Yamaha Brand Loyalty & Kenny Roberts

Bikes People

The seventies racing champ might not have had Barry Sheene's glamour, but he created a love of Yamaha anyhow...

Brand loyalty is a curious thing. And with Yamaha, there are a few twists in the tale.

I was obsessed with Barry Sheene as a kid – many of us of a certain vintage were. But the evil genius to our Barry’s chirpy rascal patter was Kenny Roberts on his yellow and black Yamaha. And somehow because of that, he and the brand Yamaha built around him, focusses a strange kind of power on the imagination.

And though Barry was legend in the terraced houses of England – his rather bland looking winning Suzuki wasn’t. The Yamaha, on the other hand. Well, you know the score.


Kenny Roberts’s Championship winning Yamaha 500 racers to this day hold their chops in the looks stakes. Not only did an entire generation of dreamers do up their Fizzies to look like them, the currently flying Yamaha Yard-built programme is tapping directly into the resonance of this amazing looking machine.


There can be no other production bike out there that owes so much to a single racing machine. The Fizzie riders in our old manor were of a certain breed, a certain aesthetic. Usually Heavy Metal-ish in their musical tastes, often spotty and ungentlemanly. I don’t want to say hooligans. But yes. Most of them were the type of kid who would smash up the bus shelters in which they performed when the rain beat down.


Perhaps it was Roberts’ identity as an anti-hero that made the bike so attractive and desirable, along with the way he raced. Roberts’ riding style, pioneering in GP racing that rear wheel drift, was certainly groundbreaking. His dirt-track experience set the tone for the next couple of decades and was responsible for many a long, drawn out Fizzie skid in many a suburban car park.

And Roberts’ racing stats speak for themselves. In a 13-year professional racing career, he won two Grand National Championships and three 500 cc world championships, including 32 Grand Nationals and 24 Grand Prix road races. He also won the Daytona 200 three times and was a six-time winner of the Laguna Seca 200. He was also only the second AMA rider after Dick Mann to accomplish the Grand Slam of winning all five events of the Grand National Championship.

Roberts himself might not have had the glamour that Sheene was heir to –

but his bike and his race record certainly did.