With two decades separating the 1991 Yamaha YZR500 and the 2011 YZR-M1, it's interesting to see how the two bikes compare...
For fans of motorcycle grand prix racing, who grew up watching those wild, fire-breathing two-stroke 500s of the 1980s and 1990s, the RGVs, NSRs and YZRs of yore are a bit special. In terms of electro-wizardry, today’s four-stroke grand prix bikes must be incredibly more sophisticated we’re sure, but those old 500s were something else – we’re still truly, deeply and madly in love with those machines.
We thought it would be interesting to compare the 2011 Yamaha YZR-M1 with its forerunner from twenty years ago, the 1991 Yamaha YZR500. With Wayne Rainey having won the 1990 500cc world championship (the first of his three successive world championships in the 500cc class), the 1991 YZR carried the number 1 plate. The 2011 YZR-M1 also carries the number-one plate, what with Jorge Lorenzo having won the MotoGP world championship in 2010. So at least that’s one thing that’s common between the two Yamaha GP bikes – they were/are at the very top of their game.
The 1991 Marlboro Yamaha YZR500 OWD3 weighed in at 130 kilos and its liquid-cooled two-stroke 500cc V4 produced 155 horsepower. During 1991, Wayne Rainey won six GPs on this bike, winning his second 500cc world championship in the process. Yamaha’s other rider that year, John Kocinski also won a race aboard this machine and Rainey later went on to say that the 1991 YZR500 was the best GP bike he ever rode.
For its time, the 1991 YZR500 was pretty sophisticated, with a light, stiff, ‘Deltabox’ chassis made of aluminium, and three-stage adjustable ‘computerised electronic suspension’ (CES) developed by Ohlins. In terms of sheer sophistication, however, the 2011 Yamaha YZR-M1 is leagues ahead of the old YZR – something that’s only to be expected given the two decades that separate the two machines.
The 2011 YZR-M1 is fitted with a liquid-cooled fuel-injected (the 1991 YZR500 used carburettors…) 800cc four-stroke inline-four that produces more than 200 horsepower, which can propel the 150-kilo bike to a top speed of about 325km/h. Like the YZR500, the Yamaha YZR-M1 also gets an aluminium ‘Deltabox’ chassis with adjustable steering geometry, wheelbase and ride height. And just like its predecessor, the new bike also rides on fully adjustable Ohlins suspension and has carbon brake discs all around. However, with its high-tech electronics, safety is one area where the new YZR-M1 is in a different league compared to the YZR500. Bits like traction control and wheelie control etc are making sure that GP bikes are nowhere near as vicious as they used to be, 20 years ago.
Apart from comparing GP bikes from the two eras, it’s also interesting to compare the state of MotoGP itself – there are some similarities in the way things were back in 1991 and how they are today. Back in the early-1990s, motorcycle grand prix racing seemed to be in need of some significant stimulation and, from 1992, Yamaha even started supplying their 500cc GP engine to various privateer teams who used the Yamaha engine in chassis of their own design. engine and the number of machines was larger. With Harris Yamaha and ROC Yamaha also getting into the fray (in addition to the Yamaha Factory team), half the field seemed to be on Yamaha bikes in 1992 – Wayne Rainey, John Kocinski, Juan Garriga, Miguel Duhamel, Niall Mackenzie, Kevin Magee, Randy Mamola, Norihiko Fujiwara and a dozen other riders were all on Yamaha machines back then.
Today, in 2011, with thinning grids and reduced manufacturer involvement, MotoGP is again in dire need of some ‘stimulation.’ In an effort to boost manufacturers’ interest in MotoGP, Dorna are moving from 800cc to 1000cc machines next year, will reduce some restrictions on the number of engines that can be used in a season and will even allow some kind of production-based engines to be used in MotoGP. Most people, including us, hope and expect that these changes will work towards getting more manufacturers and more teams involved with MotoGP, which is still the greatest sport on the planet.
Wayne Rainey, and the way it used to be...
And for those who love the old YZR500, you probably can't get your hands on the real thing but you can have a replica like the one you see here. More details on the NK Racing website here