Yamaha’s little cash cow, the 2019 Yamaha YZF-R3, has come in for a makeover for 2019. They’re subtle changes, but it all adds up to another great little blue bike.
In the four years it has been available in the U.S., Yamaha’s 321cc YZF-R3 has shot to the very top of the company’s top-seller list. Almost 20,000 of these little twin-cylinder sport bikes have found more new homes in that time than the YZ450F, the Star Venture or the MT-07. It’s a firm middle finger to those who say sport bikes are dead in the water.
Photography by Brian J. Nelson
Like the YZF-R1 and R1M from last year, the new R3 isn’t so much a new bike as it is a nip and tuck. It’s had a visit to the plastic surgeon, had its face rearranged to look more like its older siblings, and got some new front legs in the stiffer 37mm KYB inverted forks. Holding the new fork are new top and bottom triple clamps, there’s a new dash, revised styling but still the same height for the seat, a stiffer rear shock spring, svelte and sexy LED lights front and rear, and a more aggressive riding position thanks to the new clip-on handlebars that are 22mm lower and mounted below the top triple clamp, ala real sport bike style.
The gas tank retains the same capacity at 3.7 gallons but it too is 20mm lower and 31mm wider above where the rider’s knees sit to make it easier to brace yourself under braking.
What most will recognize before anything else when viewing the new R3 is the completely revised styling. This is a deliberate act of family lineage from Yamaha, who had a bit of a redheaded stepchild in the first-generation R3, as it didn’t really look like the R6 or R1, and, thus, a bit out of place.
The fairing now sports the same intake design as its older brothers and the top fairing cowl is now a more traditional design with the mirror placement and screen looking much more like the R6’s.
Yamaha’s decision to change the styling is more than just a mechanical exercise: they are hoping to get the R3 rider early, get them pumped about riding a Yamaha sport bike and keep them in the family with their next bike being an R6 or R1. Brand loyalty is hard to come by in the sport bike game—riders are always looking for the next fastest thing so any way Yamaha can keep them in the family, they’re going to exercise it.
Compared to the 2018 edition, this R3 feels much more track focused before you even turn the key. The revised riding position and the new clip-on bars angle the rider more towards the front wheel, which has the added effect of loading up the new Dunlop Sportmax GPR-300 tire to increase your turn speed.
This is aided by the fact the front-end’s now inverted fork is 20-percent heavier in spring rate compared to the 2018 model. The fork is still non-adjustable, but braking balance is greatly improved with the compression and rebound damping figures both increased over the old machine. Yamaha has designed the spring rates to suit a wide variety of rider weights, so those looking for even more performance will need to start venturing into the realm of cartridge kits and stiffer springs, but the base front suspension settings and new fork offer a tangible improvement in performance for the model.
The rear suspension also sports an 11-percent heavier spring compared to last year and does an excellent job of ensuring the R3 stays on line when getting hard on the gas exiting corners and ensuring the chassis remains stable over bumps.
Unlike the front, the rear suspension has had the compression damping decreased to help accommodate the longer spring, although the rebound has been increased.
There wasn’t a huge amount wrong with the old bike in terms of stability on the street, but the new suspension settings front and rear give the chassis a bit more of a sporting edge and should translate to a better ride on the track.
What is a known quantity of the R3 is the base tubular steel chassis and the 321cc engine, both of which needed absolutely no fettling for this year. The engine is strong, as can be proven by the neck-wringing the thing gets every time it takes to a MotoAmerica Junior Cup grid. The twin-cylinder engine provides a solid spread of usable power although it does like to keep the revs relatively high to make it really sing. The good news is these high revs don’t necessarily translate into unwanted vibrations at the ’bars and ’pegs and means you can ride the R3 comfortably for longer periods than you might expect.
I was hoping Yamaha was going to join Kawasaki head-on this year by producing a 399cc version of their twin to call the bike a YZF-R4, but the powers that be at Yamaha decided against this butting of heads with their compatriots simply because they believe the current R3 offers the best combination of user friendliness, comfort, and power in the class.
Nevertheless, the R3 does indeed provide and excellent basis for riders to begin their sport bike journey. Yamaha has attempted to future proof the machine somewhat by giving it the new all-digital dash in the same shape as the R6, the revised styling, suspension changes and the new Dunlop rubber which, it must be said, handled the often wet and slick surfaces of our test route superbly. But underneath it all is basically the same bike as before, which proves Yamaha got this one pretty close to spot on when they released it back in 2015.
The changes wrought has improved the breed, and with the non-ABS machine selling for $4999 with a $300 premium for ABS, the YZF-R3 represents very good value for Yamaha’s little blue bike that could.CN
VIDEO | 2019 Yamaha YZF-R3 Review
||2019 Yamaha YZF-R3 ($4999, $5299 ABS)
||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8 valves, inline twin
|Bore x stroke:
||68 x 44.1 mm
||43mm inverted fork, non-adjustable
||Monoshock, preload adjustable
||Single 298mm discs, 4-piston caliper; ABS optional
||220mm disc, 2-piston caliper; ABS optional
||110/70-17 in. Dunlop Sportmax GPR-300
||140/70-17 in. Dunlop Sportmax GPR-300
|Weight (wet, claimed):
||368 lbs./375 lbs. ABS