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Yamaha MT-03: Is the U.S. Finally Worthy?

Introduced in 2006, Yamaha’s MT-03 features a liquid-cooled 660cc single-cylinder engine that makes close to 50 horsepower.  A modern steel frame and chassis features powerful dual front disc brakes and a uniquely mounted rear shock intended to centralize mass in the 390 pound machine (claimed dry weight).

The 17″ aluminum wheels allow the mounting of modern sportbike tires to take advantage of the extremely nimble handling (by all European accounts I have seen) and the powerful brakes.  The five speeds offered by the transmission are more than enough given the flat torque curve provided by the big single.  The upright, dirt bike-style riding position mates perfectly with the instant thrust and agility, again according to virtually every review of this machine I have read.

A remnant, perhaps, of the old adage among OEMs that “Americans just don’t like singles, and won’t buy them”, the unavailability of the MT-03 here might deserve a second thought from Yamaha.  We sense changing tastes, and a shift in interest toward simpler, less expensive motorcycles that offer good gas mileage along with plenty of the fun U.S. motorcyclists expect, whether commuting or play riding.

108 Comments

  1. randy says:

    Overweight and underpowered, probably overpriced. Simple as that. I test rode a Baghira, the thing was slow, my Corolla could give it a run for the money.

  2. Norm G. says:

    a brilliant piece of kit and slick execution by yamaha. headlight gives it a whole baby b-king thing (wait, is that good?). but as johnny ro so wisely observes, it will be quickly “devalued” if it were to ever wash up on american shores… which of course defeats the whole idea of being in business in the first place. so no, we’re not worthy. it should be noted, this cloud DOES have a silver lining in that we DO have the ability to MAKE ourselves worthy. so few situations in life actually allow us to effect change. this would not be one of them.

  3. patrick o says:

    I like it. I love big nasty singles though. Great for ripping around town or the crappy twisty back roads I have here in no. california. I hope it has electric start because i am tired of kicking my SR500. My Husky 610 has the magic button and is a real trouble maker. Fun as hell. But it is Italian with little dealer support. Yamaha builds some great singles and this one looks like a real curb hopper. I’ll take mine in black.

  4. crashmw says:

    Sorry, being a DRZ owner myself, I refuse to believe that 5 speeds are enough on any modern motorcycle -especially a bike that has torque down low.

  5. Mark says:

    Not to mention the difficulty of finding a KTM dealer in the U. S. I love the look of the Duke (although not the sky-high seat) but Japanese dealerships can be found in any sizeable city.

  6. Rob Alexander says:

    Looks cool… As a KTM 690 SM-R owner, I can tell you singles are way under-appreciated in the US and if done right, can offer great performance and better torque at the same RPM than multi-cylinder bikes. My SM-R is insane fun, it would be good though to have a cheaper Japanese alternative on the market as I realize not too many people are willing to shell out the money to buy a 690 Duke (the SM line is discontinued in the US but the Duke is 98% identical to the SM-R) and most Americans haven’t even heard of KTM.

  7. Mark says:

    It’s just got “agile” written all over it. Oddly enough, I LIKE the headlight. I also like the LOOK of the twin exhausts although they’re probably impractical. I also agree that a decent price point in the U. S. is doubtful. The seats look decent. At least they’re wide.

    This is the type of bike we need more of in North America. It’s relatively simply, reasonably sized and looks good. Singles and twins from 250 to 750cc should be the new “in” although Americans aren’t that smart. I expect the bulk of us will either remain with cruiser bikes that are way too heavy or repli-racers that are way faster than any of us would ever be able to get on the road.

    We really should be more reasonable in our choices and think about MPG since the number of cars that can achieve 40mpg is growing every day. Makes no sense to have a MC that does no better.

    I think Suzuki could do something similar but more classic and less futuristic with the S40 engine for a pretty reasonable price.

  8. Jeff says:

    I had an ’05 MT-01 and loved it. That’s what Yamaha should be selling in the US, endless torque.
    I rode an MT-03 a few times in the mountains of Japan. The power isn’t overwhelming, but if you like going very fast without the need to touch the brake, this bike does that well.

  9. SAM says:

    Is this the new normal, is this what we can expect from the big four who have run out of new ideas and models in the last decade? An old bike tarted up and sold as “new” to an American public that has the memory of a goldfish.

    The new Honda 2011 CBR600F (which is coming to America in Nov. 2011) is an old Hornet motor and steel frame from the 90′s, and Yamaha’s Mt-03 was a bike that was unfulfilling in Europe, even to people that are not as horsepower-crazy as Americans. Triumph is the only company that I think is going to run the table this year with its adventure bikes: new 1000cc Bonneville and 300cc single. Leaving k-,s,h,y (Kawasaki suzuki honda and yamaha) gun shy on bring over any new product for a long, long time.

  10. John A. Kuzmenko says:

    On the MT-03, I’ll take the Sumitomo monoblock front calipers, please (as on the earlier YZF-R1s, YZF-R6s, and current FZ-1), not the cheesier 2-piston slide pin ones.
    Michelin Pilot Power tires, too. :)

    I like the big thumpers, both on the street and off-road.
    Fun kind of power and torque.

    Not a big fan of the seemingly porky weight figure, though – the engine is physically massive (very tall, with a hefty bottom end).
    Probably massively reliable, too.
    As with the Yaamaha WR-250X I’m riding now, it seems the way to a truly light-weight street thumper is via a motard.

    Yamaha Motor Corp., USA knows they wouldn’t sell many, so I would be pleasantly surprised if the MT-03 came here.

  11. brian says:

    Hate to be a curmudgeon but the Japanese are simply not capable of building what people really want; a competitively priced, low weight, high performance single or twin. Instead, they keep popping out these bloated, low performing art projects that are destined to fail in the market. And, when they do fail, they go back and declare that there is no market for this genre of bike. They were the same way about four stroke dirt bikes until Yamaha finally built the YZ400F in ’98 and look what happened after that…

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “the Japanese are simply not capable of building what people really want; a competitively priced, low weight, high performance single or twin.”

      on the contrary, the Japanese (and any other manufacturer for that matter) are MORE than capable. we are afterall more than a decade into the 21st century. the problem at this point rests ENTIRELY with the consumer and their “incapability” of being rationale or realistic.

  12. randy says:

    Yawn

    Another 430 pound curb weight single with maybe 38 RWHP. Think MZ Baghira/Mastiff. Or BMW f650. Nothing new here, move along.

  13. johnny ro says:

    Nobody will buy it. They will sit in crates for 3 years, gathering dust. Yamaha knows us better than we do.

    I loved my srx6 and my srx250 and my 83 vision.

    Nothing Yamaha sells in US now is even mildly interesting to me.

    I am out on the fringe and they will lose $ if they cater to me.

    Even so, I challenge Yamaha to bring in SR400s styled as 1970s cafe racers like I saw in Germany.

  14. andy1300 says:

    I got motor in my 660 Raptor, ATV one sweet motor !

  15. Wilson R says:

    I don’t know if we’re worthy, but at least redesign it to offer us a little more eye candy. Come back and make a new offer after you create a good looking bike.

  16. Mark says:

    Yes, please! This would be wonderful in the U. S. At least for those of us who can appreciate it. I expect Yamaha has bad memories of dust settling on SR500s but this is a more than worthy successor. I hope the crappy economy plus high gas prices knock some sense into American heads and we learn to appreciate smaller bikes again.

    This one ought to be butch enough for anybody.

    I wonder how it would compare in performance to a Suzuki SV650, which only runs about 6 grand. Any thoughts?

  17. Random says:

    Nice article, but the prayers for MT-03s will probably not be answered. The thing used to be sold down here in Brazil, and even being brought in a CKD process (less taxes) the price was just too close to the FZ6 – and it was later replaced by the XJ6, almost the same price.

    Second, according to one of the bike designers (Uhlarik – the small/lightweight electric bike guy) Yamaha planned a limited, short 5-year run on this bike (well, at least the way I understood it comment-chatting to the guy). Only god knows why, but my bets is that it was going to be phased out at the same time of a XT660R update, for some other bike with the same powerplant – then the economic meltdown happened.

    The 48hp figure is ever deceiving. The fact is, without bike reviewers (you should listen to them too) I would never suspect the thing is just crazy on stoplight-to-stoplight rides even remembering the table-flat torque curve many singles exhibit. More cylinders? The thing just doesn’t need it inside towns or on curvy roads. ER-6Ns, Hornets or (600cc) Fazers were are left behind until they are over 60-70mph. The only drawbacks pointed were inherent to a big single working (some vibration at high speeds), too big a handlebar for city riding (easy to solve). Very nice on short jaunts and with a remarkable exhaust sound too.

  18. Tom says:

    Looks like the closest thing we would have to a modern single cylinder Buell if Buell would have ever made such a bike. Sans underslung exhaust and perimter brake o course.

  19. tripletango says:

    I have a MZ scorpion tour. Same concept, same motor. Lots of fun. Good all round bike. You can flog it hard and not get into too much trouble. Feels like a motorcycle should with that big single thumping away. They should do quite well with it if they bring it in. I would like to compare the two to see what progress has been made. In overall riding experience probably not much, it is fine already and worth a try for those who have not experienced it.

  20. kman says:

    I have a bike with this motor, MZ Baghira. MZ made several bikes with the Yamaha 660 5-valve motor. I have two other friends with the same bike. The motor is more than adequate for almost any purpose, even 75-80 mph freeway droning if you want. But where it shines is flogging around tight twisty mountain roads we have here in the greater Appalachian mountain area. Or I can put on the dirt wheels and have a blast on all the forest roads. The Baghira is by far the funnest bike I’ve ever owned, and a lot of that character comes from the torque-rich, bulletproof Yamaha motor. My full coverage insurance for the Baghira is $89/yr.

    I’ve recently had a new rider friend struggle to figure out what kind of bike to ride, I would have suggested this bike over many others she looked at. We definitely have a hole in the US market for bikes like this.

    The worst thing you could do is put a bunch of stupid plastic bodywork on it.

  21. Jozef says:

    I have ridden it in Europe, it’s a great bike, love it! I miss this type of motorcycle here in the US.Inexpensive to operate, insured too. Great for wheelies and cornering too! Fun, fun, fun ! … would buy one.

  22. Jozef says:

    I miss this type of motorcycle on US market. 660ccm single is a lot of fun and actually usable power,great in the city. I am sure insurance would be inexpensive for this bike too.
    I would buy it.

  23. James Jarman says:

    I’m a Yamaha Dealer & Hope if it does come to the states it has R6 styled bodywork. Nice tho.

  24. MikeD says:

    Eehh, what to say…it wouldn’t sway me away from my ancient SV1000N thats for sure.

    When it came out it looked so “fresh”…as it stands right now it sure looks outdated(Forks, Calipers, dual underseat exhaust ?) and why only 660cc when Yamaha sells the same engine but 686cc(4valve head and “only” 9.2:1 CR) on the Raptor 4Wheeler ?

    Others mentioned the possible sky high MSRP and how u can get a lot more bike for less $$$. LOL, It would be like the fiasco Honda had with the 919. A decent mount but too overpriced and left to die in the weeds by it’s own nature.

    In the land of “EVERYTHING MUST come with plastics to look like Ricky Racer” or “looks like a Harley but it ain’t, Pirate Garments Fleet” i would say it wouldn’t stand a chance.
    People talk a lot of smack like ” i would buy this and that” but at the end of the day, WELL…u know…their wallets are the ones telling the truth…and leftovers at warehouses don’t lie either nor the ones sitting on the showroom floors collecting dust.

    “These”(european/maybe asian) FLAVOR bikes don’t fly here. Straight up simple and true.
    Is either Faired Sport Bike or Pirate Cruiser.

  25. Ed says:

    Well what’s the deal? Are you gong to be able to preorder one? Sure hope it’s available in blue, although not much to paint besides the tank.

  26. ABQ says:

    I like that it has a real seat, made for real butts. I hate those high narrow seats on supermotos, dirt bikes and adventure bikes. I want to comfotably ride for hours, and touch my feet to the ground at stop lights. The only thing I would change is: Put some hand guards on, a medium windshield, and replace the passenger seat with a tail bag. I also like the tires. They look like they were made for real world street use.

  27. JKWheelin says:

    I’d sell my SV650S and buy an MT-03 if they were available in Canada.

  28. Art says:

    Close but no cigar – Husky, KTM, ‘Berg – all produce sub-300 pound street-legal dual purpose bikes that with a supermoto kit (17″ wheels & brakes) are lighter, faster, cheaper, and more fun.

    • Jeff says:

      I disagree with the “cheaper” part. The Euros don’t make anything that costs less that their competitors.

  29. jimbo says:

    Whoa! Looks like a lot of posts (interest) in quick order.

    I don’t get the complaints of too little power-to-weight. My first or second favorite bike of about 70 was an ’83 Yamaha XZ550R Vision. The acceleration, especially without the heavy-ish fairing and it’s associated hardware, was plenty exhilarating…1/4 mile just under 13 seconds, 100mph trap speed. Enough acceleration, in fact, when coupled with it’s then-superb handling, to pass a gray market Yamaha 500cc 2-stroke (ridden by a very fast local rider) on one particular gnarly mountain pass with which I was admittedly very familiar.

    My fairing-less Vision was 465 lbs curb weight full tank, with HP in the low-50 range. A 430 lb (estimated curb weight full tank based on 390 lb dry) MT-03 undercuts the Vision by about 35 lbs with similar power. An MT-03 with a flat tire might out-handle/out-brake the Vision.

    What’s not to like about that?

    • Kjazz says:

      I’m with you Jimbo. Dimensions, specs, etc. are worth looking at, but they dont tell the whole story and they dont tell us anything at all about how the bike works with the rider’s skills or how the bike might make each rider feel (eg. confident to push the envelope…or otherwise). Some “underpowered” bikes feel plenty quick and exhilarating, some well-powered bikes feel sluggish or less able to respond to rider input. Some folks like quick handling….some like neutral slower, predictable steering. Some like instant throttle reponse, some do better with power you gotta really twist to get. Like I end up saying, let em build it, let us ride it, then we’ll hack it out and see if it’s any good.

      It takes all types, build it Yamaha and send it over here!

    • Zombo says:

      Nothing , except similar power in this case is the wikipedia reported 65 horsepower of your v twin old bike to the 48 or whatever they’re claiming is almost 50 horsepower on this single cylinder Yamaha . Not to mention the price would likely be at least 3X the amount of an 83 XZ550 that had more horsepower . An unfair comparison , although that Vision sounds like it was a hell of a bike ahead of it’s time .

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamaha_XZ_550

    • Dirck Edge says:

      KLR650 is heavier, has less power, and is loved by most of its owners. Adored, in fact. KTM singles are great, but this bike would be far cheaper and far more comfortable.

      • Zombo says:

        The KLR650 is bought for it’s dualsport/budget adventure bike abilities , not it’s power and many still prefer the old model to the newer one . The MT-3 is styled like a street fighter/naked bike , but so is Suzuki’s Gladius which has more power and isn’t selling very well at all . In fact my local Suzuki shop just got rid of one they had for quite a while , but they had to discount it to $5900 ($6899 retail) just to get rid of it .