UJM : Universal Japanese Motorbike This was a term invented in the 70s and 80s to describe and denigrate motorcycles from Japan. Japanese motorcycles all had the same engine layout, and they all had no personality, so they said.

The Japanese factories seem pretty distinctive to us here at Durango95, and this is how we see their personalities.

Honda : The number 1 son

Background Soichiro Honda and Takeo Fujisawa began motorising bicycles in the wake of an earthquake which killed 140000 people and the devastation of WW2. Honda is now one of the largest motor manufacturers on Earth.

As seen in Purple Rain where a CB400 is made to look deadly cool by Prince, in Girl With The Dragon Tatoo (2011) Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander rides a CL350. Also – Mad Men episode S4E5 Honda are credited with rescuing the image of motorcycles after the Hells Angels “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” Grand Prix (1966) The ‘Yamura’ team is obviously based on the first years of Honda in F1.

Known for leading edge technology (V4 engines), build quality, reliability. Many who go on to a life long love of motorcycles start on Honda’s because even in a highly distressed state a Honda is a reliable and lovable piece of kit. Honda is the norm, and is considered a bit dull but it does have its own odd quirks, for example; years after the other factories had given up on the Isle of Man TT race, Honda remains stubbornly loyal to the Isle of Man as race wins there had had given the factory early racing credibility. Honda is particularly known for seamlessly taking proven race technology into everyday vehicles.

Flagship bikes SuperCub, CB750, Goldwing, VFR750, Fireblade

Famous racers Freddie Spencer, Mick Doohan, Mark Marquez. The mighty HRC Honda Racing Corporation is the target to beat for most other racing teams in almost any racing series category. 

Do they build cars? Oh yes. When it gets its act together Japan’s Big Dog is a force even in Formula 1

2020 Honda Fireblade

Yamaha : The eccentric, overly competitive second sibling

Background As founded by Torakusu Yamaha in 1887 it is still today chiefly a musical instrument maker (of notably pianos) which began motorcycles as a sideline after WW2. Yamaha considers itself the official rival of big brother Honda and has traditionally been the biggest challenger to HRC on the race track. Despite this Yamaha still considers itself primarily a premier designer of musical instruments (?!), as shown in the famous tuning forks logo.

As seen in First Blood (1982) in which John Rambo rides an XT250, Girl With The Dragon Tatoo (2009) in which a WR250X is ridden by Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth Salander.

Flagship bikes RD350, V Max, R6, R1

Known for sweet handling, barking engine noise, ingenious engine enhancements (EXUP, cross plane crank), custom motorcycles which don’t look hideous

Famous racers Kenny Roberts Snr, Wayne Rainey, Valentino Rossi

Do they build cars? Despite having never made cars, Yamaha did go through a strange phase supplying Formula 1 engines in the 1990s.. co incidentally Honda had an all conquering F1 engine at the same time

MotoGP GOAT Rossi @ home on the YZR-M1

Kawasaki : The aloof cool one who went to college

Background A gigantic engineering corporation normally building bridges, supertankers but searching for mass market brand recognition, building motorcycles seems almost as a hobby, just to irritate it’s siblings.

Known for cinematic bad boy styling and unapologetic performance

As seen in, prominently, Top Gun, as Tom Cruise’s iconic GPz900, and Mad Max as Gooses KZ1000. Uma Thurman’s The Bride rides a ZZR250 in Tokyo in Kill Bill pt1

Flagship bikes Z900, GPz900 Ninja,  ZX10RR

Famous racers Scott Russell, Jonathan Rea. Kawasaki has traditionally shunned the mass market flash of MotoGP for more street level thrills of Superbike.

Do they build cars? No. Channel Tunnel Boring machines yes, cars – no.

Jonathan Rea’s WSB winning ZX10RR

Suzuki: The scrappy underdog little brother

Background Began building looms for Japan’s textile industry, which were so tough they survived WW2 Bombing. Suzuki switched to motorcycles after the textile industry collapsed in the 1950s. Early to challenge Honda on a race track, quickly following out to the Isle of Man and winning quite quickly, with help from a German racer and designer who had just escaped from East Germany (Ernst Degner).

As seen in Cool As Ice – Vanilla Ice rides a GSXR750!

Known for aggressive styling, unbreakable almost Germanic engines and raw power, Cult bikes in their own edgy, slightly understated way,  they are beloved of drag racers.

Flagship bikes PowerFree (the first moped), Katana, GSXR750, Hayabusa,

Famous racers Barry Sheene, Kevin Schwantz, Kenny Roberts Jnr

Do they build cars? The Suzuki Swift has won more than 60 Awards including car of the year awards since its introduction as a global model.

Alex Rins, recent winner of British GP on the GSX-RR

Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki compete amongst themselves in one home grown race every year on a track owned by Honda  – The Suzuka 8 hours. Japanese manufacturers have never been challenged in the Suzuka 8 hours – perhaps the other manufacturers have too much personality?