Sportbike Performance Plus
Image by alan9187 from Pixabay

Sportbike Performance Plus

Now there’s a whole new wave of small-displacement sportbikes in our market, featuring machines such as the Honda CBR300R, Kawasaki Ninja 300, and KTM’s RC390. Clearly, this is a great opportunity for new riders to buy a real entry-level sportbike, and Yamaha has timed it perfectly with the new R3 joining the fray.

Most smaller bikes these days are aimed at entry-level riders. But these new small-displacement machines are also performance-based. To properly compete, Yamaha designed the new R3 to cater to the former without neglecting the needs of experienced riders.


At first glance, the R3 looks very sport-oriented. After all, the R in the name tells us the bike is a member of the Yamaha sportbike family. The bodywork shares the same mass-forward silhouette and race-style tail section as the R6. The twin cat-eye headlights also give the R3 a sporty look. There is plenty of DNA from the R6 in the styling, but there is also some R1 influence in the 321cc parallel twin, which has forged pistons.

Like the RD, the R3 is a very basic motorcycle. No fancy dash. No ride modes. And the linkless rear suspension has no damping adjustments, just a seven-step preload adjuster for the KYB shock. Up front, the conventional 41mm KYB fork offers no provision for adjustment.

The press launch for the new R3 took place in Northern California, with a morning spent riding on the street before heading to Thunderhill Raceway Park’s new Middle Hill loop.

We started out on the freeway before hitting the back roads. The first thing I noticed? The aggressive sound of the 2-into-1 exhaust at startup. The R3 has a low first gear to facilitate easy starts. It took me a little while to figure out that I had to keep the revs in the 7, 000 to 9, 000 rpm range to get the bike up to speed. Once you reach 70 mph or so in fifth or sixth gear, the bike purrs right along. There is a fair amount of roll-on acceleration available at speed, which is really impressive considering it’s only a 321cc engine. Wind protection is good, as I was able to get tucked nicely behind the windscreen on the highway.

As nice as the R3 was on the freeway, how would it do on the back roads where you need some extra grunt to pull you out of the corners? On a road with a combination of fast and flowing corners and some tight curves, the R3 was fun. It’s not the fastest bike out there, but fast riders will enjoy trying to keep up their momentum and corner speed, all at a reasonable pace. For the beginner, the R3 will make you a much better rider. The more you ride it, the better you feel about it. Power felt good on the back roads. You’ll want to keep it on the boil in the higher rpm range, but it pulled just fine when I let the revs fall a bit.

Weighing in at just 368 pounds, the R3 is among the lightest in its class. At first, the suspension felt soft and a little out of balance, but it handled the rough roads well. The bike soaked up bumps with minimal deflection, returning the front wheel to the road quickly and in control. Only on the very fast sweepers did it feel undersprung and unnerved, lacking the stiffness associated with more serious sportbikes.


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