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1959 Yamaha YDS1R 250 Racer, Part One
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The Asama racer was Yamaha's first attempt at selling a production racebike to the general public. Richard Tracy explains how this worked, and recalls one YDS1R which travelled to the Isle of Man...

Ever since I started restoring my first vintage Yamaha, a 1963 YDS2 Sports 250, I had always had a desire to own an example of the Japanese company's first road racer. It was a machine that led to the company's highly successful racing pedigree, but still owed much to traditional European bike design and concepts.

The racing model YDS1R was Yamaha's first attempt at selling a race bike to the public. It was based upon their factory racing machines, which were successfully campaigned at the premier Japanese races held at the Mount Asama volcano, where the terrain consisted of compacted ash and other volcanic debris. Like all of the bikes used in these races, the Yamahas had high, scrambles-type handlebars and knobbly tyres, unlike the clip-ons and race tyres used in Europe. The YDS1Rs became known as the 'Asama Racer' in honour of Yamaha's success at the event.

Whacky colour scheme is explained in text, honest. 1959 Yamaha YDS1R 250 Racer

The 1959 YDS1R was only initially available as a 'kit parts' racer, meaning you had to buy a complete road going 20hp YDS1 sports bike, then buy the race kit parts as optional extras to convert it for racing. The complete kit consisted of: expansion pipes, race tuned barrels, cylinder heads, pistons and rings, crank driven magneto ignition, Mikuni-Amal copy remote float carburettors, remote float brackets, inlet port manifolds, rear set footpegs and levers, clip on handle bars, (steel) fuel tank, seat, tacho bracket (three different types!) and tachometer, plus all associated cables, brackets, nuts and bolts.

So the customer could choose which bits he wanted and leave the bits he didn't, or couldn't afford. This helps explain the bikes 'unusual' colour scheme. The metallic gold and pearlescent white paint are standard on the road bike and red was the chosen colour for the racing fuel tanks!

Tuned engine, standard suspension. What a combination... 1959 Yamaha YDS1R 250 Racer

Many customers were obviously not happy with having to buy the complete bike first, only to throw away a vast majority of new bike, so Yamaha later assembled and sold a few race ready machines. This soon led to their first proper production racer the TD1, but that's another story…

The factory kitted engine pushed out a healthy 30hp, and when it was set up well, it proved to be a fast machine. The problem was, it didn't stay set up well for long. The points on the magneto would often go out of adjustment and the pistons needed changing on a regular basis. Meticulous care had to be taken lapping in the piston; a new set had to be run in, then the top end had to be stripped down, and any high spots on the pistons had to be sand-papered off before refitting. Failure to do this would inevitably end in an engine seizure.

Then, when the engine was set up well, there was still another problem with the bike; that was the handling. The combination of the weight of the machine and the fitment of standard road-going, non-adjustable rear shock absorbers and standard fork damping was not good for a race bike capable of 100mph.

The standard fix of the day was to fit Girling rear units and British bike front springs in the forks, along with British brake liners in the brake shoes. This seemed to sort the handling for most of the riders. At the request from customers, Yamaha did supply some later bikes with uprated suspension front and rear, as standard.

A few YDS1Rs were exported to the US and Australia where, contrary to most modern beliefs, they proved to be quite successful. In the US, Yamaha factory backed a Californian rider called Dave Buising, who took his YDS1R to 2nd place in the 1960 US 250cc championship, behind Luis Giron on an ex-works NSU Sportmax (owned by the Guatemalan government).

Giron's NSU 250cc was an incredibly quick machine, regularly finishing in the top five in the 500 races, against good Manx Norton's and the like. Unfortunately Buising crashed the Yamaha heavily in a practise session and complete wrote it off, having to cut the engine out of the mangled frame.

He sold the engine and his remaining spares to fund purchase of an AJS 7R 350, which could never match the lap times of the smaller Yamaha. He had one more ride for Yamaha at the Daytona races in 1961, where he was let loose on Yamaha's latest racer, nicknamed the 'Yellow Tanker'.

Look out! Mind that fuel drum! Geoff Kellond, Yamaha YDS1R 250, Silverstone, 1962
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In Canada, a rider named Geoff Kellond campaigned a race kitted YDS1R, with a little tuning help from Buising. Kellond won the Westwood and the Western Canada Championships. With these results under his belt, Geoff brought the bike over to the UK, sometime in late 1962. Both Geoff and his brother Pete raced the Yamaha around the UK scene from 1962 until 1964, when the bike was shipped back to Canada. They both achieved some good placings, though never actually winning any races.

A more documented rider to bring a YDS1R to the UK was American Sonny Angel. He famously competed in a few races in 1960, before entering the IOM TT races. To improve the bike, Angel fitted a Norton front brake and a home-made seat was added to allow the taller rider to fit. His machine was unfortunately plagued with piston problems, which meant he had to improvise whilst at the Isle of Man. Sonny hunted down the closest pistons he could find, which were MV Agusta scooter pistons. This seemed to work ok until the final of lap of practise when a relocated piston ring locating pin became dislodged, causing his unfortunate early retirement from the Isle Of Man mountain circuit. While it was still going, Sonny's bike was reputed clocked at over 112mph at the Highlander speed trap.

Check out the unslienced expansion chamber 'stingers' and imagine the sound... 1959 Yamaha YDS1R 250 Racer

In 1962 the YDS1 was replaced by the new YDS2. Although they looked very similar, the new model was much improved, mostly in the engine, gearbox and brake departments. In the same way as the YDS1R, a YDS2R race kitted machine was available, but more importantly for Yamaha, a new purpose built racer was now available alongside its road derived sister, the TD1 production racer.


Next installment: Richard tells us how he finally laid hands on his own Asama Racer…


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