Bike Icon: Yamaha FZR750R OW01

Where Honda led, others followed. Enter Yamaha's wannabe RC30-beater, the OW01

World Superbikes will always remain a great championship in the mind of the motorcycle enthusiast, simply because it has produced some of recent history's most groundbreaking production machines. Motorcycles like Yamaha's FZR750R OW01 homologation special.

This motorcycle represented Yamaha's first real assault on WSB, and was a direct response to Honda's dominant RC30. Sure, in 1988 - the first year of WSB racing - Yamaha took second place in the championship with its FZ750, ridden by Fabrizio Pirovano, while Mighty Mick Doohan took the higher-specced FZ750R to three top podium places. But for Yamaha, the FZ750 and R were never more than stop-gaps as race bikes, there to keep the factory's toe in the racing scene while they busied themselves producing a serious piece of kit.

Yamaha introduced its FZR750R OW01 to the motorcycling public in time for the 1989 season. And it arrived with a lot more than a cool 'OW' factory racer designation.

"The OW01 was ahead of its time when it came out in the late '80s," says Steve Brown, an enthusiast who owns one of only 23 bikes that made it to his native Australia. "The frame was developed from the FZ750R but the aluminium was of much higher quality, so much so it wasn't even anodised. It got an Öhlins rear shock with remote hydraulic preload adjuster, a six-speed gearbox, loads of magnesium and titanium parts, and a proper race motor."

Like its FZ750 predecessor, the OW01 got an inline-four engine with a five-valve head (that's three intake and two exhaust, 20 valves in total), but with a difference - it was built for the race track. The pistons only had two rings, the con-rods were made of titanium, it had a close ratio gearbox, a four-butterfly EXUP valve and flat-slide carbs. This was no road bike engine: indeed the OW01, after Honda's RC30, was one of the first racers you could buy off the shelf for road use, and with it came a heavy maintenance schedule to keep it running sweet.

Despite the EXUP valve there to strengthen mid-range, the OW01 was rather peaky with not much of a power boost until 9000rpm, when it took off big time to reach the 14,000rpm redline. It actually made a stonking-for-the-'80s 119bhp - not bad when you consider its 1992 successor, the YZF750, struggled to make the ton. Whoever was fortunate enough to afford the whopping £13,200 price tag (the FZR1000R road bike was only £5,899) will have a vivid recollection of the chatter from the EXUP valve at tickover, while the flat-slide racing carbs made it a pig to ride on the road with anything less than perfect throttle control. Oh, and the two-ring pistons meant it burned a lot of oil.

Yep, the OW01 was too dedicated to make a good road bike, and we haven't even touched on the uncompromising riding position with high footrests, low bars and hard foam racing seat... But who cared? The feeling you got from owning a piece of kit that was making racing history made it all worth while. And it certainly marked the beginning of decent aluminium frames and sorted suspension on production bikes.

The OW01's frame was Yamaha's Deltabox type, developed from the FZ750R and beefed up for increased rigidity. A new swingarm with no bracing was also designed and the package could easily handle more power than the standard motor provided. In time, several owners took to coaxing the more powerful FZR1000 motor into the OW01 chassis.

However, out of 196 OW01s sold in the UK between 1988 and '91, only 88 were registered for the road. Needless to say, many owners bought the bike simply to keep in their living room. "I wanted to buy a new OW01 in 1989, but could never afford one," says Steve. "The opportunity came 14 years later to buy an original brand new bike, so I jumped at the chance. But it still has zero miles on the clock!" Or, of course, people bought one to go racing - for even more wedge you could buy the full Yamaha race kit along with the production bike.

Sadly, in three years' of WSB racing Yamaha's OW01 never claimed the championship. But it won 16 races out of 98 entered, and Terry 'Too Tall' Rymer became the first Brit ever to win a WSB race - and he did it on Yamaha's OW01. In 1991 Rob McElnea won the British Championship on his Loctite OW01 and Stateside, Eddie Lawson won the 1993 Daytona 200 on his. Never quite a world beater, but still a stunning motorcycle.