Since its founding back in 1955, the Yamaha Motor Company, Ltd. has come a long way, today being the second largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, after Honda.
Revolutionary in their designs and continuously innovating, the brilliant people from Yamaha have achieved world fame with their incredible lineup of motorcycles.
With countless successes in motorsports, Yamaha tested their motorcycles to their limits and beyond. It’s how they managed to innovate and produce state of the art machines at every stage during their history.
Among all their amazing motorcycles, there are some bikes which have set new standards in the industry and new records on the race tracks, and are seen even today as some of the best motorcycles ever produced.
We’ve poked our noses through Yamaha’s history of successful achievements and came up with what we think are the 20 best Yamaha motorcycles that the world has ever seen.
20. Yamaha YA-1 (1955)
The first model ever produced by Yamaha back in 1955, the YA-1, was already a great feat of engineering when it came out, with many upgrades over the contemporary German motorcycle, the DKW RT125, which served as inspiration.
It was the first Japanese motorcycle to have been equipped with a kick starter, allowing the engine to be started with the transmission in gear. It had a 125 cc, two-stroke, single cylinder engine, and a four speed transmission. The DKW had only three at the time.
The high quality of engineering, materials used, and the reliability of the YA-1 started to be noticed after the bike started appearing in competitions, eventually winning the 125cc class. After winning the second year as well, fans nicknamed it the “Red Dragonfly”.
19. Yamaha YD2 (1959)
The Yamaha YD2, introduced in 1959 and powered by 247cc engine, was the first Yamaha motorcycle imported to the United States. The bike impressed both the western and the eastern worlds with its good looks, nice paint job, and its top speed of 113 km/h, which was incredible back then.
The engine was a twin cylinder with a pressed steel frame, and came with another great upgrade, an electric start. It was the first Yamaha to be equipped with one.
Though not as powerful as other motorcycles previously produced by Yamaha, the YD2 was another great one in terms of reliability, which brought it a very good reputation.
18. Yamaha GTS1000 (1993)
A sport touring model introduced in 1993, the Yamaha GTS1000 amazed the entire world with its forkless front suspension and single sided front swingarm which improved the bike’s stability under braking, plus several other advanced technologies no motorcycle had at the time.
The GTS1000 came with an Omega Chassis concept for its front swingarm, electronic fuel injection, ABS brakes, a catalytic converter, and six piston front brake caliper.
Though very impressive in terms of engineering, the motorcycle didn’t achieve commercial success due to the increased purchasing cost that most consumers didn’t want to pay.
17. Yamaha YZF-R6 (1999)
The YZF-R6 came as the smaller brother of the YZF-R1, so it received the same engineering concepts. Several years later, in 2003, it received a major upgrade in the form of a ride by wire throttle, called the Yamaha Computer Control – Throttle, or YCC-T.
The 600 class R6 remained in production until recently, being revised and improved several times. The Yamaha R6 was the dominant model in Supersport racing, which tells many great things about the it.
16. Yamaha RD125LC YPVS (1985)
The Yamaha RD125LC YPVS blew away its competition when it came out in 1985, with its super performant Yamaha Power Valve System – YPVS that boosted the engine to 20 hp and gave it a much broader power curve.
As a learner bike, this model changed the general preconception that these bikes are unable to do much of what an average bike is supposed to do. The new Yamaha was lightweight, performant, and way better than anything else in its class at the time.
15. Yamaha FJR1300 (2001)
Out on the road for the first time in 2001, the FJR 1300 is a fantastic sports touring motorcycle, which immediately got the attention and love of riders all over the world.
Upgraded over the years, it’s become one of the greatest motorcycles in Yamaha’s lineup.
In its most advanced form, it’s equipped with a powerful 1,298cc inline four engine that has no less than 142 horsepower at its disposal and a hefty 101.7 lb-ft of torque.
14. Yamaha YDS3C Big Bear Scrambler (1965)
The Big Bear Scrambler, Yamaha’s YDS3C from 1965, wasn’t such a big motorcycle, not by 1965’s standards, nor today’s. It was heavy for its time, at 160 kg, but the exterior looked nice and sleek, and not at all big and bulky. In fact, its name comes from the Big Bear race – a run to Big Bear Lake through the Mojave desert.
The bike was a successful street scrambler, inspired by the YDS3, which got Yamaha its first victories in the world of motorsports. With a top speed of 142 km/h, it was a fast and powerful bike for its era. And beautiful as well. We know its subjective, but it’s got that classic motorcycle appeal.
13. Yamaha MT-09 (2014)
One of the best selling Yamaha motorcycles, the MT-09, is a naked bike that brings a great deal of performance for a very affordable price. The “MT” in its name actually means “Monster Torque”, which is pretty self explanatory.
It’s an amazing street motorcycle, perfect for every day use on the city streets, and fun enough to make weekend rides a pure joy. It’s no wonder why this bike is cherished by so many riders. It’s exactly what a motorcycle should be and nothing more, and accessible to almost anyone.
12. Yamaha YZ250 (1974)
Born in 1974, with similar performances to the Big Bear Scrambler we wrote about above, the Yamaha YZ250 was a favorite for many beginner riders. It featured the improved mono-shock suspension system and a thin body, making it very easy to handle, which is what made it popular.
The minimalist looks and bright color color scheme, especially in blue, made this bike loved by all who cared about riding the trails with style.
11. Yamaha XV750 Virago (1981)
The Yamaha XV750 Virago was the company’s first V-twin cruiser motorcycle, and one of the first in the world to come with a mono-shock rear suspension. After the great success of the original, powered by a 750cc engine, Yamaha added many different variants over the years, from 125cc to 1000cc.
The bike reached a top speed of 109 mph, or 175 km/h, and a total of 52.8 horsepower.
It quickly became an iconic motorcycle, loved by riders of all skill levels and different styles. In North America, the bike had so much success that Harley Davidson even feared that they would lose the US market.
10. Yamaha RD350B (1973)
Yamaha’s RD350B from 1973 was an upgraded motorcycle, beating both the old Big Bear Scrambler and the newly out YZ250 when it came to weight and power. It was lighter and more powerful, thanks to added reed valves, which increased the engine’s power without the concern for blowouts.
Thus, the RD350B came with a power output of 39 horsepower and a top speed of 169 km/h. The bike also came with an Autolube automatic oil injection system. All the improvements made this motorcycle grow a huge fanbase, much of it still active today.
9. Yamaha XTZ750 Super Ténéré (1989)
The XTZ750 Super Ténéré was Yamaha’s way to commemorate their win in the Paris-Dakar Rally. The Super Ténéré was based on the YZE750 race version that won the rally twice. And the upgraded 850cc version won it four times afterwards.
With a bad-ass look, aggressive manners, and its ability to handle any type of terrain, the XTZ750 Super Ténéré quickly became a favorite of hardcore riders all over the world. The bike would grow even more powerful with the addition of a 1200cc engine.
8. Yamaha RD350LC YPVS (1983)
In times when other motorcycle manufacturers would choose the four-stroke engine, Yamaha opted to keep to a two-stroke for its superior power output and lower weight. The Yamaha RD350LC YPVS is one of the bikes who lead that resistance.
It got the newer, at the time, YPVS power valve that upped the power output of the bike to 59 hp. And weighing in at only 149 kg wet, this bike was truly impressive. Compared with the competition, with their four-stroke engines that made maybe 10 hp more and added almost 100kg to the overall weight, the Yamaha was way ahead.
The bike instantly became a cult classic, a favorite among riders of all ages. It can still be found today, but with that fame, expect to pay a hefty sum.
7. Yamaha RX100 (1985)
The Yamaha RX100, with its tiny 98cc and 95kg body, might not seem like much in the world of motorcycles, especially when most people think that bigger is better, but this bike was extremely popular for its excellent reliability, and that weight.
As you might expect, the market that wanted it so much was India, but teenagers everywhere wanted one, because, on top of its light weight and reliability, this was a very affordable bike compared to the alternatives.
6. Yamaha YZF-R7 OW-02 (1999)
After it appeared in 1999, the Yamaha YZF-R7 became a favorite of many racers. In the early 2000s, everybody wanted to race it, and Super Streetbikes magazine even described it as a top-spec racing bike.
The R7 came with a 749cc, 4-stroke, 20-valve engine, was able to do 160 km/h with its 106 hp, and it also looked good on the outside. Today, it’s still very well regarded, especially for its performance, power, and reliability.
5. Yamaha RD500LC YPVS (1984)
The 1984 Yamaha RD500LC YPVS is a replica of the 500cc class that Yamaha pilots Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson, and Wayne Rainey raced during those years. The bike came with a 50 degree, V-Four 2-stroke engine that was able to output a good 86 horsepower.
This is the bike that inspired other manufacturers build their own race replicas.
4. Yamaha V-Max (1985)
When it appeared back in 1985, the Yamaha V-Max took the motorcycle world by storm with its massive 1200cc engine and immense 145 horsepower. To get this into perspective, 80 hp at the time were seen like a lot of power.
The V-Max had to be restricted in some countries due to that incredible power, but the bike became legendary. Its V4 engine could quickly push the bike to a super high 150 mph top speed, or 240 km/h. Everyone wanted to ride it.
The design was another big plus, as it struck as unconventional, which only made it more popular. But that immense power and acceleration didn’t come without disadvantages. The V-Max suffered in handling.
All in all, the V-Max will go down in history as one of the greatest motorcycles ever made.
3. Yamaha XT500 (1975)
Drawing inspiration from the scramblers of the 1960s, Yamaha came up with the XT500 in 1975, a bike built for adventure. Even today, this bike is seen as one of the best trail and endurance adventure motorcycles that was produced.
The bike was nimble, powerful, and had a classic design that appealed to many riders. It was powered by the newly introduced 4-stroke engine that would get so much appreciation and love for its reliability.
You can still find them today, and they’re doing great.
2. Yamaha YZR500 OW48 (1980)
The YZR500, or OW48, was Yamaha’s first champion bike, with several world championships under its belt. It may seem too bulky, but that feeling pales when you hit 180 mph (290 km/h) on it.
Produced up until 2002, it was and still remains a favorite of Yamaha fans and racers worldwide, among which countless of motorcycle superstars, one of them Kenny Roberts.
The bike’s superb handling, impressive acceleration, and top speed made it so popular and successful.
1. Yamaha YZF1000 R1 (1998)
Now this is something of actuality. The Yamaha YZF1000 R1. A fantastic machine that entered production in 1998, and impressed so many people and made others dream about it.
The R1 came with all the good things Yamaha motorcycles of the past brought and none of the downsides. Built to beat the Fireblade made by its number one competitor, Honda, the R1 was lighter, faster, and more powerful. That brought its huge fanbase and immediate success.
The bike quickly became Yamaha’s best seller ever, and continues to be produced today. It’s aptly named one of Yamaha’s greatest creations.
Everyone knows Japanese motorcycles are good. This time we looked at the best of the best Yamaha has ever produced. Some are museum pieces already, and others are still in production even today. But one thing is sure. The motorcycle world will never forget them.