Redux: Yamaha Rebirth?

Redux Yamaha Rebirth?

June 14, 2013 10:00am
The last few years have not been the greatest in Yamaha’s motocross and supercross history. Race wins and titles have been few for the brand, and its bikes, such as the backwards-cylinder YZ450F, aren’t looked on favorably by everyone. For 2014, Yamaha looks to reset things with an all new YZ450F and YZ250F. Riding impressions will have to wait until the press introduction at the end of this month, but we still wanted to get some background on the new equipment, and how it will impact Yamaha’s racing teams. So we called Keith McCarty, the Yamaha Motorsports Racing Division Manager, for some inside info.

Racer X: Hi, Keith. There’s been a lot of anticipation for this. We all knew new bikes were coming, but we didn’t know how many changes there would be. But it turns out both bikes are all new. You have to be excited.
Keith McCarty:
It’s really refreshing for us. Certainly the 250F was ready for a change and we’re happy with what we got, we think that’s going to be a good platform going forward. The 450 also, the enhancements are really refreshing. We’re really excited to get these bikes out there and put them through their paces.

We didn’t know if you were going to stick with that reversed cylinder head design that debuted on the previous 450. And you did stick with that. So obviously you still believe that’s the way to go, and it’s a design that will keep getting better?
Yeah, from a technical standpoint, there’s no doubt that design is superior. Everyone else is trying to achieve the same thing, even if they didn’t go to the lengths Yamaha has to achieve it. The goal, the basic geometry of the bike, you’re trying to keep that mass centralized. This is just a different way to tune the bike than you’re used to. But I think the general concept is very sound. There are a lot of improvements to the 450 that I think will stand out and really show the technological advancement that bike has.

Yamaha has stuck with the reversed-cylinder design for the new 450, but the execution of the concept has been refined.

Ah, so people might look at the Yamahas and say they look totally different, but in the end all they’re trying to do is the same thing other brands are doing. It’s not as radical as it looks.
That’s correct. People move radiators down or radiators back, or move pipes up. That’s all to do the same thing, to centralize the mass of the bike. Therefore you make the pitching feeling less pronounced, it makes the bike easier to turn from one direction to another, and it makes it easier to handle in the air. It simplifies it; it makes it better.

Again, I think Yamaha made a bold move in the beginning to put it out there in the first place, it was a design no one else was putting on the track. And I think every year they will be learning and perfecting it.

I feel like Yamaha has a bit of a rep for that revolutionary stuff. We know they introduced the modern four stroke, and even going back to your early days with the Monoshock. Seems like innovation is one of Yamaha’s things, and sometimes innovation doesn’t always work out perfectly the first time you roll it out. But it seems like the company is big on being bold like this.
Absolutely. You have to be secure enough with your engineering that you think you can make it better. You have to not be afraid of other people doubting the same thing. It’s one-upmanship, that’s really what this technology advancement is all about. I’m proud to be with a company that wants to do that.

About the same time the previous 450 came out, the economy was really taking a hit. It had a big impact on the industry. Can we take these new bikes as a sign Yamaha is reinvesting, and we’re getting past this? Or is that unrelated?
You know, we just finished our dealer show, and Yamaha has a lot of new products out there. They made a lot of statements about what the future holds. Overall, we see that things are bottoming out and are on the upswing now, but there are still segments that are tough—there’s still unemployment, there’s still uncertainty. But from a company standpoint, we feel that the worst is behind us, and we have an opportunity here to bring some new products to the market, with great pricing in a lot of the categories. So I think that’s correct.

What do the new bikes mean to the reputation of the race teams? We know what some other riders were saying. “The 250 still has a carburetor, the 450 is a weird, backwards engine.” Do you feel like having new bikes means you can go back to the negotiation table with top riders, and get back in the hunt?
I think every rider wants the best equipment on the track, and I don’t blame them. If I were them, I would want that, too. I think these changes to both of these models is going too….and not that I think the we had a bad reputation, but we certainly had a bad rap for things. Reputation is a little bit more long standing and we’ve certainly performed well over the long term. But we had a bad rap, recently. There were people who were accusing our bike of being non-competitive that aren’t competitive on the bikes they’re on now, and they haven’t been. Same story even on a different bike. I think that went a long way to dispel some of the bad mojo that was coming our way, because it wasn’t accurate. We believe it’s not accurate. There are a lot of people that really liked that bike, regardless of their talent level or their ability to be up front, they still liked the bike. But I don’t want to keep looking backwards, I want to look forward. I think this bike can get us to the front of the pack, and rejuvenate anyone who doubted Yamaha’s ability to have the best bike on the track. I think that’s going to change very quickly.

The YZ250F is the bike that ushered in the 250F era, but the 2013 edition was long in the tooth. Will the all-new '14 put the bike back at the top?

We see a lot of stuff on these new bikes that we also saw the race teams using already. It has the slimmer tank and airbox and the snake pipe, which wraps around the cylinder instead of the old bike’s tornado pipe, which wrapped around near the shock. Explain the interplay between what we see on the track and what people can actually buy.
I’m not sure there is any correlation. I think it comes down to the overall process you use to improve something. The moment the other bike was built, we were working on changes. I think what you have to realize, when you’re building production bikes, there are tradeoffs. You’re not always able to do what you want to do the first go around. So the improvements that you want, that’s where you start with the second go-around. A lot of these things were well into the works. That’s a lot of the parts you see on the new bike. The pipe, the design you’ve seen the JGR guys ride and some other guys ride, that’s the kind of thing you will do when you’re trying to centralize mass. It just makes sense to do that, there’s no other reason to do it, it just makes sense if you’re trying to centralize mass. So, yes, there are similarities to what you’re seeing on the track, but I don’t know if there’s a great correlation between what the production bike has.

And finally, this all coincides with the Star Racing team bringing up some young talent, so things are looking up there, too.
Yes, we’re excited about this. Both Jeremy [Martin] and Cooper [Webb] were both out at our dealer meeting, and I think it really opened their eyes. Yeah, maybe you’ve heard of the company and you know about the company, but then you see all of the things we do and see it under one huge location. I think they’re excited and they had a good time.