The Buddh International Circuit makes a fitting location to thrash out Yamaha's potent new, twin-cylinder 300, the YZF-R3. The Japanese company shook the Indian sportsbike scene with its YZF-R15 a few years back, bringing with it a rich pool of bike technology at the time – fuel-injection, liquid-cooling, four valves per cylinder, a steel spar perimeter frame, six-speed gearbox and a lot more. The bike maker has already upped that game with the V2.0, making the R15 sharper, and adding premium bits including an alloy swingarm, which makes now the right time to introduce Indians to a whole new next level, the R3, a serious Ninja 300 challenger.
You can see the R3 lives up to its rich YZF lineage, looking racy, faired and ready to attack a race track. Where Honda's CBR bikes seem to look tamer today, the YZFs are getting sharper, sleeker and a touch wilder looking. The R3's steeply raked front fascia stares ahead with a macho, twin-light 'don't mess with me' air. The visor bubble is smartly integrated, easy to peer through and works well on track to provide excellent wind protection. Instrumentation is smart and modern with all essential information prominently displayed on a soothingly lit backdrop, and the R3 comes with all the high-quality feel you can take for granted on any Yamaha bike in India.
Grips offer top-notch, plush feel, and the switches, though little used at Buddh, are crisp, and smooth to operate. The levers are easy on your fingers and mirrors solid feeling, and easy to adjust. As with all track-focussed sportsbikes, the R3 comes with a forward biased riding position, that worked perfectly at the fast, flowing Buddh track but isn't overly aggressive for regular street use either.
The 321cc, four-stroke, parallel twin-cylinder R3 engine feels refined from the word go, and offers all the technology you'd expect from a Yamaha coming into this space. There's liquid-cooling, four valves per DiASil coated cylinder, fuel-injection, forged pistons, a six-speed gearbox, dual overhead camshafts and a competitive 41.4bhp on throttle at 10,750rpm. The step up in displacement from the 250cc class of a few years ago has paid big dividends for usability, the R3 putting into action twin 32mm throttle bodies with 12 perforations. While peak torque of 3kgm is developed at a high 9,000pm, the R3's got plenty of shove on offer even at low-to-mid engine speeds. You could carry mid-level third gear drive and use the torque to catapult out of the final corner on the sprawling and wide BIC circuit very comfortably.
Grab it by the horns though, and the R3 delivers, with acceleration that's thrilling and expectedly smooth and vibe-free anywhere from over 5,000rpm, where serious power is available to take you quickly past 11,500rpm. The exhaust note is about as evocative as you could hope for with bikes handicapped by today's crippling norms, and has a nice sporty edge when pushing hard.
Clutch and gearshift feel is just perfect on the R3, with not a single shift missed throughout our time on track.
The handling was pleasingly fluid, and nice and light, with a precise steering. The R3 is meant to be an everyday motorcycle too and so, the suspension felt a touch soft on the track. However, the R3 does offer an adjustable rear set-up so it can be fine tuned to some extent.
What's lacking though, is an alloy swingarm. The bite from the brakes was sharp and once you get used to it, you only need to breathe on the lever to scrub speed. However, for the street, it makes us all the more sure that ABS is a must. The big and surprising disappointment though was the grip from the tyres, the MRF rubber unable to cope with the power when pinning the throttle exiting corners and even sent the rear wheel chattering on occasion at the BIC. This is sure to be something keen riders need to watch out for while familiarising themselves with the motorcycle.
It might have come late but our short ride proves that the YZF-R3 can hold its own special corner in the Indian market that it shares with the also capable Kawasaki Ninja 300. But, the R3 seems to take the game forward in just about every way and also manages to undercut the Ninja 300 while doing so. So, the attractively priced R3 does give Yamaha and biking enthusiasts alike very good reason to celebrate, especially when headed out to a track day.