2016 Yamaha MT-03 Tested

Yamaha’s new MT-03 reviewed by Boris Mihailovic

Yamaha MT-03
Yamaha MT-03

I am always a little nonplussed when I’m plonked on a Learner Approved Motorcycle (LAM) bike and asked to review it, presumably so beginners will be enthralled enough to consider buying one.

There’s a strange wrongness to middle-aged men testing LAMs bikes. But paradoxically, there’s a certain rightness to it as well.

My Learner Days are aeons behind me. I am cynical, jaded and need to stop and pee a lot. I tend to view the relatively low-powered LAMs bikes as toys for the amusement of children, and so I end up riding them like a cackling teenager with chafed genitals.

And having the time of my life.

It really is rather disgraceful.

Yamaha MT-03
Yamaha MT-03

The only truly positive thing in my favour, and one that separates me from Learners, is that I tend not to hurl the test-bikes into trees very often, which is probably why the manufacturers don’t bus teenagers in for press launches.

I have broken an elegant sufficiency of myself in recent times. I require no repeats.

But in every emotional sense, I am just as deranged as any sugar-freaked teenage rider, and probably more so because my credit cards have higher limits.

My challenge on the press launch of the 2016 Yamaha MT-03, the latest addition to the burgeoning and hugely successful MT range, was thus manifold.

Firstly, since I could not survive the shame of firing a LAMs bike into one of Nasho’s (Royal National Park) protected eucalypts, I was resolved not to do this.

Yamaha MT-03
Yamaha MT-03

Secondly, I had to get into the Red Bull-fuelled mind of Learner, and try to see the bike from his altogether narrow and largely motorcycle-ignorant perspective.

What would he want from his new bike? What would tick his pimply boxes and cause him to flood his Facebook timeline with pictures of him and his bike being all savage, ruthless, fresh, and YOLO?

Was it holding the MT-03’s eager 31.Kw 321cc engine wide open as he chased a middle-aged man through Nasho?

Would it be the bike’s willingness to wheelie in a controllable and non-terrifying way, so the delighted panties of overwhelmed girls fluttered in its one-wheeled wake?

Yamaha MT-03
Yamaha MT-03

Could its agility in traffic, its runway-model thinness and its excellent delivery of 29.6 Kw of torque (helped by a 780mm seat-height) be a factor in a teenager’s mind? It lane-splits like a demon, and while I know L-platers are not permitted to do this legally, I’m also of the view they should be doing it to keep themselves alive. The MT-03 weighs a mere 168kg wet, which is four kilos more than I once bench-pressed, so it’s power-to-weight ratio is most pleasing.

Was it the fact that it appears to use no fuel at all as it gets about its business? And is great economy a consideration for L-platers?

Yamaha MT-03
Yamaha MT-03

Is its ability to do miles in relative comfort and at decent speeds (yes, you can overtake trucks that are doing 110, provided you down-change far enough) something a newbie would consider? That tank holds 14 litres, which would either see maybe 30 laps of the Old Pacific Highway, or see you into Bathurst, where you could ride the Mt Panorama race track like a salty Boss.

Or is it the MT-03’s ability to carve corners like an old country butcher dressing a lamb is what would appeal to beginners? Most of them certainly can’t ride for shit, and would doubtlessly benefit greatly from a bike that is wonderfully competent and poised in its cornering. It would forgive you your L-plated trespasses, of which there will be many. That quality alone separates the MT-03 from many of its competitors.

Yamaha MT-03
Yamaha MT-03

But practical considerations need to be placed to one side for a second. After all, motorcycles are not practical. The buying of them by hyperventilating teenagers is not based on practicality.

It is based on coolness.

In that regard, nothing has changed from my time as a teenager.

Yamaha MT-03
Yamaha MT-03

I did not want anything to do with practicality and common-sense, back then, and still don’t now – though I will happily tell you about the beautness of hard luggage on long trips.

I have always wanted the coolest motorcycle I could get, so I could be cool by association with it, and then girls would have sex with me.

Yes, I am that shallow.

And I was a fairly typical teenager in the regard, and back then, the coolest bikes tended to be the ones that killed you the quickest.

Yamaha MT-03
Yamaha MT-03

Today, for reasons I am not entirely clear on, we want our teenagers to survive their teenage years. So for the most part, we start them out on gentle, friendly motorcycles, most of which are tepid as old tea and boring to ride.

The MT-03 is quite the opposite. It is not at all tepid, but it is friendly and easy to ride. But it’s friendly like that friend who always has great pills in his pocket, knows where all the nasty girls hang out, and won’t shop you to the cops when things go pear-shaped.

There’s an edge to the MT-03. There’s a glint to it, like the flash of a blade under a streetlight.

Yamaha MT-03
Yamaha MT-03

It certainly looks the business, and as one’s riding skills increase, it will also go like the business. It certainly gets along in a way one’s parents would strongly disapprove of.

I found a wonderful integrity to the MT-03. It behaves like a proper grown-up’s motorcycle and looks like a hooligan’s brass knuckles.

After chasing former AMCN editors around Nasho, while stopping every now and then for pictures, one of them grinned at me and said: “I would love to take this up the Old Road (Old Pacific Highway).”

I grinned back at him.

“There would be many tears and much weeping among the race-leathers crowd.”

Then we laughed, and started chasing each other on the road again.

Like teenagers.

Yamaha MT-03
Yamaha MT-03
  • How much? $5699 (incl GST)
  • What colours does it come in? Red, Black and Race Blue.
  • Why does it work so well?
Yamaha MT-03
Yamaha MT-03

It’s got the same engine, frame, suspension and wheels as the brilliant YZF-R3, and a sexy asymmetrical swingarm kinda like an R1. The ABS brakes (298mm on the front and 220mm on the back) offer good feel and stopping power for its weight, and the whole package is extremely well-balanced.

Yamaha MT-03 Technical Specifications
Yamaha MT-03 Technical Specifications
Yamaha MT-03 Technical Specifications
What about the competition?

There’s the KTM RC390. It’s a single and it’s harsh, zesty and rather brutal for impressionable children to learn on.

There’s the Kawasaki Ninja. It’s 299ccs in a place where size is important; the MT-03 is 321ccs. Yes, the small difference is noticeable. There’s the Honda 300F. It’s a single-cylinder.  And then there’s Honda’s CB500, which is a twin. So while there is choice in this segment, the MT-03 shines quite brightly.