After two years and 2,000 miles on my Yamaha YS125, it was time to get something with a bit more oomph. I took my tests on a Honda CB500F which was great, but 189kg felt a bit too heavy for me to push around on a daily basis. Consequently, I was looking for something lighter than the Honda but similar in style and performance, and the MT-03 hasn’t disappointed so far. The increase in power over the 125 (41bhp from 10!) has been excellent fun without ever feeling scary, whilst being able to reach national speed limits with ease has made me feel much more confident and really increased my enjoyment of riding in general.
If you’ve recently got your A2 licence, or you’re just looking for something that’s lightweight, fun and won’t break the bank, the Yamaha MT-03 might already be on your radar. And, if it isn’t, read on - maybe it should be!
The MT-03 is the naked version of Yamaha’s smallest sportsbike, the YZF-R3. It has the same chassis, wheels and 321cc parallel twin engine, but with higher bars and no fairings. It isn’t quite top of its class in terms of power and performance, but the MT-03 is only a few fractions of a second behind its speedier competitors, and it delivers its 41 horsepower in a package which is stylish, un-intimidating and extremely enjoyable to ride.
Styling and size
The latest iteration of the MT-03 (2020 onwards) has an LCD dash, inverted forks and all-LED lights. The headlights are probably its most noticeable update - they aren’t large but they are very bright, and spotting what looks like the face of an angry transformer in the rearview mirror should certainly get drivers’ attention! It’s currently available new in three colour options: Midnight Black, Cyan Storm and Icon Blue (pictured).
Whilst it’s at the smaller-capacity end of the engine scale, the MT-03 is very close in size to its bigger brother, the MT-07. The flared tank and high pillion seat contribute to the impression of a bike which, at a glance, could easily be mistaken for one with twice the engine capacity. Despite this, it retains a very slim, low seat at just 780mm, giving comfortable ground contact even for the shortest riders (I’m 5’5” and both my feet are fully flat on ground with knees slightly bent). The positioning of the footpegs is the same as on the YZF-R3, but the higher bars provide a nice balance between road comfort and an engaging, slightly sporty ride.
Compared to most 125s, it definitely feels like a substantial, full-size machine. I’ve found the combination of the low seat and big-bike styling really confidence-inspiring - you get more road presence and a lot more bike, without needing to worry about getting your feet down or coping with a mammoth increase in weight.
Engine and performance
The 321cc parallel twin makes a maximum of 41hp and 21.8 ft-lb of torque. This may not initially sound like a huge amount, especially when other A2-friendly bikes are putting out a full 47hp. However, coupled with its low weight (168kg wet) and generous red line (12,000rpm), the MT-03’s performance is surprisingly nippy for its power output.
Acceleration is effortless, though perhaps not exhilarating, at lower rpms, and it really comes to life as the revs rise. With a claimed 0-60mph time of 5.1 seconds, you’ll be faster than almost every car on the road, and getting ahead at traffic lights is a piece of cake. Obviously if someone pulls up next to you on a 600, you’ll be eating their exhaust dust… but you’ll probably catch up with them on the bends!
It reaches 70mph with ease and sits there comfortably at around 7,000rpm with some power in reserve - top speed is reportedly just over 100mph. The gearbox is smooth, and the parallel twin gives a pleasant, bassy soundtrack to your journeys.
What’s it like to ride?
The MT-03 weighs almost 40kg more than the YS125, but it’s still likely to be around 20kg lighter than whatever bike you passed your test on. Its weight disappears almost as soon as you set off, with a nice balance of lightness and stability. It turns as effortlessly as a 125, but without feeling skittish in bends. Vibrations are minimal and the mirrors are perfectly useable at all speeds.
The tyres (140/70 x17 rear and 110/70 x17 front) provide decent contact and grip, and the ride overall is comfortable and confidence-inspiring. Suspension is adjustable via preload at the rear if needed. However, for most people, it will likely be fine as it comes out the factory unless you’re particularly light/heavy, or taking a pillion/luggage. The 298mm, two-piston single disc brake up front isn’t the best in its class, but braking power is smooth and reassuringly progressive. ABS is included as standard and provides extra peace of mind, particularly for newer riders.
The overall feel is of a well-made and nicely balanced machine which is certainly no slouch on the roads, but also won’t put you in danger of accidentally launching yourself into next week!
A brand-new MT-03 is currently £6,005 (May 2023), though some dealers may offer moderate discounts. For comparison, a new Honda CB500F is currently less than £100 more and might be worth considering given the extra engine capacity if you’re looking to buy new. Or if you fancy something cheaper and more retro, the Royal Enfield Scram 411 retails at £4,599, but it only packs 24bhp.
Used prices for the MT-03 are proving good value - from around £4,000 for an updated, 2020-onwards model, and from around £3,000 for the earlier 2016-19 model. Fuel economy is good too, and should offer 200+ miles per tank.
Whilst it isn’t the best-performing bike in the A2 class, I’ve certainly found it more than able to get ahead - and stay ahead - of traffic on all road types, with a nice combination of big-bike styling and nimble handling. So, if you’ve recently passed your tests and your 125 is feeling a bit, uh, sluggish, the MT-03 could be a great step up. Tempted? Better go check one out!
Words & photos: Hannah Godden