Entry level motorcycles for children have always been important in this industry. At times, Honda’s XR50 (now known as the CRF50F) has been the single, best selling motorcycle in the United States.
Winning the “hearts and minds” of young riders has always been a goal of manufacturers. If a kid starts out on a certain brand of motorcycle, he may just well develop loyalty to that brand that lasts the rest of his life, and leads him through many motorcycle purchase decisions.
Enter the 2006 Yamaha TT-R50E — a direct competitor to the Honda CRF50F, and very similar in many respects with two important differences. The TT-R50E has an electric starter and a lower U.S. MSRP (the Yamaha is priced at $1,149, while the Honda lists at $1,299). With the TT-R50E, Yamaha is dead serious about taking market share from Honda in this extremely important segment.
A relatively new phenomenon makes this segment even more important than it used to be. Mini racing is now extremely popular, and modified 50s are raced by teenagers and adults in backyards and on dedicated race tracks all over the United States. The reasons for this are fairly simple. Racing 50s is a lot of fun, and much less dangerous than racing full-sized motorcycles. It also requires far less physical conditioning — allowing the weekend warrior to feel like a hero!
With all of this in mind, we accepted Yamaha’s invitation to test both a stock and a modified (more about that below) TT-R50E here in Southern California recently. Aside from the electric start button, the TT-R50E has a familiar formula for this category. This includes a 49cc, air-cooled, SOHC, four-stroke single cylinder engine with a relatively mild 9.5 to 1 compression ratio. The transmission is a three speed with an automatic clutch. Drum brakes are featured at both ends, and the fork is a modern-looking inverted design with 3.8 inches of travel, while the shock features 2.8 inches of travel.
The electric start feature deserves special attention. Every dad who has taught his son to ride on a small, air-cooled four-stroke machine has experienced the occasional frustration of trying to kick start such a bike. The electric start button solves this problem and, perhaps even more importantly, allows the youngster to start the bike himself (although, the TT-R50 features a keyed ignition that allows parental control over starting). The “magic button” all by itself is a huge advantage over the competition, but does the new TT-R50E offer the bomb-proof reliability that the small, air-cooled Honda always has?
Yamaha had both stock and modified TT-R50Es available for our testing. The stock unit appeared to offer similar performance to the competition, and certainly had all of the young press riders present smiling and having fun shortly after they took to the track. The transmission worked well, and the clutchless activation made it easy for even inexperienced youngsters to enjoy shifting gears.
GYTR 84cc Kit
In order to briefly torture test the new TT-R50E, I put my 15 year old son Evan (135 pounds, and an experienced motocross rider) aboard a modified version offered by Yamaha at the same test. This modified TT-R50 featured the Yamaha-backed (90 day warranty) GYTR big bore 84cc kit, that features larger intake and exhaust valves, higher performance cam shaft, high flow intake and air filter, larger carburetor, high volume air pump and higher performance clutch plates. Yamaha claims the GYTR big bore kit doubles the power of the stock machine. These test units also featured a GYTR performance exhaust specifically designed for the big bore engine, and stiffer suspension springs.
In short, Evan had a blast riding the tiny machine around the track, while traveling at speeds smaller, less experienced riders will never reach on the stock machine. He jumped all the jumps on the small track, landing with his full 135 pound frame aboard the stock chassis without experiencing any significant frame flex or other problems. Although just a brief test (encompassing a couple of hours), the TT-R50E chassis held up remarkably well, and the lower end of the engine and stock transmission handled the huge power increase of the big bore kit without a hiccup.
This is a difficult machine to criticize. In the end, assuming Yamaha has built great reliability into this air-cooled machine (and there is nothing to indicate that it has not — at least at this point), the electric start feature and the Yamaha-backed GYTR performance upgrades (warranted by Yamaha for 90 days) make this an almost unbeatable package when looking for the right bike for your young, entry level rider. It also looks like a great starting point for mini racers, young and old.
Take a look at Yamaha’s web site for additional details and specifications.