When was Yamaha’s first motorcycle created?

The Yamaha motorbike brand has become popular in Vietnam, but few know when the first Yamaha bike was born and what its name is?


A Historical Turning Point

When looking at Yamaha guitars, many people wonder if there is any connection between them and the familiar Yamaha motorcycles that roam the streets of Vietnam.

Yamaha's first motorcycle was born in 1955, yamaha-ya-1-5.jpgYA-1 – Yamaha’s first motorcycle was born in 1955

Upon further investigation, it is discovered that the reputable Yamaha motorcycle company was actually a musical instrument manufacturer in the beginning. Torakusu Yamaha, the founder of Yamaha Corporation, started his career by crafting musical instruments.

Six months after repairing instruments and becoming familiar with pianos, Torakusu created his own highly regarded instrument that could replace imported ones. In 1888, he established the Nippon Gakki Company, specializing in instrument production.

After Torakusu Yamaha passed away in 1916, the company continued to produce pianos and other musical instruments. However, the Kanto earthquake in 1923 and the devastation of World War II put Yamaha on the brink of bankruptcy.

The person credited with bringing Yamaha back on track was the company’s third president, Kaichi Kawakami. He implemented major reforms and helped the company stay afloat until it was handed over to his son, Genichi Kawakami.

Yamaha's first motorcycle was born in 1955, yamaha-ya-1-1.jpgGenichi Kawakami made a turning point when Yamaha expanded from a musical instrument manufacturer into the motorcycle industry

“I want us to try creating a motorcycle engine,” the legendary words of Chairman Genichi Kawakami marked the beginning of Yamaha Motor’s history. At the age of 38, Genichi Kawakami took over his father’s business at Nippon Gakki (now Yamaha Corporation) and became the company’s fourth president. His first challenge came when he had to decide whether to utilize the entire old machinery for a new production line: sewing machines or motorcycles.

With his expansive vision, Genichi Kawakami chose motorcycles, even though there were already over 150 large and small motorcycle manufacturers competing fiercely in the market. He understood that Yamaha was entering a tough race, where differentiation and unique value would bring success.

Therefore, Genichi Kawakami decided to invest in sending engineers to Europe to learn from the experience there. He also spent over 3 months conducting surveys in major markets such as the USA and Europe. These practical experiences were then consolidated and applied to the new business model by Yamaha’s leaders and engineers.

The First Yamaha Motorcycle

Yamaha’s first achievement was the YA-1 motorcycle, which was introduced in 1955. With its attractive design, sporty essence, and unique colors like hazel brown and ivory, combined with high-quality paint technology borrowed from piano manufacturing, the YA-1 stood out among the market’s sturdy but monotonous and dull motorcycles.

Yamaha's first motorcycle was born in 1955, yamaha-ya-1-6.jpgThe YA-1 had an attractive design, sporty essence, and unique colors, unlike the crude motorcycle models of that time

However, by the time the YA-1 was introduced, the people of Japan were already familiar with Yamaha through their musical instruments. The company faced many criticisms and prejudices: “Yamaha motorcycles will surely emit the notes do, re, mi when running.” In response, Genichi Kawakami quietly organized a motorcycle race up Mount Fuji in 1955 to demonstrate the power of the YA-1. With a first-place victory and 5 other positions in the top 10 in the 125cc category, Yamaha’s reputation spread across Japan.

The YA-1 was developed based on the DKW RT125 prototype from Germany, which was being praised for its beauty and advanced technology at that time. Genichi Kawakami instructed the team of engineers to study and faithfully reproduce all the useful characteristics of the RT125. He demanded that the final product have the quality of the original but be creatively adapted to the Japanese market.

As a result, Yamaha created an engine that was similar to the RT125 but integrated a 4-speed transmission instead of the original 3-speed. The YA-1 used a 2-stroke, single-cylinder engine with a 125 cc displacement and air cooling.

With a power output of 5.6 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and a maximum torque of 9.4 Nm at 3,300 rpm, the YA-1 had the ability to conquer any challenging terrain.

The YA-1 possessed all the elements of a successful motorcycle: beautiful design, unique brown-red paint color, smooth kick start, and fast acceleration. Thus, the YA-1 was easy to use and brought users a stylish and elegant lifestyle.

Genichi Kawakami’s strategy turned the previously anonymous YA-1 into a famous motorcycle throughout Japan. Sales skyrocketed. For three consecutive years, around 11,000 YA-1 motorcycle were sold, even though its price was not cheap and Japan’s economy was facing difficulties due to the aftermath of World War II. Moreover, after the appearance of the YA-1, a mighty “motorcycle empire” named Yamaha was born.

Khánh An (Trithucthoidai)