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Yamaha MT03 (2016) Test Ride Review

Review Date February 2016

By Ren Withnell

Back in August 2014 I had the pleasure of riding Yamaha's MT07 at their open day in Manchester (Yamaha MT07 "Darkside" Review). I liked the engine in that bike an awful lot and the chassis was very good except for the seat which was more akin to a plank of wood. I suggested Yamaha might do well to stick that motor in a big trailie style bike. Yamaha, who of course read intently every word I write upon this website, took my advice and created the Tracer. Silly boys - they used the wrong engine! They used that silly big daft triple 900 not the sweet punchy twin 700. I try I tell ya, I do try.

Today I find myself outside a particularly soggy Chorley Yamaha staring at the all new MT03 this time. WARNING! Do not confuse the old MT03 with the new one. The old one had a 660 single engine from the XT and the Tenere, a trick side mounted rear shock and brutal looks. The new MT03 has a 321cc twin cylinder engine taken out of the R3, is not as mean looking and completely different. Thank you Yamaha, this has already caused confusion among my motorcycling friends and I'm sure the confusion will continue elsewhere. 

Side on view of the 2016 MT03The new MT03 - not to be confused with the old one.

So what have we got? Twin pot parallel twin motor, liquid cooling, steel frame, one brake disc and Yamaha's distinctive "Darkside" styling. It's not a bad looking bike, I don't think it's as radical as the old MT03 and I'm not sure about the tank shape or the angular back end. Still, anyone that knows me will know I have no real sense of the aesthetic so decide for yourself whether or not you think it's pretty or cool.

the angular and pointy rear end of the MT03It's OK, but it's not as mean looking as the outoging MT03.

I step onto the MT03 to find the seat height is plenty low enough for my 5'8" frame with both feet flat on the floor and then some. I start it up and I have to ask myself "Is this a single?" Thud thud thud thud, the pipes rumble beneath me in a manner too slow for a twin and they're surprisingly loud. We're not talking "wake the neighbours" loud, this is a street legal and fully homologated product but I can hear Yammy's spent some time making it sound pretty butch at the traffic lights. I cannot find anything online regarding the crank as yet (180, 270 or 360 degree) but it sounds like a fruity single. How odd, I mean that in a good way.

The engine is a parallel twinIt's a twin...it doesn't sound like a twin but it is, honestly!

As I set off the next thing I duly note is the riding position. For myself at my height I'd have to say it's spot on. I am upright but not quite "sit up and beg", I'm canted forward a touch but not "ooooohhh me wrists". The pegs are sensibly located and everything falls to my control as I'd expect. Except the rear brake, but that's because my own rear brake is all to cock, not the bike's fault. Yes, I am happy here.

Then WHOOSH! Whoa! hold up a minute, this is a 321cc motor, basically a jumped up 250, where the hell did that come from? Now please bear in mind everything is relative. The MT07 felt like - I quote - "I've been rear-ended by a truck doing 100 mph when I open the throttle". The MT03 does not have the same organ displacing acceleration but hell's bells it sure can bugger off down the road sharp enough. I reign my wrist back in, perhaps I've been riding 125s and knackered old 250s for too long now. The world has moved on without me. 

I can't figure it out though. Through town keeping the revs in the comfortable mid range this is one pokey little motor, much more akin to a thumper single. Then out in the countryside those revs keep on feeding in more and more power like a four cylinder motor. Yamaha has really pulled some magic out of the 2 x 160.5cc pistons. They've made a 321cc single in the low to mid range and a 321cc four at the top end. How? It's ridiculous. It makes the CBF 250 I rode to Chorley pale into insignificance that's what it does.

The top of the MT03's engineThere be some modern trickery and jiggery-pokery going on in here.

On new tyres (7 miles) and in the pouring rain I am not going to be able to tell you about knee down roundabouts or apex hugging handling. Suffice to say given a sensible wet weather pace nothing scared me and bends could be taken with confidence. In fact it all feels very neutral, comfortable and while I doubt Yamaha ever intended it to be, relaxing. 

I hop onto the motorway. I am riding into a forceful headwind with rain so hard my visor is in fact now clear. Aha! Thankfully I learn the engine is not immortal or magic. Here as I plough through the tempest at 70mph it is finally starting to struggle. There is a little left on the throttle but not much. However I must not be dismissive. On a windless and dry day the motor ought to pull the legal limit all day long and climb high enough to lose your licence should you so wish. In these conditions my 125 would be barely making 40mph and a 500 would have the throttle open. It's a hell of a day for a test ride. The chassis is completely stable even against the gusts.

Back in town Chorley provides roundabouts, traffic lights and tail-gaters. The MT03 handles all this as politely as vicar at a funeral, all the while being ready to pounce with a flick of the twist grip. I return to the bike shop and spend a moment in the car park doing U-Turns and figures of 8. I am impressed at it's stability and ease of use in a wide range of conditions.

So what have Yamaha created? Possibly one of the best and most exciting commuter class motorcycles ever! What...wait...isn't that a contradiction in terms like Military Intelligence? Commuter motorcycles are supposed to be dull and sensible for trudging through traffic and the MT03 will be just that if you wish. Then by tweaking the throttle it will shoot you off into the sunset with a big daft grin. No, you're never going to beat the big boys although I think you'll have a great time keeping up with them.

As with the MT07 what has amazed me the most is the engine. Somehow Yamaha is managing to spread torque and power across the rev range in a most refreshing and pleasing manner. The 321 motor feels visceral, lively and fun while still remaining easy to ride and less likely to bite.

The boring stuff...Clocks are clear to read with a gear indicator. There's no fairing and no weather protection. 2 pot 1 disc up front with ABS, all works as it should. Normal way up forks - nothing wrong with that. I like the way the rear shock is protected from the road muck. Yada...yada...yada...

The rear shock is protected from the elements by a long wheel archThe shock is kept away from the worst of the weather.

For me personally? It would be a fun and joyful machine to own and ride, light and nimble, relaxing and chilled and then when called for it would be gripping and wild. And yet 2 things will let it down. Firstly the fuel economy. I'll wait until more owners join fuelly.com before I'm certain but the R3 and a handful of MT03's suggest around the 70mpg mark so far. Compared to Honda's CB500 and NC750 range giving 80mpg for more bike and more power it seems thirsty. Perhaps the current owners are thrashing them, I don't know. Secondly the rear end doesn't look saddle bag friendly. That said - Yamaha already list a rack for it so there's hope...

Did someone say Tenere 321? Tracer 321? Ooooh yes please, give me 85mpg while you're at it.

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Reader's Comments

Bob said :-
Thanks for another real world (as opposed to paid journo world) review.
I was skeptical of your comments on performance until you got to the bit about 70MPH into a headwind. Sounds about right given the claimed power and torque figures.
What we need is 500cc twins, like we used to have before the EU killed them off.
I've got a KLE500 and that is all the bike required.
By the way, your comment on the MT07 engine going into a traily might come true, EU regs have killed off the XT660 this year and there are persistent rumours of it returning with a detuned MT07 lump - that will be good.
01/03/2016 16:19:43 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Bob. Compared to other 250s I have ridden the MT03 is one seriously impressive motor. Of course it is all relative, a 321 engine is never going to out-drag a 500 plus. Yet I do maintain what Yamaha have achieved with the cubes is notable.

Apart from Honda's CB500F/X/R range there are not many 500 twins right now. We seem to presently be polarised by the new 250-320 models or big chunky things. Let us start a mid-range revolution!

MT07 detuned trailie...mmmmmmm...here take my money
01/03/2016 18:47:00 UTC
Daf said :-
I'm so glad you reviewed this bike as I've had my eye on it since before it was even released - ever since they created the R3. It looks like the ideal replacement for ,y Inazuma when the time comes though the petrol consumption (if it is only 70) is a bit disappointing. How revvy was it? Was it as frantic as the inazuma at speed?
01/03/2016 19:03:56 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Daf. Revs wise I did make a note - 70mph = 7,000 revs, 60 = 6k and so on and so on in top gear. If memory serves me well that makes it a little less revvy than the 'Zuma.

Economy - well I suspect those with the R3 and brand new MT03s will be giving it the beans. We'll need much more data to establish a sensible figure. I do think it will use more than the 'Zuma as it is more highly tuned. That said it is a little lighter so that will help.


01/03/2016 21:47:14 UTC
Daf said :-
Yep, the 'Zuma does 8K at 68 Mph. Revvy little thing. This seems a bit lower on the revs. The Zuma is even revvier than the CBF250.

Unfortunately it's the same with rides running engines ragged... On Fuelly, every bike I've entered onto that site has been either the best economy, or close to the top of the pile because I don't go nuts... If I wanted to do that I'd get an R1.
05/03/2016 23:07:45 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I guess we have to appreciate that for most folks a motorcycle is a weekend play thing as opposed to everyday transport. As such they're for thrashing and no concern is given to longevity or economy. We are in the minority.

I find my CBF250 runs around 8k at 70mph. I recall you upgeared your 250, perhaps you could do the same for the 'Zuma?
05/03/2016 23:55:54 UTC
Samm said :-
Thanks for the useful review. Back to biking after a long break would the MT 03 fit the bill as a good confidence builder stepping stone to the MT07 or SV650? For local fair weather trips only.
30/07/2016 09:45:27 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Samm. I'm sure the MT03 would be just the ticket. The motor's powerful enough to entertain but not crazy. What were you riding before your "long break"? If it was a CG125 then you'll be in for a shock, if it was a GPZ900 then the MT03 will ease you back in nicely.

The MT07 will come as something of a shock even if you did have a GPZ900, there's a lot of poke in that there motor.
30/07/2016 18:51:54 UTC
Samm said :-
Thank you. Last bike was a 125 many years ago. Going against dealers pushing me towards a bigger bike I'm hoping the new MT 20 should be good for a year or two to get back into it before looking at upgrading. Also very important to me is low maintenance and reliability.
31/07/2016 05:45:48 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Samm. If you've only ever ridden 125s then the MT03 will be quite quick relative to the 125s. Yamaha know how to make motorcycles and the MT03 will *probably* come with 2 years warranty so long as you stick to the service schedule. Do make sure you take servicing costs into your budget, they can be quite expensive.

The MT03 is a cracking bike but don't dismiss the competition. The Z250SL Sharon has recently purchased is a fabulous machine too and considerably cheaper. If you're looking for comfort and price the Suzuki Inazuma is a solid bike with some good deals on it. Honda's CBR300 is worth a look if you like the sports bike style.
31/07/2016 07:36:34 UTC
Samm said :-
More research completed, thank you for your suggestions. I do have a small doubt about the MT03 which is just a niggling feeling and probably not scientific but nonetheless there. I have thus re-visited the Inazuma, having discounted it in the early days. I am now seeing this could actually be the one. Plus local nearby Szki Dealer I have a good relationship wish. Concern : weight is 182kg v MT03's very attractive 168kg.
My wish / wish not list : not to stall easily, easy to ride off at stops, easy to ride, not to drop it when parking, easy to park :-) , looks impressive (achieved as 250 not plastered on the side), good with town riding ie manoeuvrability. Doubt I'll ever have a need to go above 3rd. Can a novice manage it well in the early days. Great plus is the high equipment level incl gear indicator. A lot of above is down to practice and skill and not the bike I know. Just looking for every bit of help for first months...

31/07/2016 16:44:43 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Sounds like you're really nervous Samm. It also looks like you're about to spend several thousand pounds. Is it not worth spending a few pounds getting a refresher lesson with a local training school? It certainly can't do any harm and it'd be great to ease you back into riding once more.

If you're really really nervous then maybe get a cheap 125 for a few months! Buy a second hand one, put a few thousand miles on it then sell it on for the same price.

They all stall, they all fall over, they're all a pig to move. If it's been a while then perhaps not shelling out several thousand pounds until you've had a practice on someone else's bike or a cheap one of your own?
01/08/2016 21:03:54 UTC
Samm said :-
Yep, reached same conclusion. Lessons booked and will hire a 125 for about a month (there's a shop near here that does them pretty cost effectively) and then I think I'll be on my way. Thanks for all your advice :-)
02/08/2016 17:16:27 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Enjoy it Samm and there's no rush. You can never have too much training and after 26 years of riding I still run 12-15 thousand miles a year on my 125.
03/08/2016 17:33:56 UTC
Alexander said :-
Whilst agreeing with most comments there are a couple of minor criticisms. First I have found the seat is quite hard for a decent ride it also throws me forward into the tank which is quite uncomfortable. The arms of the wing mirrors are too short, I see more of my arms than that which is following me. The features I think are quite crucial to the safety of the bike.
26/08/2016 18:33:32 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers Alexander, that's some really useful information. I only had a test ride so I didn't get to sit on the seat for a long long time to really draw a conclusion. Comfort is a very personal thing as we're all different shapes. I kind of like being pushed into the tank but many folks don't. I didn't notice the mirrors being too close, I suspect you're probably taller than I am.

If only we could have 2 day long test rides! An hour is never really long enough to find out about comfort and to eek out all those niggles.

I'd love to hear how you get on with the bike over time. Is it reliable, is it economical, it it fun and all those sorts of things. Do let us know :)
27/08/2016 09:10:25 UTC
Ian said :-
Ive had the MT03 for 6 months now and I am blown away by this little gem, very light and great on the bends and in the city. Fuel economy is a bit disappointing but It looks amazing and is a blast to ride. ***** Five stars :):):):):) brings a smile to my face.
10/10/2016 11:45:48 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
That's great to hear Ian! I was impressed with the combination of great manners and great performance. What fuel consumption are you getting?
10/10/2016 20:56:14 UTC
DaveS said :-
I have just traded my CBR300R-AF for a MT03, there has been a massive recall on the CBR's due to crankshaft/main bearings problems. Currently happening in Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada. Although not over here yet, but buyer be aware. Check the CBR300 forum.com for details from owners.
12/10/2016 12:19:07 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Yikes! Not like Honda that. I've had a read of the forum and yeah it seems mostly the Americas and Oz. I very very much doubt Honda has specific production for those countries though so I wonder when they'll start recalling the UK models.

Sharon was considering the CBR300, perhaps that was a close shave.
13/10/2016 16:38:08 UTC
Fran said :-
I've just purchased a mt03 as my day commuter bike for my 20km ride to work. I've been using my vfr800 and finally got round to getting something smaller and easier on the commute.

The vfr is great for long distance rides, especially with 2 up, but I feel the mt will be great for filtering through the traffic and dealing with the basic stupidity of other drivers. Lol

I took it for a test ride today, and I was very impressed with how well it went, especially once giving it some beans. The brakes felt a little soft, but still brought the bike up nicely, and the abs will be helpful. I am comparing the lighter bike with 1 disc and 2 pots vs the much heaver vfr with 2 discs and 6 pots, plus linked brakes.

Should be getting the bike around Friday or Saturday this week.

Cheers
02/05/2017 05:19:44 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Fran. Yeah, I reckon the MT03 will be a little easier to manage than the VFR800 in the sprawling metropolis. You'll still have plenty of poke when you need it but it'll be lighter and more nimble too.

I'd like to hear what sort of fuel economy you get and if possible how well the bike ages as the miles increase and the newness wears off. It's one thing to test ride a motorcycle it's another thing entirely to put 20,000 miles of dirty streets and rain soaked commuting onto it.
02/05/2017 07:56:26 UTC
 

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