The famed blue bikemaker from Japan has been a part of the equally famous Dakar since 1979. For decades Yamaha was a contender for the motorcycle title, and indeed has taken nine of them over the years. for the last 20-ish years, however, the company’s bikes have become an unlucky also-ran running in the shadow of the Honda and KTM factory squads. The last time Yamaha won a Dakar title was with Stephane Peterhansel, back before he switched to four wheels.
I don’t know how good you are at math, but I crunched the numbers and 1998 was 24 years ago. To continue to mount serious effort at one of the most grueling races in the world after 24 years of defeat takes a lot out of a team, and that’s part of the reason Yamaha is ditching the Dakar for its motorcycle division. Heck, Yamaha hasn’t even scored a podium since 2014 when Olivier Pain finished third. For the 2022 edition of the race Big Blue could do no better than fourth with French rider Adrien van Beveren on the pegs.
Yamaha may be leaving Dakar as a factory motorcycle effort, but it will stick around in the side-by-side class with its YXZ1000R SSV racer, despite Can Am’s absolute and total domination of this year’s race.
“While the Dakar Rally has mainly succeeded in remaining close to its roots, even when it moved out of its spiritual home of Africa, the world in which it exists has changed considerably,” said Yamaha Motor Europe President Eric de Seynes. “Our off-road customers now have different expectations and they look for different products, and we must cater for these if we are to stay connected.
“It is for this reason we have decided to end our long history on two wheels at the Dakar Rally and in the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, while simultaneously strengthening our commitment to racing the Dakar on four wheels with the Yamaha YXZ1000R SSV.”
Yamaha raced the WR450F at Dakar, more or less a large dirt bike, which is hardly the kind of bike that is flying off the shelf right now. If what Yamaha’s off-road customers actually want is the adventure touring class Tenere 700, and they certainly do, then what incentive does Yamaha have to spend so much time, effort, and money on marketing a less popular bike?
At the 2022 Dakar, there were 168 motorcycles entered in the class, but only nine of them were Yamahas. The rest of the grid was made up of a variety of bikes from Honda, KTM, Husqvarna, Gas Gas, Hero, Sherco, Reiju, Fantic, and a BMW. Will Dakar be markedly worse in 2023 without Yamaha? I’m inclined to say yes. Well-prepped factory efforts are always a sign of grid quality, regardless of results.