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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
To start, I've been riding for 47 years, starting with a beautiful black/chrome Yamaha 1963 YG1 (80cc) as a commuter in 1974. I've owned several bikes since, including a 73 Kawi Z1, 75 Yamaha XS650 Electric, 04 Aprilia Falco, 79 Kawi KZ 650, a couple Honda dirt bikes, etc... I tend to own one bike at a time, and put a lot of miles on them. I have modified many, and left others stock. So, I did not buy the R3 as a starter bike.

I chose the R3 after searching through dozens of alternatives. I was looking for something light, nimble, easy to ride, attractive, and modern. I wanted to end the constant tuning of carburetors, and wanted a water cooled engine. I was also looking for a new bike, or near new. I am not in the need of a track bike, or something that can drag race a Corvette. I don't ride bikes to be a street terror, I ride for the enjoyment of the weather, countryside, and being in the wind.

I wanted to spend no more than $5K out the door (taxes, registration, etc.. included).

My R3 is a 2017, purchased in 2020 from a dealer. It had 342 miles on it, as the previous owner did not enjoy riding ( so it sat in a garage unused), but had already installed a lowering kit and some other mods that kept it from getting full retail value. I have since removed all of the aftermarket parts and returned it to stock. The only changes I have made to the bike is to remove a couple of fairing stickers, shaved the passenger pegs (machined an extra set of mounts), installed the rear solo fairing, and built a pillion seat bag setup (from a purchased seat spare) for days when I need to carry stuff. Due to my adult weight, I updated the rear shock to the 2019 part (ebay find from a bike with 300 miles on it), and changed fork springs from the stock ,65Kg to .825Kg rate (Traxxon).
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I find the R3 the best bike I have ever owned. It is flexible, nimble, quick enough to be fun, and comfortable. It's exactly what I was looking for. It is faster than all of the older bikes I have owned, and lighter. It's not even close to being as quick as the Falco (which I never really liked, and got rid of because it was more bike than is needed for any street riding I do.)

The R3 motor is a wonderful little power plant. It will putt around in parking lots and slow traffic without complaint, then rip to redline when its time to have some real fun. It revs easily, is smooth, responsive, and predictable. I have learned to match gear to power demand, which is necessary due to its higher RPM power delivery. While the bark of a liter bike has its charms, the R3 delivers a very enjoyable sound.

Of all the bikes I have owned that has inspired a compulsion to ride at every available opportunity, the R3 and the XS650 are the top of the list. I put thousands of miles on the 650. I find the R3 better in every way. It is a pleasure to ride, whether on a commute or in the country. The riding position is spot on (5'9", 30" inseam), and while the seat is a little hard, it is fine for 60 to 90 minute rides before taking a break.

I rode several other small bikes, including the Ninja 400, R300, RC390, MT03... and found the R3 fit me best of all. The RC was too much of a racer ergos and goofy looks for me, the R300 too boring and weak, and the the Ninja less comfortable. The MT03 vs R3 showed me that even a little fairing helps control wind better than the naked bike. The MT03 sitting position is too upright, which makes the seat too hard and the wind a bigger force to deal with. The R3 is less tiring than the other over longer rides. I did not find the 2019+ R3 riding position better, I find it worse for me, by putting more weight on my wrists.

The clutch is smooth, and the brakes predictable. While I do appreciate the dual front disks from other bikes, I believe that the single disc on the R3 is more than capable for a bike of its weight, and 110 front tire. More would not be better, as the tire would not take a lot more than what the brakes are capable of. Everyone should be using both brakes when stopping, and the R3 setup rewards the rider for using both front and rear together. I find the softness of the rubber brake lines (over braided) helps with smooth brake application, si see no need to change that.

I do have occasional issues with false neutrals, from not fully shifting into 2nd in a rush. A change in riding shoe made a big difference in this. I have also had to learn how to use the throttle to control engine braking, as the 11.2:1 compression ratio twin can be a little aggressive in off-throttle application at higher engine speeds. The Aprilia Falco had a slipper clutch to solve this. With some practice, I find that the R3 is fine without the trick clutch, but it's something that has to be learned, as chopping the throttle at any engine speed above 5000 RPM is too harsh. A little judicious and careful throttle application solves this, as does delaying down shifts to avoid higher engine RPMs in deceleration.

I am getting between 52 and 55 MPG.

I like the earlier dash of the 2017 over the all digital 2019+ display. The updated 2019 rear shock and adjustment to stiffer fork spring was an excellent adjustment for my weight, controlling pitch just fine for what I am doing on the bike.

I don't have any complaints about the R3, and expect to put some miles on it over the years to come.
 

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Excellent write up Kevin, thanks for that. Looks like you found a very clean bike. Can you elaborate on your impression of the Ninja 400, compared to the R3? You mention that you found the Ninja less comfortable - was it too upright or too forward-leaning? Any other thoughts on the Ninja 400 vs the R3 ?
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Excellent write up Kevin, thanks for that. Looks like you found a very clean bike. Can you elaborate on your impression of the Ninja 400, compared to the R3? You mention that you found the Ninja less comfortable - was it too upright or too forward-leaning? Any other thoughts on the Ninja 400 vs the R3 ?
The seat on the Ninja felt like it leaned forward into the tank, while the bars were a little too low. The big difference was that the bike felt less refined. The 400 makes more power, but not a huge amount, so wasn't relevant for me. It all comes down to personal preference between them. To me, both are more fun fir street use than the RC390, the R3 feels more flickable, the Ninja more drag race worthy. The R3 nicest aesthetically off the floor (Ninja okay, RC the least attractive.) The RC would likely be better on track stock, and the Ninja for two up riding. The R3 seems more suited to commuting and mixed environments. The R3 also has more available aftermarket bits and race prep stuff for those so inclined. I just found, that when all the boxes were ticked, I came back to the R3.
 

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The seat on the Ninja felt like it leaned forward into the tank, while the bars were a little too low. The big difference was that the bike felt less refined. The 400 makes more power, but not a huge amount, so wasn't relevant for me. It all comes down to personal preference between them. To me, both are more fun fir street use than the RC390, the R3 feels more flickable, the Ninja more drag race worthy. The R3 nicest aesthetically off the floor (Ninja okay, RC the least attractive.) The RC would likely be better on track stock, and the Ninja for two up riding. The R3 seems more suited to commuting and mixed environments. The R3 also has more available aftermarket bits and race prep stuff for those so inclined. I just found, that when all the boxes were ticked, I came back to the R3.
Thanks for your thoughts on the Ninja. I've been toying with the idea of eventually replacing my 2018 R3 with a Ninja 400 but, the more I think about it, it makes no sense. It isn't enough of an upgrade to warrant the additional $2000 Cnd (at least) I'd have to fork out to upgrade. Like you, I love my R3, and I haven't become bored with it. So why change?
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks for your thoughts on the Ninja. I've been toying with the idea of eventually replacing my 2018 R3 with a Ninja 400 but, the more I think about it, it makes no sense. It isn't enough of an upgrade to warrant the additional $2000 Cnd (at least) I'd have to fork out to upgrade. Like you, I love my R3, and I haven't become bored with it. So why change?
I can't see moving from n R3 to a Ninja for street riding either. I don't see the Ninja as an upgrade... It is a lateral move IMHO. There is just not enough difference to justify the move, and the likelihood of a feeling of some loss from the difference is high. I could see moving up to an R7, as the difference in weight is small, and the ergonomics and overall dimensions, are very close. But the cost is almost double... so the need or desire for the added power would have to be very strong. The other route is to just enjoy the R3. I've been down the road of chasing incremental changes, and the draw of big horsepower... it's never as good as it seems, and often worse. I'm getting too old to care what the CC snobs care about what I ride, life is just too short. Enjoy the ride, have fun, and who knows what will come along that becomes so irresistible that the R3 is shifted on.
 

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Awesome review. I think there are quite a few people, me included, who bought the R3 after riding other bikes for many years, rather than as a first motorcycle. As your review also suggests, it really tends to check some important boxes. I got my new 2019 for $4,900 OTD, and I have been averaging 55 mpg -- including plenty of spirited hooliganism and 85 mph highway cruising mixed with "normal" commuting. It's also, as you say, "fast enough to be fun", even though it's darn sure no liter bike; 100 mph is quite easily achievable, and too much more than that is really asking for jail time, anyway. That's actually part of why I chose this bike in particular: it kind of helps you control yourself because, even though it has what it NEEDS power-wise, it WON'T EVER do 150+ LOL, and unlike a 1,000, you can routinely wind it out to 12,000 RPM -- even around town if you want -- without worrying about getting arrested. I couldn't agree more about the phenomenal nature of the powerplant and fueling -- what gems they are! I for one really love the high-RPM power delivery characteristics. It's still got enough torque to putter around town just fine at 4,000 RPM, if you're in no hurry. Anyway, I don't mean to write another review here or anything, I just find myself agreeing with a lot of what you've said about this model. Nicely done.

Also, I'm actually not a big fan of the Ninja 400, either. I just think the R3 is better in every way except outright power: fit and finish, clutch, chassis/ergos, looks, character/cool factor.

Note on shifting the R3 (something I really wish I had known before ever riding it): I discovered that the best way to avoid those annoying missed shifts from 1 to 2 is to make sure that your toe stays pressed all the way inward toward the center of the bike while you shift. I found that the issue was actually my toe slipping partly or completely up and to the left. After making that adjustment several weeks ago, I don't think I've missed even one shift. I just hope I haven't damaged anything by missing them and revving to 12,500 in neutral more times than I'd care to admit...sigh. Anyway, we live, and we learn.
 

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The seat on the Ninja felt like it leaned forward into the tank, while the bars were a little too low. The big difference was that the bike felt less refined. The 400 makes more power, but not a huge amount, so wasn't relevant for me. It all comes down to personal preference between them. To me, both are more fun fir street use than the RC390, the R3 feels more flickable, the Ninja more drag race worthy. The R3 nicest aesthetically off the floor (Ninja okay, RC the least attractive.) The RC would likely be better on track stock, and the Ninja for two up riding. The R3 seems more suited to commuting and mixed environments. The R3 also has more available aftermarket bits and race prep stuff for those so inclined. I just found, that when all the boxes were ticked, I came back to the R3.
I don't really have anything nice to say about the RC (even though, yes, it will perform well on track...for a little while, anyway...) haha.

I have done a little two-up riding locally and found that results were a bit mixed. Passenger was ~125 pounds. It would still do 100 mph and easily pass big-rigs on flats (albeit needing 9-11k that much more), and it still seemed to pull hills okay for the most part, but I was definitely getting the impression that it would sometimes struggle to maintain high speeds on steeper hills. I found that I needed to always be a gear lower than normal in order to achieve the same results -- rendering my sixth gear utterly useless for two-up (my bike is geared to 16/42 -- MUCH taller than stock; a stock bike would still occasionally need fifth gear, especially with a heavier passenger). It will certainly get you both places absolutely fine if you're okay needing to slow down to 65 here or there, but you WILL need to do that sometimes when riding two-up. I don't think there would ever be any issues maintaining 65 even with a heavier passenger (much heavier is going to exceed its technical weight capacity, anyway).
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
[Note on shifting the R3 (something I really wish I had known before ever riding it): I discovered that the best way to avoid those annoying missed shifts from 1 to 2 is to make sure that your toe stays pressed all the way inward toward the center of the bike while you shift. I found that the issue was actually my toe slipping partly or completely up and to the left. After making that adjustment several weeks ago, I don't think I've missed even one shift. I just hope I haven't damaged anything by missing them and revving to 12,500 in neutral more times than I'd care to admit...sigh. Anyway, we live, and we learn.
[/QUOTE]

Good point on shifting. I purchased a new pair of riding shoes, as my regular hiking boots interfered with the lever, and gave me no feel if where the shifter was. Also adjusted the lever position a tiny bit. Now, missed shifts are rare, and caused by getting in a rush. I experienced this on other small displacement bikes, including the test on the Ninja. The KTM forums talk a lot about higher gear false neutrals and missed shifts. So, I believe it may have something to do with smaller gear and synchro/dog faces on lower CC gear boxes. I also believe that the box is designed to shift quickly, so is tuned for a light touch - which would be the size of offset and notching in the selector spool. My larger CC bikes never had this issue, but they felt far more notchy when shifting. Interestingly, the CB300 gear box felt clunky in comparison, more like a larger bike, but never a false neutral. Rider forum complaints there are of it being hard to shift.
 

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I'm glad you like your R3. For myself, I like it, now that I have modified it to correct its shortcomings, but it's not exactly my favorite bike of all time, and in some ways I liked the 300 Ninja I had more. The way I judge how much a bike is right for me is when I laugh inside my helmet. My Triumph Street Triple R often would make me do that, and so did my Kawasaki Versys, and also my Yamaha XS650, which I had also modified a lot. Beyond that, the most exhilarating bike I ever rode was a Honda CBX, but they're absurdly expensive to own and maintain. You'll spend an easy $20K acquiring one and then getting it to run the way it should. And I would never consider any KTM. They look weird and ungainly and I'd never ride an orange bike!
 

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Every transmission is different. One thing I started doing recently is holding the shift lever up or down until well after the clutch lever is fully released, or for a couple seconds after qs/ab action.
 

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Every transmission is different. One thing I started doing recently is holding the shift lever up or down until well after the clutch lever is fully released, or for a couple seconds after qs/ab action.
preloaded shift lever always get me a perfect shift.
 

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I have to agree, it's the best all-rounder that i've ever owned. I'm glad i'm not the only rider who chose the R3 not as a beginner bike. 28 years of riding & i used to ride 2-strokes exclusively in my youth, lol.
My current ride is the 2015, going on 6 years now. What a great bike! Never complains or let me down. It does whatever is required be it a leisure ride, daily commuter, shopping cart & of course, carving up twisties for a laugh. I sometimes end up taking longer routes to get home 😄
Oh, i tend to notice young riders getting bored with it & upgrading to bigger bikes/supersports. I feel old now 😂
 
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