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February 4, 2019

Yamaha Niken - Three's Company

Yamaha Niken - A Whole Lot Going On

There is a whole lot of stuff going on with Yamaha's latest offering. For a company that was finding things a touch difficult during the downturn, they have come back in such a powerful way. The MT range has been as big as the R1 and R6 ever were in the early 2000s, if not bigger. The MT10 has been our go to bike since its launch a number of years ago. So when we first got a look the new Niken and its three wheels it was a bit of a shock.

Three wheelers don’t have a particularly good reputation with riders of sports or sports touring motorcycles. Polaris produce a thing called a slingshot. Harley has a production tricycle. More than one Goldwing has been converted to trike status. CanAm seem to make nothing else. I once led a group of German tourists across Dublin in rush hour traffic. One of them was riding/driving a Spyder. It was probably the most frustrating two hours of my motorcycling life.

Some of the three wheelers that we had seen evoked different emotions. These, however, were all old school and had been modified for other uses. The Tuk-Tuks in Bangkok are always going to look cool and make for a great alternative to getting a cab. The Italians, meanwhile, had turned scooters into things as strange as three wheeled light trucks!

Yamaha Niken - A Closer Look

So, when Yamaha started showing us pictures of what appeared to be a Tracer 900 with two wheels on the front we were somewhat under impressed. You can, I’m sure, forgive us our skepticism. After all, what had come before wasn’t exactly warming any of us to the idea of three wheels as anything other than a novelty.

The Yamaha Niken was announced, discussed and eventually launched. Last month we got to take a much closer look. The twin wheels are on the front and tilt fully. The axel arrangement is capable of allowing the bike to lean to an impressive 45 degrees, and no, it doesn’t lock. The rest of the bike looks and feels like a new Tracer.

The machine is adorned with LED lights, sounds great and starts a conversation whenever it’s parked up. The Niken is fitted as standard with a slipper clutch. It has a choice of riding modes, traction control and even cruise control as well as the now standard, ABS. We really liked the quickshifter!

The power is still delivered by that wonderful in line three cylinder affair that is such a joy to ride in this as well as the MT 09 and the Tracer. The 847cc lump produces somewhere around 115 brake horse power. The unit used on the Niken seems to rev up quicker, as if the bike has a lighter flywheel. There is something about how easily it revs that begs the rider to get ‘more involved!’

Yamaha Niken - Off We Go!

Getting off the FJR 1300, which is one of our long termers this year, two things become obvious. The first is that the Niken feels no wider than the conventional touring machine. The next is that even at a standstill the mass of the front end doesn’t feel any heavier than a conventional sports tourer when the bars are twisted at a standstill. It actually feels lighter than some of them!

It looks good. The forks are an upside down affair and they look beefy, giving the front of the bike an excellent look. The first challenge is to ride it off the footpath outside Megabikes. The thing to do here would be to line it up at a perfect right angle to the kerb and ‘drop’ both front wheels on to the street at the same time. Because of the amount of other motorcycles parked up at the shop this isn’t possible. The right hand wheel is going off the edge while the left one is still firmly up here. A footpath has never felt so high!

I was incredibly conscious of what was going to happen next and none too pleased at the thoughts of dropping the only Niken in the country outside the shop! I needn’t have worried. The front tilted to absorb the difference in height without the bike needing to lean and I made my escape from the dealership without embarrassing myself!

Yamaha Niken - Feeling Brave

Feeling brave I then attempted a U-turn. Doing this on a busy Dublin street at anytime of the day is always something that needs to be done cleanly and in one go. The savagery that will be delivered should a rider have the audacity to hold up traffic while they peddle a bike backwards to make up for not making the turn in one go doesn’t bear thinking about. When I attempted it on this thing something very strange happened.

The front end of the bike, which is where I expected the challenge to be, was incredibly positive and felt planted. The confidence that it offered was second to none. The back end just followed where the front went and while it was different in its cornering capabilities to a conventional two wheeled motorcycle, it worked a treat. This was a surprise.

Since the rain had started to come down it was time to leave the city. Heading north to the junction of Georges Street and Dame Street there is a well established trio of manhole covers on the perfect line trough the corner. To get through this confidently on a conventional bike is a little bit like riding through the cones at a slow speed workshop! On the Niken I simply rode through the corner expecting some sort of movement from the front end. There was none. Either one front wheel or the other held traction and the only movement was from the back end of the bike!

Yamaha Niken - Testing

There were a couple of tests that needed to be done. For something that drew far too many comparisons to the array of three wheeled scooters that are on the market. Since the bikes front axel didn’t lock it lacked what some might see as the advantage of the classic tree wheeler in that it doesn’t stand on its own when stopped. What it did do was corner phenomenally well.

Pushing the bike hard into the corners rapidly became second nature. The lateral movement, when there was some, came from the back end of the bike. Back in the city and I was impressed to find that the bike fitted into a bicycle lane with ease. It looks bigger on the front but it really is that narrow. Having the front axel this narrow ensures that the machine still qualifies as a motorcycle for insurance purposes.

The nice people at Yamaha had also launched a new and supplementary model, the GT. This one has the benefit of a taller screen and a set of panniers. Other than that it’s essentially the same bike.

Yamaha Niken - Take To The Track

The handling and cornering capabilities of the Niken were a huge and positive surprise. We’ll be joining Motocraft on track again this year and this is one machine that we’d like to take around Jerez. It really is that good. While this is the first outing for this technology it was the back end that seemed most basic. This was interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is that the conventional bikes that use the same rear technology always feel so planted. The unconventional front end really is that good!

If, like me, you took one look at it and wondered why this bike has made it from someone’s imagination to design, to a finished product, then all we can do is strongly suggest that you take a closer look. The good news it that you can - a test bike is available from Megabikes. Give any of the team a call on 014784200 and find out where the future is heading.

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