Top 10 interesting Yamahas you might not know about

A look into some of Yamaha's forgotten models

LOOKING through Yamaha’s history it’s hard not to be struck by the fact that it has probably created more class-defining models than any of its rivals – regularly showing an element of bravery that allows it to build bikes that are two steps ahead of the competition, forcing the rest to play catch-up.

Just look at the RD350, for instance, or the original R1. But the same bold streak that has allowed these get the green light means there have also been some notable dead-ends in Yamaha’s past. Some are glorious – the TDR250 springs to mind – while others are best forgotten (we’re looking at you, BT1100 Bulldog). Others are off-target curios that might not have achieved their goals but demand respect purely for the fact they were actually made; the GTS1000, SZR660 and TRX850, among others.

The wide variety of avenues that Yamaha has travelled mean that finding 10 forgotten gems isn’t hard. The difficult bit is actually deciding which ten to include in this list. You’re sure to have your own suggestions, so please tell us about them in the comments below.

10. TDR50 (1988)

Yamaha clearly hit gold when it created the TDM850 in 1991. A road-going sports tourer with the riding position of a big trailie, it was arguably 20 years ahead of its time; it seems everyone is trying to make something similar these days. But the TDM wasn’t Yamaha’s first foray in that direction. The 1988 TDR250 showed similar style three years earlier, but used a small two-stroke twin instead of a big four-stroke. It was a masterpiece, too, but ultimately a dead-end. What’s almost entirely forgotten is that, launched alongside the TDR250 in 1988, there was also a TDR50. Fitted with a 49cc two-stroke single (although there was a 79cc TDR80 version as well), it was more paddock bike than anything else. But a very cool one. Made for one year only, they were rare when new and even harder to find today.

9. YSR50 (1987)

More miniature goodness here, except the YSR50 was a 50cc race-rep with overtones of EXUP about its appearance. Good for a whole 38mph, which was probably more than enough given its pit bike size, the YSR never had much practical purpose in life but thanks to its looks and toy-like desirability, it actually remained in production for a remarkable five years. Tough to find a good one now, though. And just as tricky as ever to find an excuse to own one.

8. GR50 (1976)

Sticking with the theme of 50cc strokers, how about the 1976 GR50? Not heard of it? Then prepare to want one. In a world where FS1Es are coveted, this Japan-only creation should be the holy grail. Check out that café-racer styling, complete with number board on the back, giving racy looks that are at odds with the 4.5bhp engine. The GR50 was another example of Yamaha’s obsession with making miniature versions of ‘proper’ bikes – but it’s so well proportioned that you don’t really notice how small it is until you see one next to a normal bike. The 1974 GT50 – a miniature scrambler that shared the same motor (similar to the ‘full size’ RD50’s engine, but with less power) – is also well worth a look.

7. LB50IC Zippy (1973)

The 1970s. Flares. Raleigh Choppers. The inexplicable popularity of the colour brown. If justice was to be done, the Yamaha LB50IC Zippy should be part of that list, too. Not to be confused with the far more conventional LB50 Chappy, the Zippy was one of the weirdest bikes that Yamaha has ever made and just as much a snapshot of the 1970s as the loudmouthed Rainbow character that shared its name. Drink in that brown-and-yellow colour scheme. Bask in the glory of the dragster-fat rear tyre on a tiny 8-inch rim, mis-matched to a spindly front wheel. Put some Slade on the 8-track and revel in the fact that some even had tartan seats.

6. QB50 Vogel (1980)

The theme of miniature, 50cc two-stroke machines continues with the Vogel; another triumph from Yamaha’s naming department (also responsible for such classic titles as the Chappy, Zippy, Bobby, Tracy, Cute, Carrot and Towny…) Given the never-ending popularity of Honda’s Monkey, the Vogel should be revered as a two-stroke take on the same idea. Instead it’s largely forgotten.

5. RZV500R (1984)

Ok, enough with the 50cc bikes already. Here’s something a bit more spicy. “But that’s just an RD500,” some might protest, but the RZV500R is actually so much more. Sure the engine is the same two-stroke, 500cc V4 as the RD500 used, but instead of that bike’s mass-made steel frame the RZV got a hand-made, aluminium chassis, plus higher-spec suspension. It was never officially sold over here, but examples that have reached these shores tend to sell for silly money.

4. XZ550 Vision (1982)

Looking at the XZ550, particularly in its unfaired form, it would be easy to believe it was a late-1980s machine, or maybe even an early 90s bike. But the fact it actually dates to the start of the 1980s makes it remarkable. That 550cc V-twin engine looks somehow far too modern to come from that era, and some say that British firm Cosworth had a hand in its design (unlikely as it seems, given the fact that Yamaha itself is an engine company that often designs motors for other firms.) With shaft drive and around 65bhp it should have made for a popular sports-tourer in its day, but in reality remained on sale for little more than a year in most markets, although a Japanese 400cc version soldiered on until 1987.

3. SDR200 (1986)

When Ducati launched the Monster in 1992 it was seen as something quite different to bikes that had gone before, but there must have been a few people who’d worked on the Yamaha SDR200 that thought it looked familiar. Trellis frame? Yep. Three-spoke wheels? Check. Minimalist styling (ie a tank and little else)? Definitely. OK, so the Yamaha had a two-stroke, 200cc single, but the basics were there, and this was way back in 1986. Sadly, the little Yamaha only lasted in production for a year and wasn’t sold over here.

2. SRV250 Renaissa (1998)

If you had all Yamaha’s engines at your disposal and wanted to make a retro-styled naked bike the boat anchor of an air-cooled V-twin out of the Virago 250 probably wouldn’t be your first choice. However, it’s actually done sterling service in the SRV250 for years. But it’s not the normal SRV250 – a bike that’s pretty rare over here anyway – that we’re talking about, but the stripped-down Renaissa version. Only made briefly in the late 90s, it had a different tank and seat plus dropped bars, all the classic café-racer bits, and the result was a transformation. At least it was in terms of style. With that engine, the riding experience might prove disappointing, though.

1. R1-Z (1990)

The R1-Z (no relation to the more recent R1) really shouldn’t be all that unusual. After all, Yamaha spent years sliding parallel-twin two-strokes into tube-framed naked bikes  - the RD250-RD350 line-up for instance – so the fact it did the same with the TZR250’s engine should come as no surprise. But with only one year of production and no exports, the resulting R1-Z remains an oddity, and a tempting on at that thanks to the 45bhp smoker and 133kg dry weight. They’re hard to find, but when they do come up for sale they’re cheaper than TZR250s, too.

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