During the pre-internet days of the 1970s and 1980s, a young Horie Naoto devoured every scrap of information he could find about the 500cc Motorcycling World Championship. It was a time when the popularity of Grand Prix riders, and the brutal two-stroke 500cc machines they tamed, rose to rock star heights. Riders like Sheene, Agostini, Cecotto, Hansford, Crosby and Mamola became household names, while their 500cc machines adorned the walls of bedrooms and workshops around the globe.
For young Horie-san, growing up in Japan naturally meant he would be following the fortunes of the big four Japanese manufacturers. All were throwing the full weight of their factory know-how behind the pursuit of international glory. However, there was one rider and bike combination he idolised more than any other, King Kenny Roberts and his all-conquering Yamaha YZR500. "The Yamaha YZR500 has always been my dream machine," Horie-san explained. "I have wanted to own one since I was young, and while I know that dream would never become reality, I always held onto it."
It was no surprise that Horie Naoto pursued a professional career in line with his love of motorcycles, establishing himself as a communications specialist with Yamaha Motor Corporation. And while his collection of motorcycles grew, there was always a space reserved for the YZR500.
The release of the Yamaha YZF-R25 (R3 in Australia) provided an opportunity for him to finally fulfil his childhood dream, and Tokyo-based custom bike builder 9-Gate Motorcycles was entrusted with transforming the little YZF-R25 into a Kenny Roberts tribute machine.
While the 9-Gate crew waited for the blank fibreglass body kit to arrive from Southern California-based GG Retro Fitz, they set to work on the YZF-R25 chassis. The extensive list of upgraded items includes Öhlins suspension, Marchesini wheels, Akrapovic exhaust system, Brembo brakes, a retro-style LCD round headlight, Alcantara seat, Daytona bar-end mirrors, and rear-set foot pegs.
The crowning glory of the project is the unmistakable Yamaha heritage Kenny Roberts colour scheme that helps to transform Horie-san's YZF-R25 into a one-off custom special celebrating the achievements of Roberts and his Yamaha YZR500 machine that claimed the world championship in 1978, 1979 and 1980.
Horie-san says the idea of using a modern small capacity sports bike to replicate a fire-breathing 500cc Grand Prix machine may seem a strange choice, but it provides him with the best of both worlds. "While it's not a true YZR500 replica, more a design inspiration, my little YZF-R25 gives me a bike that looks like the Grand Prix racer Kenny Roberts made famous, but it rides like a modern motorcycle with modern safety features. It's suitable for everyday use, and I even do regular track days on it."
Horie-san also has no trouble making new friends when he rides the bike. "When I park at a café, people want to know what sort of bike it is. The colour scheme is very eye-catching and always attracts attention."