It is impossible to calculate how many motorcycle riding careers started on the Yamaha PW50. The minute two-stroke kids bike was introduced in 1981 and has had precious few updates during the intervening 41 years—faux liquid-cooling shrouds on the tank in 1984 are the main change, other than colors and graphics. Fortunately, new motorcycle-riding kids in 2022 aren’t all that much different from their 1981 counterparts, so the 2022 Yamaha PW50 remains a perfectly suitable first motorcycle for a youngster looking to ride off-road.The formula for the Yamaha PW50 is a simple one. Yamaha took an oil-injected, two-stroke scooter engine and designed a tiny frame around it—one intended for riders no heavier than 55 pounds. The single-speed transmission has an automatic centrifugal clutch, and power is sent to the rear wheel via a virtually zero-maintenance shaft drive.
Although the PW50 is fully suspended, the travel isn’t particularly long—2.4 inches for the fork and two-inches-flat for the twin shocks. As this is a low-speed motorcycle—at least if you keep it stock—suspension action isn’t all that important. The shaft drive runs directly from the motor to the rear wheel, so the motor pivots as the rear shocks go through their travel—yes, the engine is unsprung weight. While that would be a major issue for a larger motorcycle, it’s more of a curiosity on the PW50.There are a few other odd things about the PW50, and two of them make the little Yamaha less kid-friendly than it could be. For instance, there’s a centerstand instead of a kickstand. New riders will be perplexed by the deployment of the centerstand, and it’s difficult for kids to manipulate. Getting the PW50 off the centerstand is less of an issue—push forward with enough force, and the centerstand will retract.As it’s a 1981 design, the motor is kickstart. Although the kick is effortless for adults, the under 55-pound crowd will find it a bit of a challenge, even with a compression ratio of just 6.0:1.There’s also an unorthodox starting procedure. There’s no battery or key, but you have to put a right handlebar slide switch into the START position. Depending on conditions, you also may have to actuate the choke; you remember a choke, right? It’s conveniently mounted on the top triple-clamp, next to the filler for the two-stroke oil injection tank.As soon as the motor fires up, quickly flick the switch to RUN, or it will likely die. The trick is to not move the switch too forcefully, or it will go into the OFF position and you get to repeat the process. Yes, that’s all for a kid new to motors to think about. With the process successfully implemented, the little two-stroke, fed by a 12mm carburetor, warms up quickly, and sunrise-to-sunset fun is on the way.Throttle response is just right for a young rider, and there’s no gearbox to worry about. Our primary test rider, Avery Bart, rides a Honda CRF50F. She made no effort to hide her preference for the PW50’s single-speed transmission. The twist-and-go feature gave her one less thing to think about while she was zooming around. Sure, a one-speed transmission is limited, but that’s more of a concern for adults than kids. A kid will simply implore you to buy a new motorcycle when the PW50’s limits are met.At 4’ 1” and 45 pounds, Avery is at the larger end of the potential rider spectrum—and she loved that. This is a reminder that parents should never buy a too-large motorcycle for a new rider, expecting the rider to grow into it. That’s a recipe for frustration—the last thing you want.Instead, buy a motorcycle that’s a bit too small. Small and light is the way to go, and the 2022 Yamaha PW50 hits the scales at 90 pounds with the 2.1-quart fuel tank filled, and the seat height is a mere 18.7 inches. Those compact dimensions give the fledging rider the feeling of domination over the machine, rather than the other way around—precisely what you want as a parent. Avery loved riding a motorcycle smaller than her personal bike, as it allowed her to push her limits without fear. She was giving the Yamaha PW50 full throttle, and learning the fine art of airtime.As with any learning curve, mistakes will be made. Avery did crash on hard ground after attempting a jump at full-throttle while still sitting down—despite adult exhortations for her to stand up. The PW50 wobbled on landing and hit the deck. Fleeting tears ensued, and the mishap illustrates the importance of proper apparel.We set Avery up with a set of gear from Thor. The Thor Youth Pulse Cube black/mint jersey ($35) and pants ($100) combo looked great, and they were matched with a pair of lightweight Youth Sector gloves ($18)—perfect. Thor Youth Quadrant elbow guards ($22) and Youth Sector knee guards ($12) were underneath.Thor Youth Blitz XP boots in Flo Acid ($140) added color to the ensemble. Avery loves the way they look, while we are satisfied with the protection provided. The three-buckle design gives plenty of support. Kids’ feet take a beating, so don’t skimp on boots.In the jump crash we mentioned, two pieces of protective equipment shined. When Avery fell off, she belly-flopped onto the hard dirt. The chin guard on the Thor Youth Sector ($100) helmet did its job. It clearly had taken a beating, yet without damage to the main body of the helmet, the mouthpiece, or, most importantly, Avery’s head and face—that’s why a full-face motorcycle helmet is mandatory for everyone, especially children. Don’t forget the Thor Youth Combat Racer goggles ($23), as eye protection is essential. In this case, the pink/black goggles displayed a nice contrast with the matte black helmet.The Thor Youth Guardian roost deflector ($75) also came into play when Avery went down. The main chest plate was scuffed up from the impact. Sometimes we will go without the roost deflector when shooting photos so we can show off the jersey—we’re obviously glad we didn’t.Remember that the chest plate is EEC rated for roost protection, not impact protection. While we can’t say how much impact dispersion was provided, it definitely prevented abrasion—her body was unmarked. The Youth Guardian roost protector includes a legitimate CE-rated back protector, and we give Thor high marks for that. Kids deserve that level of protection, just like adults.Just as Avery survived her fall without a scratch, the 2022 Yamaha PW50 was ready for more. Yeah, the carb got flooded, so the adults had to kick the motor over a few times to clean things out. Otherwise, nothing was bent or broken, even after landing on hardpack. There’s a reason Yamaha PW50s last for decades, serving the riding careers of multiple kids.Maintenance requirements are minimal. There’s no chain, so that’s simple—keep the shaft drive greased. You’ll want to change the transmission oil every now and then, as well as make sure the oil injection tank always has injector-friendly oil in it. The air filter could be easier to get to—you have to remove the seat. It’s a two-stroke, so replace the spark plug as needed—the forward canted cylinder exposes the spark plug nicely. Keep an eye on the drum brake adjustments, and clean out the spark arrester when you think of it. That sounds like a lot of things, but they only take a few minutes.With the one-speed twist-and-go transmission and clutch, the 2022 Yamaha PW50 is a perfect transition motorcycle from a Stacyc. Despite some oddities, it’s a fantastic motorcycle for discovering the dirt bike world. There are even performance upgrade paths should your child demand more power and suspension before growing enough to graduate to another mount. After 41 years, the PW50 remains relevant and will continue to be as long are there are kids and dirt bikes.Photography by Don WilliamsRIDING STYLE
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This week, in the first segment Editor Don Williams talks to us about the new Kawasaki Versys 650 LT. It’s the middleweight ADV style machine that uses the same 650 parallel twin motor as the Ninja 650, so it’s an excellent performer in a user-friendly, good looking package.
In the second segment, I chat with one of my dearest industry friends—now retired Honda PR executive, Jon Seidel. Jon’s fascinating career spans some 30 years with Big Red, and gave him some great experiences with some incredible machines. I was fortunate enough to be invited on many of the press launches that he organized. His new project is documenting and saving many of the old archives from years gone by—and incidentally, if you have anything that may be of value to the project, please contact us by email at email@example.com and we’ll pass it all on to Jon.
So on that note, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!