Yamaha brings its naked entry-level ride to the U.S.

LISTEN 11:09

Yamaha expands its MT lineup with an all-new-in-2020, entry-level model, the MT-03. Previously available in other markets, it joins the MT-07, -09 and -10 within Yamaha’s hyper-naked range it touts as the “Dark Side of Japan.” The MT-03 toes the family line with minimalist appointments that waste not an ounce on superfluous details. Power delivery is both smooth and predictable to reinforce its rider-friendly nature. ABS protection provides an extra safety net to help make sure you keep it rubber-side down.

  • 2020 - 2021 Yamaha MT-03
  • Year:
    2020- 2021
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    Parallel Twin
  • Displacement:
    321 cc
  • Top Speed:
    112 mph (Est.)
  • Price:
    4599
  • Price:

Yamaha MT-03 Design

  • Aggressive big-bike look
  • LED lighting
  • LCD instrumentation
  • Unmistakable MT hyper-naked design
2020 - 2021 Yamaha MT-03
- image 864577
2020 - 2021 Yamaha MT-03
- image 864584

The Tuning Fork Company calls this its “Dark Lightning” look, and looking at the MT-03, it’s easy to see why. Generous blackout treatment gives it a dark, sinister panache with very few shiny bits to be found. This understated look leaves you with the impression of a machine that is all business and no fluff with an essential nature that not only wastes no money on unnecessary bits, but also adds no useless weight either.

The blackened front fender and fork stanchions play well with the red front wheel for a nice bit of contrast, and that continues out back with another red wheel to offset the black swingarm and exhaust system. A pair of marker lights brighten the blackout headlight housing with an angry squint above the single, super-bright LED headlight. LED tech continues into the long, skinny, standoff-style turn signals that grace both ends of the machine, and the forward blinkers are positioned in such a way that they will have a pretty good chance of surviving a drop in the parking lot. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how important that is on a bike that’s billed as an entry-level ride. As a bonus, the LED emitters have proven themselves to be reliable over a long lifespan, even under less-than-ideal conditions, and they draw very little power and generate little heat.

Behind the compact and stylish flyscreen, a large LCD panel takes care of all of the instrumentation and makes for a clean control area. Short risers and a low-rise handlebar push your hands up and away from the tripletree to give the rider’s triangle a rather upright component that takes the pressure off your wrists and shoulders, and makes for low stress on your neck as well. Plus, it’s short enough to leave room for you to tuck in if you feel like getting jiggy with it in the twisties.

The 3.7-gallon fuel tank bears broad shoulders and a narrow rear end to create knee pockets so you can pull your legs in out of the slipstream and have room for some proper body English. Air scoops add some visual mass up forward to give it an all-up-front look and tie in with the rest of the MT line.

At 30.7 inches off the ground, the seat is relatively low to make it easier for you to reach the ground, and that’s especially important on entry-level bikes to help boost confidence and control at low speeds. There’s a p-pad and fold-up, subframe-mount footpegs for your passenger, but nothing in the way of J.C. handles for them to hang onto, just the obligatory strap that provides the final points of contact and leaves the rear-end looking clean.

The tail tapers down to a rather sharp point with the taillight lens molded right in, and below, there’s the short mudguard-style assembly that acts as a one-stop shop for the license plate, taglight and rear blinkers. All in all, the MT-03 is a very sporty-looking ride that should make for a great platform for folks looking to take the naked-sportbike path through life.

Yamaha MT-03 Chassis

  • Strong, lightweight diamond tubular frame
  • Seven-step preload adjustable single-shock rear suspension design
  • Available ABS
  • Agile handling
2020 - 2021 Yamaha MT-03
- image 864599
2020 - 2021 Yamaha MT-03
- image 864587
2020 - 2021 Yamaha MT-03
- image 864586

Welded, tubular-steel members make up the diamond-type frame on the MT-03, and the engine itself is used as part of the structure to keep the overall weight low. A 22.6-inch long, asymmetrical swingarm articulates for the rear wheel with a pivot point that’s set close to vehicle center and a preload-adjustable Monocross rear shock to tame the motion through no less than seven presets so you have lots of flexibility in your setup.

The steering head sets up a rake angle of 25 degrees with a short, 3.7 inches of trail over a 54.3-inch wheelbase to make this machine very willing in the corners with a high level of flickability and quick reversals. A 373-pound wet weight helps with that as well, though you can probably count on less-than-ideal tracking in crosswinds, and honestly, that’s to be expected.

Inverted, 37 mm KYB front forks soak up the abuse with 5.1 inches of travel opposite the monoshock that gives up 4.9 inches of travel, plenty for the urban jungle and paved country roads. The hoops are symmetrical with a 17-inch wheel diameter that mount a 110/70 up front and a 140/70 out back. As for the brakes, there’s a single 298 mm front disc and twin-pot anchor to slow the front wheel opposite a 220 mm disc and single-piston caliper, which may seem a little light, but this is an entry-level bike so they’re quite adequate for the application. ABS comes with the stock equipment package, and looks to be non-switchable so whether you like it or not, you’ve got that looking after you as the only safety electronics on the whole bike.

Suspension, Front/Travel: 37 mm KYB® inverted fork/ 5.1 in
Suspension, Rear/Travel: Single shock; 7-step preload adjustable/ 4.9 in
Rake: 25°
Trail: 3.7 in
Brakes, Front: Hydraulic single disc brake, 298 mm; ABS
Brakes, Rear: single disc brake, 220 mm; ABS
Tire, Front: 110/70-17
Tire, Rear: 140/70-17

Yamaha MT-03 Drivetrain

  • 321 cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin engine
  • 41 hp @ 10,750 rpm
  • 21.8 lb-ft @ 9,000 rpm
  • Smooth power delivery
2020 - 2021 Yamaha MT-03 Exterior
- image 864615
2020 - 2021 Yamaha MT-03
- image 864581
2020 - 2021 Yamaha MT-03
- image 864585

A compact, liquid-cooled, rev-loving new parallel-twin engine in the MT-03 delivers the goods to the tune of 41 horsepower at a lofty 10,750 rpm and 21.8 pound-feet of torque that tops out at 9 grand. A 180-out crankshaft configuration and counterbalancer ensures that the power delivery is smooth throughout the range to give it a definite leg up against the single-cylinder, bottom-displacement competition out there. Lookin’ at you, KTM.

Dual over-head cams time the four-valve heads with a downdraft-style intake that relies on a fuel-injected throttle body to regulate the induction, and the throttle control is plain vanilla with no ride-quality subsystems to complicate things. The factory borrows from the MT-10 sibling for its forged aluminum pistons, and it uses its proprietary DiASil cylinder coating to reduce friction and extend the service life of the top end by keeping wear to a minimum.

Power flows through a standard clutch to the six-speed transmission and a tough chain drive to put the power to the pavement. The light weight, low windage and overall gearing turns in an impressive 56 mpg on average.

Engine: Liquid-cooled DOHC 4-stroke; 4 valves
Displacement: 321 cc
Bore x Stroke: 68.0 mm × 44.1 mm
Compression Ratio: 11.2:1
Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection
Transmission: Constant mesh 6-speed; wet multiplate clutch
Final Drive: Chain

Yamaha MT-03 Pricing

2020 - 2021 Yamaha MT-03
- image 864603
2020 - 2021 Yamaha MT-03
- image 864588
2020 - 2021 Yamaha MT-03
- image 864580

Priced for the entry-level market, the 2021 MT-03 rolls for $4,599 with a destination charge of $425. Plus, the factory offers a robust Dark Side Collection clothing line and accessories that may boost the final ticket.

Warranty: 1 Year (Limited Factory Warranty)
Color:
└ 2020: Ice Fluo, Matte Raven Black
└ 2021: Storm Fluo, Matte Stealth Black
Price: $4,599

Yamaha MT-03 Competitors

2015 - 2016 KTM 390 DUKE
- image 778070
2020 - 2021 Yamaha MT-03
- image 864576

Since I already mentioned KTM, I reckon it’ll make as good a competitor for the MT-03, so I grabbed the Austrian builder’s 390 Duke to see how it stacks up against Yamaha’s newest Master of Torque model.

KTM 390 Duke

2017 - 2018 KTM 390 Duke
- image 779294

KTM keeps to the naked side of things with minimal body panels and a compact headlight housing. The tank fairings add little weight to the overall total but are necessary for KTM’s usual angular look. As for the rest of the machine, the exposed Trellis frame and contrasting paint package gives it a rather pragmatic industrial look that lacks the Yamaha’s subtlety, but since looks are subjective I’ll simply say that I prefer the MT and leave you to make up your own mind.

The bones are a steel Trellis with usd WP front forks and a WP shock out back that are plain vanilla, so KTM doesn’t gain anything here, but the front brake disc is about as big as they come at 320 mm for arguably greater brake power. Additionally, the Duke rocks an advanced Bosch 9MP ABS feature that comes with two operating modes that adds a Supermoto mode to the mix and can be turned off in its entirety to give an edge to KTM in the anchors.

The Duke runs a 373.2 cc thumper that churns out 42.8 horsepower for a slight edge over the 41-pony Yamaha twin, but honestly, that difference is too slight to register on even the most sensitive heinie-dyno, and as an entry-level bike, brute power should not be a front-burner issue. Like the MT-03, the Duke is an essential bike with no electronic fandanglery to complicate the works.

Yamaha gets a minor victory at the checkout against the $5,499 sticker on the 390 Duke which leaves a significant gap that may be a dealbreaker for the youngest riders and the parents who may be the ones actually paying for the thing.

Read our full review of the KTM 390 Duke.

He Said

“Woo hoo sports fans. Yamaha finally fields a naked equivalent to its fully-clad superbike-style YZF-R3, and it looks to be just as capable as a trainer bike. If you live across the pond, you may be glad to hear that the MT-03 qualifies for the A2 license bracket, but no matter where you are, this is a starter bike that delivers big-bike handling and performance. Gotta’ say I’m digging the dark-custom look as well, cause it almost makes it look like a U.S. style custom bike.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “The suspension on the MT-03 is really quite comfortable even over less-than-well maintained roads. The rider position is upright, but it has a sporty feel. Braking is adequate only because the bike is light. If it carried any more weight, I’d have to give it a less-than-favorable mark. It’s a very back-to-basics kind of ride that, even though it is touted as an entry-level bike, I can see experienced folks having fun with it. The MT-03 is unintimidating with snappy throttle response, and with decent fuel economy, you can mark it down as a commuter. Other bikes in this small-displacement, entry-level field would include, but not be limited to, the BMW G 310 R or maybe the Kawasaki Z400. There’s a lot of interest in the small-displacement field and I’m happy to see the MT-03 hit the U.S. market.”

Yamaha MT-03 Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: Liquid-cooled DOHC 4-stroke; 4 valves
Displacement: 321 cc
Bore x Stroke: 68.0 mm × 44.1 mm
Compression Ratio: 11.2:1
Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection
Transmission: Constant mesh 6-speed; wet multiplate clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Chassis:
Suspension, Front/Travel: 37 mm KYB® inverted fork/ 5.1 in
Suspension, Rear/Travel: Single shock; 7-step preload adjustable/ 4.9 in
Rake (Caster Angle): 25°
Trail: 3.7 in
Brakes, Front: Hydraulic single disc brake, 298 mm; ABS
Brakes, Rear: single disc brake, 220 mm; ABS
Tire, Front: 110/70-17
Tire, Rear: 140/70-17
Dimensions & Capacities:
L x W x H: 82.3 in x 29.7 in x 42.1 in
Seat Height: 30.7 in
Wheelbase: 54.3 in
Maximum Ground Clearance: 6.3 in
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gal
Fuel Economy: 56 mpg
Wet Weight: 373 lb
Details:
Warranty: 1 Year (Limited Factory Warranty)
Color:
└ 2020: Ice Fluo, Matte Raven Black
└ 2021: Storm Fluo, Matte Stealth Black
Price: $4,599

Further Reading

Yamaha

ALLYN IMAGES: DO NOT DELETE
- image 788830

Read more Yamaha news.

TJ Hinton
T.J got an early start from his father and other family members who owned and rode motorcycles, and by helping with various mechanical repairs throughout childhood. That planted a seed that grew into a well-rounded appreciation of all things mechanical, and eventually, into a formal education of same. Though primarily a Harley rider, he has an appreciation for all sorts of bikes and doesn't discriminate against any particular brand or region of origin. He currently holds an Associate's degree in applied mechanical science from his time at the M.M.I.  Read More
About the author

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: yamaha-motor.com, bmwmotorcycles.com, kawasaki.com, ktm.com, photographer: R.Schedl

Press release

Related Articles

2017 - 2020 BMW G 310 R / G 310 GS

2021 Yamaha MT-09 / MT-09 SP

2021 Yamaha MT-07

2018 - 2020 Yamaha MT-09

2018 - 2021 Yamaha MT-10

What do you think?
Show Comments
Motorcycle Finder: