For a class so current and as prevalent as any, the A2 ‘sportsbike’ category has been bereft of some major players until recent times. First there was Kawasaki, shortly before Honda joined the fray. Years later, KTM unleashed the RC390 and showed everyone else how to build a budget small-capacity sportsbike without being dreary. Now it’s time for Yamaha to step in with the all-new, funky-looking YZF-R3, which we tested at the world press launch just outside Barcelona.
Yamaha’s design focus was building (in Indonesia) ‘a lightweight supersports bike for everyday use.’ There’s nothing truly revolutionary adorning the R3, as you’d expect from the rudimentary A2 division: sharp, YZF-ish lines hide a parallel-twin wrapped in a steel chassis, which is the class’ accepted recipe, although a machined top yoke, proper rearsets (sans rubber) and digi/analogue dash add some razzmatazz.
Sometimes, deciphering the guff from the game is essential during the press presentation: the guff being the R3 features the length swingarm as the R1, the game being the R3’s 321cc motor uses forged pistons – something not even certain current £10k sportsbikes utilise. During the presentation, Yamaha also pitched the R3 ahead of its Japanese rivals in terms of sportiness but not as racy as the KTM, instead more useable.
Leaving the hotel, the R3’s low-speed talent shines through immediately. A combination of light, intuitive controls and lavishly smooth bottom-end of the motor (like all new-gen Yams) ensure walking pace tekkers when gracing city centres – another A2 prerequisite along with a stupidly short first gear. First impressions also highlight how flickable and nimble she is (yet another A2 must-have), and the quoted 780mm seat height should accommodate any pilot. Yamaha reckons the weight distribution is split 50-50, though the relaxed riding position/cockpit radiates more of a rear-end bias.
As we edged away from urban surroundings and into the foothills near Tarragona, the R3 wasn’t getting tiresome. It’ll happily cruise at 90mph without threatening to implode or rattle your teeth out (über vibe-free), and the customary Yamaha glitch-free gearbox is perfectly welcome to abuse. There’s even relative wind protection for a morbidly obese, nearly 6-footer like myself.
Giving away 50cc, several horsepower and suffering with a slightly podgy weight disadvantage, it’s no wonder the Yamaha is left lacking a little against the KTM RC390 in a straight line. There’s still a more tangible, excitable shove throughout the midrange than its Japanese peers, more willing to pick up on the throttle and rev quicker to the redline, and exploitable power continues right up to that 12,5000rpm redline. Thanks to this relative grunt, higher gears and lower revs can be employed.
If you’ve ever ridden the mountain roads around Tarragona, you’ll know they’re some of the best in Spain and perfectly suit bikes of the R3’s ilk: super-twisty sections that favour a hunger for corner speed, being slammed on its side, and quick steering capabilities – something the Yamaha possesses with abundance. It’s effortless to pilot at virtually any speed and doesn’t feel spindly or sparrow-limbed, or as if it’ll spontaneously snap like a Twiglet when spanked hard – there’s definitely more substance packed into the R3 than some of its rivals.
Of course, commuting and riding at less committed speeds will prove a cinch for the R3, although with so much weight being transferred to the front-end under heavy braking, the economical braking setup often feels lacklustre when pressing on. I experienced a few botty-clenching moments, heading into mountainous hairpins laced with vertical drops, but also worth an honourable mention is the ABS, which also saved my botty on a few overzealous lever occasions.
Despite the sharp steering and being the heaviest A2 fully-faired sportsbike on the market (169kg fully-loaded), she’s also as stable as they come. KYB suspension sounds glamorous but in reality, the non-adjustable kit that dons the lil’ Yammy serves a very function-over-fashion purpose. That said, it’s a far more controlled stroke (particularly the front) than KTM’s WP springs and coped well with any bumps or gnarly stretches of Spanish Tarmac, not to mention provide oodles of grip at either end…
Well, that was until I pretended to be Valentino Rossi after a spot of chorizo and paella. Granted, 99.99% of R3s will probably never even sniff a circuit, but Yamaha treated us to an afternoon at Circuito Calafat to truly exploit its potential. Needless to say, it was a laugh a lap and emphasised just how talented the overall package is.
A few laps of thrashing, and it wasn’t long before the limitations became evident. The chassis is clearly subdued by the stock Michelin Pilot Street rubber, which danced and shimmied across some of Calafat’s array of corners. Even so, Yamaha removed the hero blobs and it was the turn of the sidestand to carve chunks from the track. I saw 105mph on the dash before peeling into the ballsy turn one – and that was with a gear in hand.
£4,799 too much dollar? The MiYamaha PCP scheme makes the R3 far more affordable after a deposit of just over a grand, followed by 37 monthly payments of £79. Then you have the choice of a final payment or trading in for the impending all-new R6.
Is the R3 the A2 number 1? Without back-to-back comparison tests, we can only go on riding the bikes in isolation (which we have) and Yamaha’s effort is the all-round champion. Faster and more thrilling than its compatriots, and more refined than the KTM, the R3 brings something fresh to restricted licence years without sensationalism.
And it’s easy to get exasperated with manufacturers continually churning out budget bikes. Personally, despite the economical shittery, I think there’s a defensible place for sexier, more complex (and obviously dearer) bikes amongst the A2 modesty. Imagine an R3 with Gucci suspension, uprated brakes, decked with sticky rubber and a few tuning options? We can…
Honda CBR300R – Exemplary brakes, frugal fuel consumption, armchair comfort and a resilient robustness, but the Honda is painfully boring and lacks any character or gonads. Looks nice, mind…
Kawasaki Ninja 300 – Was the daddy, now feels more like granddaddy. The parallel twin motor still packs a decent punch but the package isn’t as slick or as fluid as the Yamaha.
KTM RC390 – Not even horrific brakes and a shock that resembles a rubbery trifle can stop the KTM from bragging the sportiest ‘300’. The 390 boasts a real kick and genuine big-bike dynamic handling sensations.