We Rode the Perfect Bike for Those Who Dread Committment and Lack Discipline

It’s one hell of an entry-level bike.

Do you dread responsibility and lack self-control? Me too, which is why I find the all-new 2015 Yamaha YZF-R3so charming. Not only is it an inconsequential investment at $4,990, the R3 requires a sliver of the restraint necessary to ride the bigger, faster superbikes it emulates.

The 2016 Yamaha YZF-R3 is one of the newest players into a rapidly evolving line of small-displacement, entry-level sport bikes that found new life when Honda released its CBR250R a few years ago. Kawasaki answered with a Ninja 300, Honda came back with bigger CBR300R, and now Yamaha has upped the ante with the YZF-R3, a 7/8th-scale version of Yahama’s superbike, the YZF-R1, but with a fifth the power.

The R3’s liquid-cooled, 321-cc parallel-twin engine produces 40 odd horsepower that gets sent through a somewhat frail-feeling 6-speed transmission. The bike’s switchgear is flimsy, and its feathery clutch and brake levers swivel a bit when you grab them, but what do you expect from something that costs less than a long night in Vegas?  The R3 is so short you barely have to lift a leg to get over its low seat, and someone my size (6’2”, 185 lb) climbing onto the R3 looks like a height-disproportionate couple contorting as they awkwardly try to hug.

Accelerating down a highway on-ramp on the R3, there are a lot of the same sensations you’d get on a superbike — rushing wind, a hurriedly buzzing engine, an uncomfortable riding position. I quickly shift into second as the bike’s bright-white shift light comes on just below 12,000 rpm, and then snap the throttle back so hard my wrist cracks. My knees squeeze against the gas tank, my elbows squeeze against my knees, and my helmet dips just below the windshield as I upshift again and again. I feel like a boss, flying down the highway, before I notice that I’m only going 72 mph, that the engine is spinning high at 7,000 rpm, that there are no more gears to click through, and that cars are passing me on both sides.

The R3 doesn’t really shine on straights but in bends, where the compliant little compact loves to be manhandled and is easier to push around than a drunk dude with two left feet. It’s a momentum bike, one that slowly builds speed then carries it confidently as long as you’ve got the plums to hang way off its sides in curves. I laughed my ass off, lunging left to right and back on the docile jackal, cutting tight lines through corners, tapping the rear brakes now and then to slide the tail out a bit. I’d think, “Remember, this isn’t a superbike but a convincingly styled five-grander. Go easy.” Then I’d skirt along the inside shoulder of a road clogged with a row of slow-moving cars, inches from the pavement, and think, “Yeah, there’s no way this isn’t a superbike.”

Until it came time to brake, that is. The front brakes are totally adequate during run-of-the-mill rides, but the mini-superbike carries speed so well that, on felonious rides, every last bit of bite is necessary to slow down for sharp turns. Fortunately, when the R3 gets squirrely under hard braking or an overly eager downshift, it takes barely any muscle to get the biddable beastie back in line.

On the 2016 Yamaha YZF-R3, a motorcycle with the shell of superbike, the heart of sport bike, and a personality that sits somewhere between the two, perspective is everything. It’s not a high-performance bike but a charismatic entry-level motorcycle that will appeal to riders at all levels of experience.

As long as they have issues with commitment and discipline, that is.

Photos by Yamaha