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Yamaha's history from 1955 to 2005 – Part 4

Yamaha's history from 1955 to 2005 – Part 4

Yamaha's history from 1955 to 2005 – Part 4

1967-1968: Yamaha's 60's ‘Techno Legends' – The 125 & 250 V4s

The late 60's was a period of outrageous technical innovation in motorcycle racing, the like of which has never quite been seen since. In a desperate quest for increased horsepower, manufacturers created wondrous engines with more and more cylinders to allow dizzyingly high rpm for more power and speed. Yamaha's contribution to the golden era of unbridled technology was the RA31 125 V4 and the RD05 250 V4.

The RD05 came first. Yamaha's first water-cooled race bike used a twin-crank, disc-valve V4 with eight-speed gearbox that shrieked out 73 horsepower at 14,000 rpm and nudged 241 kmh / 150 mph. Initially the V4 was shoehorned into an RD56 chassis, so it took a brave man to race the bike at full pelt, the race-hardened Phil Read calling the 05 ‘extremely boisterous'. Yet Read fought an enthralling duel for the '67 250 title with Mike Hailwood, riding a six-cylinder Honda four-stroke. Read thought he'd won the title because he'd scored the most points, but due to an FIM rulebook mix-up the title was awarded to Hailwood.

Yamaha at least had the consolation of taking its first 125 crown with Bill Ivy and the RA31, a miniaturised version of the 250. The RA31 made more than 40 horsepower at a wild 17,000 rpm, and featured a nine-speed gearbox to keep the engine spinning in its narrow powerband.

The following year Yamaha ruled the 125 and 250 World Championships, Read and Ivy first and second in both categories. But Yamaha's most successful season yet wasn't without controversy. The factory had planned for Read to win the 125 title, Ivy the 250, but Read reneged on the deal and stole both. "I did what I thought was right, I have not changed my mind," he said some years later.

Having fully proved its engineering prowess on the world stage, Yamaha withdrew from GPs at the end of 1968. Worried that spiralling technology might bankrupt some factories, the FIM had announced a swathe of new regulations that imposed technical limitation on GP bikes, making the RA31 and RD05 obsolete overnight. So Yamaha returned to Japan to focus on the next challenge – the 500cc premier class.

MotoGP, 2005

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