2016 Yamaha MT-03 long-term test

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MCN spent 12 months living with Yamaha’s A2 licence-friendly MT-03 to see what this ‘small big bike’ is really like to live with.

Here’s how we got on:

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Yamaha MT-03: Small bike that thinks big

First published 29 April 2016

Yamaha MT-03: small bike that thinks big

“What engine is it again?” a friend asks as I park the Yamaha outside a local café after a Sunday morning spin. She has a Suzuki SV650 and can’t believe the MT-03 is only 321cc when it looks “just like a proper bike”. And there’s a reason for that, the parallel-twin Yamaha is 100% a proper bike.

That proper bike feel includes the tyres. All too often small-capacity machines aimed at newer riders come with the worst rubber known to man, weird hoops bearing obscure brand names. But that’s not the case with the MT which comes shod with Michelin Pilot Street as standard – they send the message that this is a serious machine.

According to the marketing blurb Yamaha are aiming the MT at new riders (it’s A2 licence-friendly) and people returning to motorcycling after a break. Now, I don’t fit either of those categories and was nervous that it would all feel too tame. But I’m really enjoying the bike so far. Climb on and the Yamaha is small but not cramped – I’m 5ft 9in – and it’s proved frugal on the gas so far at around 68mpg. Right now it’s being pressed into back-road commuting duties and it’s delivering me to work with a smile and a very small petrol bill.

Going back to that Sunday morning spin and my chum was slightly less impressed when I thumbed the starter. “Oh, bit of a sewing machine!” Now, I don’t think that’s quite fair and the parallel-twin actually sounds fine when you’re on the move. Better still, Yamaha’s accessories list includes an Akrapovic can for a fairly reasonable £364.99. It’s road legal and promises to create ‘an exciting sound’. I’ll have a bit of that!

Yamaha MT-03: Can it keep experienced riders happy?

First published 02 June 2016

Yamaha MT-03: Can it keep experienced riders happy?

We’re lucky out in rural Northants that practically every route you take to work is a cracker, no need for dual carriageways or queues. But how will that commute feel on a machine with fewer than half the cubes of your normal ride? In other words, Yamaha MT-03 versus Ducati Scrambler FT.

The Yamaha is the smallest-capacity bike I have run since trading an MZ ETZ125 for a Kawasaki GT550 more than 20 years ago, but it seems I’m not alone in experimenting with more pint-sized machinery. 

The MT is built with A2 licence-holders in mind, but while the bike was having its first service at Motorcycle World in Northampton I learned that a fair few lower cc Yamahas are being bought by more experienced riders, often as second bikes. That’s particularly true of the R3 but also of the naked MT-03.

So back to that rural commute. There’s some seriously choppy tarmac on the stretch from my village heading towards the market town of Oundle. It’s a blast on the Ducati, the twin Termis crackling and popping on the over-run. But things can feel like they might get out of shape and the borderline budget-spec rear shock struggles, sending jolts up through the seat. Wakes you up in the morning, if nothing else.

Pleasing burble

And what of the Yamaha? The parallel-twin has a pleasing burble, but we’re in more of a stealth mode rolling out of the village. Get on to the narrow and twisty national speed limit road and the fun starts.

It’s a different experience from the Scrambler, but still engaging. I can crack the throttle and feel like I’m getting the best of what’s available. Again, it’s a bike with budget suspension, but the Yamaha is actually more composed over the pock-marked surfaces and it feels like I’m benefitting from a more precise ride – particularly on the Bridgestone RS10 tyre I am currently experimenting with.

Those RS10s also inspire confidence through tighter bends. I’m not one for big lean angles but the MT makes the experience rewarding enough.

If I’d had the Yamaha as my first big bike after that MZ I’d have been totally made-up. It’d probably have improved my riding too. Would I want one as my only bike now? Probably not, it doesn’t bring the same emotional connection as the Ducati for one thing. But as a commuting partner? Definitely.

Yamaha MT-03: Small bike big fun

First published 02 August 2016

Yamaha MT-03: Small bike, big fun

Two thousand miles in and it’s all good with the Yamaha MT-03. When the bike arrived I’d been worried it would be just that bit too small engine-wise but I couldn’t have been more wrong. For my back road commute, it’s just fine.

One of the things that makes life at 321cc so rewarding is that there’s absolutely no pressure. A few years back I spent a few months with a Kawasaki ZX-12R. It was astonishing knowing there was so much power on tap and it certainly had everyone beat on bragging rights – but it was actually all a bit too much. Plus, anytime I was overtaken, it just made me feel, well, a bit inadequate.

Roll forwards to 2016 and whenever a well-timed, drop-a-gear pass on the MT-03 works out it’s an absolute pleasure. Sure, it’s mostly cars that get passed when capacity is so limited but no matter.

Meanwhile, when another bike blasts past on the gas… well, who cares? The other day a ZX-10R loomed large and green in my mirrors through one of the small market towns on my rural ride home.

On the gas through the bends as soon as the 30mph zone gave way to derestricted, it wasn’t until the long straight that the Kawasaki came by. Miserable git didn’t even wave. But did I worry? Did I hell.

Yamaha MT-03: goes two-up

First published 17 August 2016

Yamaha MT-03: goes two-up

Well beyond the 2000-mile mark now, the little Yamaha MT-03 has just taken its first pillion. I’d been wondering how the commuter would cope two-up, because it’s a pretty bijou beast, and roped in my mate Simon for an evening ride down local back roads.

With my 5ft 6in buddy on the back, the Yamaha felt a little top-heavy at low speeds but was no problem out on the open road. Acceleration took a bit of a battering (as you’d expect with only 321cc to play with) and braking distances felt longer than usual. Other than that, it was all good and surprisingly spacious for such a compact machine.

Next on the agenda is a visit to local dealer Webbs for some recall work to replace a plastic gear that sits behind the clutch. The faired R3 model is also included so contact your dealer if you are concerned.

Yamaha MT-03: super thrifty

First published 27 September 2016

Yamaha MT-03: super thrifty

Bargain! I’ve recently taken the already economical MT-03 on its first long-distance motorway jaunt – just under 180 miles down to Margate, Kent for a family birthday – and recorded a healthy 71.9mpg.

With the bike full before I set off from Northants, the petrol-sipping consumption meant there was no need for me to refill the 14-litre tank with overpriced motorway service station unleaded.

And the MT wasn’t hanging around either, easily holding its own against the M11/M25/M2 traffic despite its modest 321cc engine.

Clearly the unfaired Yamaha is no tourer but comfort wasn’t bad and the narrow bars made easy work of filtering through some of the worst Dartford Crossing congestion I’ve encountered in years. Wasn’t all that supposed to have been sorted when they took the toll booths out?

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Simon Brown

By Simon Brown

MCN Senior Production Editor