Featured: From Father To Son, This 1991 Yamaha FZR 1000 Is A Sport Bike Heirloom

From Father To Son, This 1991 Yamaha FZR 1000 Is A Sport Bike Heirloom

By Andrea Casano
February 17, 2020

Photography by Andrea Casano

Although the FZR 1000 was an important step for Yamaha and sport bikes in general, this is not the story of the model’s impact on the motorcycle market, but rather the story of this particular FZR’s impact on the father and son who count it as a family member. Steeped in sentimental value, a reflection of their passion for engineering and design, it was always more than a machine to them—but what a machine.

The angular, forward lean of the lines; the intakes sliced into the bodywork below the fairing; the brushed aluminum steering crown; the livery. The livery! As a complete package and when broken down component by component, the Russo family’s FZR 1000 epitomizes sport bike styling of the 1990s.

Gaspare Russo was a sport bike and moto racing enthusiast who did an excellent job of sharing his obsession with his son, Toto. In the 1980s, Gaspare made sure to not miss a single race weekend (whether that be in person with Toto in tow, or watching on the television together), and the pair got to experience some of the greatest shows of talent on two wheels. They saw Wayne Rainey dogfighting with Kevin Schwantz, Randy Mamola and Kenny Roberts in their primes, but from Toto’s perspective there was no rider more mythic than his good old dad. No pro could compare; “Every Sunday, I’d watch him get on his bike with his brightly colored leathers. I’d just sit in awe, in reverence, dreaming that one day I could wear the same suit and ride the same bike.

Gaspare would come back from rides with his friends and recount them to a young, rapt-attention Toto. “With my imagination, I felt like I was inside his helmet. I felt like I was in a world motorcycle race,  detached from reality, past the limits,” Toto continues. “He would tell me about peak speeds in excess of even the magical 300km/h mark. I still have my doubts on that 300km/h claim, but the fact that I could also believe it made it that much more intriguing in the moment.”

Gaspare and Toto fed off of each other’s enthusiasm, but their time together was cut tragically short. Stricken by a very rare disease, Gaspare passed away at far too young an age. The passion instilled in Toto never faded though, and he keeps his father’s spirit alive and well behind the handlebars. For in addition to being a connoisseur of motorcycling, Toto is a collector and frequent rider. At the time of writing, his collection consists of 11 bikes, including such standouts as a Kawasaki ZXR-750 (winner of the Superbike World Championship in 1993 with Scott Russel riding), a Suzuki RG250 gamma, and a first-series Yamaha YZF-R1 to list a few of the Japanese rockets in his Italian garage.

But it goes beyond the bikes. Toto is what I would call a “thorough enthusiast.” In his home there are Minichamps models that Gaspare had signed by their riders—alongside other personal memorabilia like the film photos of the Targa Florio that Gaspare took on his frequent attendances—and you won’t catch Toto wearing a hodgepodge gear when he goes for a ride. Instead, as you can clearly see, Toto makes a point to dress the part when it comes to high-performance riding gear. His helmet in these shots for instance, is a faithful replica of the Arai that Freddie Spencer wore in 1986. Spencer rode a Honda of course, but I’ll be damned if the livery doesn’t fit perfectly with Toto’s Yamaha. Among his impressive collection, this Yamaha stands out for being the very same bike that his father Gaspare used to ride.

It was May 14th, 2014, the day before Toto’s birthday, when he received the call. A friend of his father is on the other line, telling Toto that he has a bike that he doesn’t use anymore and would he be interested in it? Toto picked it up the same day.

“This bike is one that my father kept for a very short time, just about two years. He’d had a little mishap on it and when it was repainted he had the graphics applied, and I’ve always been taken by the presence it took on afterwards. And when I had the chance to own this special, sentimentally charged bike, it was a simple decision. There wasn’t even a need to make a transfer of ownership,” Toto explains, “because when my father sold him the bike, the strong friendship between the two made an official change of ownership seem pointless.”

Since Toto has taken over, the bike has not undergone any visual changes—it’s just as his father left it—but it has been treated to a mild mechanical restoration along with a handful of upgrades that enhance the experience more than they redefine it. Toto and I could have traded memories and aspirations for hours, but with the sunlight beginning its daily wane, we headed out for some photos in motion.

We decide on one of the more beautiful places that Western Sicily offers, the town of Erice.

This is also a place regularly featured in Toto’s dad’s stories, where he’d go off with his group of friends to have fun on their bikes. Sea, sky, and the wonderful snakes of asphalt compete for your attention here like very few places on the planet.

Our starting point is piazzetta panoramica, which was (and still is) the defacto meeting point of motorcyclists who come here to carve or just cruise. When we arrive, Toto expands on the Yamaha and what it means to him. “I use this bike every day, and contrary to what one might think, it being a superbike and all, I feel that I have not sacrificed anything in terms of comfort,” Toto tells me, “or at least, it’s plenty comfortable from my perspective.” 

Although it’s a “liter bike” from 1991 and definitively sport purposed, Toto describes the FZR as offering a feeling closer to gran turismo than outright superbike. I’ll have to take his word for it, as watching him give chase to our camera car in a colorful swirl of red, white, and blue certainly reminded me of rear-facing race footage, albeit with the track and grandstands swapped for sublime public roads and the scenery of Erice.

The higher we climb, the more powerful Toto’s emotions become. He has faster, more capable, more historic machines to choose from, but this one is entwined with the memory of his father. It is a symbol of their shared passion, of their relationship, and it has the added bonus of a 135hp and a 300km/h speedometer. Behind that visor there is a child who’s back in the garage watching his dad swing a leg over the seat. A child who’s now fulfilled his dream with poignant bittersweetness.

We stop periodically for stills, and during one such impromptu shoot I ask Toto what the “Genesis” sticker represents, a detail that is present on all FZRs starting from the first series in 1987. He tells me that “Genesis” is the name that the Japanese engineers gave to the new generation of four-stroke motors with advanced engineering, characterized by an inline block of cylinders tilted markedly forward. Toto goes on to highlight the EXUP exhaust system (a clever mechanically operated emissions system that helps the bike comply at slow speeds), and the DELTABOX aluminum frame and the rigidity therein, but in this instance I prefer not to delve into these aspects.

I’m not saying it’s not an interesting piece of machinery, but this bike is more of a ageless talisman than a 30-year-old sport bike. As if to emphasize this, the setting sun treats us to dramatic contrasts and distended shadows. Once we descend back into populated areas, Toto flits between cobblestone streets that are dimensionally closer to alleyways and we capture the final frames of the day with the brightly liveried Yamaha juxtaposed against near-ancient stonework. The past and present are wrapped tightly around this FZR. Gaspare, now Toto. The aspiration for the future is now a tether to the past. We part ways at dusk. The lights fade long before the roar, but eventually the throttle orchestra is overtaken by the chirr of the night’s insects, and a faint breeze that I can’t help ascribe some extra meaning to.

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Pietro Lo Fria
Pietro Lo Fria
2 years ago

With a name like Toto, I knew this was taking place in Sicily, near the region I was born in actually.

Also, for Americans reading this, his name isn’t pronounced like that band or Dorothy’s dog since the accent is on the second syllable. Totò

Sergio Brasesco
Sergio Brasesco
3 years ago

wonderful story~ I had an 89 FZR750-R OW01…it was just a raw stellar bike…
I kept it for 2 years and traded it it for the FZR1000 much like the one in the article only with the blue/white/yellow trim….believe it or not I enjoyed riding the 1000 more than the 750.