The smaller capacity sportsbike market is going through something of an upheaval at the moment, with supersport 600s getting the distinctly raw end of the stick. Yes, we have seen an ‘updated’ YZF-R6 and ZX-6R, but look behind the headlines and the new headlights, they are both little more than facelifts and minimal alterations to make them Euro4-compliant. And there is a reason for this. Due to spiraling development costs, supersport bikes are no longer the cheap option when compared to a litre bike and as the average age of sportsbike owners increases, insurance premiums and finance deals are also less of a concern. By chasing outright performance, the supersport class has shot itself in the foot and even the world supersport grid is in danger of becoming obsolete. But there is a new class emerging – this time driven by interest from the Far East and not just Europe…
The year before last saw the world superbike championship introduce the World Supersport 300 (WorldSSP300) class, a fresh race series that puts a new breed of lightweight sportsbikes such as the Kawasaki Ninja 400, KTM RC390 and Yamaha YZF-R3 against each other on track. Why is this important? Because in Far Eastern countries it is these bikes that riders aspire to owning and if you can win on the world scene, you stand a very good chance in the showrooms as well. Which neatly brings us around to the Yamaha YZF-R3.
Introduced in Europe in 2015, the R3 is built in Indonesia and you have to say has this emerging market firmly in its sights. That’s not to say it doesn’t sell well in Europe, with Germany and Turkey both going mad for the bike and the UK also warming to it, but its focus is set slightly further afield. Something that becomes apparent in its 2019 update, which it has to be said is pretty minimal.
The parallel twin motor is unchanged for 2019, as is the R3’s tubular steel chassis that houses it. The KYB suspension is a little stiffer and the forks now inverted, but the single two-piston front caliper (which has ABS) remains conventional rather than radial. Add to this a new LCD dash and updated styling with LED lights and in all honestly, aside from a few tweaks to its riding position, that’s about where the changes finish. But is this a problem? In many ways I suspect not. To many potential buyers the R3 still ticks the two most important boxes – it looks ace and remains very practical.
Costing just £5299, the R3 is a natural progression upwards for riders who have out grown a 125 (40% of its buyers are aged between 20 and 24 years old). Its A2-compliant engine makes a reasonable 41.4bhp with 21.9lb.ft of torque and is designed to be vibe-free and easy-going, something it certainly achieves. The clutch (which has a slipper function) is feather light, the gearbox slick and delivering fuel economy figures of in the 70mpg area it is also pretty economical with a top speed of over 100mph. The riding position is nicely ‘big-bike’ and despite the bars being lowered by 22mm for 2019 to give it a bit of a sportier feel it is comfortable for all shapes and sizes and the 780mm seat height and 169kg wet weight is reassuring for those who lack confidence. Despite adding a bit more support into the KYB suspension, Yamaha have stopped short of going too far and its compliant enough to soak up the bumps without getting all wallowy or harsh and the handling is certainly good enough to break your kneedown cherry should you so wish. In fact, aside from the front brake lever still having way too much travel and being in desperate need of a span adjuster to stop you trapping your fingers, it is hard to find much to moan about with the updated R3. But by the same token, it is hard to find much new to shout about either…
The 2019 YZF-R3 is basically just the previous model that has been given a sharper look, which is a bit of a shame, especially when you compare it to the more radically updated 2019 YZF-R125. The smaller capacity bike gets a four-piston radial brake, so why doesn’t the R3? This is the bike that Yamaha are pitching onto the world scene in
WorldSSP300, so why not give it some bling to help its showroom appeal? According to Yamaha the reason is mainly down to costs – the R3 is deliberately priced to be a small step up from the R125. I get this, it is only £800 more and you get a parallel twin engine rather than the R125’s single, but if I owned an R125 I’d be a bit disappointed with the fact my upgrade lacked a bit of bling such as a colour dash (with connectivity ideally) and improved braking. If you like the look (who wouldn’t) and aren’t fussed about the orientation of your calipers, the YZF-R3 is a lovely smaller capacity sportsbike that handles well. However I can’t help but feel Yamaha could have given it a bit more bling in this update to tempt younger riders to upgrade as aside from the motor, the rest of the R3 isn’t as high tech as the YZF-R125.
Engine: 321cc liquid-cooled 8v DOHC parallel twin
Power: 41.4bhp @ 10,750rpm
Torque: 21.9lb.ft @ 9000rpm
Claimed economy: 74mpg