After far too many lean years, waves of truly new, blank-sheet Yamahas are washing up on British shores once again. All kinds of machines: twins, triples and fours, made in naked, all-round and superbike guises. And now there’s something new at the smaller-capacity end of the scale too.
The R3 claims to fill the fully faired gap between Yamaha’s popular YZF-R125 and once-popular R6. However, let’s be clear: the R3 shares nothing with either of those bikes. The R6 is a focused supersport 600 made in Japan. The R125 is a smart, full-size learner sportsbike made in France. The R3, however, is a welcoming, easygoing roadster made in Indonesia.
The giveaways that the R3 is no razor- sharp race-rep are easily spotted. The unadjustable forks are not upside-down, as they are on both the R125 and R6. The front brake caliper is not radially mounted, as on its siblings. Sat on the R3, its seat is very low – nearly two inches lower than the R125 – and the bars are high, with clip-ons mounted above the top yoke. But while the R3 looks (and initially feels) small, the riding position is surprisingly big. It’s relaxed and upright, not at all wrist-heavy, with pegs a fair distance from the seat giving good legroom too. You’d feel more scrunched up on an R1.
Powering the R3 is a new 321cc parallel twin producing a claimed 41bhp. That puts the R3 inside the limits for A2 licence holders, without any restriction necessary. It’s surely no coincidence that the R3’s specification just pips that of Kawasaki’s Ninja 300: the R3 is 25cc larger, with 2.5bhp more power and 2lb.ft more torque.
It’s also extremely smooth, both in terms of throttle response – silky and predictable, thanks to a non-linear linkage – and in only allowing minimal vibration through to the rider. The lack of vibes is impressive as the twin has a 180° crank (rather than the 270° design of Yamaha’s MT-07 and Super Ténéré), which in other uses can all too often feel lumpy. The motor’s single balance shaft does its job superbly.
The twin pulls cleanly from very low revs – as low as 2000rpm. Bottom-end power is reasonable and the motor is more than happy at city speeds and modest revs, though it does show some spirit from 8000rpm to the 12,500rpm redline. It’s no two-stroke powerband, just a noticeable increase in enthusiasm. Though the motor does need working hard at higher speeds, it can hold 80mph without feeling strained and keeps going to a respectable 110mph.
The R3’s chassis feels less budget than it appears. Though the ride is on the soft side, it’s nowhere near as bouncy as you may fear thanks to the suspension’s decent damping. And with sportier steering geometry than a Ninja 300 the R3 is no slouch, which it gleefully shows by devouring some twisty mountain roads west of Barcelona.
The R3 even handles a brief taste of track action admirably. Tyres are Thai-made Michelin Pilot Street crossplies, but grip well during a couple of boisterous sessions on the nearby Calafat circuit. Trackdays aren’t a serious part of the R3’s remit, but the brakes prove fade-free, the gearbox remains slick under pressure and, with the footpegs’ huge hero blobs removed, ground clearance is reasonable. Even the standard ABS doesn’t prove a problem, which is good as there’s no way to turn it off.
On track the gear position indicator on the dash is a great help, as it is on the road too. There’s also an adjustable shift light above the clocks, though it’s not very bright. Otherwise the R3’s instruments are clear and well equipped, with an analogue rev counter and two digital panels that contain the speedo, a six-bar fuel gauge, as well as some trip and fuel economy info.
Finish appears good, except for the rear brake pedal and plastic caps covering the chain adjusters’ excess thread. While the tank holds just 14 litres, the 56mpg claimed by the clocks should give a range of 150 miles. Valve adjustment intervals of 26,000 miles help keep running costs low too.
The R3 is more an A2 sports tourer than an A2 sportsbike, designed for commuting more than Cadwell. Riders seeking the raciest A2 choice should still head to the lighter, more powerful, better equipped KTM RC390. But those after a smoother, easier, more flexible ride will be happy – and next to the pricier, heavier Ninja 300, the R3 is very tempting indeed.