2016 Yamaha YZF-R3 | Rider Tour Test

Yamaha R3 touring
We got lucky. During summer the marine layer often shrouds California Route 1 in chilly fog, obscuring scenic views and requiring warm layers. (Photos by the author and Mark Tuttle)

From cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean to the salty mist near the water’s edge, California’s Route 1 along the Big Sur coast seduces two-wheeled travelers with sensuous curves in a stunning setting. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy the road without traffic, the experience is guaranteed a top spot on your best rides list. I rode it on a mid-summer getaway to Big Sur with two friends from my high school days, Steve Luick and Alan McKay. Curious to try touring on a smaller bike, I chose Yamaha’s sporty 321cc DOHC parallel twin, the YZF-R3. Introduced in 2015, the Yamaha was late to the 300cc sportbike scene, but came out charging at its street/track debut (Rider, July 2015, and on ridermagazine.com). How would it do with a little touring action?

Yamaha R3 touring
The YZF-R3 is Yamaha’s affordable, accessible entry point into the world of sportbikes.

With Chase Harper bags carefully fitted to the Yamaha’s pointy rear and the single rear shock’s preload cranked up (the only suspension adjustment available), the R3 was ready to travel. More than 100 miles of four-lane freeway between home and Route 1 gave me a chance to test its traveling comfort and ability to hang with traffic. The R3 cruises at typical over-the-limit California freeway speeds without breathing hard, its counterbalancer keeping things relaxed at the seat, bars and pegs. Though some vibration creeps in at various rpm, I never found it annoying. Winding the fuel-injected 321cc up toward its 12,245 rpm redline is at least half the fun of riding the R3, assisted by a throttle pulley that progressively magnifies grip twist at the dual 32mm throttle bodies. The motor has enough low-end torque not to embarrass itself, but the experience I’ll remember is hitting 11 grand in third or fourth before shifting up.

Yamaha R3 touring
With some Chase Harper soft luggage attached to the tail, the R3 makes for a fun, lightweight sport tourer.

Cambria was our first stop. We picked up Alan, who’d ridden his BMW F 800 GS down from Santa Cruz the night before. It was good to unwind from the R3, though I’d made those first 130 miles pain-free. The seating position is sporty but mild, with top-mounted clip-on handlebars, moderately rearset pegs and a comfortable, 30.7-inch-high seat that tapers for easy ground control. My 68-inch frame was right at home and my rear wasn’t complaining. Neither was my upper body—the R3’s small windscreen keeps buffeting to a minimum, and directs enough clean air at my chest to reduce the weight on my hands. The compact instrument pod has an accurate speedometer (1 mph error), a digital tach and a conservative fuel gauge with a low fuel indicator.

Yamaha R3 touring
With some Chase Harper soft luggage attached to the tail, the R3 makes for a fun, lightweight sport tourer.

Joining an endless line of cars slogging north, we had no choice but to enjoy the scenery, which, as it turns out, is much better when not blurred by speed. The R3 putted along without overheating or cooking my legs. Needing a kick while in the doldrums, I’d drop back a ways, snick down a gear or two, then wind it out to the next gear (yes, I’m easily entertained). Finally settled into a cabin at Ripplewood Resort in Big Sur, we spent the warm afternoon talking of motorcycles past, present and future. The next morning Steve and I followed Alan north to Carmel as he headed home along more beautiful coastline. Returning south, we hit howling wind at Point Sur. The R3 stayed with traffic into the headwind, but crosswinds were difficult to manage on the 371-pound, fully gassed motorcycle.

Yamaha R3 suspension and brakes
The only suspension adjustment on the R3 is rear spring preload. Single discs front and rear handle braking duties, and ABS is a new $300 option for 2017. When the pace heats up, the suspension and brakes become the R3’s limiting factors.

The following day was my birthday, and quite a gift was waiting for me as we headed south before breakfast—a nearly empty road. This is where the R3 showed its mettle. Agile as a cheetah, the Yamaha swaps directions effortlessly on its attractive 17-inch cast aluminum wheels. Acceleration is a wrist twist away, and the clutch and tranny are a smooth team. Michelin Pilot Street tires dish up plenty of traction, but when pushing the bike, limits to the brakes and suspension become obvious. The Yamaha needs more braking power than the single discs offer; they’re not horrible, but the bike attains speeds that require excellent brakes, and these aren’t. The KYB inverted fork is spongy, with weak rebound damping letting the front-end recoil too fast from impacts. The single rear shock performs better, keeping the power and rider on the ground. These are weaknesses, though, not deal-breakers. The R3 is a hoot on a smooth road, and fine on rougher tarmac once you know its limits. Needless to say, we made quick work of getting home.

2016 Yamaha YZF-R3 dyno run.
2016 Yamaha YZF-R3 dyno run.

Sporty good looks aside, the YZF-R3 is a comfortable, exciting machine for any kind of pavement work. In 1,000 miles on this bike, I don’t think the smile ever left my face—well, maybe on that slow slog north. The miserly twin returned 54.2 mpg overall, burning 87 octane gasoline at an 11.2:1 compression ratio. With its 3.7-gallon tank and incredible 26,600-mile valve adjustment interval, touring is certainly an option—and a fun one at that.

2016 Yamaha YZF-R3
2016 Yamaha YZF-R3

Arden’s Gear
Helmet: Scorpion EXO-GT3000
Jacket: Firstgear TPG Teton
Pants: Olympia Airglide
Boots: iXS Tarmac

2016 Yamaha YZF-R3 Specs

Base Price: $4,990
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Website: yamahamotorsports.com


Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin
Displacement: 321cc
Bore x Stroke: 68mm x 44.1mm
Compression Ratio: 11.2:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 26,600 miles
Fuel Delivery: EFI
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 2.7-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final drive: O-ring chain


Ignition: Electronic
Charging output: 298 watts @ 5,000 rpm
Battery: 12V 7AH


Frame: Steel diamond-type, engine as stressed member
Wheelbase: 54.3 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/3.74 in.
Seat Height: 30.7 in.
Suspension, Front: 41mm USD fork, no adj., 5.1-in. travel
Rear: Single linked rear shock, adj. for spring preload, 4.9-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Single 298mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper
Rear: Single 220mm disc w/ 1-piston caliper
Wheels, Front: Cast aluminum, 2.75 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast aluminum, 4.00 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: Tubeless 110/70-17
Rear: Tubeless 140/70-17
Wet Weight: 371 lbs.
Load Capacity: 350 lbs.
GVWR: 721 lbs.


Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gals., last 0.8 gal. warning light on
MPG: 87 PON min. (low/avg/high) 44.8/54.2/57.1
Estimated Range: 200.5 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 6,500


  1. I read your YZF-R3 test in the print edition of Rider. Great read, truly befitting a fine magazine. All I wish you’d do is try out the 2017 YZF-R3 ABS model. Back when the Honda CBR250RA-3AC (2012) with ABS was ruling the roost, a shocking phenomenon came clear: The ABS model stank, mainly because of the rear-to-front linkage. In a panic situation, you’d pull in the front brake for stopping power, only to discover that ONLY ONE puck up front was active. After you had the rear brake on for about 2-3 seconds, the controller would begrudgingly start feeding fluid to the second front puck, and you’d have stopping power five seconds after you’d made an impression on the dump truck in front of you. I found this phenomenon out in Morehead, Kentucky (at a stoplight) when I rode my CBR home from its dealer in Ashland. The rear brake, incidentally, worked just fine as far as the rear disc was concerned.

    You might also investigate the recalls on a bunch of YZF-R3s, wherein the clutches and oil pumps have to be replaced. Not exactly an attraction. One final note, “Since when do ABS buyers have to settle for an ugly black machine? Honda? Yamaha? Suzuki?” It’s a perversion on the old theorem, where car companies always only shoehorned a Diesel engine into their crummiest trim levels. You listening, Peugeot? Nissan?

  2. There gonna be a versys 400 because a new ninja400 is now available , so I’m waiting for a Ténéré – Tdm base on a future R4 .


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