Now that nine-time SX/MX Champion Ryan Villopoto has joined Canvas MX, the door is wide open for the boutique brand to pay homage to various Yamaha looks over the years, as RV is continuing his role as a brand ambassador for the Blu Cru. Yamaha has been involved in motocross for some 50 years now, which means they have seen a lot of changes in gear trends (and colors) come and go.
At last weekend’s Monster Energy Master of the Pit Bikes event at Switchback MX in Butler, PA, we spoke to Ryan about Canvas MX’s ability to come out with one-off retro looks for him that were made famous by some of Team Yamaha's most legendary riders from yesteryear. RV was into the idea, so we thought we would use The List to offer some of our favorite Yamaha kits for the "world's best retired guy." And we decided to limit the list to gear that’s more than 20 years old, beginning with Yamaha’s very first American superstar.
Gary Jones in 1972
Gary Jones was the first U.S. rider to have success on a Yamaha, winning the 1972 AMA 250cc Pro Motocross Championship. He wore simple yellow "bumblebee" gear, as Yamaha was just in the process of switching their race bikes from a silver gray to yellow and black. The motocross gear market was just getting started so there wasn't much to choose from, but Jones' look in '72 has become iconic, just as his '73 looks with Honda—red, white and blue jersey—set a standard for that brand's first successes in America, which also came via Gary Jones.
Ake Jonsson's 1973 ABH gear
Most Americans remember Ake Jonsson as the Maico rider who blasted everyone in the 1972 Trans-AMA Series, winning the last nine races in a row. He switched to Yamaha in 1973 and actually took a step backwards as the bike was still being developed. However, his '73 gear—real leather pants by ABH and a red soccer jersey by Jofa, which matched Yamaha Europe's red and white livery—was very eye-catching, though everything the Swedish Viking did was cool!
Gene McCay’s Noguchi Yamaha gear in 1974
We really don't know what kind of gear minicycle legend Gene McCay is wearing in this snapshot from 1974, when he was riding a Noguchi-kitted Yamaha, but back then Yamahas in America were yellow, but the Noguchi was white and red and it really popped off the page in those rare times when we found a color photo in the magazines. We think those are the old Florida-made Trim motocross boots, so maybe that's who made the jersey for the Atlanta-based Noguchi team, but the style was way ahead of its time!
Bob Hannah's 1981 HRP gear
There are many, many looks that Bob Hannah wore during his time with Yamaha, and many championship seasons as well. But we are most fond of his 1981 kit when he was just coming back from more than a year off with a broken leg, when Hannah was still way off his usual bad-ass self, and he was wearing his personalized HRP yellow gear (HRP standing for Hannah Racing Products). Because he had missed so long, Hannah was given #100 by the AMA for the '81 season. Even his Scott boots were different, as he sometimes traded in the red and blue plastic boots for a funky yellow and black pair. The only thing that looked like the old Bob Hannah were the trademark lightning bolts that he first started wearing as a nod to his nickname, Hurricane. This look would work right now for Canvas MX's team, only it would be RVP!
When our publisher Scott Wallenberg saw this, he interrupted with this note to DC: “Let's not talk too soon, DC. Those lightning bolts were actually started in my old stomping grounds in Illinois! There was a shop named Midwest Action Cycle in Lake Zurich, IL, that became the favorite hangout for the riders and mechanics on the road to work on bikes, get filled with delicious food from the owner John Lindsay's wife, and just to admire their cool shop and (John's lovely daughter Pam) when heading from or to RedBud or Millville. Their logo included lightning bolts, and Hannah liked the vibe so much that as a tribute to Midwest Action Cycle he had shop employee Dave Antolak (now a Midwest MX HoF guy who formerly owned powerhouse Arenacross team TUF Racing and now runs UFO plastic U.S.) cut out lightning bolts from contact paper to stick it on Bob's gas tank. This did not go over well with Yamaha and they directed Bob to remove them. So in typical Bob fashion he put them on the next most visible place, his helmet! The lightning bolts became Hannah’s trademark after that!”
Danny Laporte's 1982-'83 JT Racing gear
One of the coolest, most unique Yamaha looks was Danny Laporte's 1982-'83 JT Racing gear that was red, white and blue, perfect for an American hero campaigning on the FIM 250cc World Championship circuit, where Yamaha was using white bikes at the time. LaPorte spent those years in constant dogfights with Belgian legend Georges Jobe, who also rode for JT Racing and wore vibrant yellow and blue. Their battles were between two of the most stylish riders of the 1980s, which says a lot because there were some amazing style kings at that time: David Bailey, Ricky Johnson, Ronnie Lechien, Broc Glover, Johnny O'Mara... What added to LaPorte's look was the bibs that GP riders often had to wear back then, as well as the cool turtleneck that you didn't see often in motocross gear.
Ron Lechien’s 1983 JT Racing gear
This was the peak of JT Racing’s dominance in America, and the all-white look 16-year-old rookie Ron Lechien raced in was an all-time favorite, especially with the multi-hued rainbows on the pants and chest. Dogger would stick with JT Racing all the to the end of his factory days, which came in 1989, by which time the brand had also came up with iconic looks for his time with Honda (1984-’85) and Kawasaki (1986-’89).
Broc Glover's 1984 pink JT Racing gear
The Golden Boy raced Yamaha throughout almost his entire AMA career, winning six AMA Pro Motocross Championships—still the record for Yamaha and second only to Ricky Carmichael overall. But it wasn't golden gear that Broc is most famous for, but rather the pink JT Racing gear he debuted at the November 3, 1984, Los Angeles SX, which was held that late because the LA Coliseum had been occupied over the last two years for the preparation and then hosting of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games. Yamaha was in the process of switching colors from yellow and black in '84 to white and red for 1985, and because the race was so late in the calendar, Glover raced an '85 production YZ250.
Glover did not wear the gear in the actual AMA Supercross, but rather the one-off Miller Moto Masters Challenge, a $50,000 bounty race held after the main event. And he didn't wear the full kit, but rather only the pink pants and helmet, as the boots Gregory brought along were new and he didn't want to race in them if they weren't broken in first. Glover told Cycle News, "John Gregory asked me to wear them during the main, but I said no way. However, I said I would in the Miller Masters. I would look pretty silly if I didn't win."
Indeed, Glover ended up winning the Miller Masters, and the gear was an immediate hit. The gear was also worn by French icon Jacky Vimond when he became France's first-ever FIM World Motocross Champion.
Micky Dymond's 1988 Answer gear
When Micky Dymond moved over from Team Honda to Team Yamaha in 1988, he brought two AMA 125 National Championships with him. What he left behind at Honda was the rather-drab HondaLine gear he had to wear as part of his contract with the Red Riders. Given a chance to change it up a bit at Yamaha, Dymond signed with Answer and put on this cool black, white and fuschia (or however you spell that) gear that really popped aboard his white YZ250s. He didn't get the same results as he did with his Honda CR125, but he certainly looked more stylish.
Damon Bradshaw's 1989 Fox Racing zebra gear
This may very well be the coolest Yamaha kit ever, the zebra-patterned Fox Racing gear that Pete Fox designed for Damon Bradshaw's rookie season, 1989. Bradshaw was slotted to ride the 125 East Region as a rookie but showed up Anaheim on a YZ250. He crashed out of practice there and hurt his back, but he returned a few weeks later for the San Diego Supercross. The "Beast from the East" stunned the supercross world by finishing third in the premier class in his very first AMA Supercross main event, beaten only by Team Honda's superstars Rick Johnson and Jeff Stanton. Damon then went back east for the 125 class, winning the '89 AMA 125cc East Region SX title over Mike Kiedrowski and Denny Stephenson. But that gear though!
Doug Dubach's O'Neal gear from 1991
“The Doctor” rode for Yamaha for much of his AMA career, and he was consistently cool in the multi-colored O'Neal gear he wore. And on June 15, 1991, he had the race of his life, winning the San Jose AMA Supercross, the biggest win of his career.
Bobby Moore in 1992 Team Chesterfield gear
Another rider who had cool style while racing in Europe but is often overlooked is Bob Moore. In 1992 he and teammate and fellow American ex-pat Donny Schmit rode for the Chesterfield Yamaha 250cc Grand Prix team. Chesterfield is a cigarette brand, not riding gear, so the clothes were custom-made by Bieffe for the team. There was a catch, says Moore. “We were going into countries like Germany where tobacco advertising was forbidden, so they couldn't have Chesterfield anywhere on the bike or gear, so they just added 'Kings' because they had to call it something!" explains Moore. "What else was really cool was the fact that both Donny [Schmit] and Alex [Puzar] wore it too, and sometimes we would all three start up front, so we would just stay white the whole time while everyone else was getting dirty. It was a really cool year."
Moore gets an honorable mention for the gear he wore in 1994, when he won the 125cc World Championship, and 1995 when he jumped back up to the 250 class. During that period Chesterfield Yamaha switched from all white to all black, red and white, so the Bieffe gear he ran then was pretty cool too. And when we sent him the photo from 1992 in Valkenswaard, when he wore white and #81, he said "Isn’t it crazy that 40 years later I still remember that photo from Holland?"
Jimmy Button’s O’Neal gear in 1998
Riding as Jeremy McGrath’s wingman in 1998, Jimmy Button had some breakout 250 Supercross races, as well as a cool and sleek yellow look by O’Neal that really popped, especially under the lights! He also had some cool Xtreme gear while riding for the PJ1 Yamaha team.
Ernesto Fonseca's 1999 Sinisalo/Yamaha of Troy gear
Nobody in the history of AMA Supercross ever had the same kind of start to racing that Ernesto Fonseca did in 1999. The Costa Rican was signed to Phil Alderton's Yamaha of Troy team on a Yamaha YZ125 and placed in the East Region for his first professional season. Wearing #100 and the team-issued Sinisalo gear. Fonseca was a fine amateur prospect, but no one could have guessed that he would go out and win his first race at Tampa, and then his second race at Atlanta, the third race at Daytona, and then the fourth at St. Louis! Ernesto finally lost at the Pontiac Silverdome to FMF Honda rider Brock Sellards, but he still finishes second. And then Fonseca won out the last two rounds in New Orleans and Indianapolis, clinching the 125 East Region and winning six out of his first seven 125 SX races, something that's never been matched. And the simple blue-and-white Sinisalo gear and the big #100 were perfect on the rider we soon started calling Lobito.
Jeff Emig's Strategic-3 Shift gear
We didn't get to see very much of it because Jeff Emig only raced his FMF-backed "Strategic-3" Yamaha YZ250 a couple of times in the fall of 1999, but one of them was extremely successful—Emig won the '99 U.S. Open of Supercross in a relative upset as a privateer. The gear Shift MX had for what would turn out to be his last big win was very stylish and blue, easily one of the best overall kits of Emig's entire AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame career.
Jeremy McGrath's 2000 No Fear gear
We will end this list with Jeremy McGrath in 2000, the year he won his last AMA Supercross title, his seventh in eight years. He won the last three with Yamaha, wearing Fox Racing gear in 1998, then switching to No Fear in '99. All his gear looked sharp, in large part because he was out front more than anyone! This last look is twenty years old but still resonates today, and even though No Fear is no more, Canvas already made some cool homage kits for riders back at Red Bull Straight Rhythm in 2019. Something similar sure would look good on Ryan Villopoto!