Today, when the 800cc Yamaha YZR M1 is struggling to do well against the Ducati Desmosedici GP7, it’s a good time to take quick peek at how things were two decades ago. Back in the 1980s/early-1990s, Yamaha – with their YZR500 machine and with riders like Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey – were pretty much on top.
Eddie Lawson won 500cc world titles aboard Yamaha bikes in 1984, 1986 and 1988. Wayne Rainey continued with Lawson’s and Yamaha’s winning legacy, picking up 500cc world titles in 1990, 1991 and 1992 aboard the Yamaha YZR500.
The YZR500’s two-stroke V4 made about 170 horsepower and top speed was in the region of 280 - 290km/h. While the Honda NSR500 was widely believed to be more powerful, the YZR500, with its aluminium twin-spar Deltabox chassis, was said to be better handling and more forgiving of rider error.
Among others, Kevin Schwantz on his Suzuki RGV500 and Mick Doohan on his Honda NSR500 gave stiff competition to the Wayne Rainey/Yamaha YZR500 combo. With Rainey’s career-ending crash at the Misano circuit in 1993, Schwantz went on to win his first (and only…) 500cc world title that year, while Doohan and Honda were unbeatable from 1994 to 1998.
Motorcycle News have a brilliant article on the evolution of the Yamaha YZR500 here, and here's how an R1 stacks up against the YZR500!
An excerpt from 'Wayne Rainey - His Own Story'
Sport Rider's feature on Rainey, Schwantz and Doohan
Motorcycle News interviews Wayne Rainey
Kevin Schwantz talks to Faster and Faster
Wayne Gardner talks to Faster and Faster
Cycle World interviews Mick Doohan
The Yamaha RD500LC: Yamaha's 500cc GP racer for the street?
Two-stroke glory: The Suzuki RGV250!