Yamaha Niken: All up front
Is it a gimmick or the saviour of motorcycling? Or neither? Or both? Dunno. Looks odd. Looks like fun.
Since Yamaha Motor was founded in Japan back in 1955, it has been responsible for developing some of the most ground-breaking and influential motorcycles and scooters on the market. It has always tried to push the boundaries of what’s possible on two and now three wheels.
Back in 2015, Yamaha displayed its MWT-9 three-wheel concept motorcycle at the Tokyo Motor Show – and now, just two years later, the Iwata-based manufacturer has unveiled its new production Niken, the world’s first multi-wheel motorcycle.
It presents, arguably, one of the biggest innovations seen in mainstream motorcycling in the last decade (maybe even two) – pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with its clever Leaning Multi Wheel (LMW) technology and two front wheels that, Yamaha says, inspires corner-carving confidence and offers up to 80% more grip.
To put it through its paces, our sister publication MSL has been out to Austria – riding over 180 miles of mixed mountain roads, including some tight switchbacks, fast sweepers, niggly alpine passes and even some cobbled roads too.
After spending the day scraping its pegs while carving up some beautiful mountain roads, I’m surprised by the level of admiration I now have for Yamaha’s leaning multi-wheel machine. It’s actually very capable and great fun.
Admittedly, the Niken is quite difficult to define. It’s not really a bike, because it comes with three wheels not two. But it leans over so it’s not a trike either. Basically, it’s like nothing else on the road – aside from a couple of big maxi-scooters, namely, the Peugeot Metropolis and Piaggio’s MP3. But they don’t go quite like the Niken does.
Of course, the way it looks is not going to appeal to everyone. But from the front it actually looks pretty mean – with wide, muscular bodywork, and an aggressive LED light pattern. The back end is essentially an MT-09. It’s not a motor ‘bike’, granted – but does that matter? Climbing aboard for the first time it doesn’t feel as strange as it looks. Okay, it is fairly heavy at the front and you can’t throw it around in quite the same way as you would a sportsbike (despite its very compact pillion seat – one of few disappointments) – but it almost feels like a big scooter, or a super-stable tourer. Or maybe even a chunky, wide, kitted-out adventure bike. This is apparently deliberate, and that’s fine. Oh, and although it looks pretty big, it actually has near enough the same dimensions as the Tracer 900.
It’s comfortable too and after six hours in the saddle I felt surprisingly fresh. The seat isn’t exactly low, at 820mm – but standing at 6ft 1in with 32in legs, I could get my feet planted flat on the floor with no trouble.
It weighs in at a fairly hefty 263kg, but it’s well balanced considering its stature. I could paddle it around car parks with ease, though anyone much shorter than me might struggle. Interestingly, the seating position and bars have been shuffled back – helping to ensure 50/50 weight distribution between the front and rear, although that does mean you don’t get to see very much of the front wheels when riding. But let’s get into the Niken’s defining feature: its leaning multi-wheel technology and those two front wheels. They help it stick to the road like nothing else I’ve ever ridden – and in a subtly different way to a two-wheeled motorcycle. But throughout our 260km test route the levels of grip on offer from the front end never failed to impress – once I got used to it. Even when the rain came (and it come down hard) I was confident that the front end wasn’t going to let me down.
The front end suspension, which works in unison with the LMW system, is equally impressive. It’s reasonably soft, but thanks to its twin-fork system and two front wheels, the Niken somehow manages to track smoothly over rough terrain.
It’s like it’s on a set of train tracks. I was bobbing around into ruts, over rocks, gravel and scores in the road, trying my best to catch it out – but it wasn’t fussed and took all of this in its stride. Rear suspension is a fairly standard mono-shock, much like that of the MT-09, with adjustable pre-load and damping, and it works well too – soaking up the bumps with no particular problems.
The brakes are decent, allowing you to stop quickly and safely – though they do have to work hard to pull its hefty weight to a standstill. I only got the ABS to trigger a couple of times at the front though, intentionally grabbing a big handful of brake. Thanks to its two front wheels, and clever LMW system, you can actually brake smoothly right the way through corners – and it’ll still hold its line. Yamaha did suggest that you shouldn’t do this all the time though, only when you really need to – as it’ll overheat the ABS module.
Its engine is a peach too – pulled from the MT-09 and Tracer 900, but tweaked with a few harder wearing internals to allow it to pull the Niken’s weight.
Impressively, it actually manages to return near MT-09 levels of performance, kicking out 113.5bhp at 10,000rpm and 87.5Nm of torque at 8500rpm.
In practice, that means it’s plenty quick enough to blast past traffic without any real concern.
For rubber, Yamaha teamed up with Bridgestone to ensure the grip on offer from the tyres, matches up the Niken’s 45º leaning capabilities. At the front, there’s a pair of specially developed 15in 120-section tyres from Bridgestone that are well up to the job. But interestingly, the rear is fitted with a Bridgestone Battlax A41 ‘Adventure’ tyre, which offers less grip than at the front.
Although this might not seem like a particularly obvious choice, it lets you break traction easily, and kick the back end out when you open up the throttle as you come out, or go round, a corner – which is great fun.
It comes with a lightweight aluminium 18-litre fuel tank, helping to achieve a (claimed) range of around 190 miles – which seems about right for what is intended to be a ‘sporty’ machine. From a technology perspective, it’s kitted out with an easy-to-read LCD-display, LED lights front and rear and a range of tech to make riding it even easier, in the form of YCC-T, D-MODE, cruise control and traction control system, as well as an A&S clutch and quick shift system.
I’m by no means the most experienced of riders – I only passed my test a couple of years ago – but I could push harder than I would usually on roads I didn’t know. And the harder you pushed, the more rewarding the Niken seemed to be. You can go rapidly from peg to peg and remain confident that it’ll hold its front.
In short, it’s obvious that a huge amount of brain power, care and effort has gone into perfecting the Niken – and after spending a day in the saddle I can say with certainty that it’s all been worth it. In fact, I’ve never heard a group of journalists agree so wholeheartedly on something – which is surely a testament to just how good the Niken is. You need to ride one. It’ll surprise you. I know it surprised me.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 81/ TECHNOLOGY: As you’d expect, the Niken’s well kitted out. It comes with a traction control system that offers two riding modes and can also be turned off. Plus there’s a D-MODE, which offers three running modes for the engine.2/ LEANING MULTI-WHEEL SYSTEM:The Niken is based on the use of revolutionary advanced leaning multi-wheel technology, in the form of an Ackermann steering unit with double upside-down front forks that help to offer a maximum lean angle of 45º.3/ SUSPENSION: Double upside-down telescopic forks with 110mm of travel and rebound and compression damping adjusters at the front and fully adjustable link-type suspension with 125mm travel at the rear.4/ FRAME: The Niken is built around an all-new hybrid frame, which has been specifically developed for the revolutionary leaning multi-wheeler to help it stay planted, while offering a sports bike level of handling. Its head pipe area is manufactured from cast steel, its swingarm pivot area is made from cast aluminium, and the main frame that connects the two is made from steel.5/ ENGINE: It’s powered by a 847cc, three-cylinder, liquid-cooled, DOHC CP3 engine – pulled from the hugely successful MT-09 and tweaked to suit the Niken’s heavyweight frame.6/ WHEELS: Dual 15in front wheels with 410mm track – and a single 17in wheel at the rear.7/ GEARS: It comes with an A&S clutch for increased stability when down-shifting, and a quick shift system for smoother, clutchless up-shifts.8/ BRAKES: Dual 298mm front discs generate high levels of braking performance and the increased surface contact area provided by the double front wheels enables the Niken to stop quickly and efficiently.The rear brake features a large diameter 282mm disc, and with these three large diameter discs working through three wheels, Niken riders have a high degree of control.