MotoGP champion father and son raced this Yamaha. Now it’s for sale. – Robb Report
The 500cc period of MotoGP competition is considered by many to be the golden age of the sport, a time when the best riders in the world had to battle unruly two-stroke beasts with no electronics and up to 200 bhp per tire. This was also the time when the United States was a global force in Grand Prix competition, with four different American riders becoming the 500cc World Champion between 1980 and 2000.
Fittingly, that era began with the last of the great Kenny Roberts’ three title wins and was reserved by his son, Kenny Roberts Jr, who won the 2000 championship on the factory Suzuki. However, before young Roberts took the throne, he raced for the previous decade for his father’s team, who ran the Marlboro Yamaha factory team from 1990 until late 1996, when the eldest Roberts took the unprecedented step of creating his own machine named the Modenas after falling out with Yamaha.
All of this history plays into the significance of this 1996 Yamaha YZR500 OWJ1, the last factory Yamaha run by Roberts. It was also the first to be ridden by his son who, after graduating from the 250cc class, drove it to a season-best fourth place finish at the 1996 Czech Republic Grand Prix. .
Today, Rick Degan and his team of UK based RMD Motors are offering the rich Yamaha coming in for $400,000. For decades Degan has been the go-to person when it comes to bringing rare gems out of Japan, however, this particular Grand Prix bike comes from the personal collection of Kenny Roberts himself, having sold it to Degan a few years earlier.
“When I sold the bike to the current owner in the UK three years ago, he rode the bike up and down,” says Degan. “The suspension has been reconditioned, the engine has been rebuilt and it recently had a bit more maintenance before Kenny Roberts took the machine up the hill at the 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed. It is in full working order, although there are no spares included with purchase. And according to Degan, RMD Motors is able to crate the bike and have it shipped by sea or air.
There is another interesting American connection with this bike that extends beyond the rider and team owner. Legendary American tuner and racer Bud Aksland developed his own cylinders, pistons and various internal engine components for Marlboro team riders Kenny Roberts Jr and Jean Michelle Bayle. The team’s third rider, Japanese Norifumi Abe, rode a different engine spec mandated by his contract with Yamaha Japan, while the other two were free to use whatever spec they wanted. This meant that their machines were often faster and produced more power than Abe’s, a fact that didn’t sit well with Yamaha Japan, as you might expect.
Degan says, “This is an extremely rare piece. Factory 500cc Japanese Grand Prix bikes are rarely offered for sale, and this would make an incredible motorcycle for the right collector.
Click here to see all photos of the 1996 Yamaha raced by MotoGP champions and now on sale.