How commited is it?   Yamaha YZF R3 Ridden

How commited is it? Yamaha YZF R3 Ridden

The Yamaha YZF-R15 was a game changer if ever there was one. Sure the CBZ was the first 150cc bike; the Pulsar made that segment popular and the Karizma was the first affordable fully-faired bike. But it was the R15 that made the current crop of journos invest in leathers and get their knees down. It was the business – a race replica distilled into a small package. Full-fairing, monoshock rear suspension, clip-ons, front and rear disc brakes and 4-valve fuelinjected, liquid-cooled 150cc motor hung from a chassis that was honed on the race track. It went straight to the top of everybody’s list of desirable motorcycles and made Yamaha cool once again.

And then, inexplicably, Yamaha went back to sleep. For seven years! Sure there were scooters and mass-market motorbikes but to us enthusiasts Yamaha is all about racing, about Rossi on that blue M1, and no matter how good their scooters they just don’t light the fires in any belly. And it wasn’t like there was no market for affordable sports bikes – Kawasaki brought the Ninja 250 and 300, DSK-Hyosung got the GT 250R and KTM made a meal of this segment with the 390 twins. Yamaha quietly faded into the background. Until now. While Yamaha has been late to the party, they definitely have had some time to think through their strategy for India, more importantly whether to bring the R25 or the YZF-R3 here. I’m glad they opted for the latter as the R3’s 42bhp output is quite close to the reigning segment leader. Now it’s time to see if the R3 can rewrite the rules of the game like the R15 all those years ago. Yamaha launched the YZF-R3 at the Buddh International track, an ultra-fast track built for F1 cars so the R3 will have to be exceptionally good to keep this posse of seasoned journalists entertained. I drove the Fiat Abarth 595 Competizione here for the first time about a week ago, so I’m keen to find out how a bike performs.

We have seen the bike in pictures but up close the attention to detail is amazing. For example, the twin, cat-eye headlamps have a kink that is quite Audi-esque.The overall styling is sharp, the forward mass minimal and tail design quite edgy, making it quite similar to the YZF-R6. In the metal it is quite compact, smaller than what it seems in pictures, and that should help track its prowess. Quality is top notch though the instrument cluster does look dated. Hop aboard and you notice how ergonomically superior it is to the YZF-R15 or the KTM RC 390. The clip-ons are set at a position that will allow for a relaxed city ride and touring, and at the same time will not deny the rider an opportunity to exploit the bike on the track.

Fire her up and revel in the sweet bassy thrum of the 321cc parallel twin that is brimming with tech filtered down from the bigger bikes in Yamaha’s stable. The cylinders feature a DiaSil construction making it lighter, stronger and friction resistant with better heat dissipation properties. Lightweight forged pistons are able to sustain high engine speeds, while the crank is offset for an improved power cycle. The engine features a 68.0 x 44.1mm bore and stroke, power output stands at 41bhp at 10,750rpm and 30Nm of torque at 9000rpm. In fact the rev ceiling is set at a lofty 12,500rpm.

This should translate to a peaky power delivery on track but we were surprised by the overall flexibility of the engine. You feel the surge coming in and that keeps increasing all the way to 9000rpm and shows no signs of abating even as high as 11,000rpm. It isn’t as frantic as the KTM RC 390 but is addictive nevertheless. In fact you could cover the entire length of the track in fifth gear or shift down a couple of cogs and enjoy the creamy power delivery. Refinement is of the highest order and you can happily ride it with the engine sitting on the top of its powerband all day.

On the track, after turn 3 is a 1.4km back straight where you can max out the bike. Knees tucked in, helmet ducked under the fairing, throttle wound to the stop, you watch the rev needle frantically wind up to 11,000rpm when a large white light heralds the need to upshift. Snicking up the slick box, I managed to see 171kmph on the speedometer before having to brake hard and shift down for turn 4. Yamaha has decided to omit ABS and a slipper clutch to keep costs down and that is a shame. The 298mm front and 220mm rear brakes have a sharp bite and provide excellent feedback. The gearbox is precise and will downshift with all the hurry you need on track.

Speaking of handling, the YZF-R3 employs a diamond type frame in place of the Deltabox utilised by the YZF-R1, YZF-R6 and even its smaller cousin, the YZF-R15. Contrary to perception, the R3 handles as well as you’d want. Steam into a corner and there’s great bite and feedback from the front to throw it on its ear. Quick direction changes aren’t a problem either and you can put it down low into a corner and not worry about either the front or rear losing traction. 41mm KYB front forks and KYB rear monoshocks are a bit on the stiffer side, which is a boon on track plus they come with 130mm front and 125mm rear travel that should help on bad roads. The YZF-R3 sold abroad comes with Michelin Pilot Sports while here it gets 110/70R17 front and 140/70R17 rear MRF Zappers. The Zappers performed very well on track and there was always enough grip to keep the rear in check, even when whacked open hard on the tighter corners. It was only during the second part of the session when it started to drizzle that I could notice a slight shimmy from the rear when leaned in but it was all predictable and in control. These tyres will do well in real world conditions where track times aren’t paramount but I guess the option of premium rubbers wouldn’t hurt.

In terms of pricing, Yamaha has thrown a curveball at Rs 3.25 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), which undercuts the Kawasaki Ninja by quite a margin. It might lose out on the slipper clutch and ABS though it is high on power and refinement. After the ride a fellow journalist asked me about the negatives and I was at a loss for words. The YZF-R3 does everything so well! It would be unfair to compare the YZF-R3 to the KTM RC 390 as both bikes offer different characteristics – the latter is a frantic maniacal bike while I reckon the R3 is for a mature audience who want something more than just outright performance.

Having performed exceptionally on track, I am now keen to see how it does in the real world. Watch this space for a detailed review.

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