The Yamaha MT-03 Is a Great Entry-Way Into Motorcycling

Yamaha has quite a diverse motoring portfolio. The Japanese company makes ATVs, electric motors, and even briefly dabbled in cars. But in the US, the brand is perhaps best known for its wide range of motorcycles, which includes cruisers, dirt bikes, touring bikes, and dual sports. And there’s one more bike joining the stable: the entry-level Yamaha MT-03.

Yamaha MT-03 technical specs

2020 Yamaha MT-03
2020 Yamaha MT-03 | Yamaha

The Yamaha MT-03 has already been on sale in Europe for about 3 years, Cycle World reports. But for 2020, it’s finally in the US. However, unlike with vehicles like the Ford Ranger or EcoSport, the MT-03 we get here is just as new as it is elsewhere, Motorcyclist reports.

2020 Yamaha MT-03 side
2020 Yamaha MT-03 side | Yamaha

The Yamaha MT-03 uses the same 321cc inline-twin that’s in the YZF-R3 sportbike, Revzilla reports. As in that bike, it makes 42 hp and comes with a 6-speed transmission. But the MT-03 isn’t a sportbike. Instead, it’s a ‘naked bike’, which ditches the fairings and changes the riding position closer to a standard bike.

Yamaha gave the MT-03 proper handlebars, which are higher and farther-back than the R3’s, Autoweek reports. This leaves the rider in a more upright, less-strenuous riding position. The MT-03 also has a slightly softer version of the R3’s suspension for better on-road ride comfort.

ABS is standard on the Yamaha MT-03, as is an LCD display as well as LED headlights and turn signals.

What’s the Yamaha MT-03 like to ride?

On top of its relatively-small engine, the Yamaha MT-03 is also sized well for smaller riders. Yamaha claims a wet weight of 373 pounds, and the bike’s 30.7” seat height is allegedly one of the shortest in the segment.

Autoweek reports the MT-03 can handle both urban commuting and back-road fun well. The riding position also puts the bike’s weight low, making it easy to maneuver. The suspension is a bit too soft for track use, but then, Yamaha didn’t design the MT-03 with track-riding in mind.

Although the engine doesn’t make much power, that’s actually a benefit for newer riders. YouTuber Yammie Noob also reports it takes a deliberate effort to fully open the MT-03’s throttle, which is, again, something potentially helpful for the inexperienced. But, the Yamaha MT-03’s engine is perfectly capable of reasonable acceleration at low speeds or on the highway.

The one place where the MT-03 falls a bit short is its brakes. Some reviewers found the front brake a bit wooden, and difficult to finely modulate. However, the brakes are effective, and they’re not grabby, either. For newer riders fearful of going over the handlebars, that last part is very important.

Pricing comparison

2020 Honda Grom
2020 Honda Grom | Honda

The Yamaha MT-03 starts at $4,599; with the $425 destination charge, which works out to $5,024. That’s about $1500 more than the Honda Grom. However, the MT-03 has more than twice the capacity, and can actually go on the highway.

2020 Kawasaki Z400
2020 Kawasaki Z400 | Kawasaki

The Yamaha MT-03’s biggest competitors are the Kawasaki Z400 and the KTM 390 Duke. The Z400 comes with a 399cc two-cylinder that also puts out 44 hp and comes with ABS. It starts at $4999, and weighs 364 pounds, but offers additional features like a shift-smoothing slipper clutch. I’ve sat on the Z400 before, and at about 5’9”, I immediately felt at home on the bike. Cycle World named the Z400 its ‘Best Lightweight Streetbike of 2019’ because of that all-around competence.

2020 KTM 390 Duke
2020 KTM 390 Duke | KTM

The KTM 390 Duke, meanwhile, swings more towards the sporty side of the naked bike segment. It comes with a 44-hp 373cc single-cylinder, as well as a TFT display, slipper clutch, ABS, and ‘ByBre’ (Brembo’s subsidiary) brakes, Motorcyclist reports. And, for 2020, KTM added traction control and a quick-shifter. At $5499 starting price, plus a $450 freight charge, the KTM is more expensive, and its slightly-higher seat is better for taller riders. The 390 also has better brakes than the Yamaha MT-03.

However, the single-cylinder isn’t as good as the MT-03’s engine at highway speeds. It has more torque low-RPM torque, but that also means the 390’s easier to wheelie. In addition, Yammie Noob reports KTM’s struggled with reliability issues surrounding the 390 Duke’s engine. Yamaha, meanwhile, has a sterling reputation for reliability.

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