Yamaha welcomes a new member to the MT family in 2020 with the introduction of the MT-03. Having already covered the mid-size through liter-class naked sportbike categories with the MT-07, MT-09, and MT-10 models, the 2020 Yamaha MT-03 brings the torquey yet high-revving Masters of Torque personality to novice riders.The small-displacement segment of the market is becoming busier, and that’s good news for expanding the motorcycling population, as well as providing more choices for riders looking for physically smaller bikes. We traveled to Austin to check out the MT-03 in its busy urban center, as well as the hill-country outside of the Live Music Capital of the World.1. Based on the YZF-R3’s proven engine and chassis, the 2020 Yamaha MT-03 has been tweaked ergonomically and stylistically. With the fairing stripped off and the headlight redesigned for a piercing minimalist face, the MT-03 slots right into the MT template. Instead of the clip-ons found on the R3, the MT-03 has a traditional handlebar that sits 1.5 inches higher, and ¾-inches closer to the rider. This slightly more upright riding stance immediately affects my attitude when I settle into the seat—I’m ready for a fun sprint through the city instead of an aggressive race into the canyons.
2. The physically small and light bike provides a welcoming package for new riders. Nothing spells comfort to a new rider like being able to touch terra firma with both feet flat, and the 30.7-inch seat height of the MT-03 brings this to a wide swath of riders. My 30.5-inch inseam left me room to spare on the MT-03, and when you add in the 373-pound curb weight, the MT-03 feels almost toy-like. So much so, in fact, that when we were caught in Austin’s truly awful commuting traffic—bad enough to turn off the engine while waiting through a couple cycles of traffic signals—it was easy enough to keep the MT-03 in neutral and simply paddle the bike forward a few feet with little effort.3. Compared to the R3, the MT-03 fuel tank is broader at the top and specifically tailored, creating a slim, perfectly seated-in riding position. Easy to grip with my knees, I felt at one with the slender bike as I was not so much steering the machine as simply moving with it. Though it requires relatively little input to change direction, there is nothing nervous about its handling.4. Linear torque from the bottom to the top keeps things friendly for novice riders without boring veterans. The oversquare 321cc DOHC parallel-twin delivers smooth, manageable power—an inexperienced hand is unlikely to get in trouble from grabbing a handful of throttle. Clicking up through the gears and twisting your right hand hard will tap into the MT-03’s power, and you can have a blast from 7k on up to the 12,500 rpm redline. A counterbalancer keeps vibration under control, even at five-digit rev counts.5. Dual front disc brakes aren’t necessary with a 373-pound bike aimed at novice riders, so the MT-03 has one. The single 298mm rotor and two-piston Akebono caliper keep speeds in check with a perfectly dialed front lever. The linear power at your right-hand rewards a hard squeeze, delivering the confidence to ride with enthusiasm. At the same time, keeping in mind the expected audience for the MT-03, there’s nothing snatchy about the front brake. The rear pedal has useable real-world power for finessing lower speeds. ABS can be triggered if you work it, though it is non-intrusive in practice.6. The MT-03 has an inverted 37mm KYB fork, giving the entry-level bike a big-bike look, as well as a sturdy front end. Whether traversing under-maintained city streets or diving into corners in the canyons, a robust front end inspires confidence.7. Suspension damping on the MT-03 is non-adjustable, and that makes sense for the target audience. New riders need to focus on brake and throttle control, rather than getting lost down the rabbit hole of suspension adjustments. Yamaha engineers tweaked the R3’s suspension settings at the fork to favor the revised riding position and expected conditions, and they got it right. The stock suspension, with a softer spring and a tad more preload than the R3, does a respectable job of balancing commuting duties in urban environments, with around-town weekend sprints. The KYB shock has seven-way spring-preload adjustability.8. Dunlop Sportmax GPR-300 tires are a fine choice for the 2020 Yamaha MT-03’s dual roles. As an easy commuting companion and city fun bike, the GPR-300 tires handle varying road conditions with composure. I didn’t think twice about the tires while riding the MT-03, and that is a good thing. They dealt with the usual urban conditions one finds, as well as dirty roads from a previous day’s rain, and scattered debris from a newly paved stretch of asphalt we passed. In the winding Texas Hill Country, I was able to push as far as I wanted and felt secure.9. Newer riders will gain confidence on the easy-to-handle, unintimidating MT-03. Slow-speed riding in busy lanes of traffic can be daunting to less experienced riders. Fortunately, the MT-03’s easy-going character, light curb-weight, upright riding position, and relatively light clutch contribute to a non-distracting package.10. The MT-03’s dash includes a few extras. In addition to the usual bits of information you expect to find, there is a gear position indicator (I always appreciate this), plus instant and average mpg readouts, so you can enjoy your thrifty ride. Yamaha claims 56 mpg, but that will change based on your size and style of riding.11. There are several handfuls of accessories to customize the MT-03. Luggage options (soft saddlebags, a top case, or tank bag), protection pieces, a seat cowl, and grip warmers for chilly conditions, are amongst the 20+ accessories available for the MT-03.12. To help first-time buyers, who may not have established credit yet, Yamaha offers 0-FICO financing. Three-year low-interest financing is available through Yamaha, and they can roll in apparel, in addition to accessories and parts. We like this, as there should be no excuse for not outfitting yourself with proper motorcycle gear.13. At $4599, including ABS, the 2020 Yamaha MT-03 is an enticing package. It’s a capable commuter, around town and fun bike, and has plenty of charisma. Anyone who decides to venture into the local canyons will reveal another level of fun, expanding their interest in the sport. Entry-level motorcycles are crucial to the sport, and the 2020 Yamaha MT-03 is another exciting option for a rider fresh out of an MSF class.Photography by Joseph AgustinRIDING STYLE
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!