A2 licence 300cc Group Test: Yamaha v Honda v KTM v Kawasaki

Michael Mann - Web Editor, Bike Social
By Michael Mann
MannOnABike Web editor of Bike Social. Been riding bikes since he was four-years-old. Fast and smooth road rider, just about hangs on in a track day quick group.

The Young Pretenders: Junior Supersports head-to-head

Yamaha R3 v Honda CBR300R v KTM RC390 v Kawasaki Ninja 300

Yamaha YZF-R3Honda CBR300RKTM RC390Kawasaki Ninja 300

Over the past two and a bit years a new and fiercely competitive motorcycling sector has quickly emerged vying for the attention of the A2-licence holder in a bid to ease them into larger capacity riding.

Before 2013’s licence amends (which restricted riders under 24 to 46.6bhp) nobody batted an eyelid if riders legally jumped from riding a 15bhp 125cc to a 124bhp 600cc.

The new A2 category appeases newcomers and less experienced riders by providing bikes that are easy to manage and a whole heap of fun for those with several years' experience under their belts.

The sub-400cc junior supersports sector now has four main challengers for its throne - the Honda CBR300R, KTM RC390, Yamaha YZF-R3, and the Kawasaki Ninja 300.

We put them through their paces on road and track to look at strengths and weaknesses, including economy and performance.

Here's the video review:

With plenty of comfort and price tags between £3999 - £5200, these lightweight machines are easy-to-ride and ideal for rider development, but with added punch and top speeds into three figures that means they will easily cruise on the motorway.

The Yamaha YZF-R3 is the new kid on the block. It arrived in dealerships in April of this year. It follows KTM’s RC390, released last year. Kawasaki upgraded its 250R for the 300cc version in 2013.

Honda's CBR250R did the same, but at the end of 2014.

All four bikes bear a striking resemblance to their grown-up siblings, namely YZF- R1, RC8, Ninja ZXR-10R (particularly with the 30th anniversary paintwork) and CBR1000RR Fireblade. And this of course provides much of their desirability.


But what does an A2 licence mean?

On 19th January 2013 the Third Driving Licence Directive was introduced and caused mass confusion amongst motorcycle riders who no longer knew what they could ride and at which age. Two and a half years on and the water is only just clearing.

For those aged 19 and above and who have passed the relevant test for an A2 licence the upper power limit is 35Kw / 46.6bhp. So the manufacturers got to work and have been providing bikes to fit this category as well as restrictor kits on larger machines although the rules state the unrestricted power cannot be more than double of its restricted version i.e. 70Kw / 93.2bhp.


Yamaha YZF-R3: the new kid with all the top gear

R3 handled the track beautifully and every one of the 321cc's were used

The newest member of the quartet and with the noticeably lowest seat height (780mm, 5mm lower than the Honda and Kawasaki) is the Yamaha, powered by a super smooth and rev-tastic 321cc twin cylinder motor.

Being part of Yamaha’s R (for ‘race’) family and from the same stable as the outrageously impressive 2015 R1 automatically gives the R3 instant kudos. It looks highly impressive even when stationary, not that there’s an ugly bike on show here. It’s beautifully styled with boomerang-shaped fairings beneath a pointy nose and dual headlights based heavily on the Yamaha R6.

The riding position is aided by a flatter saddle than you’d expect on a sportier model, a narrow tank around the knee area and clip-on bars, all offering a more up-right riding style than the other three bikes, which will suit the commute.

The chassis is well balanced and stable offering confidence when manoeuvring at low speed, and on the faster, twistier sections of road or track. The bike is light and turns quickly and the KYB suspension and Michelin Pilot Street tyres are a strong combination.

A lightweight clutch is synonymous with smaller capacity bikes and once moving the R3’s revs reach an audible high at only 5000rpm despite the 12500rpm redline. The powerband is wide with peak torque at around 9000rpm but if you based gear changes on noise alone you’d be snicking up too soon.

The R3's performance of 0-60mph in 6 seconds puts it alongside a 2003 Porsche Boxster, while the lap time at 1m 11.3s was the second quickest of the four behind the more track-focussed KTM. As with all four bikes, ABS front and rear is standard and the Yamaha’s brakes proved more than capable even toward the end of several hard track sessions with no sign or fading.

Yamaha's regular switchgear and a clear semi-digital dashboard with a helpful gear change indicator all aid the less experienced rider, it also has the clearest and most adjustable rear-view mirrors.

It rides well, has plush suspension and the Yamaha R3 is also the most refined in terms of build quality and finish.

Comfortable and capable on the roads

Kawasaki Ninja 300: the old boy with make-over

The other twin cylinder machine in this four bike test has an equally wide rev range. The 296cc motor is torquey and smooth at low revs, peaking at 10,000rpm and maxing out at 13,000rpm.
With the identical 30th anniversary paint scheme and styling as the ZX10-R, it looks the business.

We were all impressed with the quality of the finish too, the inner fairings and high-quality finish was especially noticeable around the cockpit and dashboard. The two-part instrument panel combines an analogue rev counter with digital everything else. A gear indicator would be nice particularly with the target audience in mind.

Despite being the elder statesman among the quartet (launched in 2013), its ability was right up there. In fact, the Ninja proved very popular with all our test riders for its all-around ability, and proved to be tough competition in this class.

Super styling for 2015 and the chassis on track performed well

The riding nature is complemented by a very tidy chassis. On-board, the Kawasaki felt narrower, and in fact is by 5mm to the Yamaha and Honda.
  
It also has the longest wheelbase at 1405mm, and at 174kg weighs 20kg more than the lightest bike on test - the KTM RC390. Much of this is thanks to its 17 litre tank, the largest of the four. In comparison, the KTM only has a paltry 10-litre tank. 

The weight and long wheelbase help with stability and it handles well even though the IRC tyres are designed for high-mileage and don't give the best feel. Despite this, the Kawasaki really is a good ride.

The Kawasaki's tank size and stability gain it marks for its practicality, although counting against it are the spongey two-piston front brake callipers which give a lot of lever travel. It wasn't like it had loads of miles on the brakes either as the test bike had covered less than 400-miles. 
At 290mm, the Kawasaki has the smallest discs of the four.

Although the brakes aren't the sharpest, as an everyday bike the Ninja 300 is easy to live with.

Rubber front engine mounts reduce vibration and the standard-fit slipper clutch is a nice addition.

On track or road the Ninja’s frame and suspension set-up is comfortable and it really is a decent bike which will give newcomers bags of confidence.

An even sportier model with a Leo Vince silencer, race style screen and tank pad among the upgrades is available for an additional £500.

Bike Social Guest Tester Paul Taylor is a Ninja fan

Honda CBR300R: budget-busting baby Blade

Honda’s competitor in this showdown bears a striking resemblance to the Fireblade especially in the all-red colour scheme on our test bike.

See the baby Blade on its own and it looks very smart.

At under £4000 and with only 30.4bhp on offer it is by far the cheapest (by £1000), but least powerful of the four and that’s telling when comparing them back-to-back.

If budget and economy are your primary concerns then choose the Honda because after half a day on track it had barely used a sniff of fuel from its 13-litre tank, while the KTM’s light on its tiny 10-litre was on.

Nimble in the corners thanks to its narrow and lightweight chassis

At 164kg, on paper only the KTM at 154kg is lighter, but a lot of that is because its tiny tank doesn’t hold as much fuel as the other three. Even so, the Honda feels the lightest and is nimble enough not to get upset when hauled from left-hander to right-hander quickly, with lots of stability.

The suspension has a budget feel but copes well in most circumstances.

It feels more like a 250 than the others in terms of performance, and feels dated when ridden back-to-back with the Yamaha, KTM and Kawasaki.

That said, it is the easiest to ride with a light clutch, smooth throttle and accurate gearbox. The Nissin two-piston callipers and 296mm discs are the best brakes of the four with a nice sharp feeling through the lever.

As the CBR is the closest to a 125cc in size and performance it would be the choice of the least confident rider. The IRC tyres are a lesser-known brand and I expected the worst, but actually they didn’t let me or my fellow test riders down at all once a little heat was in them.

Rubber-covered footpegs are crude, old-fashioned and give a feel of being built to a price.

On the road there’s nothing wrong with the Honda, the first three gears are close ratio so for city commuting you’d better get used to working your left ankle joint.

The riding position on the Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki are very similar thanks to the flatter saddles and raised bars which mean it's also comfortable on longer rides.

Guest tester and datalogger Bruce Dunn smiles for the camera

KTM RC390: single-cylinder race ace

The only European bike in the showdown is the KTM which the new UK race series is based.

It stands out from the other three on test here with its performance and sportier riding position.

A higher seat, but lower bars, position you further forward on the bike, almost over the front wheel, which isn’t uncomfortable but is noticeable when switching from another of the three bikes.

The 44bhp single-cylinder 373cc motor means the power, displacement, torque and weight are all more race-focussed, making the KTM the clear winner on track with a 7/10ths second advantage over one lap of the Stowe Circuit.

It's also got a 0-60mph time of 5.04 seconds that rivals the latest Subaru Impreza WRX road car!

Most suited to the track is easily the KTM but that's how it's been designed

The low-revving single cylinder packs plenty of punch. With the bikes’ sharp front end and trellis frame it could well take the most attractive prize if its target audience of those in their early twenties were surveyed.

Because it's the tallest and widest of the four and its on-road characteristics the KTM feels more like a mid-range bike than the rest. Of course, its 373cc motor is the biggest of the four, but that extra cc is telling.

We had three bikes on track together in a race situation and the KTM’s rider was just toying with the Yamaha, although both left the Kawasaki behind out of the tighter corners.

The brakes are from Brembo’s budget range ‘ByBre’ meaning by Brembo but they are absolutely fine for a bike that weighs just 154kg fully loaded with fuel and fluids.
 

Slightly more aggressive riding position leads to slightly more aggressive riding

The WP suspension gives the bike a good feeling on the front but the rear monoshock is too wallowy for track or road and can only be adjusted for pre-load. With Pirelli Diablo Rosso tyres it had the best rubber in the test for sports riding, but don't expect high-mileage from the tyres.

On-board, the LCD display is easy to read and provides plenty of info including learner-friendly ‘Side Stand Down’ advice to save you from looking like a plonker in front of your mates.

Other niggles include the clutch lead getting in the way of the ignition key/reading the display while the rear view mirrors have just one job but don’t do it very well.


Marketed as sports machines so we took them to Silverstone

While the four bikes are rarely going to see track use they are sold as sports bikes so we put them through their paces on the Silverstone Stowe circuit with a datalogger strapped to each bike.

Here's how they compared: 

BIKE

 

0-30 MPH (s)

DISTANCE (m)

0-60 MPH (s)

DISTANCE (m)

PEAK SPEED ON STRAIGHT (MPH)


LAP TIME

Honda CBR300R

 

2.16

15.7

7.00

117.8

83.2

01:11.5

Kawasaki Ninja 300

2.91

18.1

7.14

110.0

86.6

01:11.4

KTM RC390

 

2.01

12.8

5.04

75.8

90.6

01:10.6

Yamaha R3

 

2.13

13.6

6.02

95.6

88.4

01:11.3

Alongside myself, the team of test riders were Bike Social’s Head Honcho Marc Potter, experienced test rider and datalogging extraordinaire Bruce Dunn, small capacity specialist and Bike Social contributor Paul Taylor, brand new A2-licence holder and Bike Social’s own Sports Reporter Oli Rushby.

Second Opinion: Oli Rushby
Having barely ridden anything but 125s, I was anxious to try the 300cc sports bikes sat in the car park; super keen to progress to the next level but also a little wary. I couldn’t wait to get a bit more power (four times that of some 125s!) but at the same time I was worried about how different it’d be.

Physically, these bikes don’t feel much different to their 125cc siblings. They are a little bit bigger, but in a good way as this provides more stability. The Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha all have upright bars for a more comfortable riding position. I put quite a few miles in on all of the bikes and not once did I think ‘this is uncomfortable’. The KTM is slightly less comfortable as the bars are right over the front wheel but even so, you could still go some distance without it being a concern.

A2-newbie Oli Rushby takes the R3 for a spin

The power delivery is smooth on all four, which is important for someone like me who is used to riding an 11bhp 125. The KTM is slightly more aggressive, but once you get your mind around it, this makes it a hell of a lot of fun.

I don’t like the word ‘fun’ but it describes these bikes quite well, after every ride I’d get back with a huge smile on my face. You can go out and enjoy yourself and at no time do you feel out of your comfort zone and unlike on a 125, you have that little bit extra to get you out of trouble should you find yourself in a sticky situation. As a relatively new rider, the gear indicators on the R3 and RC390 are helpful at first but after a few rides you’re able to feel the gears with ease.

I wouldn’t be disappointed had I bought any of these bikes as my first bike or upgrading from a 125. Experience is everything when riding and these four 300cc sports bikes are excellent for learning how to ride properly.

OVERALL TEST VERDICT

Sorry to disappoint, but there was no clear winner in our group test.

Our emphasis was to analyse each bike’s good and bad bits. After a week on them, including a full day on track at the short 1.08 mile Silverstone Stowe circuit, our team of road testers could not agree on one bike as THE bike to spend our actual cash on one.

Sure, for the 0.1% of owners who would consider using one on track the KTM is a clear winner in the performance stakes, but for real world riding each has its own merits and stacks up well should your decision be based on price, comfort, styling, learner-friendliness, economy or performance. Or any combination of the above.

The A2 licence category machines are targeted at the 19-24 year old age bracket and manufacturers understand their machines have to be built to a particular budget. So the £1050 price difference between the most expensive Ninja and least expensive Honda would easily cover insurance, jacket, lid and more.

And that becomes worthy of consideration.

The Honda is more wallet friendly from initial purchase to economy but lacks the performance of the others. The Yamaha and Kawasaki are finely matched battling it out for the style honours and all-around ability yet the Ninja costs £250 more. The KTM is the fastest, sportiest and perhaps stands out from the crowd yet a 10 litre tank will cause issues.

Overall, it's horses for courses. As commuters, all four will do a sound job and still offer enough to hustle on the more open roads. For any kind of distance then R3 and Ninja seem to be the preference amongst our test team.


FEATURE: Why are 300's on the rise?


A Racing Future

In December 2014 World Superbike bosses discussed the feasibility of establishing a new, ‘Supersport 300’ entry-level category with the aim of developing new racing talent and as a more cost effective alternative to Moto3. Bike Social understands talks have moved on and a series could well launch in time for the 2017 season supporting the World Superbike Championship.

KTM RC390 Cup competitors in action at Donington Park

Meanwhile, the Santander KTM RC390 Cup was introduced in the UK at the beginning of this season as the perfect opportunity for 13-18 year olds to gain their first taste of racing. For less than £10,000 including VAT world champions of the future can race for the full season in the British Superbike Championship support series.

This season is the fourth for the Kawasaki Junior Cup offering budget racing for the 13-18 year olds at some of the UK’s finest circuits and is organised by the British Motorcycle Racing Club. While over in Thailand the CBR300R Dream Cup is the only one-make race series for the Honda’s.

Future competitor models

BMW and Triumph aren’t known for their small bike expertise but are in the throes of developing their own entry level machines. The most recently-spied BMW prototypes have looked virtually finished, suggesting its launch can’t be far off now. Codenamed K03 and due to be sold worldwide the 300cc single in a market that’s increasingly populated with twins is an interesting idea particularly with a reverse cylinder head and a rearward-tilted cylinder.

BMW 300cc prototype in testing

KTM and Kawasaki already have naked or street versions available using the same engine; the 390 Duke and Z300 are in dealerships now and Yamaha are expected to unveil their MT-03 by the end of the year. It is therefore a reasonable guess that Honda will continue this trend and show us a CB300F soon enough. Spy shots of this bike have already been seen in the massively important Asian market.

But what about Suzuki? The other three main Japanese manufacturers are reaping the entry-level sales rewards while the Suzuki say “the 250cc Inazuma doesn’t target the sportier end of the A2 market but is more of a town-friendly and high-mpg commuter”. The word on the street is that a sportier number is not on the cards at the moment.

Non-300cc A2-friendly competitors

A power limit of 46.6bhp doesn't necessarily restrict you to sub-400cc. If you start to consider the bikes that become A2-friendly when fitted with a restrictor kit, the options really open up. Top sellers which will provide much more power when an A-licence is earned and they can then be derestricted include Yamaha MT-07, Ducati Scrambler, Kawasaki ER-6, Suzuki SV650 and even a KTM 1050 Adventure.

A full list can be found here: http://www.dft.gov.uk/motorcycle-test-vehicle-list/

Take the MT-07 for example and the £5349 price tag plus extra £150 for the A2 kit and the total is only £450 more than the Kawasaki Ninja 300. Food for thought.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS: HEAD TO HEAD

 

Yamaha YZF-R3

Honda CBR300R

Kawasaki Ninja 300

KTM RC390

Engine

Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke 4-valve, DOHC, parallel twin

Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke 4-valve, DOHC single cylinder

Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 8-valve, DOHC, parallel twin

Water-cooled, 4-stroke, single-cylinder

CC

320

286

296

373

Max Power

30.9kW/41.4bhp @ 10,750rpm

22.7kW/30.4bhp @ 8,500rpm

29kW/38.9bhp @ 11,000rpm

33kW/44bhp @ 9,500 rpm

Max Torque

29.6Nm/21.8 ft-lb @ 9,000rpm

27Nm/19.9 ft-lb @ 7,250rpm

27Nm/19.9 ft-lb @ 10,000rpm

35Nm/26 ft-lb @ 7250rpm

Suspension

Front: Telescopic forks, 130 mm travel

Rear: Swingarm, 125mm travel

Front: Telescopic forks

Rear: Pro-link rear Monoshock

Front: Telescopic forks

Rear: Uni-Trak with gas-charged shock and 5-way adjustable preload

Front: WP upside-down 43mm. Travel 125mm.

Rear: WP monoshock. Travel 150mm

Brakes

Front: Hydraulic single, 298 mm disc

Rear: Hydraulic single, 220 mm disc

Front: Dual piston calliper. 296 mm disc

Rear: Single-piston calliper and 220 mm disc

Front: Dual piston calliper. 290 mm disc

Rear: Dual piston calliper. 220mm disc

Front: Four-piston radial fixed calliper. 300mm disc

Rear: Single-piston floating calliper. 230mm disc

Fuel capacity

14 litres

13 litres

17 litres

10 litres

Dimensions

L: 2,090mm

W: 720mm

H: 1,135mm

L: 2,035mm

W: 720mm

H: 1,120mm

L: 2,015mm

W: 715mm

H: 1,110mm

L: 2,002mm

W: 873mm

H: 1,267mm

Wheelbase

1,380mm

1,380mm

1,405mm

1,355mm

Seat height

780mm

785mm

785mm

820mm

Weight (wet) claimed

169kg

164kg

174kg

154kg

Av. Economy (claimed) 57mpg 70mpg 66mpg 60mpg

Price

£4,799

£3,999

£5,049 (30th Anniversary edition with ABS)

£4,998

 

Yamaha's closer detailUp close to the KTMHonda in red looks daring30th anniversary Kwak paintwork looks damn good

Kawasaki and KTM go head-to-headR1 and Fireblade? No R3 and CBR300R

Michael Mann Kit Credits:

Road

Helmet:Arai RX-7V

Jacket:Tucano Urbano Selvaggio

Jeans:Resurgence Ultra Lite 

Boots:TCX X-Rap W/P

Gloves: Richa WP Savage

Track

Helmet:Arai RX-7V

One-piece leathers: Furygan FRS-Prime

Boots: TCX R-S2 Evo

Gloves: Richa WP Savage