Yamaha Niken: All up front

Is it a gim­mick or the saviour of motorcycling? Or nei­ther? Or both? Dunno. Looks odd. Looks like fun.

Motorcycle Monthly - - Launch Report - WORDS: Ross Mow­bray PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: Yamaha Europe

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.

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