First Ride

First Ride: Yamaha MT-03

Small, but perfectly formed. Yamaha's baby boomer is the perfect antidote to the humdrum urban commute

Visordown Motorcycle News

As it's Christmas time you've perhaps had to face that snap decision when someone passes a tin of chocolates around the office. It's a tough call. Not wishing to hold up proceedings by spending ages checking what's what, you have to take a pot shot. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and land a toffee, but there's always the nightmare of the coffee cream.

Buying a middleweight bike is almost as confusing and risky a decision. Just look at what's on show; at the last count I made it over 30 bikes of about 600cc, covering every style and nearly every engine configuration imaginable. The key to selecting your perfect match is to be honest with yourself about what you want the bike to do, and where you're going to ride it.

Why do I say this? Take the new MT-03 as an example. Yamaha's latest addition to the fledgling MT range will be a great bike for some riders, but a disaster for others. It's all about what potential owners are planning to do with it.

Which Yamaha obviously knows since it chose the roads for this launch to perfectly emphasise the best bits of the bike. The costal road north east of Barcelona from Tossa del Mar (snigger) to S'Agaro is a 30-mile stretch of corners that would be hard work on a sportsbike, but perfect territory for a light, nimble bike. Especially one that handles as well as the MT-03.

Yamaha has placed a lot of emphasis on making the MT-03 agile and to achieve this the designers have moved the bike's weight as far forward as possible. Viewed side-on you can see how sparse the bike is from the swingarm pivot area backwards, and how tightly packed the engine area is. The battery, separate oil tank and even shock have been shifted up the bike, leaving only really the airbox and underseat pipes behind to weigh the back down. The result? A weight distribution of 52/48% front/rear, and a very front-endy feel to the ride. And that's no bad thing.

Once moving the MT-03 feels like a civilised supermoto. The riding position is motocross-inspired so you tend to find yourself dominating the little machine and forcing it down into corners in a supermoto style. But where supermotos have long travel suspension that limits feel from the front tyre, the MT-03 gets re-worked Fazer forks which have less travel and provide a far more secure feeling from the front end. Darting from one third gear corner to another the MT felt light and balanced, with a chassis that was more than capable of out-performing the engine's capacity.

Although the single-cylinder engine is essentially identical to the motor used in the XT660X supermoto (and a few others over the last few years), Yamaha has made some changes to the airbox and lowered the gearing to make the MT-03 easier to ride in the city. What this boils down to is that the MT isn't the fastest tool out there. I'd say a top speed of 100mph would be about right, but really the MT isn't that happy going much over 80mph, and isn't that well-suited to motorway riding. Where the single cylinder engine delivers best is low down, driving well from relatively low speed. In other words, town riding. For short bursts of acceleration in the first three gears the MT-03 is excellent.

You don't have to change gear continually, since the engine has enough torque to pull from low down while still revving out at around 8000rpm. Perfect for filtering or making a quick getaway from the lights. The gearbox has a slight motorcross feel to it and isn't the slickest, but it clunks into gear without any false neutrals and the brakes, which I've always felt are underpowered on the Fazer (whence they came), are far better suited to the light MT-03, bringing it to a rapid and controlled halt.

The MT-03 is designed to look good, live in a city and make the occasional trip out to some tight and twisty roads, and that's the key to whether you'll want one or not. I doubt anyone lives near roads as good as the ones I got to ride the bike on, but if you have some decent back roads leading into a city then the MT-03 would be a great buy, especially for newer riders - although I would also test ride Kawasaki's ER-6n, which is almost as agile but has a bit more power (and costs about the same price with ABS included). More experienced riders, or those who want to travel longer distances, ought to to try a bike such as the Kawasaki Z750 or Honda Hornet, both of which are better suited to distance riding. But for newer riders who want to swoop around town on a light, agile, good-looking bike, the MT-03 is well worth considering.

VERDICT
The MT-03 excels as a light, agile town bike and is superb on tight, twisty stuff, but out on the open road the lack of power can be an issue. Perfect for new riders or those who want a fun town bike.

AS IT'S CHRISTMAS time you've perhaps had to face that snap decision when someone passes a tin of chocolates around the office. It's a tough call. Not wishing to hold up proceedings by spending ages checking what's what, you have to take a pot shot. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and land a toffee, but there's always the nightmare of the coffee cream.

Buying a middleweight bike is almost as confusing and risky a decision. Just look at what's on show; at the last count I made it over 30 bikes of about 600cc, covering every style and nearly every engine configuration imaginable. The key to selecting your perfect match is to be honest with yourself about what you want the bike to do, and where you're going to ride it.

Why do I say this? Take the new MT-03 as an example. Yamaha's latest addition to the fledgling MT range will be a great bike for some riders, but a disaster for others. It's all about what potential owners are
planning to do with it.

Which Yamaha obviously knows since it chose the roads for this launch to perfectly emphasise the best bits of the bike.

Click here to read the Yamaha MT-03 review verdict.