To motorcycling newbies, Yamaha’s latest supersport model will just seem like a flashy new challenger to the long-standing class-leading Ninja 300. But for us who’ve been around the block a couple of times, the sharp looking red, white and black pocket rocket is a welcome return for Yamaha to a market it has conquered before, albeit in the two-stroke era. Yes indeed, the YZF-R3 has a little bit of the RZ350 allure about it for any red-blooded girl- and boy-racers with an L plate fresh off the press.
The R3 projects the image of Yamaha’s proud racing heritage, with the colour options mimicking some of their most recognised team liveries. How about a Yamaha 60th anniversary special edition in yellow guys? Money down!
Challenging Kawasaki at its own game in more way than one, Yamaha launched the R3 Cup race series, and also support racers contesting the ASBK production championship. The two marques may be separated into above- and below-300cc subclasses, but you wouldn’t think so by the bar-to-bar racing on show.
This sporting attitude is not just suggestive; it comes through in the riding experience too. Only the KTM felt as racy, but the R3 also has the added sensory and aural excitement of its revvy twin-cylinder engine. Keep the R3 buzzing and it seems to coax you deeper and faster into each consecutive kink in the road. Even our real-life learner, Mark, was seduced into pushing his limits by the little Yammy. Perhaps this is also because it has the most forgiving chassis of the bunch, with the greatest feedback under brakes, and the best overall balance of suspension too. Admittedly sometimes all these strengths are called into play at once, when a spirited corner entry leads to a momentary compression lock of the back wheel. But somehow the R3’s road manners sort it all out without any fuss.
The addition of a slipper clutch would help calm these situations, and it’s probably the only area of performance where the Ninja trumps the R3. But the Yamaha retaliates with its own fancy and very effective features, like the floating front disc, and its extra-long formed-steel swingarm, which both contribute to the R3’s aforementioned fangability.
Where the Ninja has an Eco light for more economical riding, the R3 has a race-style shift light to help you ride it like Rossi. But whichever of these personas you identify with, it’s great that this category has been fired up again at last.
Yamaha has really hit the ground running with this smartly marketed LAMS supersport. First half yearly sales figures are impressive, making the R3 fourth in the LAMS roadbike charts, and it joins the MT-07 and the WR450F to give Yamaha three out of the five best-selling LAMS models overall. Ka-ching!
With the controls and their position, if you closed your eyes it would be hard to pick the difference between the Ninja and R3, however, the seating position of R3 is not as comfortable as the Ninja, and the short seat means larger riders like me may feel cramped on the R3.
I was more comfortable and confident to push harder on the R3, and it felt the most at home on the track. Straight out of the gate it was sweet in cornering and braking, and really responsive. The finish and quality is worth paying for – it has a premium look and feel. A big fave of mine.
This is a great mini-sportsbike and represents an excellent stepping stone to the 600cc class. The engine is fantastic – very smooth and high revving with excellent feel offered from the get-go.
At a little over $6K it’s sure to get plenty of new riders on sportsbikes and keep them grinning long after they’ve graduated to a full licence. Overall this is my pick of the bunch, not just because it looks great but because it seems to offer so much bike for such a low cost.
Like the Ninja, the R3 immediately made me feel comfortable. The only unsettling thing was the occasional rear wheel slip from engine braking when changing down the gears. I had a couple of hairy moments, simply because I felt I could push my limits. Perhaps the slightly less powerful Ninja with its slipper clutch is better suited to my experience level.
Wins the day in terms of value, even if it’s not the cheapest. The only thing I’d take into consideration is the lack of a slipper clutch, which could justify the difference in price between the R3 and the Ninja.