Classic Bike Guide - - We Have A Go On: - WORDS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY



Yamaha’s 1960s street scram­blers are an ex­am­ple of how the Ja­panese bike mak­ers were start­ing to get their ma­chines just right. Steve finds a rare YM1 and does what he loves to do – give it a blast

As the Yamaha or­gan­i­sa­tion found its feet fol­low­ing ten­ta­tive ex­ports to the United States of Amer­ica, it re­alised that two things sub­stan­tially aided sales: suc­cess­ful rac­ing re­sults and an ac­tive de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme.

Rac­ing at the Catalina GP, a tar­mac and dirt event, had brought Yamaha a sig­nif­i­cantly wider au­di­ence. Fu­mio Itoh may only have come sixth in the 1958 race but he’d also beaten some se­ri­ously big names and brands at the same time.

There’s even a news­reel of the event where the nar­ra­tor makes light of the strange Ja­panese Y-A-M-A-H-A and its rider: his­tory would show his cyn­i­cism was des­per­ately mis­placed.

Spurred on by this and other suc­cesses, Yamaha had a rolling pro­gramme of de­vel­op­ment which soon saw their twostroke twins rapidly de­vel­op­ing.

Ini­tially based around the Ger­man Adler MB250, the firm swiftly took the de­sign to lev­els of per­for­mance few would have cred­ited. The early YDS1 and YDS2 were well re­ceived state­side but the pivotal sea change came when the third it­er­a­tion, the YDS3, ar­rived on both sides of the At­lantic.

Ar­guably this is the bike that ce­mented the Yamaha brand with cus­tomers and spoke vol­umes about the mind-set of the Yamaha R&D team. Fast, rev happy, re­li­able, sure -footed and, cru­cially, crammed full of fun and char­ac­ter, it was pretty much an in­stant hit glob­ally. Sharper than both com­pa­ra­ble of­fer­ings from Honda or Suzuki the YDS3

rapidly be­came the fast rider’s mis­sile of choice. How­ever, fol­low­ing the old Amer­i­can adage that there’s no sub­sti­tute for cubes, fans of the bike were clam­our­ing for more power.

Yamaha came late to the party that was mo­tor­cy­cle con­struc­tion and had some catch­ing up to do. With­out the same level of re­sources or ex­pe­ri­ence as their ri­vals, the com­pany did things very much their own way and it’s a facet of the firm even to this day – Yamaha has al­ways been some­what mav­er­ick. With nei­ther the re­sources nor fi­nance to de­sign a to­tally new ma­chine from scratch, the YDS3 was ef­fec­tively re­worked, but in Yamaha’s own unique way.

Whereas oth­ers might sim­ply go for a big­ger bore, Yamaha opted to both in­crease pis­ton di­am­e­ter and in­crease the stroke length, thereby cre­at­ing the 305cc YM1. In­stalled in the ex­ist­ing 250 twin’s chas­sis the firm ef­fec­tively had a new model with­out all the at­ten­dant hassles of mak­ing some­thing to­tally novel.

The bike and its progeny would act as a stop­gap for just a few years, giv­ing the firm vi­tal breath­ing space that would then al­low them to go to the next level. Sales of the YM se­ries en­hanced Yamaha’s rep­u­ta­tion and, most im­por­tantly, added an ex­tra rev­enue stream to their fi­nances. The YM1 was never of­fi­cially im­ported to the UK but CBG has a rare op­por­tu­nity to sam­ple one – and it’s a peach.

If you know some­thing of your early Ja­panese stro­kers you might very well reckon the red and white twin to be a YDS3 when viewed from the right-hand side. It has sim­i­lar pan­els and over­all pro­file to the 250 and the only ob­vi­ous give­away is the 305 badge tacked onto the left-hand side, al­most as an af­ter­thought. The main colour (Candy Red in this in­stance) cov­ers most

of the tank, both oil tank and side panel, the tops of the shock ab­sorbers, half of the front sus­pen­sion as well as the head­lamp body. Aes­thetic counter points come courtesy of both the white tank pan­els and the black/ white seat com­bi­na­tion, the lat­ter be­ing some­thing of a Yamaha sig­na­ture de­sign through the mid-Six­ties.

The bike’s ap­pear­ance is un­ques­tion­ably con­ser­va­tive but at this junc­ture the Ja­panese stylists were fi­nally do­ing their own thing rather than slav­ishly fol­low­ing Ger­man mo­tor­cy­cle de­signs. A pair of de­cent sized guards, the rear be­ing valanced, keeps the worst of the road dirt off the rider whilst the deep chain­guard, in the­ory at least, keeps oil off the bike’s rear end.

The YM1 was pro­duced to be a prac­ti­cal ma­chine, hence the en­closed sus­pen­sion at both ends, oil­ing points along the var­i­ous ca­bles plus grease nip­ples on the brake pivot arms and the gear link­age. Fit­ted with a 12-volt dy­namo, points and coils the bike’s electrics were stan­dard, de­pend­able

Yamaha fit­ments from the likes of Mit­subishi and Hi­tachi.

The strik­ing speedo-cum-tacho gauge in the head­light fol­lows the mar­ket trends of the time. This ini­tially takes a lit­tle get­ting used to but, bliss­fully, both nee­dles swing in the same di­rec­tion un­like some Ja­panese bikes of the pe­riod. Our test bike runs a full set of gen­uine Yamaha in­di­ca­tors; these would have been a dealer fit op­tion when the bike was new. Hav­ing pur­chased the bike to be rid­den on the road, the cur­rent owner man­aged to track down a set of in­di­ca­tors and lenses fairly eas­ily via trade con­tacts and the VJMC. The ac­tual in­di­ca­tor switch on the left bar was an ex­tremely lucky in­ter­net find from the USA cost­ing just over £100 in­clud­ing ship­ping and taxes… well some­times you just have to have the right parts!

Mov­ing the YM1 around ready for our road test it feels low and weighty, which is pretty much stan­dard fare for the Yamaha twins of the pe­riod. Iron bar­rels add to the over­all mass and the frame is a rel­a­tively chunky piece of en­gi­neer­ing in its own right.

Fir­ing up the el­derly twin is a fairly straight­for­ward af­fair once the lever of the un­usual twin union tap is pushed down­wards. With the choke lever flicked down on the pair of Mikuni VMs it only re­mains to turn on the ig­ni­tion via the switch in the right-hand side of the head­light bin­na­cle.

For the unini­ti­ated the kick-start is mounted on the left, an arte­fact of the bike’s Ger­man an­ces­try, but once sussed out it’s easy to use. One kick from hot or two from cold has the 305cc mo­tor run­ning and the choke can be flicked up fairly quickly ready for the off. Ah, yes, here’s one of the YM/YDS foibles; they all run en­gine speed clutches which take a lit­tle get­ting used to. Just like many MZ sin­gles the en­tire clutch mech­a­nism is go­ing around at en­gine speed and, for the un­wary, it all feels just a lit­tle

alien. Too lit­tle revs and the mo­tor bogs down mo­men­tar­ily which in turn prompts the rider to add revs, which then seems to make the clutch feel grabby. Once your brain is suit­ably re­cal­i­brated the clutch is no longer an is­sue, un­til you for­get next time!

Once un­der­way, the bored and stroked mo­tor pulls well and gets a sur­pris­ingly fast wiggle on. Gear chang­ing re­quires a firm foot and touch of feel; YM gear­boxes ap­par­ently can be a tad on the notchy side but once again it’s all part of the learn­ing process of get­ting to terms with a ma­chine from more than 50 years ago.

The bike can be hus­tled along at a fair rate of knots and even if the sus­pen­sion is prim­i­tive by to­day’s stan­dards it’s still both safe and en­tirely ca­pa­ble. At speed the bike is light yet not in the least bit flighty; its mass keeps it planted on the road in ways RD350 own­ers can only dream of!

Be­fore get­ting too gung ho with some­one else’s pride and joy it’s al­ways a damn jolly good idea to get a feel for the brakes. Hav­ing rid­den and owned Yama­has of sim­i­lar vin­tage I’ve more than an inkling of how they’re go­ing to be­have and I’m not wrong. Both brakes are more than up to the job and only, per­haps, feel just a lit­tle bit wooden but I’d put that down to the pe­riod OEM lin­ings. The front is a fairly sub­stan­tial twin lead­ing shoe de­vice with its part­ner be­ing a con­ven­tional SLS unit. What im­presses me here is just how good the

“Yamaha came late to the party that was mo­tor­cy­cle con­struc­tion and had some catch­ing up to do. With­out the same level of re­sources or ex­pe­ri­ence as their ri­vals, the com­pany did things very much their own way”

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