For more than 70 years, Yamaha has been at the forefront of motorcycles. As one of the original “Big Four” Japanese motorcycle manufacturers (joining Suzuki, Honda, and Kawasaki), they’re known for bikes that are well-made and reliable. While that’s certainly something to look for when heading to your nearest Yamaha motorcycle dealer, we know that others want a machine that can deliver a thrill per minute.
Luckily, Yamaha proves plenty capable in that regard, too. Over the decades, they’ve offered plenty of machines that let you revel in the exhilaration of soaring down the interstate, knifing through country backroads, or charging around the esses on track day. New models are constantly raising the bar for what it means to enjoy true excitement on two wheels.
What Yamaha bikes should you be seeking if you’re all about speed and adventure? Which of their many historic bikes brought the same spirit to previous generations of riders? We’ve come up with a list of, in our opinion, ten of the most exciting Yamaha motorcycles. Whether you want the latest and greatest or prefer a trip down memory lane, one of these bikes is almost guaranteed to get you buzzing.
Past: Yamaha YD-2
Although it might seem primitive today, the YD-2 (1958-61) makes this list as the first Yamaha motorcycle ever sold in North America. The word of Yamaha had already circled far and wide, and when the YD-2 hit our shores in 1959, anticipation was sky-high. An update to the popular YD-1, this machine was built on the revolutionary two-stroke, 250cc twin-cylinder powerplant that produced an impressive for its time 14.5 horsepower. It was also the first Yamaha bike with an electric starter. Add the monocoque frame and enclosed chain, and it was unlike anything Americans had ever seen.
Present: Yamaha YZF-R1
More than a quarter century and counting since its debut, the YZF-R1 remains the standard to which all other Yamaha motorcycles are measured, and it won’t break the bank, either. Beneath the unmistakable R-series styling is a 998cc I-4 engine with crankshaft technology based on the YZR-M1 MotoGP bike. Its Bridgestone RS11 tires, KYB suspension, and braking hardware are also track-inspired. If you want to turn the excitement up to the max, the YZF-R1M has an Öhlins electronic suspension, an aluminum fuel tank, and other ways to stand on top of the moto world.
Past: Yamaha TR2 350
The TR2 350 Production Racer (1969-71) was a landmark in motorcycle history. Motorcycle racing was rapidly growing in the mid-20th century, but your average Joe needed to have manufacturer connections to get the bikes used by the racers they admired. That all changed in 1969 when Yamaha offered this bike for sale to the masses. Its 54-horsepower 350cc engine, five-speed transmission, and lightweight double cradle frame let anyone feel like they were about to take the green flag. Along with its little brother, the TD2 250, this bike was consistently at the front in World GP events, such as the famous Daytona 200.
Present: Yamaha MT-10 SP
The “Mega Torque” series was Yamaha’s way of stamping themselves on the modern naked sportbike market, and the MT-10 SP is the brawniest of the bunch. First released for the 2016 model year as the FZ-10, it succeeded the FZ-1 with a vengeance. The MT-10 SP has a slightly detuned version of the R1 engine that still delivers power and soul. The crisp handling of a semi-active Öhlins suspension means the bike does exactly what you want it to. Throw in a recently updated electronics package, and you have a standout minimalist machine.
Past: Yamaha XS1100
In the late 1970s, Yamaha reached another landmark with its first bike that had an engine exceeding 1,000 cubic centimeters. The Yamaha XS1100 (1977-79) was a late inaugural entry to the superbike era, but it certainly made its presence known with 95 horsepower from its I-4 powerplant. A shaft-driven rear wheel, dual swingarm shocks, and disc brakes put it on the top line of motorcycle performance. Not only that, but it just sounds like a big, bad bike before you’ve even laid eyes on it.
Present: Yamaha XSR900
As part of the booming “neo-retro” 21st-century motorcycle movement, Yamaha introduced the XSR Series in 2016, which is both a tribute to the original XS lineup and a celebration of the latest innovations. The flagship Yamaha XSR900 is fun to ride anywhere and is made to be customized. The latest edition packs 117 horsepower with a wet weight of a mere 425 pounds. All-LED lighting, traction control, ABS, and other modern features are complemented by vintage styling, such as the bronze SpinForged wheels. Even riding to work is a gas when you have one of these babies.
Past: Yamaha VMAX
Motorcycle drag racing has one objective: to go as fast as you can in a straight line. In the mid-1980s, Yamaha decided to take this concept to the main roads. The result was the Yamaha VMAX (1985-2020), which sported a then-ungodly 145 horsepower from a 1198cc engine. It admittedly didn’t turn very well, but it wasn’t designed to. This need for speed struck a chord, and the VMAX remained part of the Yamaha lineup for more than 35 years. By its final edition, the 2020 Yamaha VMAX was up to a 1679cc engine and had broken the 200 horsepower plateau.
Present: Yamaha Bolt R-Spec
Have you ever wanted to look like a 1980s action movie hero as you ride through the city? This bobber is as good as it gets. Based on the original Bolt cruiser from 2013, the Yamaha Bolt R-Spec packs a 942cc V-twin engine that provides excellent low-end and midrange torque for urban prowlers. It’s lightweight, agile, stable, and ready to turn into a pretty little hot rod. Decked in black with chrome accents, a Bolt R-Spec makes you the star of any road. Just add your own helmet and sunglasses.
Past: Yamaha YZF-R6
Building on the success of their YZF-R1 superbike that debuted two years prior, the Yamaha YZF-R6 (1999-2020) was its “pocket rocket” 600cc counterpart. The first edition had 120 horsepower with a dry weight of only 373 pounds, allowing incredible acceleration and a top speed of more than 160 MPH. Nimble handling from an easily adjustable suspension, a stiff aluminum frame, and Sumitomo brake calipers made the YZF-R1 feel like riding on a rail. Several more generations were released before the swan song in 2020, and many used YZF-R1 motorcycles are still available.
Present: Yamaha Ténéré 700
Considered by many to be a successor to the XTZ750 Super Ténéré, this adventure touring bike was launched in 2019 for people who want to go exploring and keep things simple as they do it. The 689cc engine is based on the parallel twin from the MT-07. With three ABS modes plus a long-travel suspension, the Ténéré 700 is remarkably responsive on highways and woodland trails alike. Though it’s been given some recent updates such as full LED lighting, it remains the king of middleweight dirt bikes that punch upward.
Motorcycles That Bring the Adrenaline
Yamaha understands that feeling alive and connected, both to your steed and its surroundings, is a big part of why people own motorcycles. From the San Francisco Bay to the coast of Portland, Maine, and everywhere in between, Yamaha lets U.S. riders enjoy the freedom and thrills they’ve never felt before.
These ten exciting Yamaha motorcycle models brought that sense of euphoria and freedom to riders around the globe, and many of them still do today. Of course, there are many other Yamahas that have made their mark as well. If you have a favorite Yamaha model that gets you excited, leave a comment and let us know.