The 2023 Yamaha YZF-R15M has a raft of racing goodies including a variable cam profile, quick shifter, slipper clutch, traction control, USD forks and two channel ABS.
Made in India and designed for the local and South East Asian markets, its tiny 155cc engine punches well above its weight, thanks in large part to the trickle-down Yamaha race tech.
It’s a proper R-series race bike and there’s official race events held globally.
Think back to your earliest motorcycling memories. If you’re anything like me – and from what I’ve learnt over the years I think that you probably are – then these memories will involve a small-capacity motorcycle, a quiet road that will be in the suburbs or countryside, a complete lack of a licence and a worryingly basic understanding of the laws of physics. Ditto for the road rules and motorcycling safety. In my specific case, there was myself, a Honda CT110, a t-shirt, shorts and a pair of thongs (aka “flip-flops”), a quiet New South Wales country road and not a helmet in sight.
What followed next was a half dozen top speed passes on the Honda that were not only totally illegal, they also got me shouted at and grounded. It was life-changingly fun and – more than most other moments in my childhood – made me the person that I am today. Sure, BMX bikes were great and all, but this shit was next level. The bike’s top speed felt like 100 mph (it wasn’t) and the adrenalin! Surely this was what life must be all about; this and the opposite sex.
Soon I would figure out that there were better, more powerful and much cooler bikes to ride and that you actually needed skills and years of practice to do almost everything else on a bike but go fast on them.
Unlike many of its competitors, its DNA is from racing, not scooters. Image via Yamaha MC.
Foolishly, I thought that the days of me riding tiny, single-cylinder bikes were gone and forgotten. But then this happened. The Yamaha YZF-R15M happened. And suddenly my now much larger, much older arse is once again on a teenie tiny little motorcycle. So will my rose-coloured memories be shattered, or is there something truly wonderful about going back to your roots?
So read on dear audience members as I put Yamaha’s Indian-made 2023 R15M through its paces on some of Australia’s best public roads to see exactly what you’d be in for if you decided to splash some of your hard-earned on a sportsbike with a displacement less than half of even the most miserly of beer cans. Cheers!
In my eyes, this is the colour scheme to go for. Image via Yamaha MC.
Features of the 2023 Yamaha YZF-R15M
“But is it really a sportsbike?” I hear you yell from the cheap seats. Well, it is according to Yamaha. Featured in many a press shot in the same line-up as their topper-than-top shelf YZF-R1M, it’s the yang to the aforementioned beast’s ying, sans the brain-melting power, NASA electronics and carbon fibre. Sure, you could have six R15Ms for the price of one R1M (and the combined total horsepowers of those six R15Ms would still only equal about half of the R1’s 200 hp), but what exactly are and aren’t you getting? Let’s find out.
While there’s not that much to write home about in regards to the engine itself, the 155cc single-cylinder power plant does have one nifty little trick up its sleeve. Indeed, it’s probably the trick that most Yamaha sales folk will be repeating ad nauseam on the world’s showroom floors. The engine is equipped with Variable Valve Actuation, or “VVA” as Yamaha calls it, meaning that it has two camshaft profiles. Switching between the low and high profiles at around 7400 rpm, Yamaha tells us it’s to provide “good power and torque is present throughout the entire rev range.” But does it kick in? More on that soon.
It has more physical presence than you’d expect from a 150cc bike. Image via Yamaha MC.
In a list of goodies that surprised me, hopefully as much as they will surprise you, the bike’s VVA is complemented with a quick shifter, traction control, slipper clutch, dual channel ABS and the ability to connect to the bike via your Smartphone. Clearly a result of “trickle-down” technology that’s been paid for by bigger brother YZF models, it would appear that once this tech’s outstanding R&D costs have been covered off by sales of more expensive bikes, the boffins at Yamaha are more than happy to share the love to the models further down the food chain.
And that’s not all, folks. Yamaha have even gone as far to grace us with upside-down forks, too. And branded ones at that. Made by a Yamaha subsidiary, KYB. With 37mm inner tubes, I found them surprisingly capable items that proved to be much stiffer and more stable than I was probably expecting from a bike at this price point. They also look the part, too. Follow them down from their golden parts towards the ground and you’ll likely bump into their good friend, the twin pot, single disc Bybre (aka budget Brembos) brakes that’ll be doing most of the bike’s woah-ing duties.
The bike has official cup races held in Australia, Asia and beyond. Image via Yamaha MC.
Turning to the Yamaha spec sheet, the engine’s a 155cc liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, SOHC, 4-valve jobby that Yamaha calls the “LC4V” running 11.6:0 compression ratio through a constant mesh 6-speed box. Power figures are 18.4 hp and 10.5 lb-ft of torque. The 11 ltr (2.9 gal) tank sits atop a 140 kg (308 lb) wet weight bike that will lift you 815 mm (32 inches) off the ground once you’re seated. The rubber boots are MRF Revz-S – a tyre I’m not familiar with; there’s a 100/80R17 up front and a 140/70R17 at the back.
Initial Impressions of the 2023 Yamaha YZF-R15M
At first sight I have to say that the bike isn’t as small as it may look on paper, or in your head when you hear the words “150cc engine” for that matter. As I type these words, I’m able to turn my head and look at both the Yamaha and my own BMW RnineT sitting side-by-side in my garage and as far as height, width and length go, the R15M isn’t a small bike. Nor should larger riders be overly worried about looking like a circus bear riding a comically small bicycle on it. Yes, heavier riders may want to consider other options if they are looking to purchase a comfortable daily rider, but on face value, it’s not a silly-looking option.
The Speed of Lightness
Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking that a bike that looks as large as a 210 kg BMW is also as heavy as one. Within seconds of sitting on the Yammie you’ll realise that you’ve probably had restaurant meals that weighed more than this bike. At 140 kg dripping wet, it’s a super light bike you can toss around like a hurricane tosses drinking straws. Mere nanoseconds are spent removing the bike from its parking space and taking off; near the end of my time on it I was reversing it out of my garage, turning it on, raising the side stand and checking for traffic on my street all in one fell swoop.
The dash is basic but it does the trick. Image via Yamaha MC.
The dash is very much on par with what I’d expect from a bike in this price bracket. LCD display? Check. Backlit, coloured surrounding lights for indicators and warnings? Check. But what did defy expectations was the shift lights sitting above the whole lot. Nice. I made a mental note to test them out later (also known as “smashing the bike up through the gears with the throttle pinned”) and turned my attention elsewhere.
If there’s one thing Yamaha have made sure of on the R-series bikes is that they all use a similar “design language” so that maximum birds-of-a-feather points are scored. And by the looks of the R15M and its “acoustic grilles” sitting proudly at the top front of the tank, their designers have also spent some time liberally peppering the R1 and MT-10 SP design cues on here as well. While I’d put money on the fact that they are for looks only in this application, the fact that there’s so many bikes in Yamaha’s R-series line-up and that they took the time and effort to match them all up bodes well for the bike’s design chops.
And returning briefly to the whole “size of the rider” topic, I found that the non-adjustable dash was aimed at my chest rather than at my eyes. This caused no issues, mind you; I’m not super tall, so I put it down to Yamaha tailoring the bike’s ergonomics to a more “sporty” riding position that I was willing to assume when I wasn’t riding it a ten tenths.
It has grilles like the MT-10 and R1. But do they do anything here? Image via Machines That Dream.
The bike’s “face” is more than a little similar to that of its older, more muscular R siblings. And while I didn’t see them in a police line-up, I know from memory that the R7 parallel twin is almost identical. The fact that all the road-illuminating duties are accomplished by the cyclops-esque central headlight did have me questioning if it would be up to the job, but after seeing what modern projector headlights are capable of, I’d suggest that it’d have things covered and then some.
All up, the bike doesn’t disappoint in the flesh. And while it is most definitely svelte, it’s not physically small and it definitely doesn’t look cheaply made or – worse still – like it’s actually a scooter in disguise. Nice work on that front, Yamaha.
Riding The 2023 Yamaha YZF-R15M
Riding in the City
My first time kicking the little engine over left me thinking that maybe I had been too generous in my appraisal of the bikes looks; to call it mild would maybe be doing it a disservice, but I was left feeling that the bike’s look and size was maybe writing cheques that it’s power plant couldn’t cash. Thankfully, I was wrong here but I’d still like the engine’s acoustics to be a little more aggressive. If my fear of the bike being scooter-like were quelled by its physique, I think the soundtrack of the 155cc single may have reignited it somewhat.
But the Sydney morning air was calling and so off I went to the city’s south where I’d see just how well or unwell the bike handled the inimitable Royal National Park ride. Up through the gears I went as I rode down my street. Having once been a devout member of the Church of the Sportsbike but then managing to kick the habit, some of the old memories began flooding back. The weight on the wrists. The high pegs. The fairing that doesn’t turn with the bars. The tiny windscreen. Mirrors that show nothing but your own damn elbows. It’d be easy for me to dismiss the whole sportsbike thing as a style of the past that’s been left behind for a good reason, but who am I to dismiss a rider’s wants and needs – especially if they aren’t kind of old and decrepit like I am?
No, the R15M isn’t as ridiculous in its riding position as many bigger, more focused bikes but it was enough to give me sore hands and wrists after a few hours in the saddle. Depending on your size, weight and age this may suit you fine. Or you may grow tired of it, as I did after it slowly dawns on you that nowadays you can have both a sporty, good-looking bike that’s also all-day comfortable. The choice is yours.
Settling into the ride, everything on the bike was up to Yamaha’s usual standards. Switchgear was nice and I took a little time to fiddle with the bike’s lone dash Info switch. Surprised to see it on the throttle-side of the controls, I soon realised that the functionality was probably more “set and forget” focused than providing functionality that might be better positioned on the left – as in something that you’d wanting to be using while also accelerating or holding a constant speed. As it stands, I was quite happy to just muck around with it at the lights and leave it be for the rest of the time.
The brakes weren’t outstanding by any means, but as they are single-disc items and they won’t be required to stop anything too heavy from too high a speed, I felt them to be quite OK for the task at hand. Yes, you might be tempted to add a little rear brake into the mix more often than you would on an R1 or MT-10, but that’s because the brakes they are equipped with are designed for outstanding behaviour at near-lightspeed operating conditions.
Poke me in the ribs a few times to name something that I think could be improved and I’d probably nominate the R15’s gear selector. While I thought the bike’s ‘box was suitably slick and capable, the somewhat delicate feel I was getting through the foot lever when trying to shift gears left me a little concerned that my heavy-handed (or should that be “fat-footed”) inputs would eventually prove too much for it. I’m sure that it was up to the task at hand, but I think the componentry here could probably do with a little more sturdiness and heft to add some “user experience” reassurance.
By the time I entered the National Park proper, I had my suspicions about the bike’s forks. Them being upside-downers, gold and KYB branded should mean that they were more biassed towards corners than comfort, and low and behold, they were indeed. Expansion joints and other road imperfections were duly noted and then telegraphed upwards rather than the bike trying to hide them or iron them out. This didn’t happen in the same telepathic manner as I would expect on an R1 or other more track-focused racer, but it was definitely there.
And now the quiet road, higher speed limits and sparsity of traffic could mean only one thing. It was time to put the R15M’s quickshifter and Variable Valve Actuation under the spotlight. If you – like I – was hoping for the VVA to kick in like some sort of Honda V-Tec-type affair, I’m here to report that it definitely didn’t. In fact, the only real sign that it was operational was the appearance of a little message on the dash that came on at around7400 rpm. So just to be absolutely sure, I pulled over to the side of the road and ran the bike up through the gears with the throttle pinned, shift lights a-flashing and with the VVA doing its thing.
And yes, I was impressed. Or at least, that’s what the big grin on my face was telling me. In practice, the VVA proved to be more of a “this engine has longer legs than I thought” rather than the rush-of-stars that I was hoping for. No, it never “kicks in” but here is a small engine that really does punch above its weight and that seems able to keep on going right up through the rev range until the shift lights lets us both know that we have to change gears.
And while some shift lights tell you what you already can gleam by the sound of an engine screaming, “For the love of God, please change gears before I explode.” This tiny little screamer felt like it had plenty more room to move and the quick shifter was a welcome addition to the party, working well and in harmony with the ‘box and donk. My only negative during this whole experience was that the sound of the bike never seemed to match its abilities. I wanted to hear a tiny, triumphant roar to really round off the whole thing, but all that I heard from the bike was a dull and somewhat unimpressive drone. Makes me wonder what an aftermarket can would add to the mix…
All the bells and whistles, but the engine note is a little underwhelming. Image via Machines That Dream.
Using my newfound velocity, now seemed to be a perfect time to saviour and/or savage some corners. While I had my suspicions that my 80 kg frame would maybe be a little too much for such a small bike, flummoxing the suspension if I were to push too hard, I managed to get nothing but composure and clean-cut lines back. And by the size of the chicken strips still visible on the bike after my ride, it appears that I didn’t even get close to its lean limits.
I feel that it was here, in the park’s continuously delivered sets of 80 km h corners, that the bike really shined – especially when the hills were taken out of the equation. Give it a nice series of left and rights to slice up without the need to ask too much from its tiny engine and the R15M really impresses. Its featherweight mass, firm shocks and tiny rubber meant that it was practically falling into corners seemingly reading my mind rather than needing any substantial inputs through the bars. Again, it’s not about to outcorner a litre bike, but with a full 70 kgs less than them I’d humbly suggest that given the right piece of road and rider talents, it’d be right up the tailpipe of a more clumsily piloted and fatter-arsed ‘big’ bike.
As for the bike’s traction control, I was a little confused as to why Yamaha included it in the first place. You’d be doing very damn well to get the rear loose on the R15M even at major lean angles. Asking my official Yamaha mate, he replied, “With the traction control, the quick shifter, slipper clutch and all the other race features – it’s not totally necessary with 18hp. But it is nice to have on any bike and it only has to work once to save your ass.” Point taken.
Having experienced the bike in the city and on some twisties, I had a sneaking suspicion that a longer journey at higher speeds would be an interesting little test for the R15M. Choosing the road from my inner-western Sydney home to my parent’s property on the city’s outskirts about an hour’s highway brap away, I jumped on and quick-shifted my way over the ribbon of asphalt at ever-increasing speeds until finally I was belting along at the roads maximum velocity; 110 kmh plus an extra five for good luck.
As suspected, the bike’s limits were being pushed here. While its ability to deflect the crosswinds and other buffeting generated by busses, trucks and nature was admirable, keeping our speeds steady at what was very close to the bike’s maxim velocity during the slight uphill and downhill sections took a metric butt tonne of focus, as did keeping up with the rest of the road’s traffic. Add this to the fact that the bike was in sixth gear while also displaying the first two lights on the shift indicator and you’ll hopefully get the same impression I got during the ride.
This isn’t where the bike is happiest. After two hours in the saddle at these speeds I was pretty much spent and if the bike could speak, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it gave me a mouth full of expletives. I was also finding it difficult to get my head in a position that didn’t cop the full blast of air coming off the bike’s windscreen. In other words, it was damn noisy. But on the plus side, the sporty position almost all sportsbikes force their riders to adopt meant that the blast of wind hitting and lifting my chest did relieve some of that hand and wrist pressure.
Modern factory bikes – even the racing ones – are usually muffled to some degree. The grilles on the top of the R15M’s tank are a design borrowed from the bigger R and MT bikes in Yamaha’s range, and on those bikes the grilles are designed to deliver a more beefy sound directly into the rider’s face, thereby giving them an improved riding experience without also deafening the rest of the suburb. Here they are obviously only for show, and the result is a bike who’s performance, looks and handling feel out of step with its sounds.
Sure, there’s not that much you can do with 155cc to make it sound like a roaring giant, but I just wanted it to be a little more racer and a little less meh. While Yamaha (or at least, Yamaha India( don’t seem to offer an end can upgrade in their official list of accessories, a quick check on YouTube revealed a few Indian-based owners who had updated to Akrapovic end cans and the results seem to be quite promising. If I was going to ride the bike long-term, I’d definitely be looking into this.
Riding position isn’t too extreme, but still hard on the hands and wrists. Image via Machines That Dream.
To be totally clear, this isn’t a bike intended for highway use. In fact, Yamaha were pretty clear with me when they dropped it off by stating that it was intended to be sold in India and South East Asia where scooters are the default purchase of most road users and where long stretches of 110 kmh freeways just aren’t a thing most people will have to contend with. Lord knows, if I was living in Delhi, Bangkok or Saigon, a bike like this would be way closer to the top of my purchase list than any Honda Wave, Dream, or such like.
But if you’re considering an R15M purchase of your own and you are looking at regular freeway usage with speeds over 100 kmh, I’d suggest that you test both it and the R3. Just note that while you’ll get double the horsepower with the R3 and undoubtedly a much more pleasant high speed experience, as far as I know you’ll not get the quick shifter, slipper clutch or traction control as standard.
And as an important final point, I just have to stress how amazingly economical this bike was. Given to me by Yamaha with two thirds of a tank of fuel, I was quick to brim it mostly out of force of habit. There’s many bikes out there that will smash a full tank in a few hundred kilometres if ridden hard enough, and as someone who borrows bikes and doesn’t necessarily know their thirst or lack thereof, I make it a habit to take no chances re: running out of fuel. I needn’t have bothered with the R15M; despite doing a whole bunch of very “spirited” riding on the thing, the fuel gauge barely moved. This would be one damn cheap bike to own and run, I can assure you. Its theoretical distance on a full 11 litre tank should be around 600 kms or so. What other form of transport lets you do those kinds of distances for $20 or so?
Blue anodising on the top of the KYB forks adds a nice highlight to the dash. Image via Machines That Dream.
Final Thoughts on the 2023 Yamaha YZF-R15M
You might have guessed it already, but the YZF-R15M really surprised me. Call it arrogance or just me being too used to big, fast, powerful bikes, but I wasn’t expecting much from the R15M. And like the metal ducks at a circus sideshow, the bike shot down my preconceived notions of what a small sportbike should and could be. And yes, it brought back a few childhood memories, too. No, it’s not going to break any moulds and it’s never going to rip you arms out of their sockets if that’s your thing, but I was really impressed to see Yamaha taking such a small capacity bike seriously and if I was looking for a sportsbike experience while also living in a city where big bikes were just not an option, the R15M would be like manna from heaven.
Sure, it’s not comfortable and it’s guilty of a lot of the same sins that all sportsbikes are; practicality is sacrificed to ensure the rider is tucked in and that there’s a whole bunch of lean angle available. This whole trade-off eventually led to sportsbikes fall from grace when owners realised that track-focused bikes that are almost always used on public roads are just a massive pain in the arse. But real sports cars are essentially the same deal and you don’t see them dying off, do you?
I also really appreciated the fact that for once in my life, I got to ride a sportsbike that wasn’t lightyears ahead of me and my riding abilities. When’s the last time you were able to take a bike equipped with a quickshifter right up through the gears on a public road? Do that on an R1 or a MT-10 and you’d likely find yourself in handcuffs or hospital – and that’s if you’re lucky. But here on the R15M it’s something that you can fully savour, and on a daily basis, too. Ironically, many big, modern bikes make you feel small in the sense that your limits (or the legal limits) are reached long before theirs are. But with the R15M, every day feels like a Sunday race day.
And speaking of racing, Yamaha has also set up a proper racing league for the R15 here in Australia. It shows the company putting its hardware where its mouth is and also making it super easy for younger riders to get a taste of professional racing without needing a wallet the size of Elon Musk’s to go along with it. And although I’m far too old (and heavy) to take one of these R15s racing, I find the whole concept of small capacity, small budget bike racing really appealing and a whole lot less intimidating than doing the same on a litre bike.
No, the R15M definitely isn’t meant to be an “all things to all people” bike like some of Yamaha’s other offerings. In many ways, it’s like their TMAX 560 Tech Max scooter; they are less of a “global product” and more of a bike that’s designed to scratch an itch in a set of very specific, very unique markets. Considering this, I think the fact that Yamaha have clearly gone to a fair amount of trouble to give these riders something much more than a scooter dressed up in faux MotoGP clothing is really commendable.
If riding sportsbikes is an itch that you still feed the need to scratch and your current geographical location means that owning big, fast and powerful R bikes just isn’t a realistic choice for whatever reason, I can’t think of many better options than the R15M. It doesn’t just make you feel like a proper racer, I dare say that with features, handling and looks like this in many ways it rides like one, too.