2020 Yamaha MT-03: First Ride Review

Yamaha’s “Masters of Torque” lineup now offers what’s arguably the best bargain bike on the market.

Joseph Agustin

There are lots of reasons to get yourself a motorcycle: excellent gas mileage, easy parking, and—if you live in a good state—lane splitting! But if your main priority is having fun above all else, then you should be familiar with Yamaha’s “MT” lineup of naked sport bikes.

The newest MT has a strong visual presence.

MT stands for “Masters of Torque.” In the US, it includes the MT-10, the MT-09, and the MT-07—the names reflect the approximate displacement of the engines in cubic centimeters. For 2020, the lineup gets a baby brother with a 321cc motor, the MT-03.

Europe has had the 321cc MT since 2016, but 2020 is the first year that Americans will get to enjoy it.

The MT-03 shares a lot of components—including the frame, engine, ABS-equipped brakes, and LCD dash—with the highly successful YZF-R3 sport bike. The R3 is Yamaha’s best-selling motorcycle in the US because it’s affordable and approachable. Impressively, the MT-03 offers improvements in both categories.

A few tweaks yield a distinctly different riding experience.

The affordability is easy to demonstrate: the R3 costs $5,299 if you want the optional ABS (and you do). But you can buy yourself a MT-03 (which has ABS standard) for just $4,599. The MT-03 is not only cheaper than its sibling, it’s cheaper than anything else in the class, such as the BMW G310R, Honda CB300R, Kawasaki Z400, and KTM Duke 390.

Returning a claimed 56 miles per gallon, the MT-03 is cheap to buy and cheap to run, too.

From an approachability standpoint, the MT-03 offers a more comfortable seating position thanks to controls that put your hands 19mm back and 39mm up compared to the R3. This eases pressure on your wrists and lets you sit up more upright, giving you a better view of the traffic that you’ll be slicing through. The front suspension has also been revised for better behavior and increased comfort in the city to help you cope if you’re not able to dodge every pothole.

Yamaha offered first rides in Austin.

Where the MT-03 truly differs from the R3 is the styling, shedding the race-inspired fairings and replacing them with one of the most aggressive faces we’ve ever seen on a small-displacement motorcycle. Lucky for you, this little Yamaha only looks mean—it’s a treat to ride.

The baby MT gets all-LED lighting.

Ease of use starts with the low seat height of 30.7” and low weight of 373 pounds, so it’s easy to mount and unintimidating once you’re onboard. But the real key is the forgiveness of the controls at your hands and feet. 

Standard ABS is a welcome feature, especially at the price point.

Whether you’re working the throttle, brake, or clutch, the MT-03 responds gradually and reassuringly. Beginners won’t need to worry about the front wheel rising if they twist the throttle too hard, nor about the wheels skidding if they apply too much brake.

If you’re looking for more confidence on your motorcycle, considering taking some of the money that you’d save by buying a MT-03 versus the competition and investing it in yourself with a class such as the Yamaha Champions Riding School. Those skills will stick with you as you move onto your next bike, too.

In town or in the corners, the MT-03 will put a smile on your face.

The MT stands out by being able to offer so much for the money. The price may be cheap, but the components are not, with a delightfully smooth-shifting transmission, competent KYB suspension with inverted forks, LED lighting, and even quality paint that makes the bike feel more expensive than it is.

The MT-03 is well-finished, so you can be proud to have it in your garage.

The surprises continue with the optional accessories, as Yamaha is offering several pieces that are typically reserved for bigger bikes. In addition to the usual options of a windshield, levers, or a tail tidy, you can equip your MT-03 with factory luggage (soft side bags, soft tank bag, hard trunk) and even heated grips to maximize your practicality and riding season.

Luggage is rarely offered in this class, but it’s excellent for commuters and travelers alike.

There’s lots to love about the MT-03, though it’s not perfect. Thankfully, the few flaws aren’t serious. The shape of the tank interferes with the legs of taller riders (six-foot-two-inches and above), and we’d like to feel a little less vibration from the engine when winding it out.

The 321cc engine produces 41 horsepower, more than plenty for a bike that weighs just 373 pounds.

Considering the price, the positives of the Yamaha MT-03 far outweigh the negatives. In fact, as long as you comfortably fit on it, the MT-03 may just be the best bargain in street motorcycles. There’s never been a better time to go shopping for a small naked sport bike, and Yamaha has now put themselves on the list of bikes that potential buyers should test ride before making a decision.

Joseph Agustin

Check out Yamaha’s website to see when and where you can test ride at MT-03, or head straight to your local Yamaha dealership as it is already available for $4,599 in Midnight Black or Ice Fluo (gray with red accents). 

Affordable, capable, and incredibly fun, Yamaha’s MT-03 is the type of bike that will get new riders to experience the world of motorcycling. Will you be one of them?