Back in 2016, Yamaha launched their twin-cylinder MT-03, which produced 41.4bhp, well below the A2 licence limit of 47bhp. Since then the ‘03’ has remained unchanged, but with the 300-400cc naked segment becoming ever more competitive, Yamaha wanted to ensure they had the largest slice of an increasingly profitable cake, and have produced a far more aggressive MT-03 that’s totally in-keeping with the MT family DNA.
Can you spot the changes?
You could argue, not a huge amount has changed. But as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Yamaha even admitted they wanted to maintain the current strengths of the previous model, namely sporty performance with rider accessibility. It would have been all too easy to add more performance, or make the handling even sharper, but that would have possibly sacrificed that user-friendliness which, despite the aggressive looks, is an important part of the MT-03 experience.
The MT-03 is largely based in its sportier colleague, the fully faired and more expensive YZF-R3 (£5499). The frame remains the same, as do the brakes, and essentially so too the 321cc parallel-twin engine. However, almost everything else has been upgraded, both to make it comply with the latest Euro5 emissions regulations and to keep it competitive against rivals like the KTM Duke 390 and Kawasaki’s Z400.
The new ‘face-like’ headlights are immediately identifiable as being part of the Yamaha MT range (which runs from the MT-125 to the bonkers, R1-engined, MT-10) and a big transformation from the previous model. The air-duct now sits higher, giving a sportier appearance and adding some anger. As with the MT-125, Yamaha have moved the rider further forward in the chassis by re-shaping the fuel tank, making it shorter and wider (though it retains its 14-litre capacity). The handlebars are 39mm higher and 19mm closer to the rider.
Let’s go for a ride.
On a light bike, a quoted 168kg, the rider’s mass significantly affects the handing, and because the riding ergonomics have changed, Yamaha have updated the suspension. For 2020 the Euro5 machine comes with 37mm non-adjustable inverted front forks to improve rigidly and feedback, replacing the conventional 41mm items of the outgoing model. The single rear shock remains as before, but has revised damping to compensate for the new position of the rider.
Despite the lack of adjustment, the handling isn’t bad. As you’d imagine, the MT is light, nimble and user-friendly. Its aggressive riding position allows you to throw the bike around with ease, almost like a toy. The only handling negative for me are the standard Dunlop GPR300 tyres. Most of the riders on the press launch didn’t have an issue, and I’m sure the rubber will last forever, but I’d prefer something a little sportier, with more feedback, at the expense of the GPR300’s durability. I wasn’t comfortable enough to throw the MT-03 on its side to peg-scraping levels of lean. And while I’m having a little gripe, the brakes are adequate, fine and do the job… but why does Yamaha’s own MT-125 have higher spec radial brakes?
The 321cc twin remains unchanged, although it is now Euro5 compliant. I was a little stunned how nippy the MT-03 is, and didn’t think it would be so much fun, but it was. 100mph is achievable without too much fuss and even 110mph is possible once you’re tucked in, with one hand holding onto the fork leg (and on a race track, of course). The hit away from the lights isn’t bad either. Rev the little twin and it’s satisfying to ride: with peak power just shy of 11,000rpm it’s happy overrev to 12,500rpm – in fact the MT seems to love a large handful of throttle. Like driving a small car fast, it feels much quicker than it is. You can have a ball making the engine scream without fear of being sent to jail should you get caught. As an A2 licence bike, it’s been designed primarily for new riders on their first or second bike, but even experienced hands will have fun on this little Yamaha.
Back in the real world, away from the glamorous Spanish launch roads we rode the bike on, you’ll find the MT-03 in its natural habitat, darting between cars in the city, annoying black cab drivers and generally having lots of fun thanks to the brilliant agility and user friendliness. Inexperienced riders will find the MT-03 as intimating as a new-born puppy. Really, it’s a doddle to ride. The seat height is lower than Yamaha’s recently upgraded MT-125 and the basic brakes are ABS assisted. More experienced hands will carve through traffic with ease.
It’s a bargain.
At £5099, Yamaha’s MT-03 is only £650 more than their recently uprated 125. Furthermore, if you opt for PCP, Yamaha says that it equates to £69 per month, compared to £65 per month for the learner legal 125. It does beg the question, why would you want the 125, licence permitting? Yes, the 125 is good, has higher spec brakes and tyres, but isn’t as capable of serious high-speed mileage as the MT-03. On price alone the MT-03 makes great sense and, with a quoted 74mpg which equates to a range of 228 miles, it will certainly tempt some potential buyers with its low running costs.
Yamaha’s MT-03 packs a punch way above its weight. It’s fun, yes, punchy, easy to ride and more attractive and alluring than ever. It has a genuine ‘big bike’ feel about it without being intimidating or heavy – and 80% of riders won’t complain about those uninspiring tyres. Like the old model, the new MT-03 is a temptingly ‘cheap’ and good-looking commuter capable of delivering an exciting ride.
Make and model: Yamaha MT-03 (2020)
Engine: 321cc liquid-cooled parallel twin DOHC 4-stroke
Power: 41.4bhp (30.9kW) @ 10,750rpm
Torque: 21.8lb-ft & (29.6Nm) @ 9000rpm
Frame: Steel tubular
Brakes: Front: single 298mm disc, two-piston caliper. Rear: 220mm disc, single-piston caliper
Transmission: Six gears, chain final drive
Suspension: Front: 37mm inverted forks, non-adjustable. Rear, pre-load only
Wheels/tyres: Front: 110/80 x17. Rear: 140/70 x17 /(Dunlop)
Seat height: Street 780mm
Fuel capacity: 14 litres
Weight: 168kg (wet)