2015 Yamaha YZF-R3 | FIRST RIDE

VIDEO JUST ADDED: An entry-level sportbike from Yamaha: Finally!

They say: Easy for beginners, fun for veterans. We say: When can we have ours?

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The rage continues. Small-displacement sportbikes have been a growing trend, and now Yamaha has joined the fray with this new YZF-R3. That makes all of the big four Japanese manufacturers, plus KTM and Hyosung , competing with sporty, entry-level options. Let the trash talking begin.

Powering the R3 is a 320cc parallel twin with a "standard," 180-degree crankshaft (no oddball firing order like the FZ-07 or YZF-R1). Yamaha has not released a claim for horsepower, but suggested confidence when claiming, "most in class." (We think that probably doesn't include KTM's RC390.) We will run one on the dyno as soon as we can, but expect slightly more grunt than Kawasaki's Ninja 300—probably around 24cc worth.

The seat is low, at 30.7 inches (the same height as Honda's CBR300R, and 0.2 inches lower than the Ninja 300), and is quite flat front-to-back and narrow at the front. At 368 pounds with gas (claimed), the R3 is about 10 pounds lighter than the Ninja 300. True, it's also 10 pounds heavier than a CBR300, but this is a seriously approachable machine. All but the most diminutive riders will be feeling confident at stoplights.

Well-calibrated fuel injection and a short first gear mean leaving stoplights is easy, too. We idled around a parking lot in first gear with the speedo showing 4 mph. The gearbox uses fairly close ratios, which adds up to sixth gear being useable for anything over 40-45 mph. Motorcyclists with confident clutch feel and highway miles in their future will probably want to gear the R3 up a little, but even with stock gearing the motor is smooth and unstressed up to freeway speeds.

The three color options for the R3: Blue/Sliver, Red/White, and Raven.

Brakes are single discs front and rear, as expected for the class. Initial bite from the two-piston Akebono caliper up front is a little soft, but with a little extra squeeze there’s plenty of power to slow down. Carefully, though; there is no ABS. Without having compared directly, the R3’s brakes remind us of the Ninja 300’s; good but not as good as Honda CBR300’s, which combine good feel with much more assertive bite.

Suspension, too, is definitely in the ballpark with its Japanese competitors. The fork is a 41mm KYB unit (4mm larger than the Honda or Kawasaki’s, but 2mm smaller than the KTM’s), and shares good compliance with the KYB shock holding up the rear. The shock is adjustable for seven levels of preload, and at 185 pounds this editor was glad to be able to dial in more spring. The suspension is definitely on the soft side, but soaked up bumps all morning during our 120-mile street ride while feeling perfectly stable. All in all, completely satisfactory in the class.

Yamaha classifies the R3 in the "sport" category, alongside the FZ-07, FZ6R, and FZ-09, rather than with the R-series supersport bikes (R6 and R1). Despite the "R" moniker, the R3 is very much a streetbike. And a good one, at that.

As we’ve seen with Yamaha’s other bargain bikes (think FZ series), low cost doesn’t mean all of the niceties are left out. The R3 is outfitted generously, with an LED taillight, properly knurled footpegs, and crisp paint that looks as good up close as it does rolling past. Especially well appointed is the dash unit, which uses the correct combination of analog tachometer and digital speedo, as well as including a fuel gauge, shift light, and instant/average fuel economy figures. Picking nits, we always think it’s annoying when a bike has a fuel gauge and offers mileage figures but doesn’t calculate range—come on, all of the data is there!

The R3 is an all-new bike for the US market, but shares most of its parts with the R25, a 250cc sportbike that Yamaha has been selling in the global market. As a result, the fit and finish of the R3 is above the status quo for a first-generation model. It’s built in Indonesia, but has none of the quirks or rattles a skeptical consumer might expect. In fact, the first thing you will notice about the R3 is the attention to style—we think the nicely shaped, cast swingarm is a great touch. The bike fits together well and has a definite parking-lot presence.

A well-appointed dash includes a fuel gauge, two trip meters, instant/average fuel mileage, a gear-position indicator, and an adjustable shift light. Fancy!

Which leads us to the best news of all: price. Just as the suspension, brakes, and seat height all fit in line with the competition, so too does the $4,990 base price. That’s nine bucks cheaper than a similarly equipped Ninja 300, and around $600 more than a CBR300 ($4,399 without ABS). Both the Ninja and CBR have ABS as an option, which we have long stood by as an excellent feature in a motorcycle designed for less experienced riders, and, ever the wildcard, KTM’s RC390 comes with ABS standard for $5,499. Even without an ABS option, the R3 is a worthy competitor.

More to the point, all of motorcycling should rejoice that Yamaha has joined this area of the market with such a capable, stylish, and fun motorcycle. While we can’t wait for our comparison test with all of the other bikes in the category (think Honda, Kawasaki, and KTM), you can tell your friends that Yamaha’s new R3 is here, and it’s good.

tech SPEC

EVOLUTION
The globally marketed R25 is bored out to 320cc and brought to America as an all-new contender in the lightweight sportbike class.
RIVALS
[Honda CBR300R][], [Kawasaki Ninja 300][], [KTM RC390][]
TECH
PRICE $4990
ENGINE 320.6cc, liquid-cooled parallel-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER NA
CLAIMED TORQUE NA
FRAME Tubular-steel twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB 41mm; 5.1-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION KYB shock adjustable for spring preload; 4.9-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Akebono two-piston caliper, 298mm disc
REAR BRAKE Akebono one-piston caliper, 220mm disc
RAKE/TRAIL 25.0°/3.7 in.
WHEELBASE 54.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 30.7 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 3.7 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 368 lb. wet
AVAILABLE April
CONTACT [yamahamotorsports.com][]
VERDICT
Everything a lightweight sportbike should be, for the right price. It’s just lacking ABS.
The three color options for the R3: Blue/Sliver, Red/White, and Raven.
Looks are subjective, but we think the R3 is easily the best-looking option in the class. It has great lines, an aggressive look, and a solid fit and finish.
Note that the R3 doesn’t use a simple (some might say ugly) box-section swingarm, but rather a stylish, cast unit.
The twin headlight is reminiscent of the previous-generation (especially 2003-2005) YZF-R6.
A well-appointed dash includes a fuel gauge, two trip meters, instant/average fuel mileage, a gear-position indicator, and an adjustable shift light. Fancy!
The seat is low (30.7 inches) and flat. Note the high step to the passenger perch.
A two-piston Akebono caliper pinches a single, 298mm disc for predictable (but not aggressive) stopping power. There is no ABS.
An LED taillight is a nice feature, although those omnipresent, flappy, incandescent blinkers make the R3 caboose decidedly less sleek. Yamaha has an accessory under-tail kit at the ready from the factory, along with dozens of other bits.
The KYB shock is adjustable for seven levels of preload. We settled on setting 5-of-7 for the street, and 6-of-7 on the track.
Wind protection is decent on the R3, especially considering the clip-ons are mounted above the top triple clamp, creating a more upright riding position than you might expect.
The R3 is a willing and capable track bike for beginners looking to hone their skills on a closed course. We hammered out over 60 miles on Thunderhill's West Course and didn't experience any brake fade. If you get serious, upgrade the Michelin Pilot Street tires to something stickier.
Yamaha classifies the R3 in the "sport" category, alongside the FZ-07, FZ6R, and FZ-09, rather than with the R-series supersport bikes (R6 and R1). Despite the "R" moniker, the R3 is very much a streetbike. And a good one, at that.