After a year on the market, we finally got our hands on a Yamaha Niken. So is it really a case of Two Wheels Good, Three Wheels Better?
Words and Photos by Mathieu Day-Gillett
After a year on the scene, Yamaha’s Niken is still turning heads for both motorcyclists and non-motorcyclists alike.
While it is far from a conventional-looking machine, it is its rolling arrangement that really captures attention and gets people pointing at you as you cruise on by.
Yamaha is no stranger to the unconventional three-wheeled motorcycle market, with their TriCity scooter leading the way for the Japanese brand since 2014.
The latest addition to the brand’s list of three-wheeled contenders, however, is a completely different use of the concept as it takes it away from the small city crawler market and into full-size sports touring market.
In fact, the Niken is still unlike anything else currently available to the mainstream motorcycle market with no other manufacturer so far hinting that they are considering the concept.
With that said, the Niken isn’t a completely new ground up design. Based around the same 847cc CP3 inline triple-cylinder engine as found in the MT-09 and Tracer 900GT, the Niken also shares some of its frame with these models as well.
But it is that twin front wheel setup that really sets the Niken apart from its stablemates. Based on the Ackermann system of suspension, the Niken offers phenomenal front end stability compared to a regular motorcycle thanks to its twin 15-inch front wheels and set of four forks.
Okay, you could call the resulting styling to accommodate the front suspension system “unique” to be nice, but that crustacean-like fairing does offer a decent amount of elemental protection when the weather gods roll the dice against you. The Niken is also available in an even more weather-friendly GT variant which adds a much larger windscreen and a set of hard luggage among other small changes into the equation.
But even the standard bike offers enough coverage from the elements, in part, because there is a sea of plastic between you and the road ahead. Measuring in at 885mm wide – that’s nearly half the width of a Ford Ranger (and seems more in traffic) – it does give you a feeling you’re riding atop something quite futuristic with the only bike that remotely comes close being BMW’s F850GS Adventure with its equality large expanse of forward plastic.
Visually there are some areas where Yamaha has clearly reigned in the design team to keep the price realistic. The dash, for instance, is a stylish LCD unit instead of the TFT we’re starting to expect on such flagship machines. It offers all the data we expect, with a bold display of speed most prominent along with a convenient 12v charger mounted it the side of the unit.
An interesting addition to the Niken’s tech suite is a quickshifter for the 6-speed gearbox. While the CP3 engine provides a sumptuous torque curve and rewarding top-end, the quickshifter allows blisteringly fast upshifts.
Now obviously Yamaha wasn’t expecting the Niken to take to the top of the sales charts with its divisive styling and three wheels arrangement, but the company’s local arm says sales gaining good traction to date, and that is with a price point that is several thousand dollars above its Tracer 900GT stablemate at $24,479.
While the bike is a bit of a niche product when compared to the rest of the Yamaha sports touring range, it does have its place, and with that added traction up front it quite possibly the most confidence-inspiring wet weather bike I’ve ever ridden.
Now my preferred method of getting out for a ride involves grabbing the keys early on a clear day and enjoying all the perks that motorcycling offers from the get-go. With a long-range forecast in hand I put in a call to Yamaha Motor NZ to book in the Niken for a test, and lo and behold if the weatherman didn’t muck it up royally.
Arriving at Yamaha HQ in the pouring rain with the forecast not set to improve, I was initially disappointed at the riding conditions I was starting my ride of the Niken on. That is until it was pointed out that this is just the kind of conditions that the Niken really excels in.
With a planned ride route around Auckland’s Hunua Ranges and checking out some of my old favourites in terms of riding roads, I set off into the mist to get to grips with the Niken.
The first impression beyond the size of the bike - which is really quite imposing - is that it carries a lot more heft than its Tracer 900 GT relative. Tipping the scales at 263kg fully fuelled and not possessing the same ability to lock the suspension in a place like the Piaggio MP3 we tested earlier this year, meaning at a stop it's up to you to make sure it doesn’t all come tumbling down.
But out on the road, it’s manners really did shine through on the rain-soaked storm-damaged roads on the coast. Despite the slippery conditions, the Niken instilled a sense of confidence and even coming across a section of completely washed out road didn’t seem to impact stability.
That extra stability, however, does come at a cost and that is manoeuvrability. While you control the Niken just as you would a regular motorcycle, it is noticeably slower to turn into a corner due to that extra front wheel. This is far from a deal-breaker though and is probably why the Niken is best described as a sports tourer rather than an outright sports bike.
If you ignore the extra front wheel and polarising looks and instead focus on its ability to provide a stable and predictable ride it really is quite a remarkable motorcycle. It’s just a shame it is so polarising a concept to established motorcyclists.