Home » This Tiny Motorcycle Looks Like A Kid’s Toy, But It’s Real And Totally Road Legal

This Tiny Motorcycle Looks Like A Kid’s Toy, But It’s Real And Totally Road Legal

1986 Ysr50
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A couple of weeks ago, I saw a little motorcycle that blew my mind. This Yamaha YSR50 looks like a kid’s toy, a pocket bike, or maybe a scale model of a far larger racing motorcycle. However, it’s a real road-legal motorcycle that adults can ride and yes, you can buy one! It’s a product of a time when Japan’s motorcycle industry loved building race replicas of all sizes, let’s take a look.

I’ve long known about the Yamaha YSR50 and other tiny racing replicas for a while. However, these motorcycles are rare to find in the United States. Back in November, my wife was at a small used car dealership buying a Scion iQ. She’s decided the best way to preserve her BMW E39 would be to demote the wagon from daily driver duty to becoming a weekend project car.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

She’s in love with her new Scion and admittedly, my Smart Fortwo-loving self is also appreciating the little guy, too. While she was signing paperwork and whatnot, I was toured the dealership, which was full of interesting vintage European cars.

Sitting in the corner was this little Yamaha YSR50.

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I was told it was not for sale, but it didn’t matter. I had never seen one in person before and I couldn’t contain my excitement and wonder. It really is something roughly the size of a Power Wheels but is somehow a real motorcycle.

Japan Loves Its Race Replicas

In October, I wrote about how Japan’s motorcycle manufacturers spent the 1970s and 1980s experimenting with motorcycle technology. Back then, you could buy a Japanese motorcycle with a rotary engine, a motorcycle with an inline six-cylinder engine, motorcycles with turbochargers, and motorcycles with ever-increasing power and top speeds. These experiments coincided with the burst of popularity in motorcycle racing. Riders would spectate motorcycle races such as the 8 Hours of Suzuka and the Japanese Grand Prix. When those people got home, they wanted to buy replicas of the motorcycles they saw in those races. The manufacturers were happy to deliver.

This CBR in the below brochure photo? That’s a 250cc inline-four!

Honda

Many riders are familiar with the larger motorcycles of the era such as the Honda CBR1000F, Suzuki GSX-R1100, Yamaha FZR1000, and the Kawasaki ZX10. All of these motorcycles are exercises in raw power and speed while looking like the same bikes hurled around racetracks. However, as Motorcyclist magazine writes, big literbikes weren’t the volume sellers. Due to licensing restrictions, inspections, and emissions testing in Japan, most motorcyclists in the country bought smaller machines. I’m not talking about middleweights here, though, you could get race replicas in that size as well. I’m talking about motorcycles powered by little 250cc stormers and even smaller ones.

In my retrospective, I talked about the Honda CBR250F MC14, the Honda CBR250RR MC22, the Suzuki GSX-R250, the Yamaha FZR250, and the Kawasaki ZX250R. Those bikes were 250cc-class racers with engines that revved as high as 19,000 RPM and sounded like a vintage F1 car. Today, we’re looking at motorcycles that are smaller, much smaller.

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Power Wheels

1988 Tdr50
Yamaha

The wonderful thing about these motorcycles is the fact that they’re not just minibikes with cool fairings and headlights. The manufacturers of these motorcycles took technology from their larger sportbikes and scaled them down. Going with a road legal 50cc-class machine, which had an actual engine displacement just under 50cc, came with even more benefits than riding a 250cc. In many jurisdictions, it meant getting cheap moped-class insurance and registration.

In places like Europe, even teenagers could legally ride a micro sportbike. European brands such as Aprilia, Puch, Garelli, Derbi, and Gilera have all created their own 50cc street-legal machines. Even more petite sportbikes are supplied by practically endless Chinese companies as well.

Suzuki Rb50 Gag
Suzuki

For this piece, we’re focusing on Japan’s efforts in the 1980s, which produced some seriously rad and adorable machines.

In 1986, Suzuki debuted the RB50 GAG, pictured above. This motorcycle looked like a full-size GSX-R that had shrunken in the wash. Again, these used real motorcycle technology but on a small scale. The RB50 GAG had a telescopic fork, a welded aluminum box frame, an aluminum swingarm, a front disc brake, and a rear monoshock. That’s a lot of technology for a motorcycle with a 49cc four-stroke single making just 5.2 HP. It’s not known how many RB50 GAGs were sold, but sales ended in 1987, so it was a short-lived model.

S L1600 (44)
Honda via eBay

In 1987, Honda brought out the NSR50. This motorcycle was launched in response to the Suzuki and, like that bike, resembled a larger NSR500 but on a tinier scale. Once again, we get a real motorcycle frame, telescopic fork, and a rear shock, but Honda went the extra mile with this one. Both brakes are discs and the front brake disc has a two-piston caliper. Honda’s development also included a water-cooled engine and an output of 7.2 HP. Both the Suzuki and the Honda weren’t just road bikes. Motorcycle racers young and older have used them in competition. The Honda also made it into the modern day, reaching the United States for just a single year in 2004 and continued to be sold in Japan after.

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These diminutive replicas weren’t just limited to on-road motorcycles, either. In 1988, Yamaha took its TDR250 dual-sport and compacted it down into the TDR50. That’s the off-road bike at the top of this section. This one had a 49cc liquid-cooled reed intake valve two-stroke single making 7.2 HP. Some of these micro machines, like the Suzuki RB50 GAG, had 10-inch wheels. The Honda and this Yamaha had 12-inchers. Amusingly, Yamaha did publish suspension specs and you get 5.5 inches of wheel travel up front and 5.1 inches in the rear. Sure, this is no BMW GS, but it weighs just 176 pounds!

The Yamaha YSR50

Ap000142985 1
Yamaha

Yamaha also created a pocket-sized replica to compete against the Honda and the Suzuki. This is the Yamaha YSR50. Like the other two, Yamaha began production of the YSR50 in 1986 and you can sometimes find them on on a track, too. This little guy is made to look like a Yamaha RZ500 that went for a cold swim.

I got to see this example in person and honestly, I’m still captivated by the motorcycle. Look at the stuff in the background to get an idea of the scale of this motorcycle. In person, it really does look like a toy. Heck, it’s shorter than the moped it was parked next to.

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Yet, again, like those other motorcycles, Yamaha put some serious development into this bike. The YSR50 bears a perimeter frame of rectangular steel, just like the big boy racers. There’s a telescopic fork up front, a monoshock in the rear, full fairings, and street-legal lighting. Yep, you even get reflectors. Braking is handled with a disc up front and a drum in the rear. It’s old tech, but we’re talking about a motorcycle that weighs just 165 pounds here.

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Under the plastic is a 49.3cc two-stroke single good for 7.2 HP and 4.27 lb-ft of torque. Peak power is made at 8,500 RPM, so you have to rev the piss out of the bike to get anywhere. Something I haven’t mentioned about all of these bikes is that they even include a traditional motorcycle transmission. In this case, you get 5 gears.

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Greg Harrison from American Motorcyclist magazine reviewed the YSR50 in February 1987 by taking one on the 50cc Reliability Run in Georgia. This was a race just for 50cc motorcycles of all stripes. As Harrison wrote, speed wasn’t so much determined by the size of your engine, but by the size of your gut. The YSR50 had a top speed of around 38 mph, but lighter racers got there quicker. The Honda MB5 was also a faster steed.

Harrison said the YSR50 will make you smile. Even better, the motorcycle fit everyone from children to editors who stood 6 feet, 3 inches tall, and weighed more than the motorcycle itself did. Harrison also noted that he was able to ride the thing for three hours straight, stopping only to get fuel. Look at this clipping below with the bikes and their racers, including the guy in a gorilla suit. I bet this race was a ball!

Screenshot (737)
American Motorcyclist

Yamaha saw the YSR50 as a sort of family motorcycle. An adult could ride the motorcycle in the morning then pass it to their kid in the afternoon. Both would have a ton of fun and since the bike was so slow, nobody would be getting hurt. It was also just $999 back then, or $2,758 today. In Japan, they were sold for ¥189,000, which is about ¥237,079 ($1,632) in today’s money.

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Today, the YSR50 is said to be the most common of Japan’s teensy sportbikes of the 1980s and 1990s. They sometimes show up for sale on auction sites and usually sell for under $10,000.

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Yamaha

I found 10 in a 500-mile radius of my apartment and that was just when I stopped counting. The cheapest is just $2,500! You can also find them in other places. There’s a YSR50 pair for sale on eBay and the seller says $14,995 will get you both of them.

Modern interpretations of these motorcycles do exist in America. Motorcycles like the Honda Grom, the Kawasaki Z125 PRO, and the CFMoto Papio are puny bikes that resemble sport bikes, but give you a burst of joy at speeds no greater than 55 mph or so. The modern wee sportbike will leave all of these vintage machines in their dust, too.

If there’s a downside to these classic machines, it’s the weight limit. These motorcycles have a GVWR rating of 320 pounds. So, if you weigh more than about 150 pounds, officially, you’ll be overloading your minute motorcycle. Still, if you want a two-wheeler that’s legally a moped but want it to be a bit more silly, one of these motorcycles could be the ticket. They look like and are built like big, fast race replicas, but are small enough for barrels of safer, slower fun.

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Images: Top graphic YSR50 via Yamaha; male silhouette via Freepik. All other images by author, unless otherwise noted.

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Bill Garcia
Bill Garcia
4 months ago

I loved learning to ride on these – I had a couple 50cc Bultaco Lobito and a MotorHispania Racing RX, and then graduated to an Aprilia RS125.

All of them were way more dangerous and less reliable than one would think and they tasted of pure freedom!

JDE
JDE
4 months ago

It was actually the holy grail of Mopeds in the 90’s. Those in the know could remove the governors and even big bore those things, and even then they were few and far between. Honestly I am surprised Yamaha never made modern versions during the pocket bike crazes over the years, considering the Monkey, Grom and Trail 125, you would think Yamaha would bank on that a bit and sell a few to us old farts. I would absolutely buy one for my kid instead of some chinese scooter/ped at 14.

Christian Harberts
Christian Harberts
4 months ago

But did you touch it?

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
4 months ago

I like to describe this category as kei bike. You do have to make sure the sidecar attachment points are on the left side though.

Dr. Asteroid
Dr. Asteroid
4 months ago

I prefer to own and operate smaller-cc bikes, both for the daily commute and highway use. The closest I’ve owned to one of these baby bikes is my Super Cub. 240lbs, 9hp single-cylinder, 4 gears, and a top speed around 60, it’s a delight to commute on. I average 140-160mpg. I had a literbike once. Nowhere near as fun as working a little engine and enjoying the full rev range and all your gears.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
4 months ago
Reply to  Dr. Asteroid

I agree and will add many scooters to your list. They might need to be in the 150-200 cc class to keep me happy for commuter duty though. I really have no desire to take anything two wheeled on the freeway anymore anyway.

Gubbin
Gubbin
4 months ago

Looks like they’re still racing up in Chilliwack, BC!

SageWestyTulsa
SageWestyTulsa
4 months ago

A kid in my town had one of these when we were in junior high (1990ish?), and if you were 14 and had a valid license you could ride to school. I vividly recall burning with intense jealousy as he blew by the school bus I was trapped in, his look complete with Body Glove t-shirt and sunglasses (but no helmet because early 90s).

Years later, I picked up a Ducati M750 as my first streetbike, but I never felt as cool as I thought that guy was on that little red-and-white YSR50.

Last edited 4 months ago by SageWestyTulsa
CSRoad
CSRoad
4 months ago

Back about 1985 there was a teen who worked at the local convenience store and rode of the little Yamaha bikes, all plated and everything. It was pretty amazing looking with its scale model race replica looks. He claimed it would do 100 km/h.

Pickup_Man
Pickup_Man
4 months ago

For anyone not interested in sport bikes Yamaha also built the much lesser known RX50 which uses the same engine as the YSR, but placed into a cheesy 80’s Japanese cruiser frame. Supposedly pretty rare in the US, but not at all valuable, absolutely mint examples can be had for just over $1000. I’ve got one in far from fresh condition but it runs good, cruises at 35-40 all day, and tops out near about 45mph.

Also, check your local laws before just assuming these can be licensed as a moped, in SD at least if it has a transmission that requires clutching and shifting it qualifies as a full motorcycle. Although in my experience no one bothers you since it’s so small and when I tried to register mine the DMV told me they don’t title anything under 50cc. I’m hanging on to that email if I ever do get questioned, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
4 months ago
Reply to  Pickup_Man

I’m thinking there’s a big need to revisit all of these registration laws and enforcement. Here in Toronto we are plagued by food delivery assholes tearing down the sidewalks on their e-bikes which are probably pretty close to 50cc ICE capability. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in on e-bikes, but just get off the sidewalks and be responsible. Heck this also applies to peddle power riders. It’s even more infuriating when they do this and there is a bike lane right there for them to use.

Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
4 months ago

When my family and I were living in Germany, my 14 year old son got the itch for two wheel motorized transportation. I bought him a standard 50 cc moped that made him happy. I was happy too as the insurance costs etc. were nearly non-existant. Then his German buddy showed up with a 90 cc mini motorcycle of the ilk that you presented in your article. Nothing would do but to follow his lead. After much discussion my wife and me said that if he could complete a 10 week course taught by a certified instructor we would consider it.

Three months later he showed me his newly minted certification along with a DL with a new higher class level. I wish I could remember what the various classes were but its been 40 years! Anyhow, I was now trapped by my own words. We went shopping. These things were scarce as hen’s teeth primarily due to the very high attrition rate in this class. Finally found a candidate on the German equivilant of our weekly shopper papers. It was a Honda 90 cc bike that was identical to a 1000 cc road racing bike. Top speed was limited to 70 kmph or about 45 mph. Mileage was around 65-70 mpg. It would corner like crazy and could handle two up occasionally. He rode the hell out of it for two years before graduating to a 500 cc bike.

At that time I was riding one of the earliest BMW K100 Touring. It was a handful and required a practiced careful touch. It topped out at around 145 mph and cornered beautifully. There was some torque lean from the engine but quickly gotten used to. I only mention this because on a few occasions I rode his little bike and came away in awe at the similarity between the two bikes.

Well, this has run on a bit, so I will close for now. Ride safe!

PS And yes I spoiled him rotten as he was our only kid.

OCS-BN
OCS-BN
4 months ago
Reply to  Opa Carriker

The class of motorcycles you describe here is most likely the Leichtkraftrad. In 1980 or ’81, Germany introduced the new driver’s license class 1b. At 16 years old, one was allowed to ride bikes with a maximum displacement of 80cc. Needless to say that it was necessary to attend driving school and pass both written examination and practical test in order to get the license. Topspeed was limited to 80kph. Power was not limited, but engine speed at peak power was limited to 6,000rpm. My Yamaha DT 80 LC2 was rated at 9.8hp, IIRC. The bikes mostly had two-stroke engines. In the late 90s, displacement was increased to the internationally much more common 125cc.
 
PS You are a great dad!

Last edited 4 months ago by OCS-BN
Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
4 months ago
Reply to  OCS-BN

I called my son and he told me that it was an 1981 MBX80. All of what you wrote is accurate and really brought back a lot of memories. One thing that I do remember is that I bought a lot of mirrors and footpegs!

I also found none for sale in the States or Canada and only 2 in Europe. Would love to bring one over under the 25 year rule.

Also found this: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Honda_MBX_80

Last edited 4 months ago by Opa Carriker
OCS-BN
OCS-BN
4 months ago
Reply to  Opa Carriker

Yeah, it’s sad that almost all of them are gone. I guess the switch to 125cc killed them. Everybody suddenly wanted the ‘big’ bikes. I remember a buddy of mine got the Honda 125 Rebel. Four-stroke engine! Two cylinders! Top-speed ungoverned! The market for used 80cc bikes imploded.

Electric Truckaloo (formerly Stig’s Chamorro Cousin)
Electric Truckaloo (formerly Stig’s Chamorro Cousin)
4 months ago

I used to race YSR50s in the NCMRRA series in norcal. It was ENORMOUSLY entertaining, with much lower consequences than AFM or AMA (even in low-displacement categories). Some of the most fun I’ve had in my life.

Scott Ross
Scott Ross
4 months ago

one of my local dealerships has one in their waiting room area, along with some other rare, bikes. The YSR 50 is in good company with a CBX sitting near it.

Paul B
Paul B
4 months ago

In my teenage years in the 80’s, my friends and I were seeing if it would fall under the scooter rules here in Quebec, which would allow use by 14+ year olds. But, alas, no, as the requirements also mandated a non-manual transmission.

Hotwirez
Hotwirez
4 months ago

I used to race a YSR at a go-kart track in Ohio. Fun, fun little bikes. You’d think they’d be ‘safer’ than racing big bike, but I high-sided once and separated my shoulder.

Heather Galvin
Heather Galvin
4 months ago

I rode all over the place on a Honda 50cc Monkey in the early 1990’s. I loved that thing.

Lotsofchops
Lotsofchops
4 months ago

I rode one probably 18 years or so ago. I recall first gear was enough to get your going maybe 4mph before you had to shift. And wow was it awkward when you’re used to adult sized machinery, but hell yeah it was fun to rip around the neighborhood on!

Lincoln Clown CaR
Lincoln Clown CaR
4 months ago

You’ve got like 30 extra cars and your wife would still rather buy a Toyota to get around. Which honestly seems like a pretty good move on her part.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
4 months ago

Sometimes you just need a transportation appliance. I remain very much an enthusiast but there are days you just want to know your main ride is completely reliable. If your wife is driving that much a Toyota is probably a great choice.

Diana Slyter
Diana Slyter
4 months ago

Find cheap towing insurance. Then line up the cars in order of desirability…

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
4 months ago

Give her credit for at least learning from experience.

DadBod
DadBod
4 months ago

I swear WERA had a race series for minibikes back in the when

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
4 months ago

“This little guy is made to look like a Yamaha RZ500 that went for a cold swim.”

Like a frightened turtle!!

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
4 months ago

So, when you gonna buy your first one?

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
4 months ago

Tell me you are a millennial without telling me you are a millennial. These things were everywhere in the 90’s. They used to cruise around in packs like the kids on Groms these days.,

Black Peter
Black Peter
4 months ago

I feel so old…

WaxhawFive
WaxhawFive
4 months ago
Reply to  Black Peter

Same here. These were pretty popular in the mountains and MUCH fun was had by all!!

Black Peter
Black Peter
4 months ago
Reply to  WaxhawFive

I distinctly remember looking at them with a friend n the showroom floor, Jeez, 1989 or 90? I bought a Hein Gericke suit that day/

Small Fact0ry
Small Fact0ry
4 months ago

Yes, I remember packs of these buzzing around. Such a fun sound, like a swarm of hornets…

Data
Data
4 months ago
Reply to  Small Fact0ry

Based on the article yesterday, it sounds like all the Hornets are only swarming the service department.

Black Peter
Black Peter
4 months ago
Reply to  Data

ripped from the headlines

Data
Data
4 months ago
Reply to  Black Peter

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.

Cue distinct Law & Order dunt dunt sound.

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