The A2 class is fruitier thanks to Yamaha’s YZF-R3. So is it a peach – like the new YZF R1 – or more of a lemon ?
Yamaha is surfing high on a wave of renaissance. Firstly, the MT range and its Dark Side blew a rocket up the naked middleweight class, reviving Yamaha’s bleak sales figures in the process. Secondly, the tuning forkers have been active in revitalising the supersports sector with an all new, rampantly rapid R1 and, at the other end of the speed scale, a heavily revised YZF-R125 – an understated model that goes a long way to ensuring this supersports assemblage is Yamaha’s second biggest segment.
And thirdly? Valentino Rossi is currently smashing it, but that’s another story…
Fresh in is the dapper-looking YZF R3. It’s ‘new from the ground up’ according to Yamaha and is the latest in a trio of fresh-faced racers for the road. It’s also the hottest entry into the ever-growing A2 category, with more and more attention being spawned upon the class by manufacturers. Yamaha’s design brief focused on a ‘lightweight supersports bike for everyday use’, which pretty much sums up the economical A2 segment in six words.
Like the entire A2/learner-legal brigade, the YZF R3 is built in the Far East – Indonesia to be precise. Although build quality is more than adequate, bragging plenty of sturdy substance, once you get past the glorified supersports styling, most of the workings look like they’ve been lifted from the parts bin – which is, again, evocative of the segment and a bit of a shame for the yoofs.
You have to give credit to/laugh at some of the manufacturers’ marketing teams, with laboured attempts at associating learner steeds to their flagship superbikes in some form or another. The R3’s claim is ‘it features the same swingarm length as the all-new R1.’ But away from the bragging, the R3 boasts some flavoursome componentry; forged pistons (genuinely impressive), carburised con-rods and an adjustable shift light corresponding with the gear position indicator. And there are metal pegs mated to bona fide rearsets. Proper.
When, during the press presentation, Yamaha alluded to the fact the R3 admittedly isn’t as sporty as the KTM several groans could be
heard. Yamaha has rather modestly placed its 300 further up the athletic ladder than Honda’s or Kawasaki’s efforts.
When it comes to riding position, again, we draw similarities with the R3’s rivals; relaxed, fairly upright ergonomics (masking the Yammy’s 50/50 weight distribution through a seemingly rear favouritism) with high ’bars and an easy-going leg positioning that hides
behind the façade of fairings – your chiropractor won’t need to be on speed dial, for sure. And at 780mm with plenty of shock squat, the seat height will cater for most human beings with a bumholio.
You’re welcomed by a classy (for its class) dash with palpable R-series DNA, and little morsels of endeavour from the designers in a bid to disparage its budget status, like the machined top yoke. That means it’s a notch above its Japanese rivals already.
We started off in and around the mountain roads of Tarragona, Spain. Remember Greg Lavilla? That’s where he’s from, although we didn’t see the chisel-jawed superbike maestro to say hello to… On leaving the hotel, the YZF R3’s 321cc motor already feels more eager and reactive than its Japanese brethren, with plenty of squirt at low revs. As with all newgen Yamaha twin pots, and indeed the YZF-R125, the R3 is deliciously silky at the bottom-end with a light and responsive throttle, and superb fuelling strategies throughout the range. First gear is painfully short and makes light work of urban traffic duties, and is your only offering to hoist wheelies. There are obvious direct comparisons with the Ninja 300 here as the pair share parallel twin motors.
Escaping the urban surroundings, the YZF R3 romps Kawasaki’s work with a noticeably more vibrant delivery through the rev range, particularly at the top-end. Yamaha reckons she makes peak power at 10.750 RPM, though the farty-sounding parallel lump continues to strive until the 12.500 RPM redline without lethargy. It’s almost a cert that KTM’s RC will spank the R3 in a drag race, though the YZF will happily cruise at 80mph without implosion and the usually token effort of a screen does a decent job against the wind.
It goes without saying that the YZF R3 is a doddle to pilot up until anything approaching dangerous speeds. As an urban, mirror-bashing commuter, it excels in all aspects. As you’d expect from its grouping, the controls are light gearbox from Yamaha that’s near seamless
towards the upper echelons of revs.
Weighing 169kg fully fuelled (20kg lighter than the R6, so say Yamaha) puts the YZF R3 in the weigh-in ballpark, although it’s actually the heaviest of the 300s. Not that you can sense its salad-dodging tactics on the hoof, it’s as nimble as they come, ably assisted by the leverage supplied by the towering ’bars. A whiff of countersteer sees the R3 creeping towards the pegs and every grade of lean angle is superbly precise, if a little quick with sudden input. Panic not, as the Yamaha is ridiculously stable; any honest road tester will admit to carrying out the deliberate ’bar weaving at speed to assess stability, and we couldn’t get the R3 to retaliate here.
Despite donning KYB suspension, both ends look cheaper than a rusty can of San Miguel. It’s also no surprise that the R3’s suspension is very soft, though actually well damped, boasting a progressive and superbly controlled front-end, and is far more sophisticated than the WP kit dressing the KTM. Only gnarly swells in the road upset its poise and it’ll be primed to attack anything the UK can muster.
If a morning on some of the sexiest roads known to man with a dangerous riding competition thrown in wasn’t enough, we rode to Calafat circuit for a spot of luncheon and an afternoon of track sessions. You could argue that the YZF R3 will never see a trackday (dangerously slow in the wrong hands, for example), but more and more one-make series campaigning these A2 bikes are cropping up across the globe, and Yamaha plans to launch several in Europe to follow in the footsteps of KTM and Kawasaki. France already has a national series – and I can see why.
Jeans off, leathers on. Tipping into Calafat’s ballsy first turn, the R3’s speedo was showing 105mph in 5th gear (clicking 6th proved
worthlessly arduous with a culmination of my fat arse and a strong headwind preventing more revs). It took a while to get there but a
ton with another cog in reserve shouldn’t be sniffed at. The previously ample braking power was soon found out, and they’re certainly not as powerful as Honda’s exemplary set-up.
It wasn’t long before the tyres further cemented my dislike for them. The Michelin Pilot Streets, although perfectly tolerable on the highways, offer a plasticy feel when pushing on and lack any feedback at big lean angles, yet the R3 always made the apex when probed. You can sense the chassis’ chastised talent shouting at the tyres for additional corner speed. As with any bike of this variety, fitting decent suspension and rubber reaps massive rewards and allows the chassis’ potential to shine. That said, Yamaha removing the hero blobs was welcomed and even allowed the sidestand to buddy up with Calafat’s surface.
As the smack talk erupted, many reached for the c-spanner and upped the shock’s preload for increased manoeuvrability in slower sections. It worked, helping weight transfer to the front-end as the R3 continued to provide first rate shits and giggles. A bike of this breed really shouldn’t be this much fun for a balding 30-something, which goes to prove its flexibility.
I’m trying to eliminate the pre-ride press presentation where Yamaha positioned the R3 among the rest of the 300s, but the class description is impeccable. Buying decisions are based on aesthetical appeal and performance disparity is minimal. As previously mentioned, there are no hidden surprises or idiosyncrasies in the R3’s arsenal.
It’s a no-nonsense bike for those bastard restricted licence years. Honda’s dreary CBR300R is the least sporty, while KTM’s RC390 sits at the top of the pile. The Ninja 300 and Yamaha R3 could well be made in the same factory, although the Yamaha has a little more edge and classiness over the Kawasaki. The R3 was developed for inexperienced A2 clientele, and now the argument that a gaping void lays between a 125cc and 600cc stands up less now that bikes like this exist.
At £4,799, the R3 is competitively priced, but not everyone can lay down nearly five large in pound notes. Thankfully, Yamaha’s ‘MiYamaha’ PCP scheme makes owning the YZF R3 even more appealing. With a deposit of £1,100 and 37 monthly payments of £79 (only a tenner more than the YZF-R125), you can ride off on a brand-spanking R3 for a few years and then chop it in for the forthcoming all-new R6 we’re expecting, or make a final payment of £1,968. Whatever your financial situation, this Yamaha could well be the new king of A2ers, both in terms of looks and handling performance…
2015 Yamaha YZF R3 Specifications
Engine type : 4-stroke, Inline-Twin (2-cylinder), DOHC 4-valves, Liquid-Cooled
Bore x stroke : 68 mm x 44.1 mm
Displacement : 321 cc
Compression ratio : 11.2 : 1
Clutch Type : Wet, Multiple Disc
Carburettor : Fuel Injection
Ignition system : TCI
Starter system : Electric Starter
Transmission : Constant Mesh, 6-speed
Maximum Power : 30.9 kW (42.0PS) @ 10,750 rpm
Maximum Torque : 29.6 Nm (3.0 kg-m) @ 9,000 rpm
Dimensions – Length x Width x Height : 2.090 x 720 x 1.135 mm
Seat height : 780 mm
Wheelbase : 1.380 mm
Ground Clearance 160 mm
Wet weight (including full oil and fuel tank) : 169 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity : 14 Litres
Oil Tank Capacity : 2.4 Litres
Frame : Tubular-Steel Diamond Frame
Front Suspension : Telescopic Forks
Front Travel : 130 mm
Caster Angle : 25º
Trail : 95 mm
Rear Suspension : Monocross – Swingarm
Rear Travel : 125 mm
Front Brake : Hydraulic single disc, Ø 298 mm
Rear Brake : Hydraulic single disc, Ø 220 mm
Front Tyre : 110/70-17M/C 54H (Tubeless)
Rear Tyre : 140/70-17M/C 66H (Tubeless)