult bike if there ever was one." All it took to initiate membership was that velvet shriek rising into your Bell Star. Once you knew what it could do to a perfect road on a perfect morning, nothing else was even close. But all good things must come to an end. Neither the cleaner, more "civilized" 1980 RD400F or the liquid-cooled RZ350 (a story for another day) of 1984 could win the war against progressively faster, more sophisticated heathen four-strokes. Riders demanded bigger, faster bikes. The EPA wanted cleaner ones. The handwriting was on the wall. The RD350 begat the RD400 in 1976, and by the end of 1980 the 400 disappeared from Yamaha showrooms as well.
Modern prototype RD350
Rusty Bolt Garage Yamaha Rd435 Special
Found this beauty whilst surfing. The Web that is. Rusty Bolt Garage out of Santa Fe, New Mexico (lucky buggers) have recreated this '77 Yamaha RD400 in a fashion that is superior in every way than the original, and transformed it into a cafe/street-tracker extraordinaire. Here's what the Rusty Bolt folks have to say...
1977 YAMAHA RD425- Street Tracker
"This sporty little beast is a barrel of fun to ride. So much fun it makes you wanna slap yo mama! Though, we have been taking it a little easy on her since she just had a fresh rebuild on the motor. We also upgraded the suspension, brakes, electronics and controls. Come to think of it, we either upgraded, replaced, or repaired everything on this baby!
We wanted to build a unique and fun bike to ride while still maintaining some of what we consider true 'RD spirit'. With many custom pieces made of fiberglass or aluminum, not only does it run great but shes quite a bit lighter too. They definitely wont be able to keep up and only way they will be able to find you is to follow that little trail of blue two-stroke perfume down the road."
Engine- Completely rebuilt engine to stock specs. This included a bore to 66mm, with new pistons, rings, pins, and bearings. New gaskets, seals, o-rings and bearings throughout ensure smooth operation and no leaks. The heads and cylinders where thoroughly cleaned by Vapor Blast Solutions here in Santa Fe, then the heads where treated to a nice polish. The cases and cylinders got a fresh coat of black and the fins were sanded to match the wheels.
Frame and Swingarm- Before being powder coated in satin black, the frame had all unnecessary tabs and bracket removed, as well as a new electronics tray to hold the reworked wiring harness and the, now hidden, oil tank which sits neatly tucked under the seat. A new upswept rear hoop was fitted to provide clearance for the rear tire and allow the hidden taillight/brake light/ and turnsignals to be seen when the bike is in operation. The swingarm was treated to a fresh coat of black powder coat as well as new bronze swingarm bushings and new inner bushings.
Suspension- The front forks were rebuilt with new springs from RaceTech and some handy fork caps with built in preload adjusters so you can tune the suspension to the riders needs. New seals and dust boots were installed after the tubes got a good polishing. In the rear we installed new Assault shocks that are .5 in longer than stock. That, coupled with dropping the front .75 in, will put a bit more weight on the front wheel allowing for better handling and control when accelerating out of corners and from stops.
Intake, Exhaust, and Lubrication- The stock Mikuni carburetors were used after a complete teardown and cleaning again by vapor blasting. All brass and gaskets where replaced with new items and adjusted to accommodate new DG performance expansion chambers and pod filters. We stuck with the Yamaha 'Auto Lube' system so you wont have to worry about running any premix, but gave the oil pump a fresh rebuild and new lines and hoses.
Lighting, Controls, and Gauges- Gone are most (or all) of the stock items. We started by replacing the headlight with a newer LED unit that flows more with the angles of the tank and seat, while the lens shape mimics the blocks and knee pads on the tank. We decided to use rubber mounts for the headlight to absorb vibrations rather than make solid brackets so your bulbs last longer. Small but super bright LEDs handle the turn signal duty up front and a combination running light/brake light/ turn signal unit that is neatly hidden under the seat in back.
Sitting on a new low rise handlebar are new grips, left and right control switches, and new aluminum clutch and brake levers anodized in black. Aluminum rear sets from KamiKaze Moto were fitted where passenger pegs once lived. With the rearsets in mind, we also reworked the kickstart lever for plenty of space.
Handling all the gauge duties is a new programmable Koso unit that is rubber mounted and held in place by a bracket fabricated in house. We also relocated the key switch under the tank to further clean up the cockpit. Powering everything is a new featherweight battery."
Body, Tank, and Seat- We stuck with the original RD tank but had custom blocks and knee pads cut. We like old style decals that you see on many RD's but wanted something unique. The seat was made in house and is a one of a kind fiberglass piece that follows the lines of the headlight and tank. The pad is Ultragel cut to fit the pan and was upolstered by B&M Upholstery in Santa Fe.
The benefit of using the gel is that is absorbs vibrations, which is especially good on 2-stroke motorcycles. The front fender has been cut down but left in place to help support the forks, in the rear we removed the stock fender and added an inner fender that matches the front. The fenders were powder coated in satin black to match the frame while the tank, seat, and headlight were treated to a Ford color "Toreador Red'.
Brakes, Wheels, and Tires- We installed new master cylinders as well as new reproduction brake calipers on both the front and rear. We then set the rotors up on a CNC machine to drill and countersink them to help keep brake temperatures down. Lower temps means better stopping power. New custom stainless steel brake lines where also installed to once again aid in stopping power and brake feel. The wheels where coated in black and had the fins sanded to match the cylinders. New modern compound tires complete the package giving great traction in the corners and when stopping.
**Some extras for the buyer include an extra set of keys, an extra set of spark plugs, some different jet sizes, an extra set of exhaust gaskets, a replacement bulb for the front turn signals, the manual for the Koso gauge, decals, a set of brake pads with anti chatter shims, and a set of anti vibration bar end weights.
Yamaha RD500 as seen and read on the International RZ/RD 500 Owners Group
True Confessions Of a Two-Stroke Junkie
By Tom Fortune
It was a chance to see the exotic factory GP motocross equipment up close, and meet some of the riders. I had recently bought an '84 Kawasaki ZX 750 Turbo, and thought I'd ride it over to check out the tech inspections. First off, you have to understand one thing here. You see, I grew up riding two strokes. Had ridden everything from 1960s era twins to 1970s era triples to the latest RZ350s of the early 1980s. Loved two strokes. And I had developed a fascination with Grand Prix two strokes in particular. Both road-race and motocross. Kenny Roberts' epic battles with Freddie Spencer in the 1983 World Championship had made Yamaha's newest GP racer - a V-Four, 500cc two-stoke - the focus of my attention.
At this point in time I had only seen a brief news blurbs about the possibility of Yamaha producing a street version of Roberts' 1983 GP bike. Wouldn't that be exciting, I mused. But as I strolled through the parking lot looking at the motocross hardware that sunny June morning, it caught my eye. Sitting all by itself, over by the hotel's main entrance, was a shiny new RZ500. I couldn't believe what I was seeing! I was drawn over to it like a magnet.
Hot Damn! The ultimate road-going two stroke!
I spent the next hour or so checking out every little detail of that bike. 'What a machine,' I thought, 'a real beauty. An honest-to-goodness GP bike that I could ride.' I remember uttering to myself over and over 'I have to have one!' Soon, though, it was gone. Ken Clark, who at that time was head of Yamaha's U.S.racing program, came out of the hotel, jumped on the RZ, kicked it over, and rode away in a cloud of blue smoke. The bike must've been something Yamaha had given him to ride around on while he was in town for the motocross GP. Nice ride!
I was totally consumed with passion. I completely forgot about finishing my tour of the parking lot, and went over and got on my Kawasaki GPz750 Turbo, started it up, and headed back home. Riding the Turbo just wasn't the same after that. Within a month it was sold, and my order for an RZ500 was placed. Six months and many phone calls later my dream bike arrived from Canada, still in the crate. After some tense moments with the customs officials ('Hey, fellow, this bike's got kilometers per hour on the speedo. Supposed to have miles per hour...'), I brought the bike home and quickly assembled it, fired it up, and took it out for that first ride. It immediately won my heart as my lust turned to love. Still own that bike. Roadraced it too. I've acquired two more RZ500s since then, and for me, they are still the ultimate road-going two-stroke.
Photo above by Tom Fortune
YAMBITS. A great story about a company.
Story by Classic Motorcycle Mechanics.
British iron has been well catered for over many years and numerous companies supplying those vital parts started off with a lorry load of NOS that no one else initially wanted. As these original parts supplies dried up it was inevitable that pattern items would become the norm and this approach has kept many 1950s and 60s machines running a lot longer than anyone might reasonably have thought. Therefore it was both logical and inevitable that the same scenario would ultimately be reprised with Japanese machinery, after all its undoubtedly the future of the classic scene.
All of the above is fine in theory but to carry out such an exercise you need to careful select your target market, do more than a little homework and be prepared to invest time and potentially large sums of money before you even think about seeing a return. Choose iconic machinery such as Kawasaki H1/2 or the Z1 and you’re unlikely to go wrong, ditto Yamaha’s seminal XS650 in all its various guises; in fact with the examples cited it’s almost possible to build a complete machine from newly made parts. With any of these machines you’d have to work quite hard to get it wrong but what if you chose to spread your net wider and take a punt at pretty much any Yamaha two wheeler made since 1975? Much riskier. Yambits, probably one of the most successful parts specialists out there and a perfect example of turning a hobby into a business, has done exactly that. Owner and frontman Dave Newboult’s background as a qualified mechanic working on the plant fitting of heavy machinery meant he was as adept at twirling spanners on big industrial machines as he was on his Fizzes and RD250s. Subsequently building racing cars and simultaneously selling pattern parts for eart moving equipment must have subliminally established the foundations of a bike parts business. So when a change of circumstances dictated Dave needed to work from home it was almost a no-brainer.
The career change was a perfect match to the skills set already acquired; all that was lacking was legion upon legion of parts books and countless hours of cross referencing. This acquired knowledge has proved to be the key behind Yambits; the in-depth knowledge of which parts fit which machines, how Yamaha’s supersession’s work and when to commission parts from alternative sources. As Dave points out: “We obviously have competitors but the bulk of them choose to only replicate a few fast moving lines and often the parts they sell are only approximations to the real thing, we aim to get the quality, performance and fit as good as or better than the original.”
Knowing what is likely to sell and the potential volumes involved are fundamental in making sure your economies of scale add up. There’s no point in commissioning tooling for parts if you end up with the most of resultant components gathering dust on the shelf; getting a prompt return on your hard work, research and investment means you can reprise the exercise over and over again. A perfect example is the total wipeout of the company’s stock of recently introduced front brake callipers long since unobtainable from Yamaha.
Always corroded, inevitably sporting a seized piston and often boasting a stripped bleed nipple thread, Dave and the team knew the part was needed by customers but were shocked at the way they sold out so quickly. Another batch is being produced and in the meantime you can still buy individual service components but it just goes to show many owners simply want to unbolt a problem module and install a functional, working, alternative. The market has moved on and many of the owners simply don’t have the time, or the inclination, to rebuild sub-assemblies. However, should you wish to pass a quiet Sunday in the workshop fettling your own calliper the parts are readily available from stock.
The level of research and detailed attention the market components receive is perfectly illustrated in the replacement calliper sealers due to come on line as we go to press. Alternative aftermarket seals have been available for some time but these are often little more than size specific O-rings and sometimes annoying feature minute moulding flashes which variously cause fluid leakage and/or fitment issues. Yambits’ new parts are the correct rectangular profile carefully parts on by a special lathe tool. They feature a purpose made, extruded rubber polymer that’s dimensionally accurate. If this sounds like a cottage industry approach, know that this is exactly how the top UKL names had their equivalents made en masses back in the day. Pattern of aftermarket parts often get a bad name purely because a small segment of the items of the items available are poor quality, shoddily made, copies or fakes. If you’re going to commission replica parts you have to be able to control every attribute of your new component and back the also-ran rubbish.
The end result is that what started off as a fledging parochial business run out of a kitchen has become a global success. Sending parts to Europe is a daily exercise, with America now becoming a substantial market as our cousins across the pond wake up to the classic Jap scene. South Africa, Greenland and the Cook Islands also appear on the despatch sheets along with Japan, which is nothing if not ironic. Perhaps the most dedicated customer to date is the American oil pipeline engineer who is restoring a bike in a container that gets moved across vast plains of Russia. Each time he gets a new semi-permanent home he emails in another order and the team get his parts out before he moves on again.
There’s no such thing as a typical Yambits customer; Dave’s daughter Hollie does a lot of the parts picking and purchasing and she knows many of the customers by bike and name. Although a lot of the parts go to people restoring there’s a very strong customer base that simply wants parts to keep their bikes on the road and this sees large volumes of service items being sold. Camchains for the later four-strokes, filters, gaskets, fork seals and the like are all fast movers and it’s to the customer’s benefit that everything in stock is at an OEM, or above, level or quality.
Photographer Joe and I are more than a little surprised when some Yamaha TY80 parts are laid out for us to inspect. The pattern chain guard looks pretty much perfect to us, even down to the colour of the metallic silver paint. The seat pad similarly looks just like an original part and we ask how long items such as these to arrive from China. Our rash assumptions are blown completely out of the water when it’s explained both items are made in England.
Sourcing components from the UK might sound either naive or even a touch jingoistic but there are hard0nosed businesses motives behind such decisions. Source from outside the EU and you’ll be paying import duty that will have to be passed on to the customer, the further away the supplier is the longer the goods take to get to the UK and this ties up money that could be better spent elsewhere. Deal with an anonymous metal bashing shop somewhere in China and see just how potentially frustrating an email exchange on quality, fit or delivery might be. All of Yambits’ suppliers are effectively and rigorously assessed to ensure they deliver quality before anything else.
As Dave slides an original RD400 headlamp bracket across the desk towards our camera along with two prototypes we probably already know better than to suggest anything other than a virtual Made in England sticker; these dead ringers will be coming from just down the road ready to return many a modified machine back a little closer to how Yamaha intended. Of course stuff does come in from SE Asia but it’s either from the OEM suppliers out of Japan or from Taiwan where national pride and a Japanese-type mindset ensures both quality and dimensional accuracy. As if to prove a point we open a box full of replacement LC250/350 inlet rubbers from the same supplier Yamaha used and they are as Japanese as sushi or sake. And on the shelf above there’s a box of aftermarket headlamps from Taiwan proudly bearing a legend stating they are not Chinese copies.
If that wasn’t irony personified, Dave has also experienced customers telling him where he can get specialist parts replicated. A sizeable chunk of the customer base are over 40 and many have been working in the manufacturing industry all their lives so they know where to get things made and pass on the details; customer loyalty probably doesn’t get much better. From identifying a market need to having the first replicas ready for sale can take up to 12 months but if it’s doable it gets done. The commercial rewards that come from the research and effort developing both the products and the suppliers scores highly with the team; you can’t do this sort of stuff repeatedly unless moral is high.
Being told something is plainly impossible only seems to galvanize the collective effort to replicate a long obsolete part; if it can be made, it will be made. The only exceptions are items that bear an obvious trademark; to replicate either a logo or name would be tantamount to counterfeiting.
Another area that is unlikely to see development is exhaust systems where the economies of scale don’t stack up due to the cost of press tools versus the likely volumes of sale. Even if it was commercially viable, customers at the restoration end of the market buyers would want to see Yamaha’s famous part numbers stamped on the end cans and again this wouldn’t go down well back in Japan. Frames and tanks are similarly not viable and you are unlikely to see Yambits move into wheel rims or fork stanchions simply because there are other people out there doing them in huge number. Anything else, however is fair game and this is obvious when we start looking around the closely packed racks of components.
Sitting ready for a lucky (or is that unlucky) owner is a complete YPVS 350 crank ready to take the place of one destroyed last weekend during that impromptu spring; not something you’d expect your local Yamaha dealer to have in stock. Sometimes it’s the nadgery little odds-and-sods that hold up a rebuild and again it’s the company’s attention to detail that pays off here delivering hard-to-find items that finish a project for the customer and turn in a profit. The little wire spring clips that secure fuel pipe to taps and carbs have variously been impossible to obtain of late, likewise the peculiarly translucent pale pink overflow pipe used on float bowls; there’s no guessing who’s had these made up ready to fit.
With a registered customer base exceeding 75,000 you’d be right to assume the business is both successful and very well established. The only real issues to getting the right parts sent out are potential misinformation and a lack of model knowledge on the owner/customer’s behalf. As the staff point out, despite what people might believe, the country isn’t peppered with rare Yamaha prototypes.
Yamaha didn’t shake down the LC350 lump in an early XS250 chassis; the bike is almost certainly a backyard hybrid. All UK supplied bikes had matching engine and chassis numbers and if a customer’s bike has an earlier engine ID it’s almost guaranteed the lump is from another machine. Engines with only a model ID stamped on the cases are similarly not rare of special; Japanese market cases often never carried a full engine number. The key piece of information the Yambits team needs to establish what bike it is supplying parts for is the chassis number, everything else can, may or has the potential to be changed or altered over the vehicle’s life. Caroline points out a customer may get in contact saying they have a V-registration XS250. The first question is; please give me the frame or engine number. Do you want the parts to fit your bike or your logbook? There are only so many hours in the day and reluctantly Yambits has now stopped taking telephone orders. Dave and Caroline’s offices are strewn with samples to examine and source so they’re adopting the mantra – don’t work harder, work smarter. As Dave points out: “If every customer told me his motorcycling life story I’d never get a thing done. There are some fascinating people are truly amazing anecdotes out there but we simply can’t absorb them all.” Having successfully recruited new IT manager Josh, the Yambits website has simple functionality that anyone can use. It’s constantly tweaks and updated with new parts to serve its customers on a daily basis. If one of its older customers at 73 can navigate the website it shouldn’t be too challenging and a new ‘Bike Identifier’ service has also been recently added to further help owners.
Dave’s other (and many we say infinitely more attractive) half, Caroline, has been a key player in the business utilising her data entry skills to scrutinise the parts books and fiches. Thanks to her diligence and some very late nights it’s possible to know how many models will utilise a common swinging arm bush/set of fork seals/head bearing sets or whatever else you might need. It’s this intimate and innate knowledge spread over more than 680 specific models that allows Yambits to offer such wide ranges of parts and know with the utmost confidence that they’ll fit. Even if the shop door closes at 4.30pm there’s always another series of part books or online fiches to pore through adding more precious information to the database. Furthermore, by knowing which individual components will fit other models it’s possible to offer a comprehensive range of service kits by combining the various components without proliferating unnecessary part numbers or stock. Running a parts business is not just about buying and selling outsourced items; managing the inventory and investing time in R&D means prices stay as low as possible which has to be good news for us end users. Yambits has an excellent team of staff who are all committed to getting the job done right. The future for them looks both interesting and challenging, there’s always something new coming on stream. As we’re packing up to go there’s an order in for the newly produced ally fork tube top nuts and Dave is excitedly working away on a nascent specialist segment for the legendary TZ racers, so life is unlikely to be dull for the foreseeable future.
As that unobtainable NOS dries up or gets priced out of reach it would be a very brave rider that suggested the future for Japanese pattern parts was anything other than rosy. We can’t help but wonder why no one seems to have jumped at the opportunity to emulate Yambits with Suzuki, Honda or Kawasaki; there’s unquestionably a substantial market out there
Thanks to YAMBITS and Classic Motorcycle Mechanics for this!