When the MT-03 reaches our shores, it is entering a segment that has been left untouched for years. We find out if it has what it takes to revive the market.
Story: Joshua Varghese
Photography: Apurva Ambep
‘Going to ride a naked in Thailand’ was probably a poor choice of words to explain where I was going. Thankfully, Yamaha India made better decisions because we were in a motorcyclist’s version of heaven to experience a motorcycle that could revive the 300-cc-twin segment in our country. Over three days, we experienced the Yamaha MT-03 as we rode the Chiang Mai-Phayao-Nan-Phayao-Chiang Mai circuit.
The MT-03 is a brand new motorcycle as far as India is concerned but we are not strangers to the MT family. They are all about sharp lines and aggression. That much is clear with the MT-03 too. It looks menacing from all angles; particularly when viewed head-on because of the LED headlight cluster. What stood out for me the first time I set eyes on it was the pure intent it seemed to exude. While most of the R3 is hidden behind fairings, the MT bares a generous amount of its fine form. From the front to the seat junction there are many cuts and curves to retain visual interest. Most of it is seen on the 14-litre fuel tank that is flanked by air ducts on either side. Then there is the blacked-out engine on display too. From the rider’s seat onwards, the rest of the motorcycle is identical to its sibling, the YZF-R3. That is, perhaps, the only part of the MT that is hidden beneath cowls. In this cyan paint scheme, Yamaha opted to paint the 17-inch wheels too and it has worked well for the motorcycle’s streetfighter image.
The instrument cluster is predictably the same simple, full-digital unit that does duty in the R3 too. Although it displays all the essentials in a crisp and clear format, it pales in comparison to the fancy colour screens that are available in the market today. Sure, one could argue that Yamaha should have offered a modern unit with connectivity and what not. Personally, I spent three days on this motorcycle and was never bothered by a lack of connectivity. Primarily because I was kept well-entertained with the performance of this machine.
Of course, it may not have been possible without a good riding position. Like the R3, this one’s seat height is also 780 mm and the rider triangle below the waist is largely similar but the MT is equipped with a wide, single-piece handlebar. It offers the rider an upright seating position and puts them in a place that offers excellent leverage. The good news is that the MT’s versatility allows one the option to just sit back and take it easy or lean forward slightly and muscle the motorcycle into being a rowdy on two wheels. The bad news, at least for me, was that I was too tall to enjoy long stints in the saddle. Or maybe I just felt more comfortable on the R3 because we swapped motorcycles occasionally when we halted for breaks. That being said, for maximum fun, the MT-03’s saddle is the place to be. The trade-off is that one has to face a considerable amount of wind blast when riding fast.
The exposed engine that contributes significantly to the MT’s aggression is the familiar 321-cc, four-valve, DOHC, liquid-cooled, parallel-twin unit. The short-stroke mill dishes out 42 hp at 10,750 rpm and a peak torque of 29.5 Nm at 9,000 rpm. Transmission duties are managed by a six-speed unit. In case you are wondering, all of it is identical to the R3. The whole package lives up to Yamaha’s high standards in terms of refinement. On the road, it means that the rider can freely choose between letting the exhaust system sing notes close to the redline or just cruise around, as opposed to letting errant vibrations suggest a course of action.
My first experience of the MT-03 was getting out of the quiet town of Nan. The MT was easy and fun to dart through the streets. It changed direction on command and the linear power delivery meant that even when I grabbed a handful of throttle, the MT remained predictable. In spite of its streetfighter personality, the MT is a forgiving motorcycle. Although the engine is capable of pulling away from as low as 50 km/h in sixth gear, the MT is most fun when ridden in the first three gears. Its liveliness perfectly matches its commitment to fun. With Nan behind us, we got onto a highway heading to Phayao and there the sixth gear was put to good use.
The MT could pick up speed exactly like its sibling but the main problem there is the nut that connects the handlebars and the seat. With no wind protection whatsoever, my body caused a lot of air resistance. Even so, the motorcycle was able to cruise comfortably at speeds around 150 km/h. It was up to me to make the choice between taking the force of the wind on my chest or getting into a crouch to go faster. Either way, the motorcycle lived up to — and sometimes surpassed — expectations for a naked streetfighter. Suspension componentry includes a 37-mm USD fork and a preload-adjustable monoshock from KYB. Impressive levels of damping allow them to return sublime ride quality and even at high speed, the MT never once felt unsettled. Neither did it make me uncomfortable. The wide handlebar complements the agility of this motorcycle and it shone in corners. When ridden back-to-back, it was evident that the R3 was easier to get around corners fast but the MT makes the affair more dramatic and exciting. While the R3 is calm and composed, the MT makes one feel more alive. It is something you must experience for yourself when these motorcycles reach dealerships.
Predictably, the MT also shares its braking equipment and tyres with the R3. The twin-pot caliper at the front and single-piston unit at the rear bite on single 298-mm and 220-mm discs respectively; further supplemented by the safety of dual-channel ABS. They get the job done and are good in terms of feel at the lever and stopping power but at times I felt the MT could have made use of slightly better braking componentry. Or am I getting a bit greedy there? The Dunlop Sportmax rubber lived up to expectations but we do not know for sure if they will make it onto the motorcycles headed for India. That will be confirmed closer to the launch.
In Thailand, our route offered a mix of all sorts of road a motorcyclist would enjoy or rather dream about. They included straight highways, fast twisties, tight corners and even narrow roads in town. The lack of any wind protection did make highway riding a challenge. Other than that, the MT was a fun motorcycle everywhere else. In fact, I feel it may be better than the R3 for those who intend to use it predominantly in town.
The Yamaha MT-03 will reach our shores fresh off the boat from Indonesia so the price remains to be anyone’s guess. If Yamaha sell this motorcycle anywhere in the region of Rs 3.5-4.0 lakh, I feel it would be the best deal an enthusiast could ask for. Then, without any doubt whatsoever, Yamaha India will strengthen their footing in the country as a performance motorcycle brand. If this one goes well, there is a chance that we may see more products from the Japanese manufacturer including the R7, MT-07 and maybe, just maybe, even the Ténéré.
Edit: The Yamaha MT-03 is priced at Rs 4.60 lakh (ex-showroom).
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