2020 Yamaha MT-03 Review
We’ve been waiting a lot longer than everyone else, but the Yamaha MT-03 is finally on U.S. shores.
Photography by Ray Gauger
By coincidence, Yamaha chose the day the U.S. MotoGP was canceled—I mean, rescheduled—to release its latest Dark Side of Japan street bike in the very city the GP race was due to take place—Austin, Texas.
Yet, the new bike isn’t all that new, because the rest of the world got this MT-03 way back in 2016. For one reason or another, we always seem to be the last country to get bikes when they are launched (Yamaha’s own diabolically late Tenere 700 is a case in point). We were only just getting used to the presence of the Yamaha YZF-R3 sportbike on our shores when the MT-03 was released around much of the rest of the world, but it’s here now, so enough whining.
The MT-03 fills a gaping hole in Yamaha’s U.S. lineup in the small-capacity naked-bike sector. Its own YZF-R3 has been its top-selling motorcycle for a couple of years now, so it’s baffling Yamaha would want to wait so long to bring the naked equivalent to dealer floors.
The small-capacity naked game is a hot ticket these days, and one dominated primarily by Kawasaki with their Z400 and KTM with the 390 Duke. Both those bikes have a few years up on the Yamaha in terms of sales years, with the KTM coming out in 2015 (in the U.S.), the Kawasaki three years after that.
Yamaha’s version of a junior naked roadster takes heavily from its sportbike cousin, using the R3’s 321cc parallel-twin four-stroke motor and steel diamond chassis. These have been the same for the R3 since its inception, with Yamaha staunchly refusing to up the ante 79cc and meet Kawasaki head-on with a 400cc version of what is admittedly a very good little motor.
You can claim about 41 horsepower from the twin-cylinder motor, the power of which hits very gently and is ideally suited to new riders. There are no riding modes to play with, no traction control and just ABS for the two-piston Akebono front and single-piston rear brake.
Up front, the unadjustable 37mm inverted fork has been modified slightly with a softer spring and a reduction in compression damping to allow the fork to move freer in the stroke and hopefully not transmit as much shock to the rider. The MT rider will get the same rear shock that is preload adjustable but not for rebound and compression damping, with Dunlop providing their Sportmax GPR-300 rubber as standard fitment.
Ergonomically, the MT-03 gets a 1.54-inch taller handlebar that sits 0.7 inches closer to the rider, while the seat height remains the same at 30.7 inches. But it’s the shape of the tank that had a few people talking at the launch. Yamaha has gone for a much wider top tank cover than the slender R3 (it has the same capacity at 3.7 gallons), giving the rider the impression they’re on a bike bigger than they are and keeps the design in line with the big brother MT-10. But the issue is that if you are taller than, say, 5’10” (at least this was the case for me at 6’1”) was that my knees would hit the edge of the tank cover and splay my legs out too far, making for not the most comfortable of riding positions. The side factor to this is because the tank cover extends at about 45 degrees at a lower point than the R3, it has the same effect as to reduce the gap between the side of the tank and the footpeg, thus making the rider triangle of bars/seat/peg more cramped.
Again, this won’t be such an issue if you’re around 5’10” or under, but taller riders may find this MT characteristic a bit of a deal-breaker.
VIDEO | 2020 Yamaha MT-03 Review
Around the mean streets of Austin, the MT is a happy little motorbike with a mean face thanks to all LED lighting and a rather jazzy Ice Fluro paint scheme. It’s a head-turner, and it was nice to have a bunch of kids in a Jeep pull up alongside myself and Yamaha USA’s Street Motorcycle Sr. Communications Specialist Marcus DeMichele to ask, “what those dope bikes were.”
Austin doesn’t have what I would call overly smooth streets, but the MT handled the crap surfaces rather well. The suspension is soft but still compliant, especially given at 185 pounds I’m probably too heavy for who this bike is intended.
I am not a fan of the two-piston Akebono brakes. They simply don’t have the power for my liking, although what is there comes in very smoothly so you won’t experience that all-or-nothing braking performance you can get on larger capacity machines.
Given the chassis is the same with only a modified fork, it’s no surprise the little MT loves to be thrown into corners. You can ride this bike surprisingly hard in the twisties, and although the front suspension is quite soft, you can still bury the front under brakes and be quite aggressive in your riding, if you so wish.
But this is more an everyday street bike than a backroad scratcher, and as a commuter, the MT will prove a very capable motorcycle indeed. My only wish was it had just a little more punch from the 321cc motor. A certain Japanese manufacturer who starts with “K” really hit the nail on the head with their 400cc parallel-twin, a motor that provides the near-perfect level of acceleration for this class.
I live in hope that Yamaha will follow suit and bump up the capacity because that, for me, would make this bike a real contender as a leader in the category.
As it stands, however, Yamaha has a nice little area of the market carved out for the MT, given it’s a touch more approachable than the more powerful Kawasaki, so that in itself will help it sell a few units.
With Yamaha now formally joining the junior naked-bike tournament, its MT family line that started with the original MT-09 of 2014 is now complete (as we won’t be getting the 250cc MT-25 or 150cc MT-15 that are reserved for markets like South East Asia).
It’s about time, too.CN
2020 Yamaha MT-03 Specifications
||Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC, 8 valves, inline twin
|Bore x stroke:
||68 x 44.1mm
||Diamond-type, tubular steel frame
||KYB, 37mm inverted fork, non-adjustable
||Monoshock, 7-step preload adjustability
||Single 298mm discs, 2-piston caliper, ABS
||220mm disc, 1-piston caliper, ABS
||110/70-17 Dunlop Sportmax GPR-300
||140/70-17 Dunlop Sportmax GPR-300
|Weight (wet, claimed):
||Ice Fluo / Midnight black
||1 Year (limited factory warranty)