The second largest of the Japanese "Big Four," Yamaha has been producing motorcycles since 1955, which quickly appeared on U.S. shores not long after. Ever since, Yamaha has been in competition with main rival Honda on the track and off, racing at the highest levels and generously allowing all that technology and engineering expertise to trickle down to all its products.
Quickly adopted by racers including such legendary figures as Kenny Roberts and Valentino Rossi, Yamaha developed a reputation for excellent reliability that continues to this day. That reputation carries over into a full line of dirt, street and dual-purpose motorcycles, as well as the company's line of ATVs, side-by-side off-road vehicles, boats, etcetera. (Yamaha Motors, in fact, spun off from the world's largest maker of pianos, the original Yamaha Corporation, which is still the largest shareholder.)
Now the company makes pure pavement sport bikes ranging from the beginner-friendly YZF-R3 to the fire-breathing YZF-R1; YZ competition dirt bikes in both 2- and 4-stroke ranging from YZ65 to YZ450F; a range of trail bikes and dual-sports; Ténéré adventure touring bikes; "Hyper Naked" street bikes; "Sport Heritage" street bikes; big transcontinental tourers and the Star Eluder bagger, scooters... basically, if there's a niche, Yamaha has a motorcycle or two to plug it.
Never apparently content to sit still, Yamaha recently introduced a couple of Niken three-wheelers to further expand the rider envelope, and it also began importing its long-running line of Ebikes to the USA in 2019: In fact, it's the world's largest producer of the increasingly popular electric-assisted bicycles.
Two bikes you won't see in Yamaha's lineup are the YZF-R6 and the VMAX. Two beloved and historic names in their respective categories, the discontinuation of the R6 points to the demise of the middleweight supersport category. Nonetheless, while the R6 has gone away, it leaves behind a legacy of supersport dominance no other bike can match.
The long-lasting legacy of the VMAX starts when the bike was first introduced as the V-Max and the era of the power cruiser was ushered in. It delivered monstrous power and loads of attitude – but apparently, sales didn't follow. The VMAX was slowly taken off of Yamaha's lineup in various markets around the world, but with its exclusion from the US market, the era of the VMAX is now over.
Seeing beloved models get the axe is sad and disappointing, but additions like the Tenere 700 have taken the middleweight adventure bike world by storm. With its manageable size, power, and weight – not to mention its extremely attractive price – the bike has already started to earn itself a cult following.
Of course that's not all Yamaha has to offer. Here are just a few of our current favorites:
The XSR900 is one of Yamaha's Sport Heritage bikes, which combines the performance of its soul-stirring 847cc three-cylinder engine and all the latest chassis components, with classic styling reminiscent of Yamaha's earliest four-stroke machines. This one's a great do-everything motorcycle for all occasions.
The Niken and Niken GT are definitely pushing the definition of motorcycle, with their two front wheels. With twice as much front-end traction as a regular bike, the Nikens greatly increase the safety factor in inclement conditions, extending the riding season for all who live wherever the weather's not always great. The GT version comes with a wider, taller touring screen, saddlebags, plusher rider and passenger saddles, heated grips, etc.
Yamaha's apex-predator Superbike-racing platform is ready to hit the track right out of the crate: Its powerful 999 cc crossplane-crankshaft equipped four-cylinder engine is kept in control by the latest in electronic rider aids, including GPS course mapping capability. Suspension is state-of-the-art Öhlins electronic ERS, and everything about the R1M has trickled down from MotoGP and World Superbike to provide the fastest possible lap times.
Midsized is right-sized in the latest adventure bikes. Ténéré 700's fuel-injected 689cc liquid-cooled Twin (derived from the excellent, award-winning MT-07) is maybe even better suited to adventure riding, thanks to its torquey, tractable power delivery and compactness. A narrow chassis, slim fuel tank, and flat seat allow maximum agility, sitting or standing. Adjustable long-travel suspension carrying dirt-ready spoked wheels, 21-inch front and 18-inch rear, ensure the Ténéré doesn’t shy away from aggressive riding when the pavement ends. Triple-disc brakes with selectable ABS, compact LED headlights, robust LCD gauges – this one's ready to go anywhere, road or no road.