Photos: One O’ the Matts
His Editorship swung down to Birmingham Alabama a day ahead of other Canadian moto journos and got an early chance to ride the new Yamaha R3 courtesy of a press event hosted by Yamaha Canada. Turns out his review scooped even the American journos, who were at a separate press event in California, by a day.
As he reported, his ride was wet, as was the track test, which took part a day later at the Talladega Gran Prix racetrack, a small 1.4-mile circuit located in the rural backwoods of Alabama.
I arrived at the Canadian press event a day after everyone returned home, but for my tardiness I was rewarded with warm, dry weather, great conditions for a track test of the R3. Now, I have some experience riding small displacement sport bikes on a racetrack (if you recall, I had won the Honda CBR250R Media Challenge a couple of years ago), so I was really looking forward to riding the R3. I wasn’t disappointed.
The R3 looks very racy, and for the most part it assumes that position well. Although ’Arris found the legroom cramped, at six-feet tall I was a better fit, which felt fine and aided when moving side to side during turning transitions. It’s a smallish bike so tucking in tightly on the straights was a bit of a challenge, but overall the riding position is conducive to street and track riding.
The engine is exceptionally smooth and has an equally deceptive powerband. It pulls in a very linear manner to its 12,000 redline, which might not give the impression of speed, but it actually builds up forward momentum surprisingly fast for a sub-350 cc twin.
A nice addition and entirely unexpected on an entry-level sport bike is a shift light, easily visible at the top of the instrument cluster, which itself is rather complete for such an inexpensive bike, and includes a gear counter. And after several lapping sessions the gearbox performed flawlessly, with light shifter effort, positive gear changes and not a single missed shift despite my clutch-less upshifts.
During the first session I was scraping the footpeg feelers quite easily, so for the second session I bumped up the preload from the second to the sixth of seven positions. This raised the rear enough to eliminate the peg scraping, allowing for more lean angle and higher cornering speeds. It also sharpened turn in.
Part of the R3’s racetrack capability stems from its rigid chassis. The bike is super-stable at speed, yet dips into corners quickly — but not too quickly as to require steering corrections.
The increased lean capability also revealed the limits of the Michelin Pilot Street tires. They worked well at an 80-percent pace, and will make a fine street tire, but at higher speeds and deeper lean angles, they often lost grip, usually at both ends, allowing the bike to drift at the apex, fortunately in a quite predictable manner and without drama.
Swapping a set of sticky race rubber onto the R3 would really reveal its track potential, though this would also put additional stress on the suspension, which is tuned for comfort on the street. It is a bit too soft for an all-out track pace, at least with a fully geared 200-pounder like me on board.
The suspension works well enough to maintain a fast pace, and is firm enough to prevent any wallowing through turns, but just like the race-spec CBR250R needed some help with firmer fork settings and a basic Elka shock swap, the R3 could use similar upgrades if you plan on visiting the racetrack on a regular basis.
There’s no national series for the R3, and Kawasaki is currently working on a Ninja 300 spec series in which other brands are exempt. But if you do buy an R3 you should take it to the track anyway; it has lots of potential, and is a ton-o-fun to ride fast.
Second view – Editor ‘Arris
Wow! I just got off the track on the FJ-09 and though it’s a fun bike to ride on the track, there was always a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me to keep a lid on it. You can take the lid off and fling it like a frisbee on the R3.
On a small bike there is time to think about what you’re doing; line it up, get your knee out, have a cup of tea … maybe not, but it’s far from boring on a tight track like this. It builds confidence and — as with all small bikes — ultimately makes you a better rider in the process.
The trouble with building confidence though is that you eventually get confident, and I progressively found my groove as the laps passed. However, as with Costa, I also found the limit of the R3’s set up. Coming into the apex of a 220 degree loop, the peg touched — as it had many times before —and then the rear tire proceeded to slide out “pat-pat-pat”.
It’s not a pleasant feeling but the R3 regained its composure almost immediately and just carried on as if nothing had happened. That’s another beauty of a small bike – it’s easy to recover when things start to go a little sideways, even if it takes the rider a little longer for the rider to do the same.
On the road, the R3 is everything a small bike should be, albeit a little cramped for those of tall stature. On the track, particularly a tight one, the R3 could be a serious starter bike for the budding racer or track day enthusiast looking for something a little easier.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.