The YZF-R15 isn’t just Yamaha’s best affordable performance motorcycle in India (unless you want to give that title to YZF-R3 now), it is also a story in itself about Yamaha’s revival and the heroic comeback in the Indian market.
In the late 1990s and the early 2000s, when the 2-stroke motorcycles were slowly and surely being phased out of production, Yamaha India was struggling to keep up in the market especially against the unstoppable rise of the Hero Honda Splendor. Along with the partnership with Escorts, the Japanese giant did try to please the crowd with their cruiser-styled Enticer, 125cc motorcycle, but it didn’t nearly work for die-hard Yamaha fans and motorcycle enthusiasts in general. Their 100cc commuters like the Crux series was also only received with mediocre success.
Riders wanted more, something truly performance oriented and with typical Yamaha genes and ideology. Yamaha is synonymous with performance after all.
Second half of the 2000s
Things began to change in the second half of the decade 2000. Realizing that their strategy till now wasn’t the right way to go, the company took things into its own hands and started working on completely rebuilding the Yamaha brand.
They didn’t just need a competitive product, but also something truly revolutionary and game changing. Why? Because it’s Yamaha and we always have huge expectations from bike makers like these. Secondly, it became quite clear that trying to beat HH Splendor was going to be of no use other than wasting resources.
So, Yamaha did what we really didn’t think it would until they made their intentions clear and that several spy shots of their certain full-faired sportbike started to appear online.
2008 and beyond – a new Yamaha
Yamaha launched their first proper 150cc sportbike, YZF-R15, in 2008 and changed the dynamics of the market forever. In fact, the R15 was the first proper sportbike up to 200cc category. If the HH CBZ instilled a feeling of sportiness in the modern 4-stroke era in the Indian motorcycle industry, the R15 made it real.
Everything about the YZF-R15 is about performance. From the first-in-class liquid cooled engine to the delta-box chassis and the link-type mono-suspension at the back, the R15 has been designed to churn out the best performance from its 150cc mill.
The R15 is a revolutionary motorcycle in India. When most of us were going ga-ga over the likes of Karizma and Pulsars, Yamaha showed what a real performance motorcycle should look and ride like. They showed that you need not have a big motorcycle to have fun.
A liquid-cooled 149cc engine with forged pistons and diaSIL cylinder brought world-class technology closer to more people in India for the first time. But that was only the beginning – fuel injection, delta box frame, full-faired aerodynamic bodywork, swing-arm with link-type mono-suspension at the back, ensured that the R15 went better than anything up to 200cc category when it was launched. It is, to this day, one of the best handling motorcycles in the country.
But performance aside, it was the point Yamaha made with the introduction of the R15. Retailing at over a lakh rupee on-road in Delhi, the R15 broke all traditions existing in the 150cc segment. Yamaha made India ready for purpose built sportbikes in a small capacity segment. People began to realize that it is worth spending that much money on a small capacity motorcycle. No wonder the motorcycle sold like hot cakes. Enthusiasts around the country found a perfect tool to genuinely learn about sportbike riding on a genuine sportbike without burning holes in their pockets.
The motorcycle went around corners like no other motorcycle made in India. People were reminded of Yamaha’s racing heritage and their inclination towards total performance. However, the R15’s only downside with respect to performance was its poor low-end torque. To fix this, Yamaha launched the YZF-R15 version 2.0 in 2011 with re-tuned ECU (Engine Control Unit) which increased the torque to up to 15 NM while the original engine specification and power remained same at 149cc and 17 PS.
But version 2.0 was quite heavily revised in other areas as well. The whole middle and rear section was redesigned with split seat and raised tail section to make the motorcycle look like the proper miniature version of the YZF-R6 Supersport.
The rectangular steel swing-arm from the original R15 was replaced by the longer aluminium swing-arm which is said to be taken from the YZF-R125 which Yamaha sells in Europe. The longer swing-arm took some flick-ability away while making the bike more stable at all speeds. This combined with better acceleration response from low and mid-range RPMs, the R15 became an overall better motorcycle to ride.
But we Indians are interesting enough, we do not accept non-contemporary designs easily. The rear seat on version 2.0 was quite impractical for a person to sit on like on most full-faired sportbikes. So much so that it started affecting the bike’s sales. Hence, in came the YZF-R15S which is a nice mix of the version 2.0 and the original R15. While the swing-arm and engine improvements are the same as the version 2.0, the seat and the tail section is from the version 1.
Changing the fortunes
The YZF-R15 single-handedly changed the fortunes of Yamaha in India towards the end of the 2000s. It brought Yamaha right back into the game and put up an unmatchable challenge for the competitors. Clearly, someone with similar racing history and experience could produce a worthy opponent and it was Honda with their CBR150R.
Since the days of the first R15, Yamaha has been thriving in the Indian market, although, that has a lot to do with the success of the FZ-16 lineup as well. But the credit must go the YZF-R15 because it was a brave move by Yamaha to launch a motorcycle which was not meant for the masses and so the company risked sales in favour of exclusivity. And boy did it work for Yamaha and how!
We would like to thank Mr. Abhishek Arora for letting us spend some valuable time with his version 1 YZF-R15. It served as a perfect reminder as to how Yamaha did it.
And while you can find a touch version 1 in the R15S, you can still find the original one on OLX.