Performance , Handling , Looks
What comes to mind when you think of the name Yamaha? Motorcycles, of course, legacy - yes, blue- all-right, music - bring it on, reliability - well, it's a Japanese brand that has democratised this term. What they also democratised is the entry-level performance with R15. Yamaha has succeeded in igniting the passion of enthusiast buyers. However, after the R3 got discounted due to emissions norms, fan buyers had no viable option to upgrade. That's where Austrian brand - KTM has upped its game by providing a great value-to-performance ratio package with Duke 390 and RC390s. However, as the Indian motorcycle scene is upgrading, Yamaha wishes to capture that pie of market share by reintroducing the R3 and MT-03 to take on the race to be among the favourites of hot-blooded enthusiasts.
I can attest to the experience of a lifetime after flying to Northern Thailand to witness firsthand the thrill of R3 and MT-03. The planned route was among the world's best riding routes, Chiang Mai - Nan - Phayao and back. My daily ride is a Duke 390, and I have been to long-distance sports touring with it, so with that perspective in mind, I was initially a bit afraid that the sporty committed position of R3 would make touring uncomfortable . But to be honest, R3 did not feel awkward or tiring by any means - the ergonomics on the bike were not as committed or aggressive, and it's reasonably neutral in that sense for me. Footpegs are not so rear set, the handlebar is not too deep, and the fuel tank is wider, and I could easily squeeze my legs and grip the bike with my thighs. Also, the comparatively low seating height of 780mm adds confidence. Back in my college days, I used to ride the Yamaha R15, and my only complaint was the lack of comfort during long tours. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the comfort experience as I did not face any wrist pain or backache whatsoever. Yes, you read that right, not even a little discomfort! Well, the same can not be said for MT-03; the space on offer in MT is comparatively less, and it feels a bit cramped up.
In terms of looks, the R3 is not significantly different from the previous version that used to sell before. That being said, R3 still looks quite aggressive and sporty. The USD forks do make it look more attractive as well. The stance and styling also make it look more desirable. Although Yamaha's signature blue colour is striking, the black colour is equally appealing. The MT-03, on the other hand, looks special in the Cyan Storm paint scheme. The monstrous front fascia is something I like the most. Both the bikes felt robust in their fit and finish.
Feature-wise, both bikes get a simple LCD unit that shows all the basic information. I did not face any problems in terms of reading the info, even in harsh sunlight. The competition does get a TFT display and more features as well. The bikes do not come with traction control and slip-assist clutch as well.
The route from Nan to Route 3 is a rider's paradise. It was so fulfilling and fun. The parallel-twin 321cc motor is literally quite characterful. Well, it's not as characterful as the single-cylinder motor of the KTM 390s. But this engine allows you to be more forgiving and accommodating. The engine produces around 41 hp of peak power at 10,750 rpm and a peak torque of 29.5 Nm at 9000 rpm. Power delivery is quite linear, and the engine pushes itself all the way nicely to 12000rpm. The 6-speed gearbox is smooth to use, and with the ratios well stacked up, it becomes quite easy to take up cruising speed between third and sixth gear. Being in the meat of the powerband and the raspy exhaust note, ignites to push hard and have more fun.
Across the 700km of our ride, I genuinely appreciated R3 handling. It dives well into curves and carries its momentum quite nicely. In Thailand, road manners are well respected, so you can not cut lanes. Hence, no matter how fast you go, you need to keep the bike on my lanes during turns, and that gave me perspective on how accommodating this bike is with the handling geometry; I had room to move around my hands and adjust myself with the flowing curves. Both the bikes felt reasonably lightweight and agile. The Dunlop tyres felt grippy but lacked feel, and I held myself, not pushing hard in corners.
The suspension on R3 is on a stiffer side, and I could feel the resistance to compression. That being said, the ride quality was not bothersome at all, especially on the good roads of Thailand. The braking setup in R3 gets 298mm disc at the front and 220mm at the rear. I have nothing to complain about the braking feedback in general, but I had an instance wherein ABS kicked in a little earlier than I would have expected.
By now, you must have already been aware that I clocked more kilometres on R3 than MT-03. The main reason was that-R3 felt more playful and fun than the MT-03. It was a thrilling ride in R3 with around 700km of mad fun. The roads, serenity, and twisties were so admirable.