Yamaha just recalled every unit of it’s new flagship superbike, the R1, due to major transmission problems – and this has a lot of owners very angry. Here’s how this recall could be a make-or-break moment for Yamaha.

yamaha 2015 r1 recall The 2015 R1 is a spectacular machine – but a major recall like this could give Yamaha’s reputation a black eye if they don’t handle it properly.

Last week, after a number of rumors that Yamaha was experiencing problems with the gearbox in it’s flagship superbike, a recall was finally announced – and it’s a big one. Yamaha is recalling every unit sold of the all-new R1 – over 3500 units – and replacing the entire transmission on all of them.

It’s going to be a big, expensive recall for Yamaha, and a headache for owners of the bike. But instead of being a black eye on Yamaha’s reputation, it could actually be an opportunity for them to enhance customer loyalty – if they handle it right.


Why Such a Big Recall?

Here’s the deal with the recall. The 2015 R1 and R1M have weaknesses in the gearbox – specifically, weak 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gears – that could cause them to break under extreme stress, making the transmission to lock up, and potentially cause injury or death. Sources say the cases that prompted the recall were from track and race bikes that are subject to extreme abuse, but Yamaha is recalling every unit to make sure they’ve done all their due diligence. In that respect, they are doing a good job getting out in front of the problem, and making it right as fast as possible.

But this recall will not be cheap for Yamaha. The procedure involves removing the engine from the bike, splitting open the engine cases, and completely removing and reinstalling a whole new gearbox – a job that Yamaha estimates will take at least 16 hours of labor, plus around $500 in parts.


yamaha 2015 r1 recall parts The parts kit Yamaha is providing for the repairs. As you can see, it’s not small.

The job will cost an average of $2100 which, when multiplied by 3500 affected units, will cost Yamaha at least a staggering $7,350,000 to carry out. When you consider gross dealer margin is right around $2000 per unit on the R1, and Yamaha’s margin is roughly in the same ballpark, that means this recall could completely wipe out any profit the new R1 might have generated for Yamaha this year. Ouch!


What It Means For Riders

Now as an owner of the 2015 Yamaha R1, I’m one of the ones affected. I didn’t buy what was supposed to be the greatest superbike on the planet this year to find out it was sent out with a half-baked transmission, will need the engine case to be cracked open and put back together in a way that will almost certainly not be as good as Yamaha did it at the factory, and I won’t even be able to ride it for a month or two. Needless to say, I’m not happy about the recall.


yamaha 2015 r1 recall r1 engine dropped What my bike will look like in a few weeks. This major recall requires removing the entire engine, cracking the case open and replacing the entire transmission – in other words, it’s gonna cost Yamaha some money.

But consider this: While the R1 recall is a big deal because of the high-profile nature of the bike and the expense of the repair, it’s far from the only recall in the news this year. Yamaha actually recalled 4900 units of 6 other 2015 models due to other gearbox problems, and Honda recalled 45,000 bikes this year due to faulty ignition switches that could cause the engine to stall unexpectedly.

But the king of recalls by far is Harley-Davidson, who recalled a staggering 312,000 models this year for a laundry list of assorted problems. The Motor Company has actually been plagued with recall-related woes the last few years; between 2012 and 2014, they spent a whopping $30 million on recall-related repairs!

So the truth is, recalls happen – all the time, in fact. And while the “idea” of a recall makes it sounds like a brand is cranking out crappy quality product, recalls are actually a good thing.


Why Recalls Are Actually Good

A recall is a manufacturer’s way of saying “listen everyone, we screwed up on something we sold you, and while there is only a tiny chance of it actually affecting you, we want to make sure there is no chance of that happening…so we’re going to make it right.” Recalls are costly – both in dollars and in reputation – so when a company gets out in front of a problem like this, it means they are taking their responsibility to their customers seriously.

In fact, not performing a recall when one is warranted ends up being a lot worse for a brand. Ducati found this out the hard way, when it had an issue with warping gas tanks on a number of 2008-2010 models (likely caused by ethanol in American fuel.) Complaints were widespread, but Ducati didn’t do anything about the problem – at least, not until a class-action lawsuit was filed against them in 2010, which they ultimately settled by extending the warranties on some 50,000 motorcycles.

It was a costly defeat for Ducati; but what may have been more costly was Ducati’s refusal to acknowledge the problem early and make its customers happy without being forced to do so.


ducati warped gas tanks The warped tank on a Ducati Streetfighter. Ducati finally repaired the warped tanks on tens of thousands of motorcycles – but they had to be forced to do it, which left a bad taste in many owners mouths.


How A Recall Can Be A Golden Opportunity

Beyond just doing a recall, a brand can also do it well. Consider the case of BMW’s recall of the R1200RT last year due to suspension problems, where BMW offered 3 options to owners to “make it right”:

  • Sit tight while BMW finds a solution to the problem and fixes it, and a $2500 check will be cut to the owner for the inconvenience
  • Ride a BMW loaner bike until the RT is fixed, and upon completion a $1000 credit will be given to the owner for BMW gear or accessories
  • The bike can be purchased back by BMW from the owner for full MSRP, no questions asked


bmw r1200rt recall The 2014 R1200RT, BMW’s most popular touring bike, was the subject of a massive recall last year that BMW used as an opportunity to show oustanding customer service.

Now that, my friends, is a recall done right. The repairs are going to be expensive no matter what. But the kind of brand loyalty a move like that instills in its owners is priceless, not to mention the fact that BMW bending over backwards in the case of the RT recall has now become legend in the riding community among riders of all brands. BMW saw the opportunity – and nailed it.


How Will Yamaha Handle It?

Will Yamaha do the same? So far, no indication has been made that Yamaha will be doing anything beyond replacing the gearboxes – but as I said before, that alone is “making it right” by most reasonable standards. While it is a big problem, and dealing with the recall will be a headache, knowing that I bought a bike from a brand that will go out of it’s way to fix potential problems as soon as they are discovered means a lot to me.


yamaha r1 recall instagram A line of R1s at the dealership awaiting parts, while a “stop ride” order prevents any R1 owners from riding in the mean time anyway. (Photo credit: my good friend iGoldeneye21 on Instagram)

How Yamaha ultimately handles this recall remains to be seen, but the fact that it is happening is not inherently a bad thing; it’s how they handle that’s most important, and what will leave a good or bad taste in owners mouths for years to come. I don’t like recalls. But I also don’t expect Yamaha or any other brand to be perfect all the time. I just expect them to make it right when they get it wrong. And we’ll see if they do.

And hey – at least I get a free oil change out of it.


How do you think manufacturers should handle recalls like this?

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