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Old 07-15-2015, 12:40 PM   #1
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2015 Yamaha YZF-R3 Ride Review | Worth the Wait

There’s been a lot of activity in the sub-500cc sportbike class. Long the uncontested domain of Kawasaki’s old Ninja 250R, the category suddenly became a hot spot when Honda brought over its CBR250R in 2011. Kawasaki swiftly replied with its current Ninja 300, and Honda responded in kind with the CBR300R (in addition to a naked version of that model, the CB300F). Even Austrian manufacturer KTM is getting into the act with its RC 390 and Duke 390.

With sales in this category doubling in size during the past five years, Yamaha has been conspicuously absent. But it wasn’t exactly ignoring the class. “We carefully monitored this segment,” Yamaha’s Chief of Product Planning Derek Brooks said. When the R25—a nicely styled 250cc sportbike seemingly cut from the same cloth as the R1 and R6—made its debut in developing countries’ markets around the world in 2014, many were assuming that the bike would soon make an appearance in the US.

The R3’s instrument panel is nicely laid out and easy to read at a glance (note the shift light on top), and the windscreen and fairing provide decent wind protection. Mirrors offer excellent rear view.

Well, the R25 in a way did come to the US for 2015—except that it’s appeared in an upgraded version called the R3. Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA let the American press experience the new R3 on both street and racetrack (the new West Course at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Northern California) in order to showcase the new bike’s full capabilities.

Utilizing a transverse inline-twin engine for propulsion, the big difference between the 249cc R25 and the R3 is that the latter model’s powerplant was given a massive 8mm bore increase (bore and stroke measuring 68.0 x 44.1mm) for a total displacement of 321cc. The bore/stroke ratio of 1.54:1 is similar to the R6, and we all know how well that engine turned out (for reference, the Ninja 300’s bore/stroke ratio is 1.26:1). The cylinder head sports a very shallow included valve angle (the 26mm intakes are poised at 12 degrees, and the 22.5mm exhaust valves are set at 12.75 degrees), with the forged—yes, forged—aluminum pistons pushing an 11.2:1 compression ratio.

Another design trick to help increase power that’s been included on many Yamaha sportbikes recently is the offset positioning of the cylinders in relation to the crankshaft. By moving the cylinders slightly forward of the crank axis, piston friction is reduced because the connecting rods have a straighter angle on the crank during the power stroke. Also, unlike the FZ series or the R1, the crankshaft uses standard 180-degree crankpin phasing instead of the crossplane 270-degree configuration. This allows the use of a smaller (and lighter) counterbalance shaft.

The Yamaha R3 sports a 41mm conventional KYB fork that provides excellent rigidity for sport riding. Despite the fork’s nonadjustability, spring and damping rates strike an excellent compromise between sport-firm and commuting comfort.

The steel diamond-type frame employs the engine as a stressed structural member, with the swingarm using the same length-to-wheelbase ratio as the R1, providing a smoother anti-squat force to allow an easier suspension compromise between firm for aggressive riding and soft for commuting. While the KYB 41mm fork is nonadjustable, its larger size than most forks in the class provides rigidity for better handling; the rear KYB shock is seven-way adjustable for spring preload. Braking duties are handled by a single two-piston/slide-pin Akebono caliper biting on a single 298mm disc in the front along with a single-piston Akebono caliper/220mm disc in the rear. Cast-aluminum 10-spoke wheels are shod with a 110/70-17 Michelin Pilot Street tire up front and a 140/70-17 Michelin Pilot Street out back; the Michelins are reportedly OEM-spec tires designed specifically for the R3.

With its low 30.7-inch seat height and narrow midsection, the R3 feels small and manageable, ideal for novice riders. The bars are set on the high side for comfort, and there’s even a fair bit of legroom to the proper sportbike footpegs. The hybrid analog tachometer/digital speedometer dash with LCD info panels is nicely sized, and the information is organized in a way that’s easy to read at a glance. There’s even a programmable shift light above the tach, and the instrument panel brightness can be adjusted.

Clutch effort is light (again, perfect for novices), and first gear is short so taking off from a stop is a snap. Helping matters here is the parallel-twin engine’s decent low-end and midrange torque, which doesn’t require a lot of rpm to get going. As you’d expect for a 368-pound bike with a 54.3-inch wheelbase and fairly high bars, the R3 is very agile and light on its feet; required steering effort is minimal in order to make directional changes, yet the bike is nowhere near twitchy.

The R3 will be available in three color options: red/white, blue/matte silver, and black, with all three motifs retailing for the same $4990 price.

The first half of our test day involved a good amount of street riding, including a stint down a major highway that showed the R3 isn’t lacking for power to keep pace and make passes on traffic (and is also very smooth with little vibration). We made our way into the twisty mountain roads that wind their way through the Mendocino National Forest, and it quickly became obvious that despite its comfortable ride over imperfect public pavement, the new Yamaha’s chassis and suspension are much more capable than most other under-500cc sportbikes. At a pace that would have most of its market rivals quickly porpoising about and coming unwound, the R3 remained poised and predictable; only at very high aggression levels would the Yamaha start to protest, and even then the signals were easy to sense before you got in deep trouble.

Michelin Pilot Street tires provide good grip while keeping a lid on the festivities. Rear suspension is preload adjustable only.

This became even more apparent during the second half of the day when Yamaha let the press loose on Thunderhill’s 1.9-mile West Course. Whether braking deep into corners or flicking through a chicane at speed, the Yamaha continually impressed us with its composure that didn’t force us to rein in the pace for fear of overpowering the chassis or suspension. Even with the stock Michelins’ street-oriented performance that enforced lean angle and corner-exit limits, there was enough grip available to maintain good corner speed and form a day-long permanent smile on your face.

As the saying goes, “there’s no replacement for displacement,” and the R3’s engine clearly has the advantage over its smaller competition. There’s more power everywhere, especially in the upper reaches of the rpm band near the parallel twin’s 12,500-rpm redline, but don’t think you have to keep it wailing up there to get good steam. There’s enough midrange power that you can keep the smooth-shifting gearbox a cog higher and still be able to accelerate smartly. No, the engine’s certainly no FZ-07, but there’s enough steam to keep things fun and interesting.

The R3’s seat provides good comfort and support for longer rides yet is sculpted in front to allow a straighter reach to the ground for shorter pilots.

Braking from the single front caliper/disc requires a lot of lever effort for good stopping power, and there’s no ABS safety net. But at least there’s decent feel that allows you to sense how much braking power you’re getting, enough to be a good learning tool for the novice rider in this day and age of electronic dependency.

“Fun” is usually a relative word with small-displace*ment bikes because their capabilities limit how much enjoyment you can actually have, but the new Yamaha YZF-R3 has changed that paradigm. A telling sign was the fact that nearly every journalist I heard talking about the R3 following their first track session used that word at least two or three times in their ramblings after removing their helmet. A bike has a lot to live up to when given the “Yamaha R” designation, but the R3 is certainly worthy of the moniker.


MSRP: $4990
Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC transverse inline-twin, 4 valves/cyl.
Displacement: 321cc
Bore x stroke: 68.0 x 44.1mm
Induction: Mikuni EFI, 32mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.
Front tire: 110/70-17M/C 54S Michelin Pilot Street
Rear tire: 140/70-17M/C 66S Michelin Pilot Street
Rake/trail: 25°/3.7 in. (95mm)
Wheelbase : 54.3 in. (1380mm)
Seat height : 30.7 in. (780mm)
Fuel capacity : 3.7 gal. (14L)
Claimed wet weight : 368 lb. (167kg)

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