While Honda was the first Japanese Motorcycle Manufacturer to open offices in Canada, the true invasion of the Japanese motorcycle into Canada didn't begin until 1973 when Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki came to Canada.

The Yamaha Corporation in Japan began by producing reed organs in 1887 with the name of Nippon Gaki Corporation Ltd. 

The birth of the Yamaha Motor Company Ltd.,  is credited to Genichi Kawakami in 1953. Genichi was looking to make use of idle machining equipment that was previously being used for making aircraft propellers. While the company at that time was already doing well on the financial front, the first president of the Yamaha Motor Company was looking for the next area of business for Yamaha.

He looked into various products before the market and competitive forces led him to focus on the motorcycle market.  

Genichi visited the United States many times during the 50's. In his endeavor he had his research division chief and other managers visit various factories around the country of Japan. On their tour to Europe, Genichi and his team researched and learned how to make a motorcycle that would compete with the best there was in racetracks.  

The YA-1
The first Yamaha Motorcycle was produced in 1955, the YA-1, by 1958, they were distributing motorcycles through Cooper Motors in the US. The YD1 (250cc, 2-stroke, twin cylinder, streetbike) and MF-1 (50cc, 2-stroke, single cylinder, streetbike, step-through) were the models that entered the US market first.

By 1960 the Yamaha International Corp was founded and they began selling their motorcycles and setting up a dealer network.

The 70's were a time of huge expansion for Yamaha, they introduced the XS-1 (650cc vertical twin), their first four stroke machine, and in 1971 they introduced the SR433 high performance snowmobile.

1975 was a ground breaker year for Yamaha as they introduced the first factory produced mono shock bikes - bikes that forever changed the sport of motocross. The YZ Monocross machines.

The SRX440 snowmobile hit the market and quickly catapulted Yamaha to the forefront of the snowmobile racing scene in 1976.

Yamaha continued to expand their line of machines and in 1978 they introduce the XS1100 motorcycle (four cylinder, shaft drive) and the XS650 Special, the first production Cruiser built by a Japanese manufacturer.

The firsts for Yamaha kept piling up, and in 1981, their  first air-cooled, V-twin cruiser, the Virago 750, was introduced and the first production 5-valve per cylinder engine was introduced via the FZ750 motorcycle.

In the mid eighties, Yamaha introduced the V-Max 1200 muscle bike.

The later 80's Yamaha concentrated on increasing their presence in waterspouts by acquiring a number of boat makers and then in 1996, they introduced the first Star model, the 1300cc, V4 Royal Star.

In 1998 the first mass produced 4-stroke motocrosser, the YZ400F four-stroke motocross bike was introduced.
The YZF-R1 sport bike hit the track and set the standard for open class sport bikes for several years.

While a very diversified manufacturer, Yamaha proved itself on the race tracks of the world, not only in motocross but road racing as well.

In 1972, Canadian Ron Keys garnered both the 125 and 500 titles at the motocross races in Chicoutimi QC, beating out two-time 500 World Champion Jeff Smith, on a Yamaha YZ125!

Ross “Rollerball” Pederson of Medicine Hat Alberta took Yamaha to special heights during his motocross, supercross and arena cross career. He is considered to be the best motocross racer in Canada by many.

"Rollerball" dominated Canadian motocross, supercross, and arenacross for more than a dozen years. Between 1980 & 1993 he won an unprecedented 42 National Championships that included all eight of the Supercross Championships held in Canada.

In 1980 Pederson, who turned pro with Yamaha, took the 125, 250, and 500cc machines to three National Championship titles. Rollerball's domination wouldn’t end for 13 years. 

The racers who have taken Yamaha to some of its greatest heights in Moto GP were/are Valentino Rossi and team mate Jorge Lorenzo in the Moto GP.  between them they have racked up an impressive number of wins for Yamaha (Over 80).

Valentino Rossi, Fox Sports
As a corporation, Yamaha Canada has achieved some impressive heights. They are the first non American corporation to sign an agreement with the Cree's of Waskaganish QC. They were named one of the top 100 employees in Canada and were featured in Maclean's Magazine.

Yamaha's Riding Academy has taught thousands of young Canadians how to ride and instilled in them the desire to ride!

Next up we explore Suzuki and some of it's impressive history.

Belt Drive Betty
Editor & Rider

Research for this article:

Legends of Canadian Motocross
Motopark Racing
Motocross Archives
Valentino Rossi
Fox Sports


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