The brand new Yamaha R3 is the latest learner friendly sportsbike to hit the market. Given that Yamaha has had longer to work on their entry into the now ultra competitive beginner bike segment of the market, does that mean that the R3 is the best choice for new riders? Can the Yamaha R3 better the Honda CBR300R’s comfort and practicality or the Kawasaki Ninja 300’s outright performance?
If it seems like we’ve been reviewing a lot of smaller entry level machines of late it’s because that so many have been released in the past six months. Consider that only four years ago, the Ninja 250 was all on its own but now is joined by faired and naked bikes from Honda, Suzuki, KTM and Benelli, with BMW joining the party later this year. Alongside the popular adventure bike segment, learner bikes are the biggest gig in town for motorcycle manufacturers.
Not only are they cheap, but they offer the consumer a gateway to the brand. Yamaha no doubt hopes that first time riders who buy an R3 will over time upgrade to an R6 or even an R1. And they may well be very tempted to do so, because Yamaha has made a nearly perfect little motorcycle.
The Yamaha R3 is powered by an all-new 321cc inline twin cylinder engine. According to Yamaha, the development concept behind this new engine was to create a ‘supersport machine you can ride every day’, and the architecture of the new powerplant is designed to ensure good rideability in the low to mid-speed range, together with a strong and responsive character at higher rpm. Thankfully, they’ve nailed it.
While the Yamaha has a small horsepower advantage over Kawaski’s Ninja 300, it’s not really noticeable in a straight line drag. What is noticeable is that you don’t have to continually keep the engine at high revs to access that power – power delivery is available across the rev range and makes for a very rideable machine. That means there’s a good amount of roll on acceleration and you don’t necessarily have to bang down one or two gears to overtake – an impressive thing for a low capacity bike.
The two-into-one exhaust also elicits a nice note and the aftermarket pipes from Akropovic that are already available sound absolutely brilliant. The engine has been mated to an excellent gearbox – shifts were smooth and the gearbox didn’t hesitate once. The fueling of the bike is excellent too – none of the jerky throttle response that earlier CBR250R’s suffered from. In fact if anything, the throttle response is slightly too soft – when throttle blipping on downshifts I really had to twist the right grip to get the engine to rev. This is a very minor criticism of what is an otherwise near perfect setup.
The brakes on the Yamaha R3 are another highlight. Both initial bite and progression were excellent and there’s a good amount of feedback provided for such an entry level machine. Depending on where you live will dictate whether you can get ABS or not. In Australia it sensibly comes standard and in the UK it’s available as an option. For some extremely strange reason, Yamaha USA decided that they wouldn’t even offer ABS – a frankly baffling decision for a motorcycle aimed at new riders.
Up front there’s a 298 mm disc attached to a 2 piston caliper, with 220 mm disc at the back. Our bike launch was hosted on a track with over 20 corners and the brakes felt great throughout – no fade was noticeable. And it was also noticeable how well the front end performed under heavy deceleration with minimal front end dive.
In fact, the bike felt composed all day. While the suspension is hardly groundbreaking it did a good job in providing feedback as to what was happening where the rubber met the road. Perhaps this is Yamaha’s greatest achievement with the R3 – it feels like a small racebike when on the track but on the road manages to be a comfortable commuter. They’ve somehow managed to combine the best of the CBR300R and the Ninja 300 into one package and have done it successfully.
That perhaps is partly due to the fact that our test bike was fitted with Dunlop Sport Maxx tires and not the Pilot Road rubber that comes standard. Unfortunately, those Pilot Road tires aren’t what you’d expect – they’re apparently specifically designed for the Yamaha R3 and use ancient bias ply technology. While we didn’t ride with them, the general consensus is they’re pretty poor. Yamaha’s not alone in taking the cheap option on tires – both Honda and Kawasaki fit bias ply tires to their beginner bikes too and it’s a practice we’d love to see cease.
That is probably our only real criticism of the Yamaha R3. Looks wise, it’s a beauty. The fit and finish is top notch and Yamaha have produced a bike that looks more expensive than what it actual. They also haven’t tried to mimic the appearance of either the R6 or R1 – it has a style and character of its own. Even the stock exhaust doesn’t look too bad, a rarity of late.
Overall, the Yamaha R3 ticks all the boxes. It’s lighter than the Ninja 300 and more powerful than both it and the CBR300R. Its suspension is better sorted than the KTM RC390 and it seems to offer a better riding experience both on the track and on the road than the competition. Yamaha may have been late to the party, but they made their appearance count.