When most people think of Yamaha motorcycles, they do not think of the sweet melody of a musical instrument. However, before the roar of the thunderous Yamaha motorcycle engine, there was the soothing sound of an organ. It’s true. Yamaha’s history dates back to 1887, when founder, Toakusu Yamaha, repaired a broken organ reed. Shortly thereafter, he completed the first reed organ to be built in Japan. It wasn’t until nearly six decades later that the company produced the first motorcycle.
Before There Were Motorcycle Engines, There Were Piano Frames
A decade after repairing that first organ reed, Yamaha founded Nippon Gakki Co., Ltd. (or what is now Yamaha Corporation) and began production of upright pianos. You may wonder how a company goes from manufacturing piano frames to building motorcycles, but the connection between the two structures is actually stronger than you might think. You see, beneath the beautiful wood paneling that hides a piano’s innards is a cast-iron frame, which is rumored to be the secret to piano’s melodious tune.
The thing that makes a piano frame so unique is that it must be both strong and flexible. A piano frame must be able to withstand forces that reach over 20 tons, which are exerted by the instrument’s tightly strung cords. However, the frame must also be flexible, as its flexibility is what allows the sound to resonate for longer and with unwavering beauty. Nippon Gakki utilizes proprietary methodologies and casting technology, which have been refined over time, to create frames that provide this balanced combination.
Not only is the Gakki frame special, but also, the way in which the company develops it is. To speed up production of the piano frames, Nippon Gakki began using a process called “V-process,” which stands for “vacuum process.” V-process is a casting process that involves placing a film on a molding surface of a sandmold and then using the vacuum to draw the film to the mold, which is done to reinforce its strength. This method effectively eliminates the possibility of air bubbles forming within the finished piece, which end up reducing the structure’s durability. It is thanks to V-casting technology that superior-quality piano frames can now be produced on a mass basis.
Yamaha Motors uses Gakki’s technology to craft motorcycle frames that are sturdy and that can take any form or function motorcyclists desire. Just as its predecessors, Yamaha Motors continue to enhance the molding methodologies and processes.
When Did Yamaha Start Making Motorcycles and Where Was Yamaha Founded?
The story behind Yamaha doesn’t end with proprietary casting technologies. Rather, that’s where it begins. The secret behind Yamaha musical instruments is what makes their motorcycles so perfect in every regard, from sound to style to longevity. The casting technology that helped make the flexible yet durable piano frames is what Yamaha Motors uses to develop the motorcycle engine’s cylinder.
Like a piano frame, an engine’s cylinder needs to be light yet durable. However, unlike a piano frame, which gets hidden behind beautiful wood work, the motorcycle engine is visible to the naked eye. Therefore, it also needs to boast a stylish design. When casting the first Yamaha motorcycle prototype in 1953, engineers discovered that the molten steel didn’t move well enough in the sandmolds to spread to the cooling fins of the engine’s cylinder casing. This resulted in chunks of steel that more resembled earthenware pots than they did the slick engines other manufactures were able to produce. So, in true Gakki form, the company refined the Nippon Gakki casting technology until it was capable of producing higher levels of forming precision.
The First Yamaha Bike and the Birth of Yamaha Motors
When Yamaha Motors completed its first motorcycle prototype, it dubbed it the YA-1. The bike was a huge success. Not only did motorcycle enthusiasts praise the bike for its performance and attractive design, it also exclaimed over the bike’s finest details. Despite being late to join the motorcycle game, the popularity of the YA-1, which was dubbed Akatombo (Japanese for Red Dragonfly) helped Yamaha break into the motorbike world. The model’s success propelled the Yamaha name throughout Japan like wildfire.
Whether from wishful thinking or because the Nippon Gakki casting technology truly does produce works of art, fans of the YA-1 praised it for the exhaust notes that the 2-stroke engine emitted. Many likened it to the beautiful melody of Yamaha pianos. Though the YA-1 was a hit, Yamaha Motors continued to do what Yamaha has always done—refine its technologies. That refinery is perhaps why Yamaha eventually earned its place as a major motorcycle manufacture and why it continues to hold that position today.
What Is Yamaha Doing Today?
In 1958, five years after beginning work on the first prototype, Yamaha broke into the United States motorcycle market. This was huge for the company, as the United States post war motorcycle industry was much more exciting than the post war motorcycle industry in Japan. Why? America had racing.
At the time, the biggest racing event was the Catalina Grand Prix. When Yamaha entered, no one had really heard of them. However, the company took sixth place, which is impressive considering the company was competing with some of the best and more established motorcycle companies in the U.S. That same year, Yamaha released the YA-2, which won an award for good design. The award described Yamaha Motor Corporate as one of the top contenders in the world of motorcycle racing and manufacturing.
Today, Yamaha continues to build impressive machines that seem to be more durable, sleek and better performing than their predecessors. Where people once asked who was Yamaha and where they came from, now the bike is a household name even for those who aren’t into motorsports.
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