No doubt Yamaha is on a roll. The price/performance ratio of some of its recently introduced models is impressive, notably the FZ-09 and FZ-07. If it enters a category, it wants to arrive on top in terms of bang-for-the-buck. Enter the 2015 YZF-R3 that MD rode yesterday, both on the street and the track.
With a bike priced a tick under $5,000.00, Yamaha has extended the trend started by Kawasaki and its Ninja 300. Add displacement and take the power and torque advantage from your competitors. Kawasaki took the “250 class” to 296 cc, and the new R3 ups that an additional, and significant 25 cc (8.5%) to 321 cc. Yamaha also brings engine tuning tricks previously absent from the small displacement sport bike category, including relatively high compression (11.2 to 1) and a very oversquare bore/stroke ratio (68 mm x 44 mm). This fuel injected, parallel twin means business.
At a claimed curb weight of 368 lbs. (with the 3.7 gallon gas tank topped off), the R3 also undercuts the Ninja by roughly 10 lbs. This despite Yamaha’s use of much beefier fork tubes (41 mm diameter, vs. 37 mm on the Kawasaki) and larger front disc brake (298 mm vs. 290 mm). The stiff chassis of the R3 features a relatively steep steering head angle and short wheel base (an inch shorter than the Kawasaki).
Ergonomics feature 30.7″ seat height, together with a more upright seating position compared to the super sport category. The seat is designed to be flat (allowing easy movement by the rider) and tapered towards the front for an easier reach to the ground by shorter riders.
Cast aluminum wheels hold tires sized 110/70-17 in front and 140/70-17 in the rear. The instrument panel is full of information not common for the category, such as gear position, real-time and average fuel economy, fuel capacity, clock, two trip meters and an oil change indicator light. We found the LCD speed readout very legible, and like the traditional, sweeping analog tach.
Riding the R3 on the street and the track left a very positive impression. This appears to be another excellent motorcycle from Yamaha.
Street riding revealed a comfortable ergonomic package for Ed (who is 5’6″ tall). The reach to the ground is easy, and the R3 handles well at low speeds. Wind protection on the highway was surprisingly good, with pressure kept off the rider’s chest, and a reasonable tuck resulting in protection at the helmet level for Ed.
Engine performance on the street appears to set a new standard for the class. Torque, and acceleration, felt adequate all the way down at 4,000 rpm (the R3 redlines at 12,500 rpm). The motor makes power in a very linear fashion, without any big “hit” in the upper reaches of the tach. As Ed found out later on the track, the motor will pull all the way to redline.
While some smaller-displacement bikes strain a bit at highway speeds, that is not the case with the new R3. A steady, indicated 85 mph was easy for the R3, and vibration levels were still quite low. The foot pegs transmit virtually no vibration, while the hand grips transmitted a small bit of vibration at this elevated pace. Even more impressive, the R3 appeared to have good acceleration available even at 85 mph. Needless to say, most small displacement machines are pretty wheezy above 75 mph. This bodes well for freeway commuters.
The six-speed transmission has a good spread of gearing. First is low enough, coupled with the torque of the R3, that leaving a stop requires very few revs and little clutch slipping. Sixth, on the other hand, as stated above, keeps revs and vibration levels reasonable at higher speeds. The transmission and clutch worked perfectly during both the street and track portion of the press launch.
At the track, the R3 exhibited excellent throttle response. Picking up the throttle on corner exits resulted in an extremely smooth transition, and no flat spots or other fueling irregularities were noted. Back-to-back testing aside, the engine performance of the R3 appears to bear out the spec sheet, i.e., acceleration and top speed appear to set new standards for the category. Ed even felt that some slower corners could be exited in either of two separate gears without significantly impacting the rate of acceleration … something unheard of with small displacement sport bikes previously.
Braking performance meets the standards of the class, with the single front disc providing adequate stopping power for the lightweight machine. The big news with regard to braking on the track stems from the beefy 41 mm fork tubes on the R3. The front end feels very solid and controlled under hard braking, notably stiffer than the smaller diameter forks offered by the competition. Ed felt the R3, in general, felt very solid and stable, pointing to the new steel frame offering good stiffness.
The suspension performance reflects the budget nature of the class. Damping is soft for a smooth ride on the street, but the forks run out of travel when hard on the brakes at the track. Typical for the class, racers and more aggressive street riders will look for aftermarket suspension tuning to address this.
The R3 changed direction easily and confidently, and held its line well through corners.
Most important of all, the R3 is a blast to ride! Even experienced riders can get a kick out of flogging an R3 at the race track. For the category, the R3 is fast, smooth and stable, allowing the rider to get the most out of that small displacement engine. Big fun.
The R3 is available in three different color schemes (pictured) at a U.S. MSRP of $4,990. Yamaha is not offering an ABS option in the United States for 2015. For additional details and specifications, visit Yamaha’s web site.