Photo Feature
The Japanese RZV 20th Anniversary Celebration!

by: Dan Austin

Note: All photos are links to a larger image

The day started with a two-hour car ride from Tokyo to Iwata with Mr. Watanabe. Along the way we meet up with about 10 members of the Tokyo RZV club who rode their bikes to the event. Other than a member who forgot to fuel up before leaving Tokyo, the ride was uneventful. The route passed in the shadow of Mount Fujii, which is covered in snow at this time of year.

Once we arrived at Yamaha headquarters we were greeted by Yamaha's Public Relations manager. There were about 20 RZVs in the parking lot, with more riders arriving. The Japanese motorcycle press was on hand taking photos and conducting short interviews with the owners. It was quite a thrill to see so many of these wonderful bikes on hand for the event. A few things really stood out when examining these machines. The Japanese owners love this old bike, but they are not collectibles. Almost every bike was well-worn, showing signs of age and use. This is not a negative - instead I was pleased to see the owners found the bikes to be practical enough for daily use.

There were a few more surprises, at least from the viewpoint of a tinkering American. The Japanese government restricts the modifications that can be made to any registered vehicle. So out of 25 motorcycles, only three had USD forks, and only two had flat-slide carbs. The most common upgrades were modern brakes and wheels. There were a few swingarm swaps and a few more bikes had what appeared to be upgraded conventional forks.

As the photos show, most of the owners have maintained the original paint. Only three bikes were clad in colors other than red and white, two in Yamaha yellow and black, and one in the very lovely Tech21 purple.

Shortly after 1:00 PM we moved inside for a Q&A session with the lead project engineer, the suspension and exhaust engineers and the test rider who participated in the RZV's development. I'm sorry to report that I do not speak or understand any Japanese. I was at the event to see the bikes, but that did not keep my hosts from treating me as a visiting dignitary. I was seated in the front row, with the Public Relations manager translating much of the session for me.

I had a few opportunities to speak with the engineers, and their English skills were far better than my Japanese. They explained this was one of the most fun projects that they had worked on in many years with Yamaha. The project was a celebration of their earlier victories in GP, and presented a few interesting challenges. They wanted to make a race-replica, but not limit the motorcycle to only a cosmetic package. They wanted to put the spirit of the race bike into their project. This proved to be a difficult balancing act between safety, reliability and being true to the race spirit, to mention nothing of the various government regulations around the world they had to contend with.

Yamaha has put together a Japanese website honoring the models that have historical merit and are over 20 years old. The site, has technical details, interviews and photos.

Immediately after the Q&A session, group photos of the bikes and their riders were taken, and then I was left to wander the mini-museum that Yamaha had built to commemorate important models and milestones in their history. The collection, while small, is impressive in the scope of the Yamaha's product line and in the machines themselves.

Later the Tokyo RZV club moved to a local hotel for the evening. Only a handful of the 25 RZVs made the trip from Yamaha to the hotel, and the route was all city streets, but it was still very cool to listen to eight RZVs cruising through the city.

I'd like to offer special thanks to Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Aoyama for their hospitality and efforts to make the event memorable for the only non-Japanese attendee. Yamaha and the Tokyo club are already talking about a 25th anniversary celebration, and I plan to be there!

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