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Jun 10, 2023

E-bikes are new tech for most people, but Yamaha got the whole thing stated back in the last ... [+] century.

I recently learned that Yamaha, the Japanese industrial conglomerate, musical instrument maker, audio product producer and motorsports icon was about to release an anniversary edition e-bike, which struck me as odd since e-bikes are a relatively new mass-market tech product - to me at least, and I was a very early adopter. So exactly how many years of e-bike production was Yamaha looking to celebrate? Five? Maybe ten?

How about thirty.

Indeed, it's been three decades since Yamaha loosed a production e-bike upon the world (well, upon Japan's domestic market anyway), and for its 30th birthday, the company is releasing a honorary version of its cutting-edge electric mountain bike, the YDX-MORO 07 Special Edition, that showcases much of what Yamaha has learned over those years. I would have preferred a "tribute" model resembling the original bike with all tech up to date instead of a full-suspension eMTB shredder, but that's probably why I write about e-bikes and don't run companies (and they do offer one for the most part). But it is fun to look back to the beginning of the modern e-bike to see how far things have come.

1993: A Little Help For The "Mamachari"

I was lucky enough to spend some time in Japan in 2004 - eleven years after that first Yamaha "PAS" e-bike model debuted. I was visiting an American friend (a "gaijin"), a serious cyclist who had met a wonderful Japanese woman in the U.S. and then moved there some years before I visited. Honestly, I was going to Japan to see him and meet up with some motorcycle riders for an epic riding trip through the island nation's interior, not to go on a cycling safari.

Riding a bicycle in Tokyo takes you away from the clogged streets and exposes you to Japan's more ... [+] quiet and quaint neighborhoods.

But I also knew going in that bicycles were heavily ingrained in Japanese society, and to see that in action in the Tokyo megalopolis is another thing altogether. Tokyo traffic is epically bad - especially if you’re in a car - which is why many if not most people ride bikes to get around. It's just... faster. Plus, the side benefits are numerous: consistent exercise, less pollution, no gas bills (or insurance, registration, license, etc. etc.). Basically the same reasons ebikes (and regular bikes) are good choices today.

Raining? Residents of brightly lit Tokyo don't let a bit of precip stop them from riding in singular ... [+] Japanese style.

The Japanese ride rain or shine, on bikes well-kitted for any weather. The most common bike in Japan is the "mamachari," or "mom bike," a simple step-through city bike typically fitted with panniers, baskets and fenders, but I also saw them with windscreens and covered kid carriers, often loaded down with groceries and on some bikes, one kid in a front kid seat and another in back. They are perhaps the original cargo bike. At mini-malls and grocery stores in Tokyo, the "parking lots" are filled with these bikes, not cars.

Bikes of every stripe - but mostly the simple mamachari types - fill a parking area at a Tokyo ... [+] shopping area.

While mamachari ridership skews to women, plenty of men ride them as well and I was happy to join in, even riding in the rain (below) while holding an umbrella - a normal practice in Japan.

One of my favorite photos from that epic trip in 2004 is this one of me riding like a local in ... [+] Tokyo. Go slow, stay dry.

It was this most basic, common and useful bicycle - the mamachari - that would become the basis for Yamaha's first electrified bicycle, the PA26-A (below). It featured a mid-mount 235-Watt motor with a torque sensor (in 1993!) and a large Ni-CAD battery that gave about 15 miles of assist. Besides the large battery behind the seat post and the cladding hiding the tech in the frame, it looked pretty much like most mamachari bikes of the time. It cost about $1,500USD, which was expensive at the time.

The 1993 Yamaha Pedal Assist System electric bicycle - the first mass production ebike - was the ... [+] opposite of fancy, and focused on real-world duties.

Befitting a company that makes some of the highest-performance road tools in the world, the PA26-A with PAS, for Power Assist System, was well-designed and effective. It was also immediately popular and over the 30 years since the PAS debuted, Yamaha has sold well over five million ebikes as their design evolution has progressed. The same e-bike - now called the PAS With and thoroughly updated, of course - is still being sold today in Japan. By the time Yamaha entered the nascent U.S. e-bike market in 2015, they had fully matured mid-motor mount e-bike models for city, road and mountain bike riders. In 2022, they introduced a slate of three e-bikes into the EU market and this year, they have decided to honor that original PAS e-bike with a limited special version of their top-tier offering.

2023: MORO Power

It may seem a long way from the original, but the Yamaha Moro 07 SE still features a mid-drive like ... [+] the first PAS bike.

Three decades later and Yamaha has not only kept pace with the e-bike, they are leading it with models like the YDX-MORO 07 eMTB, or electric mountain bike. To celebrate, the company has given a limited number of Moro 07 units an "anniversary" finish that includes a polished aluminum frame, blue highlights and some special badging. Otherwise, the Special Edition bikes are identical (but $100 more) in spec to a regular 07, which includes Yamaha's latest mid-mount motor, the PW-X3. The tiny motor produces 250 Watts of power (much like its PAS progenitor) but can pop up to 500 Watts for short periods. It draws power from a 500-Watt hour Li-ion in-frame battery and produces 85nm/66 lb-ft of hill-climbing torque.

Don't worry, you can still ride it in the city with an umbrella.

The MORO 07 sports fully adjustable suspension with a RockShox Lyrik Select fork that gives a plush 160mm of travel and a RockShox Super Deluxe Select rear shock "custom-tuned for the Yamaha YDX-MORO 07" with 150mm travel, according to the company. Out back, a Shimano Deore XT 12-speed derailleur changes ratios in cooperation with Magura disc brakes, 27.5-inch lightweight wheels and Maxxis Minion tires. A discrete color LCD info panel with Bluetooth (and an app) give riders fine tuning control and there's even a dropper seat post. The YDX-MORO 07 is a Class 1 (pedal assist only to 20mph, no throttle) e-bike in the U.S. market.

It rings in at just under 52 pounds and costs $6,499, so just a bit more than that original mamachari. But I’d imagine performance is a smidge improved over the original. I’m hoping to get one in for a review later this summer, so check back.

1993: A Little Help For The "Mamachari" 2023: MORO Power