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Yamaha Gladiator: Gone but not forgotten
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Yamaha Gladiator: Gone but not forgotten

Like all Yamahas, it handled great, looked far better than what came before, and moved well. Except, back then, nobody wanted a 125

Sirish Chandran

Then, as now, Yamaha could never really make a meal of the mass market. After fuel efficiency demands and emission regulations killed off 2-strokes, and with it the RX-100, Yamaha never really had big volume play — but that’s not for lack/want of trying.

Yamaha’s first stab at 4-strokes was the YBX 125 which, I have to admit, did look rather cool for its day with the bikini fairing and some racy graphics. It also moved quite well, courtesy 25 per cent more swept volume than the Hero Hondas that had swamped the market. It’s all relative of course, 25 per cent more meant 124cc and 11 horses so it was never the RX-100 of the 4-stroke world. On the plus side, though, it had a very good chassis and despite the miserable tyres of the day, went round corners rather well. Only problem, nobody cared, and soon enough Yamaha stripped it of everything that was cool and desirable, even misplacing half a horsepower in the process, and made the YD 125. Now this looked ready to take on the CD-100 — dull rectangular headlamp, black panels, hardly any enthusiasm in the graphics, nothing that would appeal to the irresponsible Yamaha fan-boy. Unfortunately neither was there anything to appeal to the Hero Honda fan-boys and it was immediately forgotten about. In fact the only reason I remember the YD125 is because it was the first motorcycle I tested and it made me question my career choices. Did I really want to spend the rest of my life testing motorcycles in a country where a 125cc bike was too much; too fast?

Yamaha did the smart thing and made the Crux, a proper 100cc with no flair to its styling. It sold a bit. And then they made the Libero which was the Crux with a face only its mother could love. It was the most google-eyed bike ever, and that was in the days before Google — Google it if you don’t believe me. The point I’m trying to make is, Yamaha were as inconsistent as government policies, the pendulum swinging between trying to stay true to its performance roots and gunning for Hero Honda volumes. What they didn’t lack for was effort, though. They made the Enticer, a 125cc cruiser even!

On the rare occasions when sanity prevailed, we got bikes like the one pictured here. The Gladiator was a genuine Yamaha, but one that also tried to deliver fuel economy. It had the best chassis in its class and was not only the best handling in its class but even when compared to a higher segment. It had great quality. Fuel efficiency wasn’t a big problem and it had good performance. It looked good too. It was the bike Yamaha should have made all along and if it had come in place of the YD we’d have many, many more of them on the road.

Anyway, the Gladiator did put Yamaha back on its feet and its success gave them the confidence to go back to their roots; make a full-on Yamaha.

What came after the Gladiator? The R15!