Faired motorcycles have commanded a condescending effect on the Indian motorcyclist for long and while there weren’t too many options to worship in the premium entry level segment until now, things have changed, and how. Bringing premium sportbike feel and performance to the table, one can now pick from the KTM RC390, the Kawasaki Ninja 300 and the latest entrant in the ring, the Yamaha YZF-R3.
So while it might seem easy to narrow down the choice, with only two other options to shoot down, it is a slightly perplexing situation to be in. As we found out when one of our friends approached us with a few questions. He asked us if which one among these three jostles straight into your fast revving heart? And which one teleports your thoughts to far off destinations, gets your body there in style and gets there quick? We liked those questions and quickly got to work.
All three motorcycles here are built to cater to a crowd that wants to shoot from the hip and settle in the fast lane. We spent a raunchy December day then, wringing the hell out of the little Yamaha and the other two motorcycles. It ended pretty late in the night, right between the sheets. Here’s what happened.
Powered by a 321cc, parallel twin that releases 42 PS at an elevated 10,750 rpm and 29.6 Nm of torque at 9000 clicks, the Yamaha R3 seems like a bored woman in the lower band of the rev range. However, once you dial those revs beyond the 6500 rpm mark, it moans all the way till the shift light comes flashing at 11,000 clicks and the motor reaches peak orgasm at 12,500 rpm, where the limiter cuts in. While you’re making the R3 dance to your tunes, the motor does tend to sound gruff, sending merry sensations to your palms and the pegs. Nothing to complain about though, we started liking the tingling after a while. Dare we say, it even brought back some memories from the 2-stroke era.
Progress through the gears is like fast forwarding a post midnight video. So switching between cogs is fast, smooth and gets you precisely to the point where the desirable action is. If you like, 3rd gear will take you all the way till 120 kph, 4th manages to kiss the 148 kph marker and the 5th toe movement gets you till a speedometer indicated 170 kph. Oh there’s a sixth cog too, but you’d hardly need it when in the mood to spank. When you’re spent, the little Yammie can cruise at a ginger 100 kph, the needle just about nudging the 6000 rpm mark in top gear. You may choose to cruise, or putter, which the R3 manages without any hiccups or protest.
In comparison, the KTM RC 390 is a teenager with raging hormones on two wheels. Where the Yamaha has an uncanny ability to make everything seem under control, even when it is gyrating to some high bpm music, the RC390 is just the opposite. The faired KTM gets to its limiter in a helter skelter dash, which is great when you’re in the mood and 18, but not when you’re 29 and have learnt to dial down the heat when the milk comes to a boil. The always over-the-edge characteristics of the RC 390, courtesy of that torquey but perturbed motor, doesn’t make it easy to live with everyday. It will blow your feathers and knock your pants on any given day, but then if you do like to pause for some cuddle after a lot of action, you’re knocking on the wrong door. Having said all that, the RC 390 is the most powerful machine of the trio here, thumping its chest with 43.5 PS of power at 9000 rpm and 35 Nm of twist at 7000 rpm. Harnessing all the power though takes some getting used to. The RC 390 isn’t your friend, right from the word Go.
The Kawasaki Ninja 300, unlike the R3, has a wider powerband which can be exploited right till the 13,000 rpm mark. Unlike the gruff characteristics of the other two motors, the 296cc parallel twin on the Ninja 300 feels like fondue, right till the limit. The flexible nature of the engine means that you don’t have to be in the peaky end of things, all the time. However, with the super refined parallel twin dishing out only 39 PS at 11,000 rpm and 27 Nm of torque at 10k clicks, the Ninja has to deal with being the heftiest and also the least powerful motorcycle among the three. Don’t let it turn you off though, because if going almost just as fast as the other two without much drama is how you like it, you’d love the Ninja 300. Older women don’t have to scream it out from the top of a roof you see.
Ride, Handling & Comfort
Although it may look like a track tool, the Yamaha R3 isn’t the sharpest knife that will cut through lap times. The diamond frame is not what you’d call blunt either, but it isn’t a match to the alacrity of the Deltabox found on the R15. However, it works wonderfully well in everyday conditions, where you aren’t hell bent on entering every corner barking like a hound. You may if you feel like and the R3 will oblige and reward. But you see what plays spoilsport is the sort of ordinary MRF rubber the R3’s blue wheels come circled in. The tyres provide decent grip once warm, but then even after that, adhesion is average if you plan to corner like a devil, the tyres giving up way before the chassis.
The Yamaha R3 maintains rock steady composure at high speeds, in a straight line and bends alike. The suspension, although setup slightly on the firmer side, takes on undulations without unsettling the ride. The whole package elevates your abilities and remains rewarding, even for newbies. For everyday conditions, the R3 has been setup just right, where the seating position is joyfully comfortable and there was hardly any fatigue we experienced even after about 10 continous hours in the saddle. Having said that, some folks will feel the want to replace the higher set clip-ons and the forwardish set pegs with lower clips and rearsets for trackdays.
The KTM RC 390 hides nothing about its aggressive, for the track intent. It is a focused motorcycle that doesn’t care a damn about comfort and does nothing to wrap a warm blanket around the rider. However, when you are ready to match your moves to the RC’s tunes, it is a sinfully rewarding motorcycle to ride. More so for aggressive riders, who find their abilities backed with gusto by those super sticky Metzeler tyres and the compact Trellis frame. Of the three motorcycles here, it is the RC 390 that will wink back at you, every time you dip into a lean, and torque yourself out of the bend, boosting your audacity, corner after corner, all day long. Unfortunately, everyday isn’t a Sunday and during all other times, the RC’s aggressive seating setup, stiffly sprung suspension and edgy mechanicals will make you get off and ponder. If you can live with that though, congratulations!
Coming to the Kawasaki Ninja 300, it almost mirrors the Yamaha to find a balance between things and rather than one single trait, focuses on versatility. It isn’t an eager corner carver though and scores the least on flickability here. Turn in is slow, but it isn’t a slouch around bends and will almost keep up with the other two, won’t run rings around them though. Like the R3, the Ninja 300 is also marred by rubber that fails to keep up with the motorcycle’s abilities and cries out for an upgrade. Maybe we’ve all been spoilt by Metzelers. The saddle though is a sweet place to be, even if it means that you have to stay glued there all day. Propelled by that creamy motor, the Ninja 300’s tubular diamond frame offers a sure footed, solid ride on the go and rather than attacking a track, we’d take the Ninja to the hills, watch the sun go down, eat some ice cream and be back in time for eating what answers the doorbell. You’d arrive fatigue free you know.
Brakes, Equipment and Everything else…
The Yamaha R3 has the best brakes here by far. Even without ABS and not so sticky rubber, you may grab a handful or gently nudge the lever and the brakes do exactly what you summon them for. The front unit packs just the right amount of bite, while the rear disc is a decent accomplice. What also helps the R3 immensely is the engine’s characteristics, where it drops a lot of revs, the moment you start rolling off the throttle.
The brakes on the RC 390 enjoy added coverage of an ABS system, but they somehow feel wooden and for a bike that picks up momentum this fast, the RC definitely cries out for better anchors. The brakes on the Kawasaki aren’t exceptional either and only seem adequate, lacking in bite, although the petal shaped units will make you want to believe otherwise.
The RC 390 is the only motorcycle here to come fitted with ABS as standard, while the Ninja 300 feels the need for a Slipper Clutch, which we feel isn’t really required on a motorcycle of this class. The Yamaha R3 is bare naked in comparison, but to be honest, it is the only motorcycle here, riding which you would probably never complain of such equipment deficit. The R3 is extremely friendly and forgiving as a motorcycle, and even beginners will find it easy to bring it back in line, when things start getting hairy. And for that to happen, you’d have to be a big buffoon in your head. In most situations though, the Yamaha will simply refuse to tie itself in knots.
Among the three, the RC 390’s instrument cluster has too much casio going on inside and it’s difficult to read what’s happening on the go, to the point where you just stop caring. The Ninja 300’s analogue-digital combo looks dated and that large horizontal rev counter would suit an 80’s car much better. The Yamaha R3’s unit isn’t all that striking either, but delivers all the information in a pleasant white lit background and is easy to read on the move.
We managed to extract 22 kpl from the Yamaha R3, riding it like we stole it, all day. Sane riding will definitely push that number up by a good margin. With a 17-liter fuel tank, the Ninja will cover some more distance though, although the economy figure was similar to the Yamaha, in the 25 kpl ballpark. Fitted with a 9.5-liter fuel tank, it is the RC 390 that will start worrying about fuel first, although we managed to extract a decent figure of 28 kpl from that big single.
Aren’t you forgetting something?
We know we haven’t shed light on the looks part, but since that area is subjective, we’d leave it for individual vision to decide. If you ask us though, the Yamaha R3 looks timeless and will age with grace. It will continue to look luminous even five years down the line, and the same cannot be said about the RC 390. Like the Yammie, the Ninja 300 too is a treat for the vision and there’s some flair about all the machines here, which makes them desirable and appear fast, even at standstill.
Build quality of both the Ninja and the R3 appears bulletproof and every panel, switch and equipment reeks of quality workmanship. The same cannot be said about the KTM, as things feel crude and bare in comparison. That robust, indestructible feel is missing and that built-to-cost feeling raises its ugly head, when compared to the Japanese machines here. KTM wouldn’t even sell you the RC 390 with black wheels or offer another shade for the bodywork, which leaves you with just one choice. You’re forced to like the color orange. A lot of people do, I don’t.
What about the original question?
The first to walk out of that door is the Ninja 300. It might be the one which initiated things in this segment, but being the heaviest, least powered and the priciest here, it fails to build a strong case for itself. It still looks striking though and that smooth motor will win many hearts, but it does need an upgrade now.
The Yamaha R3 is like a book elegantly bound, but that asking price translates the text in a language that many won’t speak. Of the three motorcycles here, the Yamaha is the easiest to ride fast, has been built with love, looks fantastic, sounds great and if you can afford or digest that asking price, go on and get one for yourself.
Which leaves us with the KTM RC 390. At the price for which it is being offered, it does almost everything that the other two motorcycles here manage, does that with one cylinder less and is our pick of the lot because there isn’t another option really. Agreed that it lacks the finesse and easy going nature of the Japs and cycle parts might not exude the same quality, but the price difference between the KTM RC 390 and the other two is so large, you’d fit an entire KTM Duke 200 in there. That way you have two birds, one feathered, one skinned, none in the bushes, both in your garage. Hope it answers. Ciao!
A big thank you to Dipesh and Jitesh for getting along their motorbikes for this test.
Here are the technical specifications of these motorcycles:
|Specifications||Kawasaki Ninja 300||KTM RC390||Yamaha YZF-R3|
|Type||Parallel twin, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke||Single-cylinder, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled||Two-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC, 4-valves|
|Maximum Power||39PS||43.5 PS||42 PS|
|Maximum Torque||27Nm||35Nm||29.6 Nm|
|Transmission||6-speed with slipper clutch||6-speed||6-speed|
|Frame||Tube Diamond, Steel||Tubular space frame made from steel tubes, powder-coated||Diamond|
|Wheelbase (mm)||1,405||1,340 +/-15mm||1,380|
|Seat Height (mm)||785||830||780|
|Ground Clearance (mm)||125||157||160|
|Kerb Weight||172kg||159kg||169kg (wet weight)|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||17-litres||9.5-litres||14-litre|
|Front||Telescopic Fork||WP Suspension Up Side Down||Telescopic fork|
|Rear||Bottom-Link Uni-Trak with Gas-Charged Shock and 5-Way Adjustable Preload||WP Suspension Monoshock||Swingarm Mono Suspension|
|Front||Single 290 mm Petal Disc||300 mm disc with four-piston radial fixed caliper||298 mm Hydraulic single disc|
|Rear||Single 220 mm Petal Disc||230 mm disc with single-piston floating caliper||220 mm Hydraulic single disc|
|ABS||No||Standard – Bosch 9MB two-channel ABS||No|
|Price (On-road Mumbai)||Rs 4.12 lakh||Rs 2.42 lakh||Rs 3.98 lakh|