• Game Changers : Yamaha YZF-R15

The sabre among knives

In 2008, Yamaha India launched two stunningly beautiful motorcycles for India, the YZF-R15 and FZ16. By early 2009, 18 year old me was not only ready with a motorcycle licence, but I was also ready for my first motorcycle. Big moment but slim pickings as big bikes were expensive and scarce, at least the legal ones. Two-strokers required commitment and so, the residual were a handful of 150cc-250cc street bikes with a dash of performance. My dad was footing the bill, so the former two options were clearly off the table. He believed a suitable motorcycle for his kid was coming from camp Hero Honda, Bajaj or TVS. They all made fun motorcycles yes, but only Yamaha had committed to bring us enthusiasts an accessible sportsbike!

It was decision time and I was hoping to fuel my need for speed with a fully faired bike, one that was earning a reputation of being an apex hunting machine! Priced at just over a lakh rupees on road (Rs 97,425 ex-showroom), it was not only the most expensive 150cc at the time but also the only 150cc you wanted to buy! However, my father’s urge to curb my enthusiasm triumphed and ultimately I settled for the FZ16, one of the sportiest 150cc nakeds back then. No regrets, but it was no R15. It just lacked that unorthodox power band and handling package that felt almost telepathic!

At the time, it was the first of a new breed, an alien. It wore a design that mirrored the iconic YZF-R1, a classic bedroom poster bike. And it wasn’t ‘all show and no go’, as the R15 was a proper entry-level sportsbike. It skipped the quarter fairing fad and went straight for a full racing like its elder siblings. While the split headlamps accentuated the bird of prey design, the muscular tank, low clip-on handlebars, rear-set footpegs and compact profile allowed for a proper sportsbike experience. The build quality was so good, it felt like a truly world-class product.

Be it the digi-analogue instrument cluster or the quality of plastics used all around, it was all crafted with a sense of precision, a fine example of Japanese craftsmanship. Interestingly however, Yamaha India had managed to strike a balance between aggressive styling and comfortable ergonomics for everyday use. The clip-on handlebars were low like a proper sportsbike’s, but with a fatter bone-line and comfortable one-piece seat, so the rider could sit upright in traffic and then tuck in tight for a dog fight in the canyons. And that’s why it could show faster quarter-litres of the time a clean pair of heels.

Despite its age (this here is a 2009 model!), the R15 on these pages loves to lean and hold a racing line. And even if you were new to the concept of racing lines it was accommodating and forgiving like a good master with his disciples. The R15 would take your idiotic throttle inputs and ease it all for you to process and suddenly, going fast felt very easy.

The telescopic front suspension and rear monoshock allowed for a plush ride on our questionable road surfaces. And despite running on skinny, 80/90 R17 (front) and 100/80 R17 (rear) tyres, the MRF rubber designed specially for the R15 gripped tarmac like a leech. So in essence, you could get one from the showroom and irrespective of your skill level hit the hills immediately, carve some corners and have a great time! The R15 showcased such impressive agility using its Deltabox frame, whatever time it lost in off-the-line acceleration, it would immediately cover it up around corners. Even the fastest Indians were playing catch up!

The 149.8cc, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder engine was another piece of fine engineering. Being a high strung motor, it lacked bottom end grunt and most of the action was found above 6,000rpm. Yash, one of our contributers at TURBOCHARGED, spent most of his college days riding up to Lavasa, making his R15 V1 scream near its 11,000rpm redline. Yes, it took some time to get the R15 all excited and one had to keep working the six-speed gearbox frequently to keep the revs up.

But once it got going, the bike would surprise you with its sublime fueling and top-end whack! You could be two-up on the highway or redlining it at a racetrack, but the engine always felt relentless. The power, many bikers say, felt restrained and that underneath the 17PS and 15Nm that the stock bike offered, there was more potential to be unlocked. This was the first time India saw an entry-level sportsbike boasting international standards of quality and engineering and the R15 was clearly a bike designed for the track, sports touring and commuting in almost equal measures.

And Indians love it, even today! The R15 was fast enough to sustain 120kmph and efficient enough to return 40kmpl. It weighed around 131kg kerb back then but shouldered a heavy responsibility of setting fresh benchmarks for Indian enthusiasts. With the R15 enthusiasts had tasted speed like a shark does blood in the water, and there was no turning back!

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