As you are no doubt aware, The Motorcycle Obsession is the best motorcycle website. Many people tell us this, believe me. We’re big. Huge. The other motorcycle websites won’t tell you, but we’re totally the best. Incredible.
One of the reasons we’re the best, of course, is the fact we know everything. Especially when it comes to knowing how a motorcycle company should be running its business. No, we’ve never actually run a motorcycle business ourselves, but we’ve got access to the internet so we definitely know what we’re talking about…
Or something like that. In the past I have frontloaded these “Let’s Tell So and So What to Do” articles with a bunch of snarkiness, so folks will know we aren’t taking ourselves seriously, but my lack of faith in humanity is such that I fear many readers will miss that message. So, I’ll tell you plainly that this stuff is tongue in cheek. It’s the interwebs equivalent of a guy who is three beers in and talking about bikes around a campfire – with the invitation for you to pull up a chair and start yammering along.
What intangible connects all these bikes? I don’t really know.
Started in 1955, Yamaha Motor Company is the youngest of Japan’s big names and despite the old nickname of “Yamaheavy” the marque has picked up hundreds of race successes over the years. Like other Japanese brands, Yamaha’s model lineu-ps are considerably more diverse than those from American and even European manufacturers. Until very recently, many American customers will have interacted with Yamaha via its spinoff brand, Star. Confusingly, the brand was reabsorbed into Yamaha in 2016 but the name has been kept in some cases, eg, the recently released Star Venture.
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Hit hard by the Great Recession, Yamaha responded with a rethinking of its product so sweeping that it has in many ways changed the entire industry. Thanks to models like the MT-07 and MT-09, Yamaha has changed our idea of what a motorcycle can be, should be, and how much it should cost.
I’ll step to the plate this time with slightly different rules than in the past. Sport tourers are fair game this time ‘round, as are all other genres of motorcycle. Like its Big Four competitors, Yamaha has a version of pretty much every weapon in its arsenal, so it’s not unreasonable to suggest using one of them toward the aim of world domination.
I’ll confess that, for me, Yamaha has always been an “et al” brand – relevant to the discussion but not so much that it’s worth mentioning by name. I mean, what is a Yamaha Guy, anyway? I can picture a Honda Guy, a BMW Guy, a Harley Guy… but a Yamaha Guy – not so much. I can’t really put a finger on what defines the brand; I’m unable to find a golden thread in its narrative.
That’s not to say Yamaha doesn’t make great bikes. Fact is, the company makes some incredible machines. R1, anybody? The aforementioned MT series, as well. In a number of genres, Yamaha delivers the pinnacle achievement – the thing other manufacturers are copying. So, it’s not a Suzuki situation where the company is simply delivering good second choices. Hell, even Yamaha bikes that aren’t the peak achievement of a given genre are pretty damn desirable, eg, the FJR1300 and XV950.
But what intangible connects all those great bikes? I don’t really know.
Because I’m the sort of person who is willing to acknowledge the importance of intangibles (if you want sensible, buy a damned car), that’s the focus of my advice to Yamaha. The company must have some die-hard customers somewhere; find them, figure out what they love so much about the tuning fork company, and build upon those facets to develop a stronger identity.
Then, you know, keep changing the game. The MT series redefined the affordable “big” bike market. Yamaha’s PR folks would probably try to convince you it’s doing the same thing with the luxury tourer market via the Star Venture, but you and I know that’s not really true. From everything I’ve heard, it’s a good bike, but not one that leaves you standing mouth agape, muttering: “The world will never be the same.”
I think Yamaha could do that, though. It’s possible that the forthcoming T-7 will blow us away. If it does, I’d like to see Yamaha then throwing All The Things at its larger Super Ténéré. We all know that big adventure bikes are really just sport tourers for folks who don’t like to bend: why not own that? Make a Super Ténéré that makes the KTM 1290 Super Adventure seem basic.