Words: Jehan Adil Darukhanawala Photography: Rohit G Mane
As an enthusiast growing up in the early 2000s, there was little that one could lay their hands on to fulfil their quota of performance motorcycling. You had the Hero Honda (now Hero MotoCorp) Karizma duelling with the Bajaj Pulsar twins and that was about it. Until Yamaha decided to adopt a more aggressive strategy that made it a hit with the Indian masses of the early 1990s – performance and functionality trumping commuting. And thus, was born the YZF-R15, right here in India in 2008. The motorcycle was a revelation as India had never seen a small capacity liquid-cooled single cylinder fully-faired motorcycle with track aspirations until its arrival, kick starting the trend for others such as Kawasaki and Honda to bring in slightly larger displacement options in India. Sure, the motorcycle was built for attacking corners of any nature and taught many a rider how to get around bends faster. Its aggressive riding stance was a bit of a nuisance for those who sought a laidback ride but it was apt for those budding racers who made a name for themselves out on the circuit. Yamaha improved the formula in 2011 and brought in a compromised approach to the game, sacrificing a bit of the track-focused persona for ease of city riding. While purists scowled at the notion, it raked in numbers. Now in 2018 it was time for a much-needed makeover and it has got one in every sense of the term. Presenting the Yamaha YZF-R15 v3.0.
Big small motorcycle
Touted as the baby R1, the R15 has followed the company’s famed R-DNA of styling, almost aping its litre-class sibling in more ways than one. However, this generation looks significantly different than the current-spec R1. The R15 v3.0 looks more edgy. The new styling brings forth a more proportionate feel to the whole motorcycle. The twin-pod LED headlights are slimmer and edgier than before with the windshield now more suited for tucking in, a delight for those who venture on to the circuits frequently. The fairing design has also seen major changes with the large single outer panel similar to the one on the R3. The split seat configuration heightens the motorcycle’s sporty characteristics with the rear sub-section featuring neat vents on either side of the pillion seat. While they may not come in handy for a large outgrown baby such as myself to cut through the wind, it sure does look cool; bringing forth a big bike feel about it. This neatly integrates the LED taillamp that is reminiscent of the one found on the R3. Given that the motorcycle is built to a price, there are a few quality issues. The plastics feel cheap and there are numerous panel gaps that give off a bit of a negative vibe. Even the controls look like they have been picked up straight off the FZ-25. The pass switch is integrated with the high-beam switch much like they have done on their scooters. Cost cutting much?
The fully digital instrument console is definitely keeping up with the times with 18 pre-loaded functions such as customisable gear shift indicator, gear position indicator, digital tachometer, VVA indicator and other standard trip related data.
The famed Deltabox chassis has undergone minor modifications to make the bike more agile and light on its feet. The new chassis is wider by 20mm to package the updated motor as well as the new swingarm. The rake has been sharpened by half a degree to 25.5-deg, and with the shorter die-cast aluminium swingarm (instead of the gravitational cast swingarm of yore), the R15 has a shorter wheelbase of 1325mm. By saving those 20mm, Yamaha intends to improve the bike’s cornering capabilities. They have not compromised on overall stability as the new R15 comes shod with wider MRF rubber at both ends. The front tyre size has been upscaled to 100-80/17 from 90-80/17 while the rear end gets a 140-section tyre instead of the earlier 130-section. To accommodate the wider rear tyre, the swingarm has also been widened.
The revised saddle height now stands at 815mm, which is 15mm taller than before, with the clip-on bars lowered and the rear-set footpegs pushed even backward, making it an ideal configuration for the track. It does feel like the ideal posture for track hooning but the riding posture may turn out to be too extreme for road usage. More importantly, the ground clearance has gone up by 10mm to 170mm, a welcome change to the new motorcycle. Pillion riders will also feel better connected to the experience as they are no longer perched up on another floor like the v2.0.
There are a few changes in the suspension as well. Not noticeable to the naked eye, the front fork has a thicker 41mm dia (the v2.0 had 33mm dia forks) with a retuned stiffer link-type monoshock. This setup is different to the ASEAN-spec R15 which gets a USD front unit. Yamaha claim that this configuration is more in tune with our conditions, which offers a good-balance between sporty as well as daily riding. While this may not turn out to be a problem, the smaller 11-litre fuel tank will definitely cause some discomfort especially for long distance riding. All of these changes contribute to a three-kilo increase in overall weight as the R15 v3.0 tips the scales in at 139kg. The weight distribution is near 50-50 and you do not feel the small increment in weight at all.
At the heart of the R15 v3.0 is a bored out 155cc single-cylinder liquid-cooled 4-valve mill. The single millimetre rise in bore dia has increased the capacity by 6 cee cees and why that might not sound phenomenally great, the compression ratio has shot up from 10.4: to 11.6:1. Another key update to this new motor is the addition of Variable Valve Actuation (VVA), which shifts the focused camshaft from low to high at 7,400rpm. The nifty addition helps in keeping alive the linear power delivery right up to the 10,000rpm mark while not sacrificing on the low-to-mid rev range performance. Hence you now get an engine which makes 19bhp and 15Nm, from a 155cc motor! The new motor is tractable with enough pull in each gear to go faster. There are a few vibrations which do creep in around the handlebars but none so as to cause any major hindrance.
The R15 continues to run the same gear ratios for the 6-speed transmission as before but due to the revised final drive ratios, the R15 reaches the red line faster. The shorter final drive means you have to get through the gears quicker than before and on most occasions take a higher cog to get around the bends.
This bike also becomes the first motorcycle in the 150cc segment to get Assist & Slipper clutch which reduces lever feel by 18 per cent and assist in preventing rear wheel hop during aggressive downshifting. The light clutch feel is extremely appreciated and would come in handy in our stop-go traffic situations. The motorcycle rarely loses composure even during aggressive downshifts. The rear end sticks to its line even if you shift aggressively from fifth to second. The only tail-wagging that I ever got it to do was when I provoked the rear and slotted it into first.Even then the rear broke sweat just once and gained traction immediately. Hence, this is great news for all, not for hooning though.
The end-can is no longer as upswept as found on the previous R15s and gets a plastic carbonfibre-like shroud. The note has more rawness to it, a gruffier tone than before.
The R15 was made to do business out on the track. This one keeps the traditions alive as it is extremely lovable during corner entry. Despite the shortened wheelbase, the motorcycle feels extremely stable in the middle of the bends and shoots you out of the bends with enough grunt. She holds her line pretty well all throughout, creating no fuss. The sharp steering meanwhile meant you would have to rethink your approach into the corners. For instance, while leaned over around the big bowl at the MMRT, I found myself getting pulled into the bend more often than not on the conventional racing line. A slightly late apex into the same loop proved to be better and faster around the bend.
Our test bikes were fitted with the Metzeler rear instead of the stock MRFs. There was no inclination of the rear letting go even when you are dragging your knee around the bend. The front cross-ply MRF never felt out of order. During my initial laps, I did feel the front skipping away especially at C1 which is taken with the throttle wide open, but that was more to do with inaccurate tyre pressure than the grip in itself. Also, the combination of a front cross-ply and a rear radial shoe did make me wonder how the two would work together. Those notions were put to rest while out on the track. Despite that, I would have still liked to have ridden the R15 with the MRF rear to get a more real-world feel of the motorcycle.
The biggest issue though with the R15 v3.0 has got to be its stompers. Yamaha has fitted a larger 282mm rotor at the front end while the rear 220mm disc is unchanged. I found the bite to be adequate but there was sponginess in the system. That was not the end of it, a couple of other journos found varied issues with their respective machines. Hence, the inconsistencies in the problems is a worry for me. Also, the lack of ABS is an issue, not here out on the track but in real-world situations. Being a performance-oriented company like Yamaha, safety should never have taken a back seat. The motorcycle should have at least had an ABS variant on offer but there is no inclination of it coming around before the April 1, 2019 deadline.
The bottom line is, is this the best generation of the R15? No. It does not have the effortlessness of the first gen and while it has made strides in the right direction over the v2.0, there is still work to be done. The riding posture is leaning more towards track and sporty riding which may be a bane for city commuting. However, at the end of the day, there is no motorcycle currently available to match the R15 in its segment. There are no natural rivals to it either. The Aprilia RS 150 still has some time to go and would not be priced in anyway as close to the Yammie. And at Rs. 1.25 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi, it does ruffle up some feathers with motorcycles which are a rung higher. You also get several accessories such as tank pad, skid plate, frame sliders and seat cover at nominal rates which will be available at the dealerships. One could also get themselves the Metzeler rear radial for ten grand. There is a Daytona race exhaust system which bumps up the performance and produces a racier note. Yamaha is making it available for Rs. 16,700 and is strictly for racing purposes.
I may have overgrown the R15 in dimensions as well as skills, yet it remains one of the most fun smaller capacity motorcycles that I have ridden on the track and budding racers would have a high affinity towards it.