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Like many Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, Yamaha started producing bikes following World War 2, having originally started making pianos and organs in 1887, hence the logo of interlocking tuning forks.
In 1958, 125 Yamaha YA-1 single cylinder 125cc machines were built and that success led to the 1959 creation of Yamaha Motor Co Ltd. In 1970, Yamaha released the XS650, its first four-stroke, which lasted until 1985, with the XS650 Special cruiser version coming in 1978.
The legendary Yamaha V-Max was launched in 1985, with a 1200cc V4 engine which made it incredibly powerful, even if it suffered with poor cornering and soft suspension. It remained basically unchanged until a complete redesign in 2009, when the name also became the VMAX. The engine grew to 1700cc, in an aluminium frame, and it also gained anti-lock brakes and a slipper clutch.
Modern Yamaha sportsbikes can trace their history back to the 1987 Yamaha FZR1000 and FZR600. Those models lasted under the mid-1990s, when the YZF1000R Thunderace and YZF600R Thundercat appeared, with an evolution of the FZRs four cylinder engine, but Yamahas resurgence really began with the R1 and R6 in 1998.
In 2009, Yamaha launched the XJ6, harking back to their popular workhorse, the XJ600 Diverson, but while it retains a budget price, it now has much more modern looks in a streetfighter style, and has a retuned version of the motor used in Yamaha’s other popular naked bike, the Fazer/FZ.
In racing, Yamaha first experienced Grand Prix success in the 1960s with championships for Phil Read in the 125cc and 250cc classes. But despite a 1975 500cc GP title for Giacomo Agostini, it was in 1978 that Kenny Roberts won the first of three consecutive championships in the top class of motorcycle racing. This was followed by wins for Eddie Lawson in 1984, 1986, and 1988, and a further three for Wayne Rainey from 1990-1992. In 2004, Valentino Rossi won the title in his first year on a Yamaha, and followed it in 2005, 2008 and 2009, before Jorge Lorenzo took the 2010 MotoGP crown. In 2009, Yamaha also won the World Superbike championship for the first and only time with Ben Spies, and the British Superbike championship with Leon Camier. Prior to this, the most successful period in BSB was with Niall Mackenzie on the YZF750, who captured three titles from 1996-1998. Camier set a record of 14 race wins, ironically beating the previous record of Mackenzie from the 1997 season.