WEIRD OR WONDERFUL?
Yamaha’s wild new Niken on the UK’s toughest test – with 950 miles of road and track riding
‘Ha! Is that for people who can’t ride a real bike?” At the start of the day, none of the Niken’s three wheels have turned in anger and yet it is already getting stick. With the nasty man disappearing in my mirrors, life on the Niken for the next eight hours and 200★ miles is a little strange. Its extra front wheel ushers in a whole new riding experience and I get gawped at regularly. Despite its controversial looks, more cars pull out on me than in my whole year. What’s going on? How could you miss this ‘praying mantis on stabilisers’ (© builder, Cirencester) bearing down on you? And despite seeing dozens of fellow motorcyclists, not one has nodded back. I get the feeling most riders treat the Niken with the
same disdain as electric bikes and scooters. Snobby buggers. Being down on the Niken doesn’t seem fair, because by the time I’ve reached Northampton, filtered easily through rush hour traffic and attacked cold-Tarmac roundabouts with mid-summer lean, I ‘get it’ – and so would you if you rode one. It’s large to stand beside and heavy between your knees at a standstill. At 263kg, it’s a massive 11 stone more than the MT-09 it’s based on, thanks to its beefy steel frame, steering assembly, extra two forks and wheel. But though big, it slips through larger gaps in traffic just fine and I’m rarely held up; although I have to think twice about going for really small cracks between cars. With just 113bhp pushing along that bulk, it doesn’t have the ability to leapfrog danger as quickly as you’d like. Yes, a two-wheeler is more fun and involving, but the Niken thrills in a different way. You could say it’s just an MT-09 with two front wheels, but it’s also one with more front grip than you’d ever imagine; 80% more, according to Yamaha. And boy does it deliver. That collection of linkages, joints, forks and wheels is a triumph of engineering and works with breathtaking efficiency. The Niken doesn’t wow you straight away, it’s more of a slow-burner. But after time you realise you’re getting away with lean angles that’d have you on your ear on a normal bike. The novelty of cornering in complete safety, like a cheat in a computer game, never wears thin.
It might look odd but the Niken rides like a normal bike, too. It has the bulk of a big tourer blessed with lighter steering and sportsbike agility. You countersteer to initiate a turn, then marvel at how it keels to full lean with the perfect amount of resistance through the bars; like a motorcycle with perfectly-set forks. Nothing this side of a hot racing slick on a smooth track grips like the Niken’s front end. Throw it on its side and it’ll stick, simple as. And if it doesn’t you’ve twice the chance of saving it.
It’d be fascinating to see the steering and suspension swaying and bobbing when you ride along, but for some it might be a giddying step too far. Yamaha have hidden everything away under bodywork plastics, so your view down looks reassuringly conventional. Continued over
YAMAHA NIKEN £13,499