The Golden Era of ATVs had some of the best machines produced by big-name firms – among them was the 1980 Yamaha Tri Moto. Introduced in 1979, the Tri Moto was the first Yamaha ATC sold on U.S. soil.
It was also the first vehicle from a major ATV manufacturer to challenge Honda as king of the racing scene. Given its competitive yet controversial history, it would be interesting to know what it had to offer and what has now become of the three-wheeler.
The Yamaha Tri Moto was an iconic three-wheeler highly revered by riders and enthusiasts all over. Featuring Dunlop™ tires, bottom link rear suspension, and a dual-tandem braking system, the Tri Moto was the only vehicle worthy enough to go neck-and-neck on the racetrack with undisputed Honda.
Ingenious features, simplistic design, and teeming bravado are some of the traits that endeared the machine to off-roaders worldwide. Even racing champs Broc Glover and Rick Johnson were drawn to the three-wheeler.
The Yamaha Tri Moto was one mighty vehicle that entered the racing scene too late and just needed more time to evolve – as you will soon discover in this article.
The Yamaha Tri Moto was 1st in the line of all-terrain cycles produced by Yamaha and the company’s first three-wheeler to launch in the U.S.
The Tri Moto YT125G featured a 2-stroke engine, balloon tires, a snorkel-type air intake, and a company-exclusive Autolube oil supply system. It had a horsepower of 5.9 kW/8 PS @ 6,000 RPM, a displacement of 123 cm3 (7.5 in3), and a top speed of 30 mph (48.3 km/h). All these elements combined made the Tri Moto the perfect recreational and utility vehicle.
Yamaha only produced 125-class versions of the Tri Moto during the initial three years of its production. It was not until 1982 that the YT175J was launched in multiple markets. What is quite interesting about this 2nd installment of the Tri Moto is that it was released in Japan – but only in the country’s Hokkaido region. Not long after, the YT175J was succeeded by the YTM200 series, which the Japanese manufacturer sold alongside the same-displacement Yamahauler and the slightly bigger YTM225 Tri Moto models.
The Yamaha YTM225 was particularly special, as it was the version that was shaft-driven and featured an electric starter. Unlike the 196-cc version, it had telescoping front forks and a mono-shock rear suspension – a huge improvement compared to the YT125G and even to the YT175J model that already had telescopic forks. Still, there was much to be had with the vehicle’s suspension, more so since it was pitted against Honda’s then flagship ATCs – the Big Red series.
Big Red’s Contender
Yamaha Tri Moto’s race-ready version – the POS-83 – embodied the full potential of the three-wheeler and was at the receiving end of experimental factory touches not present in mass-produced YT/YTM versions.
It became Yamaha’s platform for establishing harmony between cartridge front forks, bottom-link rear suspension, Y.P.V.S., a 56-mm Mikuni carb, and 60-hp power output. Likewise, it reflected the extent of the vehicle’s shortcomings, as it was only capable of monstrous performance for half an hour before disintegrating.
Broc Oliver and Yamaha’s team of experts spent hours on end polishing its competencies. However, the POS-83 was extremely unfortunate and did not make it to its racing debut against Honda.
1983 – 1985 Yamaha Tri Moto Specs & Features (YTM200K)
An air-cooled, 4-stroke single-cylinder engine with a 67 × 55.7 mm (2.64 × 2.19 inches) bore-stroke ratio and an 8.5:1 compression ratio powers the Tri Moto. Engine displacement is 196.3 cm3 (12 in3) delivered by a Mikuni VM22 carburetor (jetting: #102.5 (main); #130 (pilot); #65 (starter) – except for YTM200ERN, which has #85 starter jet).
The 225-cc Tri Moto and utility-oriented Yamahauler share the same power mill as the Yamaha Tri Moto 200 but with different jetting. Conversely, the YT175 trims use a slightly bigger carb than the 200-cc version, given a Mikuni VM24SS.
The above engine configuration lends to a 50 mph (80.5 km/h) top speed and maximum torque of 16.5 Nm (1.69 kgf-m, 12.2 ft-lb) @ 5,500 RPM for the YTM225 series. Meanwhile, its smaller-displacement siblings have a speed rating of 40 mph (64.4 km/h) and a maximum torque of 14.2 Nm (1.45 kgf-m, 10.5 ft-lb) @ 5,000 RPM – including the YTM200 series.
The Yamaha Tri Moto 125 (YT125G) has the lowest speed rating and torque output out of the lot, at 30 mph (48 km/h) and 9.8 Nm (0.99 kgf-m, 7.2 ft-lb) @ 5,000 RPM, respectively.
Fuel & Lubrication
It has a wet sump (pump) lubrication system paired with a high-quality foam air filter. Fuel tank size is 9 L/2.4 US gallons. The manufacturer recommends 1.5 L/1.6 US qt. of SAE 20W-40 4-stroke oil or its equivalent (without graphite or molybdenum additives, or with less than 5% MBTE, 10% ethanol, or 5% methanol content) for best results.
For temperatures consistently below freezing, use SAE 10W-30. Instead of the SE/SF API-certified motor oil suggested in the manual, you can opt for any API-grade SJ+ oils meeting JASO T903 MA standards as an alternative.
A 5-speed constant mesh manual transmission and centrifugal type, multiple-disc clutch assemblies deliver power to the ground. Depending on displacement and model, either a 520 O-ring chain (with 60 links) or shaft drive handles wheel spin, while a recirculating ball bearing steering system makes for smooth handling and improved maneuverability.
The shift sequence is all-up (1-2-3-4-5), except for the YTM200ERN that has a single reverse speed (N-1-2-3-4-5 gearshift pattern). All in all, this drivetrain setup makes the Yamaha Tri Moto perform well on trails, as well as difficult terrain.
Ignition & Lighting
It has a solid-state CDI (Capacitor Discharge Ignition) and a primary kick-start/electric start system. A CDI Magneto with a 14 – 15 VDC @ 5,000 RPM output serves as the vehicle’s charging system and is responsible for powering up lighting and other electronic accessories.
Ignition timing is 10° BTDC @ 1,000 RPM (initial “F” mark) and 30° BTDC @ 6,000 RPM (full advance), while idle speed is 1,400 ± 50 RPM. Additionally, the three-wheeler requires an NGK DR7EA or Nippon Denso X22ES-U spark plug with a 0.024 – 0.028 inch gap. Lighting specifications are as follows – 45 W (headlight), 8 W (taillight), and 3.4 W (neutral and reverse).
Not all Tri Moto models are battery-equipped. But for those that are, their electrical setup consists of a 12V 14Ah/(10 HR) GM14AZ-4A battery, a regulator/rectifier unit, and charging coils in the CDI magneto. You can replace the stock battery with a YTX14AH-BS battery format since the former is already phased out. Battery dimensions are 134 x 89 x 166 mm (5.31 x 3.50 x 6.56 inches), with a slightly lower amperage at 12Ah/(10 HR). Other battery options include YB12A-A battery (view on Amazon) and YTX14AHL battery formats.
Tires & Brakes
Stock rubber consists of low-pressure tubeless 22 x 8-10 front tires and 22 x 11-8 rear tires on the YTM200K model, and 22 x 11-8 tires on all threes for the Yamaha Tri Moto 175, YT125, and YTM225 series. They mount on steel rims that can convert to aluminum wheels to help shed some weight off the wheeler.
Similarly, stock tires can change to slightly narrower radials or knobby tires, such as ITP Mud Lite ATV Tires (view on Amazon) or GBC Dirt Devil Bias Tires (view on Amazon). These tires are ideal if you are into serious mudding or aggressive dirt roads.
Recommended tire pressure for both front and rear wheels is 15 kPa (0.16 kgf/cm2, 2.2 psi) but may differ if aftermarket variants replace stock tires. Most Tri Moto models equip either sealed drum brakes or purely mechanical discs. For the Yamaha YTM200K, a front drum brake and an enclosed single disc complete its tire-and-wheel assembly.
Not all Tri Moto models were equipped with a suspension system. Only the 175-cc and 225-cc models had one. The 175- and 225-cc vehicles had a front telescopic fork and a rear mono-shock. Meanwhile, the famous YTM200K version relied on its grippy tires to provide it flotation.
Other 200-cc Tri Motos that launched alongside the same-displacement Yamahauler sported a rear axle, for which suspension kits were made back in the day. The vehicle’s wheelbase ranged between 44.1 and 45.3 inches, depending on the model year and trim. The Tri Moto’s steel frame encloses the suspension system.
Length and width measurements of the 200-cc Yamaha Tri Moto are 70.7 x 39 inches (1,796 x 991 mm – L x W) – a difference of two inches for said dimensions compared to its siblings. Seat height is 27.8 inches (706 mm) and is just three inches shy of the ideal seating preferred by taller riders. Dry weight is 271 lbs (123 Kg) and is considered light for a 200-cc machine, even by today’s standards.
The Tri Moto frame composes a tubular steel sturdy enough for both recreational and more technical riding. On the outside, the three-wheeler resembles the Big Red but is finished in Competition Yellow instead of its counterpart’s signature color. For certain models, the chain encloses and given ample mud and splash protection.
The series can be distinguished from its Yamahauler cousin due to the absence of front and rear utility racks. The YTM200E, however, is an exception as it comes with these inclusions plus a trailer hitch, making it perfect as a mini hauler and a weekend warrior. Other standard features include:
- Wide, serrated footpegs
- A motocross-style seat
- Square headlights
- Handlebars and handgrips
- Front and rear high-clearance fenders
Cost of a Yamaha Tri Moto
|Model Year & Trim||List Price|
|1980 – 1985 Yamaha YT125G||$1,049|
|1982 – 1983 Yamaha YT175J||$1,299|
|1983 – 1985 Yamaha YTM200K/L/N||$1,399|
|1983 – 1984 Yamaha YTM200EK (Yamahauler)||$1,449|
|1983 Yamaha YTM225DXK||$1,699|
|1984 Yamaha YTM200EL||$1,729|
|1984 Yamaha YTM225DXL||$1,799|
|1985 Yamaha YTM225DXN||$1,849|
|1985 Yamaha YTM200ERN||$1,849|
|1985 Yamaha YTM225DRN||$1,899|
|1986 Yamaha YTM225DRS||$2,079|
During its launch, the suggested list price for the 1980 Yamaha Tri Moto YT125G was $1,049. It was the first Yamaha ATC sold in the U.S. and was expectedly a massive hit with American consumers. Due to its success, other displacements of the Tri Moto series followed entry into the North American market, with prices ranging from $1,299 to $2,079.
Nowadays, you can get your hands on a secondhand Tri Moto for as low as $225. High resale value for the wheeler is around $2,919. For units that fall on the cheaper end of the price spectrum, expect to encounter minor problems such as a broken recoil or the machine being non-operational. Otherwise, you should get a pre-loved vehicle in working condition. Most online trader and auction sites have listings for this classic, with a good number found in Nebraska.
Reviving the Three-Wheeler
Even bulletproof machines need a makeover at one point – and this statement could not be more accurate for the Yamaha Tri Moto. While it performs well with a little nudging of its bearings and electrical components, it will be much better for this 40-year-old classic if it also looked the part. That said, here are some suggestions on what to include in your next Tri Moto build project (Note that these recommendations are for the 225-cc Tri Moto. Mods for other engine displacements will require further research to ensure compatibility of parts):
While Mikunis are excellent carbs, the Tri Moto’s stock carb is a bit restrictive and only offers so much power and torque. Thankfully, going for a bigger carburetor helps improve the vehicle’s speed rating and power delivery.
Experienced Yamie owners opt for a Timberwolf 250 swap, as it bolts right into the YTM225 machine and also makes for a noticeable increase in power. Just make sure to sap the larger Timberwolf U-joint yoke after the style of the Tri Moto. Otherwise, the said U-joint will not fit in the vehicle’s A-arm.
Upgrading the exhaust system goes hand in hand with doing carb work on the wheeler – the former helps improve air intake, thus increasing power and top speed. The service manual does not indicate horsepower values for all Tri Moto models but is likely to be between 5 and 6.2 hp if torque values factor in. Unfortunately, these figures are no longer up to snuff when compared to present-day quads.
As such, performance exhausts like a DG Performance 04-4102 Steel Exhaust with Head Pipe (view on Amazon) would work best on the trike. If this does not suffice, you may add custom valving and have the cylinder head ported to open the intake further and increase the vehicle’s powerband.
The factory setup of the YTM225 does not conveniently fit taller tires, which may make it more difficult for some riders to climb over logs or bulkier obstacles when riding the trike. Luckily, Yamaha Tri Moto 200 parts, such as its front-end, are interchangeable with the 225-cc version and do the opposite in accommodating taller or wider knobbies.
Taller tires consequently offer better cushioning when traversing rocks and bumps and may even improve speed. They also provide enhanced traction and flotation but may take away from the bike’s torque and braking power.
In the spirit of sportiness (and better performance), some Tri Moto owners equip the trike with a +3 swingarm, YFZ450SE rear shock, G-Force +2 Banshee hubs, and a 200-cc Yamahauler rear-axle shaft. These make for sturdier components that do not strip out as easily as stock parts while also improving handling.
The Tri Moto may not particularly need valve emulators to enhance the stock suspension. Nevertheless, I would suggest thoroughly searching up on how to make any changes to the front-end, tires, and suspension system work together.
Finally, remember to take care of the Tri Moto’s exterior. Nowadays, powder-coating and hydro dipping seem to be the best method for restoring an old three-wheeler to its former glory. Of course, prepping the vehicle’s plastics is crucial, and all necessary steps before painting the body panels must carry out first. These initial steps include the following:
- Cleaning and sanding the plastics
- Removing any contaminants
- Getting the plastics dry and surfaces clean
- Applying adhesion promoter/solution and primer
- Filling gouges and big scuffs with putty or flexible sealer
- Applying a base coat before the paint job
Typically, powder-coating and hydro dripping combined cost at least $600 (standard color), becoming more expensive as the graphics you would like on your machine get more intricate. A full camouflage design, for instance, would cost around $800 to $1,000. Expenses are bound to increase if you purchase polypropylene plastics to remedy mid-to-severe cosmetic damage.
The story of Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. began in 1955, when the firm parted ways with its parent company who, at that time, was already widely known for manufacturing piano and reed organs. Then founder Genichi Kawakami reverted to motorcycle production and, over time, had grown the company’s armada of product offerings to include scooters, motorized bicycles, personal watercraft, engines and generators, and off-road vehicles such as the Yamaha Tri Moto.
The founding members’ painstaking efforts have led to the present Yamaha Motor Company – a multinational conglomerate with over 52,000 global employees and 132 consolidated subsidiaries continuing to uphold its mission of “Kando” by creating “something that inspires the heart and spirit.”
Conclusion – Yamaha Tri Moto Review
Perhaps, many of us continue to muse over the misfortune of the Yamaha Tri Moto. Some may probably be stuck on the clash of ATV juggernauts that could have been or the abrupt halt of the Tri Moto racing program. In reality, its early demise was probably a blessing. Surely, everyone knows that it only took two years after the Tri Moto’s final production run before the entire industry shifted its course towards four-wheeled vehicles.
The advent of the Tri Moto and its short period under the limelight was not all in vain. If not for this classic ATC, Yamaha may not have acquired the expertise to develop its vehicles’ various components to perfection. In like manner, Honda may not have felt the need to evolve, and sport- and utility-oriented wheelers would not be as how we know them today.
Indeed, the Tri Moto’s stint in ATV history proves that mistakes can only mean better results in the future and that small wheelers can rise to the occasion and become victors.
Kris is an avid off-roader and outdoor enthusiast who loves to brave the elements and take on challenging terrain. He also enjoys sharing his passion and knowledge with others so that they, too, can appreciate the ride.