First Ride Review: Yamaha’s 2019 YZF-R3

Yamaha’s second-generation R3 is in a class all it’s own.



The 300cc motorcycle class suffers from an epidemic that I call “300ism”. The first hurdle is the fact that a 300 looks like a 300. Visually, that is hard to shake, regardless of the bike’s performance specifications. Psychologically, it’s over before it began. We have all heard the stories that tell the tale of the new rider that buys a 300 as a beginner or starter bike. Said bike is quickly mastered and the rider, perhaps now considered an intermediate rider is looking for their next challenge which is any biker larger than a 300. This reality is a result of several factors. Boredom sets in as they may be in search of higher speeds or greater performance. However, there is one common dominator. They want something, anything that does not look like a 300. It is rare to see a 300 rolling in the streets, back roads, or on the highway. You may see a 300 at your local track bringing the heat, usually by an experienced advanced rider that understands the joys of the 300 through the turns and chicanes. Most often, the tale of the 300 ends when, before long, the starter or beginner bike finds its place in the garage waiting to be passed on to or sold to the next rider that is starting out. 300ism strikes again.

When it first introduced in 2015, the first generation of the Yamaha YZF-R3 looked every bit like a 300, held by the characteristics of its class: raised handlebars, primary data cluster, standard presence with a standard level of appeal. There was nothing special about the R3 that made it stand out among its peers.

Enter the 2019 YZF-R3. Finally, a 321cc machine that looks more like a middle-class sportbike and less like a 300. The 2019 R3 is the second generation of the model with extreme differences in appearance, handling, and performance, compared to the first generation.

Grabbing cues from its older siblings, the YZF-R6, YZF-R1, and the YZR-M1 the 2019 R3 takes a sporty approach to its appearance. The entire design of the R3 has been overhauled, and it now looks like a member of the YZF family, finally. Let’s start with the new front end where the fairing and windscreen have been redesigned to reduce wind drag and increase air induction. Borrowing a bit from their MotoGP M1 machine, both the front cowl and the new fuel tank provide progressive functionality. Improved aerodynamics and airflow results in improved speeds. The visual improvements continue from there with modern overall optical line work that escapes the deadly loom of 300ism. The 2019 YZF-R3 not only looks like a sportbike, but it also rides like one.

The 2019 YZF-R3 takes a giant leap forward with its new 37mm upside-down forks and adjustable rear shock. Yamaha increased the front end spring rate on the 2019 R3 from 12.9N/mm to 15.6N/mm, an increase of 20 percent. The spring rate on the 7 step adjustable rear shock has been increased from 161N/mm to 179N/mm, an improvement of 11 percent. This math translates into a deeply appreciated upgrade in handling and stability. From the point of acceleration, braking, and tipping into the turn before rolling back on the throttle, the YZF-R3’s suspension setup offers the stability that breeds confidence. That confidence translates into mass amounts of fun.

That’s important to note. The amount of fun contained within the 2019 R3 is more than considerable. It is refreshing. A complaint heard among owners of said beginner bikes is that once they have mastered the motorcycle, they no longer find the bike fun. That is understandable to an extent. Limited features coupled with limited performance will put a hindrance on the fun time. The 2019 R3 is loaded with features that make it rider-friendly, maintaining the level of excitement that we as motorcyclists look for in our machines.

When I initially threw a leg over the 2019 R3, in the company of other journalists, the whispers of “Big man, little bike…” rattled about the garage, all in good spirit. However, it did raise a topic. How was the R3 going to respond to my above standard weight and size? I was, indeed, a big man mounting a little bike. When I rested in the saddle, with feet flat on the ground, I appreciated that amount of room that remained between the tail section, myself and the tank. There wasn’t a lot of room, but still, there was room. I was comfortable, not bunched up as if I was trying to squeeze myself into a tracksuit that was three sizes too small. A newly designed fuel tank enhances the ergonomics as it is 20mm lower at the cap and 31.4 mm wider, just above the knee than the first-generation R3. That width comes into action when leaning over allowing a location for locking your knee into position while transitioning through the curve or turn.

One of my favorite updates of this second-generation R3 is the placement of the handlebars. The bars are designed to look and feel like clip-on bars as they are now mounted underneath the top tree, 22mm lower than the previous model years. In the riding position, the installation of the bars lend toward an aggressive riding stance, not too mention that they look badass. If the ergonomics of the R3 are accommodating to a rider of my specifications, then the consideration of comfort should run across the spectrum.

One of my favorite updates of this second-generation R3 is the placement of the handlebars. The bars are designed to look and feel like clip-on bars as they are now mounted underneath the top tree, 22mm lower than the previous model years. In the riding position, the installation of the bars lend toward an aggressive riding stance, not too mention that they look badass. If the ergonomics of the R3 are accommodating to a rider of my specifications, then the consideration of comfort should run across the spectrum.

The question that remained was, how was this bike going to perform while hauling my 260 plus pound ass around the canyons of Southern California? To answer that, I hit the road for some seat time and evaluations. First gear is short, so I clicked into second, almost immediately. I consider second through forth the R3’s working gears. Fifth and sixth are more overdrive gears and actively come into play at highway speeds. But in the canyons and twisties, it was all about the middle gears. The R3’s engine is a liquid-cooled parallel twin-cylinder with an output of 321cc’s. Equipped with new radial Dunlop Sportmax GPR-300 tires, I squeezed every bit out of that 321cc engine and had an exhilarating time. Through the sweepers, the straights, and the twisties, the level of excitement remained on high, a direct result of the R3’s suspension setup, engine output, and ergonomics.

Again, comfort was a major concern. But after a full day spent on the bike, and after 150 miles through slightly varied weather conditions and proper elevation changes, I felt fine. No cramps, no tightness. I felt unencumbered, free, and relaxed. That says a lot for a rider of my dimensions.

I mentioned earlier how the 2019 R3 had taken cues from is its older siblings regarding style and appearance, namely the front cowl, the styling of the fuel tank, the new LED head and taillights, and so on. Yamaha made a significant decision to upgrade the data cluster of the R3 and give it a “grown-up” look and feel while improving its functionality. The 2019 R3’s data cluster is straight from the MotoGP grid, relatively. The new LCD meter is inspired and resembles the Yamaha YZR-M1 machine of Valentino Rossi. The new digital data center for the R3 displays speed, RPM’s, gear indicator, shift light, fuel gauge, clock, and shift-light, to name a few data items.

The 2019 YZF-R3 is a realization of the collective understanding of what is being asked of the motorcycle by today’s rider, regardless of riding level. Priced at $4999 for the base model and $5,299 for the ABS version, for the beginner, this R3 is both rider and wallet-friendly. The bike is supportive of the early stages of learning to ride while invoking confidence and excitement. For the intermediate rider to the advanced, the 2019 R3 offers a significant amount of performance and appeal that makes it tough to keep that grin underneath your lid from bursting out. Most importantly, the R3 looks the part: sexy and grown yet aggressive and sporty. Yamaha also offers a catalog of optional upgrades to enhance further the performance and visuals of the second generation R3 that clears it from the pandemic of 300ism. Yamaha has done their homework, and it shows. The 2019 Yamaha YZF-R3 has carefully and very strategically carved its path to a classification, all it’s own.

Images: Brian J. Nelson

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