Life is so simple when you’re young. As teens and 20-somethings we thought nothing of loading up our dirt bikes, gas cans, firewood, chili, beer, chips and more beer in the ol’ pickup truck and heading out to ride in the desert and OHV parks, sometimes for days. Sleep usually came in a camp chair by the dwindling fire, or in the back of the truck. It was all about the riding, and après riding, so all of the effort and time involved just getting there went unnoticed.
Dirt bike riding and ownership is definitely more complicated than living with a street-legal bike, however, and that complication creates inertia that can be hard to overcome when you get older and busier and are dealing with, say, kids, a job and a mortgage. Off-road riding is fun, exciting, challenging and helps build skills you can use on the street, but since the bike can only be ridden off-road in designated areas, first you have to get it there. That requires a truck or tow vehicle and trailer of some sort, ramps to load the bike in the truck, tie-downs to secure it and the skill and ability to do all of that in the first place. Add to that loading up all of your riding gear, water, food, sunblock and first aid kit and you’re good to go…after about an hour’s worth of effort.
Once you arrive at the riding area—from my house the closest is about an hour’s drive—then it’s time to unload everything, gear up and go riding. Which is heaven! Once you acquire some basic off-road riding skills, either on your own, by riding with friends or at a training school, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of exploring single-track trails, conquering hill climbs, sand washes and desert moguls or dark forest paths between trees. Dirt bikes are light and have big power-to-weight ratios, so just twisting the throttle on one and shooting down a dirt road is a major rush. And once you learn how, many of the hooligan antics—wheelies, sliding, burnouts, etc.—that would land you in jail on the street are par for the course off-road.
Tired and had enough riding for the day? OK, load it all up once again, and unload one more time when you get home. Wash the bike, drain its carburetor if it has one (and the bike will sit for a while until the next ride), get cleaned up and collapse on the couch. Sound fun? It really is, particularly if the type of off-road riding you do and your skill level really warrant a non-street-legal dirt bike. The 2020 Yamaha WR250F we sampled for this story, for example, weighs just 255 pounds gassed up and has fully adjustable suspension with more than 12 inches of travel at each end. Its liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, DOHC 4-valve, 4-stroke single revs briskly and makes whopping torque and top end power, fed through a wide-ratio (hence the WR) transmission that’s good for slow technical trails, flat-out flying and everything in between. Lights and an electric starter round out a mission-critical package that can tackle just about anything off-road.
But what if you just want to do some off-road exploring, perhaps at a mellower pace, and have no interest in all of the additional expense and logistical hassle of getting you and a dirt bike out to a riding area? Adventure bikes are all the rage these days and can handle some off-road riding, but they’re expensive and most of us don’t have the skills to pilot a 500-plus-pound behemoth down much more than a dirt fire road. Even the smaller KTM 390 Adventure tested in this issue weighs 387 pounds wet—that’s like adding a passenger to the weight of the typical dirt bike.
If your off-road forays are not too far away—or even if they are and you’re OK taking frequent breaks along the way—a good alternative to truck ownership or big ADV machines is a light single-cylinder dual-sport bike. For the least weight and most performance, the European makers like KTM and Husqvarna offer some very serious (and expensive) lightweight dual-sports. But all of the Japanese manufacturers also sell less expensive models in displacements from 200 to 650cc. The 250s run from just 296 to about 321 pounds and still make enough power for riders (who aren’t exceptionally large) to not only tackle a lot of the same terrain dirt bikes can—at a slower pace—but they can also be ridden to the trailhead from home, skipping the whole load/unload/repeat process. More dirt is open to a dual-sport as well, since unlike a dirt bike it has a license plate and is legal on the thousands of miles of unpaved public roads that connect, for example, ghost towns in Nevada and the national forests in Tennessee.
The 2020 Yamaha WR250R we sampled for this story shares much of its WR250F sibling’s DNA, but has far fewer unobtanium bits for racing so it costs $1,900 less. Yet at 296 pounds gassed up, it’s still the lightest of the affordable Japanese 200/250 dual-sports. The WR250R’s liquid-cooled single is based on the F’s 250cc race-ready enduro motor and shares the same bore and stroke, but among other changes has lower compression and mellower cam profiles for more street tractability. Seat height is still quite tall at 36.6 inches, but that’s an inch lower than the F’s, and the R still soaks up the bumps with 10.6 inches of fully adjustable suspension travel at each end. And it averages 61 mpg!
The WR-R’s design can’t take the pounding that its tougher enduro-inspired sibling can, but unlike many dual-sports it was built more for off-road than road, so you can tackle some pretty gnarly single-track terrain, ruts, rocks and jumps if it’s not too heavily loaded. The trade-off, of course, is its lower level of on-road comfort. Though it’s surprisingly smooth at highway speed and cruises right along at 65-70 mph without the engine feeling like it’s going to blow up, the seat is tall, narrow and hard, and the bike can get blown around in high winds. I have no problem riding it on the highway for a couple hours at a stretch before I need a break, though, and the aftermarket offers more comfortable seats, soft luggage (see the review on page 62) and suspension lowering kits as well as lots of bolt-ons to upgrade its off-road chops. Gearing can be easily raised or lowered depending upon how much off-road riding you actually end up doing, and the suspension beefed up as needed.
Thirty years ago, I would have chosen a dirt bike every time for any kind of off-road riding. Today convenience and cost are more important than speed and ultimate capability, which makes a bike like the WR250R dual-sport the obvious choice.
Mark’s Gear (WR250F): Helmet: Fly Racing Formula Vector Goggles: Fly Racing Zone Pro Jersey: Fly Racing Kinetic K120 Pants: Fly Racing Evolution Boots: Fly Racing FR5
The 2020 BMW F 900 XR vs. Yamaha Tracer 900 GT Comparison Test was originally published in the June 2020 issue of Rider Magazine.
Motorcycles that start out as naked or standard models often inspire their manufacturers to build a complementary touring, sport-touring or sport-adventure version before very long. The Honda Gold Wing’s lineage is probably the most familiar example, but I could cite countless others from the mid-1970s to the present day. Attracting more and new customers is the objective of every motorcycle design, so whether going the touring route with a standard bike is to aim a not-so-successful model in a potentially better direction, or it’s to simply expand the fan base for a successful bike to include long-distance riders, the goal is the same.
Such is the case with the two motorcycles we’re comparing here, the new BMW F 900 XR and recently updated Yamaha Tracer 900 GT. Both are based on naked bikes, one also new—the BMW F 900 R—and one that has been a top seller in Yamaha’s lineup since 2013, the MT-09, formerly known as the FZ-09. Although BMW calls the F 900 XR a sport-adventure machine and Yamaha parks the Tracer 900 GT in its sport-touring category, their prices, displacements, semi-fairings, windscreens and mostly upright seating positions make these two bikes quite comparable. In fact, BMW considers the Tracer 900 base model a core competitor for its F 900 XR; we’re pitting it against the fully equipped 2020 Tracer 900 GT because the Tracer 900 hasn’t yet returned as a 2020 model.
You can find in-depth tech details on both the BMW and Yamaha in their individual road tests—the Tracer 900 GT was revamped for 2019, and there’s a full review of it in the October 2019 issue and on our website. You can also find my review of the new F 900 R and XR online and in the May 2020 issue. Like their F 800 R predecessor, these new 900s fill the need for lower-cost twins in the BMW lineup, now with more power from a larger transverse, parallel cylinder 895cc engine and better feel and sound thanks to a new 90-degree offset crank, 270/450-degree firing interval and more effective counterbalancer. The $8,995 F 900 R is the naked/sport roadster, and for an additional $2,700 the F 900 XR adds a semi-fairing with a windscreen and lowers, a taller, wider handlebar, more suspension travel and ground clearance, and lower footpegs. It also has more fuel capacity than the R for sport-adventure riding. Traction control, ABS and two ride modes—Road and Rain—are standard, and you can plug in an optional Ride Modes Pro dongle that enables two more as well as cornering ABS, Dynamic Traction Control and more.
Introduced for 2015 as the FJ-09, the Yamaha Tracer brought sport-touring amenities to the bare-knuckled FZ-09, such as a more upright seating position, a more comfortable, adjustable seat, a semi-fairing with adjustable windscreen and hand guards. Its transverse, in-line 847cc Crossplane triple (CP3) has been a ripper from the start, with a 120-degree crank and counterbalancer that tames much of the vibes. As on the BMW, throttle-by-wire enables electronic features like three riding modes and dual-mode traction control, and the Yamaha’s TBW has been refined several times over the years to smoothen throttle response. For an extra $2,300 over the $10,699 (2019) Tracer 900, the 2020 Tracer 900 GT adds hard locking saddlebags, cruise control, a quickshifter for upshifts, heated grips and a full-color TFT display. The GT received an extensive makeover for 2019, including new bodywork, upgraded suspension, a taller windscreen, comfier seats and a longer swingarm.
Aft of their functional semi-fairings and adjustable windscreens, the BMW twin and Yamaha triple also share 17-inch cast wheel and tire sizes, triple disc brakes with opposed 4-piston radial-mount calipers up front, chain final drive and 6-speed transmissions with slipper clutches (the Yamaha’s also has an assist function). Both have full-color TFT instrument displays, and even though navigating the BMW’s is harder to figure out, it’s much larger and is like watching 4K TV compared to the Yamaha’s small blocky screen. While the F 900 XR is priced substantially lower than the Tracer 900 GT, many of the Yamaha’s standard features like saddlebags, cruise control, heated grips, centerstand and more are optional on the BMW.
Although both bikes have relatively upright seating positions that are comfortable for extended hours in the saddle, the BMW’s wide handlebar is lower and its footpegs higher than the Yamaha’s, cramping the rider a bit more, particularly if you’re taller. The shape of the BMW’s non-adjustable seat also locks you into one position rather than letting you move around, and therefore feels higher than the Yamaha’s in its low position, despite their claimed seat heights. We installed the optional taller windscreen on the F 900 XR to even it up with the Tracer 900 GT, and as a result wind protection is pretty good on both due to their effective screens and fairing lowers. While the F 900 XR feels sportier and more aggressive, overall the Tracer 900 GT is the more comfortable of the two for sport touring, with roomier seating, a taller handlebar and more comfortable seat. Passengers also liked it better for two-up riding, since the seat is softer and roomier than the BMW’s and its grab rails are an easier reach.
The BMW earns the adventure part of its sport-adventure description because it has nearly 7 inches of suspension travel front and rear and ample ground clearance, but with 17-inch wheels at each end I’d keep it well away from the dirt and just enjoy the extra travel on bumpy roads. Its additional ground clearance comes in handy when riding over ruts, low curbs and such, where we bashed the Yamaha’s low-slung underbelly more than once. Good suspension calibration on both bikes matches them up quite closely in corners. The BMW’s non-adjustable 43mm USD fork is stouter overall and more stiffly sprung compared to the Yamaha’s 41mm unit, though the latter is fully adjustable and can be stiffened up for sport riding quite well if that’s your preference. Remote spring preload and rebound damping adjustment are common to both in back, and aside from the BMW’s remote knob being difficult to use, rear suspension is comparably good. Although the Yamaha’s brakes are more than up to the task, its front brake lever needs more bite, while the BMW has good linear feel and a solid bite at the lever combined with an easily modulated pedal. Its stock Michelin Road 5 tires also offer better feel overall than the Dunlop Sportmax D222 OE rubber on the Tracer 900 GT, which we would replace right out of the gate with Dunlop’s premium Roadsmart IIIs.
On the dynamometer the Tracer 900 GT’s triple bests the F 900 XR’s twin in horsepower output, and the XR’s 20-pound weight advantage isn’t enough to give it an edge in a top-speed contest. But the two bikes are pretty closely matched in the torque department where it really matters for day-in, day-out sport touring and commuting. Both offer impressive grunt for slicing through corners without much shifting, accelerating hard from a stop or picking off a slow-moving car or truck with a quick pass. The BMW twin-cylinder’s rumble and the Yamaha triple’s velvet growl give each plenty of character and great sound, though neither has completely tamed some high-frequency vibration that buzzes through the grips enough to be noticeable much of the time, particularly on the Yamaha. Both require premium fuel and return similar fuel economy, though the Yamaha has more range thanks to its larger 4.8-gallon tank versus the BMW’s 4.1. Given their similarity elsewhere we’d pick the Yamaha’s engine simply for its extra power and longer valve inspection intervals.
Once you start bolting accessories onto the BMW that are standard on the Yamaha, the F 900 XR’s price and weight advantage quickly melts away, which leaves us with the Tracer 900 GT as the winner of this comparo. In addition to offering more power, comfort, fuel capacity and lower maintenance costs, with the exception of its tiny TFT display the Yamaha is the better bike and value for sport riding, touring and everything in between.
As the ADV market has been trending toward middleweight machines, perhaps the most anticipated new bike after KTM’s 790 Adventure is Yamaha’s 2021 Ténéré 700, based on the compact and torque-rich Crossplane parallel twin from the MT-07. After being teased since late 2016 with action-packed videos featuring aggressive Dakar-style riding sequences, the Ténéré 700, or T7, is finally here and it’s not nearly as hardcore as the prototype. But that’s OK, because most of us can’t ride like 6-time Yamaha Dakar Champion Stephane Peterhansel through the dunes of Africa.
A quick glance at Yamaha’s lineup reveals a gap in its street-legal but dirt-worthy lineup between the WR250R and the Super Ténéré T12, and there is plenty of room for another player in the middleweight ADV segment currently occupied by BMW, KTM and Triumph. Most manufacturers have fully embraced the electronic aids arms race, with riding modes, IMU’s, ride-by-wire throttle, traction control, wheelie control, lean angle specific ABS, electronic suspension, color TFT dashes and more, which begs the question: how many rider aids do you need or are you willing to pay for? The T7 is a dramatic departure — its sole rider aid is ABS that is switchable when stopped, which works well. As someone who spends most of his time on lightweight dirt bikes without any electronic interventions, I felt immediately comfortable on the Ténéré 700 with its light clutch, smooth shifting and excellent fueling.
Swinging my MX boot over the 34.6-inch-high narrow YZ-style seat (there is also a lower seat, and rear linkage available that lowers the seat by 1.5 inches) reveals a relatively narrow tank and comfortably wide tapered handlebar with half waffle grips protected with plastic hand guards. The foldable serrated footpegs have removable rubber inserts for road riding, and both brake and shift lever have foldable tips like a dirt bike. An aluminum skid plate protects from rock hits (and doubles as a gong at times) and the front fender adjusts 8mm to allow for taller full knobby tires and room for mudpack.
The high vertically shaped LCD display is easy to read with tach, gear display, speed and clock. Using the right grip switchgear, you can toggle through other modes including air temp, two tripmeters, current and average fuel consumption, and disengage the ABS directly on the display. Unfortunately, bombing down a dusty road in a group renders the display almost useless. Bring a soft cloth. And rough roads vibrated the display fairly hard, making us wonder about its longevity. The sturdy crossbar above the LCD should be great for mounting a GPS, GoPro, phone, etc. One 12V outlet is standard and there’s room for another.
The T7 shares Yamaha’s CP2 689cc parallel-twin with its naked sport-standard street bike, the MT-07, which made 68.6 horsepower at 8,800 rpm and 47.6 lb-ft of torque at 6,400 rpm at the rear wheel on the Jett Tuning dyno the last time we tested a 2016 model. This overachieving motor is impressive and has a wide sweet spot throughout the well-spaced gearing. In addition to updates to the ECU, the T7 twin gets a new airbox with a higher snorkel, revised cooling system and upswept exhaust and a final gear ratio of 46/15 vs. 43/16. The rest of bike is all-new, including the narrow double-cradle tubular-steel frame, triangulated (welded-on) subframe, double braced steering head and aluminum swingarm.
I’m a big fan of the T7’s narrow and tall Dakar styling that begs you to go stand-up dirt riding. Its flat YZ-style seat and upswept muffler, slim tail section with side panels that look like number plates complete the look and complement the riding experience. Sitting down at higher speeds the tall windscreen produced more coverage than expected and kept the majority of the wind blast off my chest at highway speeds. I experienced no buffeting wearing an MX helmet and there weren’t any noticeable engine vibes to complain about.
Kevin’s Gear Helmet: Fly Racing Formula Vector Goggles: Fly Racing Zone Jersey and Pants: Fly Racing Kinetic Mesh Boots: Fly Racing FR5 Gloves: Fly Racing Pro Lite
The T7’s sturdy 36-spoke 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels shod with Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tube-type tires that worked reasonably well in the dirt didn’t turn out to be a major compromise on the street. The bike steers quickly and accurately, without the usual vagueness from a 21-inch front, perhaps due to the 48% front and 52% rear weight bias, and felt like a supermoto bike on the twisty paved back roads. In the dirt the lighter front bias helps unweight the front under power.
Our dirt-heavy 140-mile loop at the T7’s introduction in Tennessee was a dirt tracker’s dream, winding through gorgeous sun-filtered forest canopies on forest roads with varying amounts of gravel on top to keep you on your toes. The Crossplane 270-degree crankshaft motor is super torquey and won me over in no time. It’s the hands-down star of the show and provided heaps of confidence in hard pack conditions with a loose top layer whether seated or comfortably standing. Keep the Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires in line or let the rear slide, the choice is yours.
The best dirt section was a Jeep trail that was embedded with rocks and other obstacles like ruts, numerous water bars, sand, broken tree branches, loose rocks and even a rogue black bear. Knowing what we were about to encounter, the sneaky Yamaha staff changed the bikes’ suspension settings before you could say, “Where’s the mosquito repellent?”
The stiffer setup showcased the available adjustment within the stock KYB suspension. The 43mm fork has 8.3 inches of travel and is adjustable for compression and rebound damping, while the rear piggyback shock with progressive linkage has 7.9 inches of travel with adjustable compression and rebound damping and a remote knob for adjusting the spring preload.
Although there’s a decent 9.4 inches of ground clearance to work with and the T7 is lighter than most of the competition at a claimed 452 pounds wet, add another 200 pounds of fully geared rider and you’ll want to reserve the biggest launches for your dirt bike. Even when bottoming out, however, there wasn’t any nervous feedback. We even limboed under a downed tree only to find a larger tree around the corner forcing us to turn around.
No doubt the T7 is a solid package off road at spirited speeds, with one exception, the brakes. As a seasoned dirt rider, I found the both front and rear required higher effort than expected, had vague feedback and required too much attention, particularly in loose dirt combined with the 50/50 tires versus full knobs, and I began using the transmission for help slowing down. The softness might be built-in by design for entry-level riders. Brembo brakes have front twin-piston 28mm floating calipers with 282mm dual discs and the rear relies on a single-piston 34mm floating caliper with a 245mm disc.
Fuel capacity is 4.2 gallons, and at the end of our aggressive ride the last bar on the fuel gauge was blinking after just 130 miles. Past experience with this engine has shown that you can expect more than 200 miles from a tankful with a tamer right wrist. While dual sports connect trails, the T7 will allow you to connect states.
At just $9,999 for the Ténéré 700, the Yamaha is now the low-cost, low-weight leader of the middleweight ADV class if its claimed wet weight holds true on the Rider scale in a week or two. Yamaha also offers a lot of accessories for the T7, including two bundle packs that are a good value. The $1,549.43 Rally Pack includes an engine guard, radiator protector, oversize aluminum skid plate, tank pad, mono-seat rack, chain guide and centerstand, and the $2,264.94 Tour Pack includes an engine guard, centerstand, aluminum side cases and side case mounts and lock set.
After a day on the T7 I was still eager to keep riding. It’s not a hair-on-fire ADV race bike, purpose-built to explode sand dunes. It’s simply a fun on- and off-road motorcycle that also happens to be affordable and could pull light commuter duty as well. With all the craziness in the world today, disappearing into the woods or any other isolated location sounds like a good plan, and that’s not the moonshine talking.
2021 Yamaha Ténéré 700 Website: yamahamotorsports.com Base Price: $9,999 Engine Type: Liguid-cooled, transverse parallel twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl. Bore x Stroke: 80.0mm x 68.6mm Displacement: 689cc Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch Final Drive: O-ring chain Wheelbase: 62.8 in. Rake/Trail: 27.0 degrees/4.1 in. Seat Height: 34.6 in. Claimed Wet Weight: 452 lbs. Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gals., last 1.1-gal. warning light on MPG: 86 octane min (high/avg/low) NA
The Japanese were selling a lot of “street-scramblers” in the late 1960s, but these were merely street bikes with upswept pipes. Yamaha, in particular, was advertising three twin-cylinder “scramblers” in 1968, the same year it brought out the DT-1 Enduro 250 single, soon followed by the AT-1 Enduro 125. That enduro nomenclature made a bike a little more serious about bad roads, but still, it was a compromise, doing neither street nor dirt extremely well.
Despite its imperfections, the 125 changed the world for a lot of Americans. With a gallon of gas in the small 1.8-gallon tank this little charmer weighed in at about 220 pounds, light enough that just about anybody could pick it up. When buyers scooped up all the AT units that first year Yamaha understood it was on to something profitable.
Move along to 1974, minor improvements were made, and model codes were changed. The bike was redesignated the DT125 — the DT now denoting all of the enduros, from 125 to 400. The 125 chassis was quite conventional, with a cradle-style tubular-steel frame, dual shocks at the rear and a pair of 18-inch wheels.
For 1977 a new version of the DT125 appeared known as the DT125 MX, instantly recognizable as it came with a single shock rear end, just like the Yamaha’s YZ Monocross racers. As they liked to say those many years ago, “That looks really cool!” Image has always been important in the motorcycle world, and this had great image. Like the racers it used a cantilever-style swingarm, with a long DeCarbon hydraulic shock running all the way to the steering head, under the gas tank. The lengthy damper proved to be excellent for shock absorption, allowing the rear wheel to follow the bumps and dips rather than bounce over them. A dose of nitrogen gas made sure the shock would not bottom out.
Wheels were a 21-incher on the front with a 2.75 Yokohama trials tire, and an 18-incher at the back, with a 3.50 tire. The Takasago wheels each had a rim lock, a hint as to the expectation of a goodly amount of abuse. The five-inch drum brakes on both wheels were adequate in the dirt but rather weak when used on the pavement. The tubular frame cradled the engine/transmission, with a large backbone concealing the shock absorber. The subframe elevated the saddle to some 32 inches above the ground, the suspension allowing for 10 inches of ground clearance. The center-axle 31mm fork had 30 degrees of rake, five inches of trail, providing some seven inches of travel. Almost 53 inches ran between the axles.
The engine was semi-new, still with an oversquare 56 x 50mm bore and stroke totaling 123cc, but now with radial fins on the cylinder head for better cooling. A 24mm Mikuni slide carburetor using reed-valve technology fed gas and air into the crankcase, while Yamaha’s Autolube sent oil to where it should go. An aluminum sleeve fit into the cylinder, utilizing a five-port induction system, with a compression ratio of 7.2 to 1. Power was on the discreet side, with some 10 horses at 7,000 rpm, but that might have enhanced sales, as it was not enough to get into serious trouble.
The Autolube oil container, holding a little more than a quart, was discreetly concealed behind the left-side panel, and once the panel was removed the reservoir could be swung out and refilled. A little light went on in the instrument cluster when the oil got low. The oil-injection system did vary the amount going into the engine depending on throttle load, which served to reduce oil usage as well as prevent fouling the plug.
To get rid of that troublesome need to occasionally set timing, as well as check points, the DT125 was blessed with a magnetically triggered capacitor-discharge ignition system, better known by its abbreviation, CDI. This benefited the engine by offering a quicker spark, reducing the possibility that any of that oil and gas mixture in the combustion chamber would foul the plug. The magneto also served to keep the small six-volt battery charged.
The exhaust system was well designed. Enduro bikes tend to fall over on occasion, and the idea is that the rider disentangles him- or herself, gets up, lifts the bike, pulls in the clutch, gives a kick and away they go. Presuming no damage to the header pipe or muffler. The DT125 header went up and back under the right side of the tank, and then crossed over to the muffler and spark arrestor on the left side, tucked away behind frame members. Very protected, very efficient.
Getting power to the rear wheel was done via helical gears running the ponies back to a five-plate wet clutch and a very good six-speed transmission, where the top two gears were actually overdrive. A minimalist chain guard covered the chain, with sprockets having 15 and 49 teeth allowing for a solo rider to exceed the 55 mph national speed limit. The relatively comfy saddle was capable of seating two friendly riders. High fenders kept mud-collection problems away, and turn signals kept the feds happy, along with a speedo and tach, indicator lights and a horn.
And to ride? Fun! Within reason. Turn the petcock, pull the choke knob if cold, turn the key and kick to start. The little engine did best, of course, when a rider weighed less than 200 pounds, but it was happy scrabbling in the dirt. With a few minor changes this model lasted through 1981, after which two-stroke street bikes became illegal in the U.S.
“Though she be but little, she be fierce!” — William Shakespeare
Consider for a moment that the best-selling Yamaha motorcycles for the past several years — across all categories — are the 321cc YZF-R3 sport bike and the 689cc MT-07 “hyper naked” sport standard, and you can understand why Yamaha is launching the newest (and smallest) member of the MT family with hopes for an army of future Yama-loyalists pinned to the MT-03’s pointy nose. The 2020 MT-03, essentially a YZF-R3 given the streetfighter treatment — no fairings, a flat handlebar and slightly revised front suspension — is an unapologetic gateway drug to the larger MT-07, MT-09 and beyond, a bike that will draw young, female and/or first-time buyers into dealerships, attracted to its aggressive styling, accessible size and $4,599 price tag.
Unlike some other naked sport bikes, there’s nothing dumbed-down about the MT-03. Its 321cc offset parallel-twin, DOHC engine with 180-degree crank and single counterbalance shaft, 6-speed gearbox, steel frame and swingarm, cast aluminum wheels, LCD display and single-disc front and rear brakes are all identical to the R3 (read the review here). Even its throttle mapping and gear ratios, with 5th and 6th both functioning as overdrives for comfortable freeway cruising, are unchanged. Apart from the flatter handlebar vs. the R3’s clip-ons and the lack of fairings, the biggest change to the MT-03 is its revised front suspension. Inside the 37mm inverted KYB fork is a slightly longer, softer spring with 6mm more preload and reduced compression damping (rebound is unchanged) that better suits the MT’s more upright riding position. The rear KYB shock is identical to the R3’s, with 7-step preload adjustment. Seat height remains a low 30.7 inches and wet weight is a claimed 373 pounds (our R3 tester weighed in at 379 pounds). Unlike the R3, all 2020 MT-03s have ABS as standard, making it $700 less expensive than the ABS-equipped YZF-R3.
Our first ride on the littlest MT took place at the press launch in Austin, Texas, which — despite the cancellation of the SXSW tech conference scheduled to take place concurrent to our event — was still choked with local commuter traffic as we made our way out of the city in search of curvy delights in the nearby Hill Country. The MT-03 lacks a slip and/or assist clutch, but lever pull is still fairly easy (though neither the clutch nor brake levers are adjustable) and the low first gear makes starting out a cinch. Around town the parallel twin, which generated 35 peak horsepower at 10,600 rpm and 19 lb-ft of torque at 9,200 when we last tested it in 2017, is pretty tame and drama-free, but those Jett Tuning dyno figures hint at the rest of the story: when the roads open up, spinning the little MT’s mill past 6,000 rpm rewards the rider with a noticeable boost. This equates to a need to maintain higher rpm through twisty, technical terrain, otherwise even a generous handful of throttle is only just enough to pull you out of the corner.
The upshot of course is that the MT-03 is extremely forgiving, ideal for first-time riders. It also reduces the risk of overcooking it into a turn, where I found the 289mm/2-piston front disc and 220mm/1-piston rear disc brakes to be a bit on the vague side, requiring a solid pull on the lever and offering little feedback. This may have been by design, again aimed at a newer rider’s potential tendency to panic and squeeze/stomp a bit too hard; Yamaha says the MT-03’s brakes were tuned to feel “controllable,” but as an experienced rider I wished for a more aggressive bite. A pair of aftermarket sintered pads would likely solve the problem.
Other than the brakes, I found little else to complain about as we transitioned from city to twisties and back to the city, now in the throes of the evening rush hour. Despite a low seat that folded my 34-inch-inseam legs into a sporty bend, I never felt cramped, although there were some grumbles from other, taller testers (I am 5 feet, 9 inches). The flat handlebar, which is some 1 ½ inches higher and ¾-inch farther back than the R3’s clip-ons, created a comfortable riding position, though the deeply-dished seat kept me feeling somewhat locked in place. And the slightly softer fork suited my size and riding style quite well, compliant enough to not jar my fillings loose over bumps but stiff enough to hold up to aggressive cornering.
Of course, for an entry-price-point machine like the MT-03, specs and performance are often not the primary focus for potential buyers — it’s important the bike looks the part, and the MT-03 delivers. Unlike its R3 cousin, the MT gets full LED lighting, including newly sleek turn signals and a futuristic-looking headlight with slanted position markers. When lit, the effect is something like an angry robotic Cyclops. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but I actually think it’s pretty cool. Whether in sinister Midnight Black or eye-catching Ice Fluo, the 2020 MT-03 is a shining example of how far today’s “entry level” bikes have come, proving once again that even little bikes can be big fun.
2020 Yamaha MT-03
Base Price: $4,599 Website:yamahamotorsports.com Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl. Displacement: 321cc Bore x Stroke: 68.0mm x 44.1mm Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch Final Drive: O-ring chain Wheelbase: 54.3 in. Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/3.74 in. Seat Height: 30.7 in. Claimed Wet Weight: 373 lbs. Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gals., last 0.8 gal. warning light on MPG: 86 AKI min, NA
Yamaha’s MT line of naked sportbikes—the MT-07, MT-09 and MT-10—have earned heaps of praise from Rider staffers since the MT-09 (formerly FZ-09) debuted for 2014. MT stands for “Master of Torque,” and with all three models powered by feisty engines with crossplane-style crankshafts, they live up to the name.
For 2020, Yamaha is adding a new model to its Hyper Naked family, the MT-03. Although it has the same aggressive, mass-forward styling as the larger MTs, the MT-03 does not have a crossplane-style crankshaft. Essentially a naked version of the YZF-R3 sportbike, the MT-03 is powered by the same smooth, counterbalanced, liquid-cooled 321cc parallel twin with a 180-degree firing order, whereas the MT-07’s parallel twin has an uneven 270-degree firing order that gives it a scrappy character.
Inside the MT-03’s engine cases are carburized connecting
rods, lightweight, heat-resistant forged pistons and all-aluminum DiASil
cylinders that provide excellent heat dissipation. The fuel-injected, DOHC,
4-valves-per-cylinder engine has a 11.2:1 compression ratio, a 6-speed
transmission with a wet clutch and chain final drive.
The MT-03’s most distinctive feature is its position lights, a pair of thin, angled LED “eyebrows” where headlights would normally be. Instead, the main headlight is an inconspicuous round LED tucked into the center of the small front cowl. Further adding to the minimalist design are thin LED turn signals.
Connected to the diamond-type tubular-steel frame are a non-adjustable KYB 37mm upside-down fork and a long swingarm with a preload-adjustable Monocross rear shock. There’s 5.1/4.9 inches of front/rear suspension travel, and steering geometry is sporty with 25 degrees of rake and 3.7 inches of trail. Rolling on 17-inch wheels, the MT-03 has a single disc brake front and rear, and ABS is standard. Said to weigh just 373 pounds with its 3.7-gallon tank full, the compact bike has a 54.3-inch wheelbase and a 30.7-inch seat height.
The 2020 Yamaha MT-03 will be available in Ice Fluo and
Matte Raven Black for $4,599 starting in February 2020.
This handy guide includes all new or significantly updated street-legal motorcycles for the 2020 model year. Organized in alphabetical order by manufacturer, it includes photos and links to details or, when available, first rides and road test reviews about each bike. This guide is updated regularly as more new/updated models are announced, and when we’ve had a chance to ride them and report our impressions.
Receiving updates similar to those that other models in the
R family received for 2019, the BMW R 1250 R roadster gets a larger 1,254cc
boxer twin with ShiftCam variable valve timing and valve stroke and updates to
its electronics package. It also gets a mild style refresh with a TFT display,
a DRL option for the halogen headlight and new color options. Although originally
announced as a 2019 model, the R 1250 R didn’t make it to the U.S. in time. BMW
says it will be available as a 2020 model with an MSRP starting at $14,995.
Receiving updates similar to those that other models in the
R family received for 2019, the BMW R 1250 R roadster gets a larger 1,254cc
boxer twin with ShiftCam variable valve timing and valve stroke and updates to
its electronics package. The RS also gets a style refresh that drops the
asymmetrical, winking look of the S 1000 RR in favor of a sporty twin-LED
headlight assembly, and an LED DRL (daytime running light) is an option.
Although announced as a 2019 model, the R 1250 RS didn’t make it to the U.S. in
time. BMW says it will be available as a 2020 model with an MSRP starting at
More power (205 hp), less weight (434 lbs), updated
technology and a new up-spec Motorsport version. The 2020 BMW S 1000 RR is at
the pointy end of the sportbike spear. Pricing starts at $16,995 and bikes will
be in dealerships in summer 2019.
Harley-Davidson’s new LiveWire electric motorcycle is seriously sporty, shockingly fast and whisper-quiet–everything a typical Harley isn’t. And that’s just the way Milwaukee wants it. It’s propelled by a liquid-cooled electric motor that makes a claimed 105 horsepower and 86 lb-ft of torque, drawing power from a 15.5 kWh battery that offers, according to H-D, a range of 146 miles in the city and 95 miles of combined stop-and-go and highway riding. Single-speed transmission offers twist-and-go convenience, and styling, ergonomics and components are the sportiest offered on any Harley-Davidson. MSRP starts at $29,799.
The 2020 Suzuki Katana features styling cues that pay direct homage to the 1981 original, and it’s built around the potent GSX-S1000 999cc inline-four. It features ABS, traction control, Easy Start and Low RPM Assist, as well as a twin-spar aluminum frame, braced superbike-style swingarm, KYB suspension, dual front Brembo monoblock four-piston calipers, 310mm floating rotors and a model-specific LCD panel. We got a chance to ride the new Katana in Japan last March, but pricing and availability are TBD.
Announced in the fall of 2018, we’re still waiting to see the
new Ténéré 700 (T7, for short) in the flesh–Yamaha says it will be coming to
the U.S. in the second half of 2020 as a 2021 model. We know it will be
powered by the 689cc CP2 parallel twin used in the MT-07, housed in a new
tubular steel double-cradle frame. Other details include a 62.6-inch wheelbase,
9.5 inches of ground clearance, a fully adjustable USD 43mm fork with 8.3
inches of travel and a remote preload-adjustable rear shock with 7.9 inches of
Yamaha has updated its flagship sportbikes, the YZF-R1 and the track-ready YZF-R1M, for 2020, with both featuring refinements to their CP4 crossplane crankshaft engines, an augmented electronic rider aids package, enhanced suspension and redesigned bodywork. MSRP is $17,300 for the YZF-R1 and $26,099 for the YZF-R1M (the latter is available in limited quantities through Yamaha’s online reservation system).
The first new model from Zero Motorcycles since 2016, the 2020 SR/F’s streetfighter look and steel trellis frame blur the styling lines between gas and electric motorcycles. Powered by a new ZF75-10 IPM (Interior Permanent Magnet) motor and ZF14.4 lithium-ion battery, it delivers a claimed 140 lb-ft of torque and 110 horsepower. It also features Bosch’s Motorcycle Stability Control System and Zero’s new Cypher III operating system. Pricing starts at $18,995.
Yamaha has taken the wraps off its latest-generation flagship sportbikes, the 2020 YZF-R1 and the track-ready YZF-R1M, with both featuring refinements to their CP4 crossplane crankshaft engines, an augmented electronic rider aids package, enhanced suspension and redesigned bodywork.
The 998cc inline-four powering the R1/M was already potent, and for 2020 it gets new cylinder heads, fuel injectors, finger-follower rocker arms and camshaft profiles. Controlling the beast is an all-new Accelerator Position Sensor with Grip (APSG) ride-by-wire system with Yamaha’s Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) that eliminates throttle cables and reduces weight while providing smoother throttle operation.
A robust electronics package centered around Yamaha’s proprietary six-axis IMU now lets riders choose between two intervention modes for enhanced Brake Control (BC): BC1 is optimized for upright, straight-line braking and BC2 increases intervention timing deeper into the lean, for enhanced braking into corners.
A new Engine Brake Management (EBM) system also allows the rider to select between three levels of engine braking force. Both the BC and EBM are adjustable through the onboard Yamaha Ride Control and Yamaha’s Y-TRAC smartphone (Android only) and tablet app (Android and iOS).
Premium Öhlins Electronic Racing Suspension (ERS) has been a staple of the R1M’s chassis performance, and a new NPX pressurized front fork with a gas cylinder built into the front fork axle bracket, along with revised rear shock settings to complement the performance of the front fork, are features of the new 2020 model.
The 2020 YZF-R1 also receives suspension performance enhancements courtesy of a new KYB front fork with a new internal shim stack design and a KYB rear shock with revised internal settings. Together, the changes result in smoother suspension dampening paired with an improved feeling of contact and grip with the street or track surface.
Lastly, redesigned bodywork creates a claimed 5.3-percent increase in aerodynamic efficiency while reducing wind noise and pressure on the rider when in a tucked position, and improved comfort comes from smoother side section where the rider’s legs contact the bike. The R1M also gets a new carbon fiber tail cowl.
The 2020 YZF-R1M will initially be available in limited quantities exclusively through Yamaha’s online reservation system in a Carbon Fiber color scheme for $26,099. Dealerships will begin receiving reserved orders in September. To place a reservation, click here.
The 2020 YZF-R1 will be available in Team Yamaha Blue or Raven for $17,300, and will begin arriving in dealerships in September.
You probably wouldn’t think that new riders looking for a cheap and unintimidating starter bike would have much in common with budget-minded veterans who neither need nor want the expense and complexity of new models. But the requirements of both often seem to converge around middleweights from the mid-1990s. At the center of this particular Venn diagram is Yamaha’s Seca II, a bike whose modest specifications belie its versatility, and whose used price is such a bargain you almost can’t afford to not buy one.
The Seca’s 599cc engine has dual overhead cams, two valves per cylinder, four 28mm Mikuni carbs and a six-speed gearbox. There’s little in that list to make a sportbike rider’s heart beat faster, but that wasn’t what Yamaha was after. With 61 horsepower on tap, the 452-pound Seca is sufficient to introduce novice riders to the heady joys of acceleration while keeping the transportation-focused ones from becoming hood ornaments on the freeway.
What the Seca lacks in sheer excitement it makes up for in practicality, usually as a backup for your hot-blooded sportbike or your elephantine tourer. The Seca won’t take up much of your weekends with maintenance or repair; the understressed engine routinely sends the odometer past the 50,000-mile mark with little more than regular oil changes and the occasional chain service. Some high-mile engines sound like they have a dollar’s worth of loose change in the crankcase, but synching the carbs and adjusting the valves usually clears it up.
One very large red flag is if the starter spins without turning over the engine. A stripped idler gear might be the cause, and it’s not an easy fix–the crankcases have to be split to get at it. Leaky valve-cover and clutch-cover gaskets are common but easily fixed.
The Seca’s chassis mimics the engine’s no-big-deal philosophy. The tubular-steel frame has a 38mm non-adjustable front fork, a single rear shock with preload adjustment, a 320mm single disc brake and a 245mm rear. Cast wheels are shod with a 110/80-17 front tire and 130/70-18 rear. The seat is 30.3 inches off the deck and, while not actually built for touring, is tolerable for one or two riders on day rides. Mileage is typically in the 45-55 mpg range, depending on how you load the bike and how hard you flog it.
The fairing does a decent job of blunting the wind. But like all plastic parts, and especially those on older bikes, it’s expensive to replace, so look closely for cracks around the mounting points and the windscreen, and be prepared to lower your offer substantially depending on what you find. Also inspect the fuel petcock for leaks. Faulty ones let gas drain into the engine, leading to the aforementioned starter idler gear losing its teeth as it strains against flooded cylinders.
The Seca’s reputation for reliability is sometimes its downfall, as owners neglect necessary chores in favor of more road time. Check used examples for leaks, loose steering-head bearings and crash damage. Shine a light in the tank and look for rust caused by water in the gas. The Seca is notoriously cold-blooded, but if it can’t be ridden cleanly off the choke after 10 minutes something’s up. Book prices range from just under a grand for a 1992 model to $1,300 for a ’98.
Yamaha XJ600 Seca II
Pros: A solid and reliable middleweight that won’t keep you up late at night in the garage. A learner bike worth keeping.
Cons: All the flair of vanilla ice cream. Gets you there with little fuss, and less excitement.
Specs: Displacement: 599cc Final drive: Chain Wet Weight: 452 lbs. Fuel capacity: 4.6 gals. Seat Height: 30.3 in.
After the success of the Niken, the world’s first production Leaning Multi-Wheeled motorcycle introduced last year, Yamaha has launched a sport-touring version called the Niken GT, with a larger windscreen, heated grips, comfort seats, saddlebags, a centerstand and more. With neutral, natural steering feel and an incredible amount of front-end grip, the Niken must be experienced to be believed.