2015 Yamaha R3 First Ride Review | Street and Track Test

Yamaha R3 at Thunderhill

2015 Yamaha R3 Review

2015 Yamaha R3 at Thunderhill Raceway
2015 Yamaha R3

The battle for supremacy in the small displacement sport bike category has really heated up in 2015. Now, taking on the class veteran Kawasaki Ninja 300 are four new bikes this year: the Honda CBR300R, the Suzuki GW250F, the KTM 390 RC, and the subject of this first ride test, the 2015 Yamaha YZF-R3.

Yamaha tipped its hand with the naming of the bike, giving it the YZF status that is reserved for supersport bikes, such as the YZF-R6 and YZF-R1. With a full fairing and clip-ons, the YZF-R3 looks track ready, and that just where I tested it, along with some road time that included the freeway and fun twisties.

Placing a bike in this market is what it’s all about. The Suzuki may look sporty and has twin cylinder motor, but its makers take pains to say the GW250F is more of a standard commuter bike than anything you want to ride seriously. The Kawasaki Ninja 300 twin has a relatively long wheelbase and most relaxed rake in the class. KTM does what you’d expect with the 390 RC—giving it a highly aggressive chassis and a 373cc single cylinder motor that gives it a displacement and weight edge.

When looking at the chassis stats, the Yamaha R3 is very much like the Honda CBR300R. The wheelbase and wheel sizes are the same, and the rake is just 0.3 degrees steeper. Being a single cylinder of smaller displacement (286cc vs. 321cc), the Honda gets a nine-pound edge when fueled up. As I said, they’re close. Yamaha pulls out the marketing trump card, though, with a twin instead of single, while Honda counters with a $591 price advantage.

Okay, you have a sense of where the 2015 Yamaha R3 fits into the competitive marketplace — it has moderate chassis geometry and the largest twin in its class. Let’s see how it performs on the street and track for the first time out.

My initial reaction to clip-ons was “aggressive ergonomics,” but I was happy to see the slight rise above the triple clamps, which give the R3 a sporty, but not-too-aggressive riding position. The seat is narrow in the front, and the bodywork under it is slim, so you don’t waste valuable inches straddling a wide saddle. This is especially helpful to shorter riders at a stop, and the flat seat means you won’t find yourself sliding up to the tank all day long. The footpeg position is up high enough to resist (but not eliminate) scraping, yet not so high that I felt cramped with my 30.5-inch inseam.

Taking the freeway to the twisties, the Yamaha R3 shows that it has the power to take on the Interstate. Cruising at extra-legal speeds is no problem, and acceleration at high-speed is much better than you’d expect from 321cc. Thanks to a single-axis balancer, the R3 is remarkably smooth at freeway speeds, and that keeps fatigue down on long rides.

The R3’s DOHC eight-valve motor is all-new, with some fairly advanced features. While the R3 didn’t get a Crossplane Concept motor (Yamaha says the smaller engine doesn’t need the power manageability benefit of the Crossplane), it does have fuel injection, downdraft intake from a 1.3-quart airbox, two 32mm Mikuni throttle bodies with 12-hole injectors, plus offset cylinders that result in less friction and more performance.

The R3’s bore and stroke is very similar to the R6, which means it is seriously oversquare and ready to rev with a redline of 12,245 rpm. However, don’t get the idea that you have to wring its neck to get power. The R3 pulls satisfyingly through the rev range, with the oval pulley on the throttle giving the R3 the feel of progressively building power, a nod toward those with less throttle control experience.

You never feel like you drop off the cam, as Yamaha gives the R3 enough low-rpm torque and a low first gear. It can always pull, as long as you’re reasonable about which of the six gears you’re in. Yamaha realized that the R3 will be bought by many newer riders, and it had to be easy to ride — and it is. At the same time, they wanted to build in some growth, as well as make the bike perform well enough that an experienced rider might want to buy it as a low-cost, lower-speed track bike.

In the twisties through the rolling hills, the conventional diamond-style steel frame and non-adjustable (save rear spring preload) KYB suspension performed impressively well. The R3 is so maneuverable and light, and combined with the satisfactory Michelin Pilot Street tires, you have the confidence to rev up the motor and make the most of what’s available.

It’s easy to turn-in, as you’d expect with a 368-pound (claimed wet) bike, and mid-corner corrections are effortless. At the same time, in fast turns, the R3 feels solid, and allows you to hold a line when you want. It’s easy to pick up out of turns and get on the gas as you exit. If you ride big bikes all the time, you might forget how much fun it can be to manhandle a smaller bike on the street and ride highly aggressively.

The single front disc brake is perfect. There’s a nice soft initial bite by the four-piston Akebono caliper, and the braking action is linear. When you want to slow down immediately, the front disc is up to it, though you’ll have to squeeze fairly hard. The R3 doesn’t have any bad braking habits, and the rear is actually usable, with good feel. Like the front, it requires a hard push for maximum braking, so it won’t surprise you, yet is still there when called upon to slow things down.

Road Testing The 2015 Yamaha R3Keep an eye out for smoother roads, though, as the basic KYB suspension is at its best when not taxed by uneven tarmac. When faced with a less-maintained road, it bounced me around some, and there are no suspension adjustments to help. The R3 still feels okay and I never felt like I was going to be tossed off the bike, but I did have to slow down a bit to stay in my comfort zone.

Once at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willow, CA, I could forget about road conditions and focus solely on the R3’s performance. I rode on the tight western course, so speeds were kept down and most of the time I was working in 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears (of the six-speed transmission).

While I wouldn’t want to take the R3 on something like Big Willow at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, CA, it’s great fun on a tighter course. All the things that make the R3 a great street bike are amplified on the track.

Running the R3 up to the redline happens on the street, of course, but on the track you can run into five-digits much more consistently, which means you get the absolute most out of the motor. There’s an adjustable shift light and gear position indicator, and the little twin allows for some overrev from the shift light when I didn’t want to shift up when nearing the redline when the end of the straight wasn’t quite there yet.

When downshifting into a turn, you have to get it right. With no slipper clutch and a light chassis, the back end does chatter under hard downshifting. Most of the intended audience for the bike won’t intentionally downshift too hard and early, but a slipper clutch would help save the day when they do.

The same could be said for the ABS-free disc brakes. They have great feel and you can easily ride without skidding either wheel, but if you make a mistake, as newer riders will do, the ability for technology to bail you out is a good one. It would be nice if one or both were an option.

For my level of riding, the Pilot Street tires were fine. I was able to lean the R3 over confidently until the pegs dragged, so that’s enough for most people. If I rode track days more often on the R3, I’d find some stickier rubber and push the envelope harder.

Casual or beginning track day riders will be pleased with the R3 on tight courses and can upgrade various aspects of the bike on an as-needed basis. It is certainly a great starting point for someone looking to test his limits in a safe environment on an affordable bike with unintimidating performance parameters.

For a $5000 beginner-focused bike, the 2015 Yamaha YZF-R3 is almost flawless. The modest shortcomings I experienced are something that come with riding countless motorcycles over decades on the road. The vast majority of R3 owners will find themselves in the saddle and feel extraordinarily good about their purchase, and it will be a feeling that should point them to an R6 or FZ-07 once they feel they have mastered the basics.

Photography by Brian J. Nelson

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2015 Yamaha YZF-R3 Specifications:

  • Engine: DOHC, 8-valve parallel twin
  • Displacement: 321cc
  • Engine cooling: Liquid
  • Compression ratio: 11.2:1
  • Bore x stroke: 68.0mm x 44.1mm
  • Engine rev limit: 12,245 rpm
  • Valve train: Shim under bucket, cam chain drive
  • Valve adjustment interval: 26,600 miles
  • Fuel Delivery: P.T. Mikuni EFI
  • Exhaust: Type 2>1 w/ 02 sensor w/ 3-way catalyst
  • Ignition: TCI w/ 32 bit ECU
  • Lubrication: Wet Sump
  • Oil capacity: 2.54 quarts
  • Transmission: 6-speed constant mesh
  • Clutch: Wet multiplate-disc
  • Frame: Steel diamond type
  • Forks: 41mm non-adjustable KYB w/ 5.1 inches of travel
  • Shock: Preload-adjustable KYB w/ 4.9 inches of travel
  • Brakes Front: 4-piston Akebono w/ 298mm disc
  • Brakes Rear: 2-piston Akebono w/ 220mm disc
  • Wheels: 10-spoke cast aluminum
  • Front tire: 110/70 x 17 Michelin Pilot Street
  • Rear tire: 140/70 x 17 Michelin Pilot Street
  • Wet weight (full tank): 368 pounds
  • Weight distribution, f/r: 49%/51%
  • Rake: 25°
  • Wheelbase: 54.3 inches
  • Seat height: 30.7 inches
  • Overall length: 82.2 inches
  • Overall width: 28.3 inches
  • Overall height: 44.7 inches
  • Ground clearance: 6.3 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 3.7 gallons w/ 0.8-gallon reserve

2015 Yamaha YZF-R3 MSRP:

  • $4990

2015 Yamaha R3 Review – Photo Gallery