Tested: Yamaha’s Niken

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We were lucky enough to be in the UK recently when Yamaha were doing a road test of their latest and most radical addition to the stabel, the Niken. We’ve been watching Yamaha’s news since the initial announcement of their “leaning multi-wheel (LMW) motorcycle.” We’ve also been seeing the social media response and it hasn’t always been endearing to Yamaha whilst bikers look at the radical design as a trike- something the Niken certainly isn’t.

The Niken is without doubt one of the most striking machines to come off the Yamaha production line for some time. Yamaha have been promoting the Niken as a leaning multi-wheel (LMW) motorcycle, not a trike, and not a traditional bike. Yes it has three wheels but that’s about where any similarities with a trike end; it doesn’t feel like one, it doesn’t perform like one and you can’t ride it like one! It won’t stand up on its own, you will need a bike license and when you get to ride one you will realise why that is – in a very positive sense.

Prior to the test ride the technical guys from Yamaha took us through a presentation on the Niken’s design and technology that were mainly focused on the front end and all its wizardy but also showed a number of key features on the rest of the Niken that differ slightly from the typical motorcycle.

What’s familiar?

You can’t fault Yamaha for choosing their MT-09’s 847cc triple pumping out 113.4bhp to power the Niken down the road. Externally the version in the Nike looks almost identical but there are a few internal changes for better performance on this heavier machine. With revisions to the crank inertia and refining the fuel injection settings Yamaha have squeezed extra torque from the motor to deal with the 263kg beast, and it does so in sweet smooth triple style.

The controls and dash are all rather familiar Yamaha setting too. Not much new up there but maybe in this case some familiarity is a good thing as you get used to the other new technology up front. Regardless, the switches all work well and easy to use and the dash is clear including the switchable mode settings (1, 2 and 3) giving a sport feel, normal riding and something akin to rain mode when needed.

This is pretty much where the familiar ends.

The Niken has a hybrid steel tube frame and cast aluminium swingarm bringing the total length to 1510mm, just 10mm more than the Tracer 900 and whilst we’re on the dimensions, although it has a wide appearance, it is only 35mm wider (at the handlebars) that the current Tracer 900 and is exactly same width as previous Tracer models at 885mm. It will therefore filter though traffic – unlike a trike.

The Niken also gets a seating position that is 50mm back from the norm of the Tracer/ MT-09 to keep the 50/50 weight balance from front to rear. That slightly rear seating and the sleek 18l tank give a very comfortable seating position for short blasts and undoubtedly for touring (although you might have to wait for the accessory range to extend to panniers etc.).

You can’t possibly miss the major features of the Niken. Those two wheels up front and four blue upside down telescopic forks are the Niken’s calling card and hidden behind the small sport fairing is the wizardly that allows the Niken to hold the road, steer like it’s glued down and manage the most uneven road surfaces without a grumble.

A bit of the tech stuff.

The Niken’s suspension up front consist of two double upside down telescopic forks. The front fork is slight shorter than the rear one with the rear of the pair doing most of the work up front.

Steering is based on the Akermann design principle. Basically the parallel quadrilateral arms and cantilevered telescopic suspension ensure that the inside wheel follows a tighter arc in turns to give better steering, grip, increased stability and improved tyre wear. Some might think that it is not the most eye-catching setup stashed under the fairing but the engineering behind it is superb.

Away from the tech, science and wizardy the Niken needed to prove itself on the road. Enter the pot-hole King.

Talking with one of Yamaha’s staff we were told to try to hit the potholes, bumps and loose surfaces on the ride. Doing a short test on a guided ride is not ideal but we were lucky enough to be the last bike in the pack so were able to drop well back without annoying anyone and them use that space for a bit more aggressive riding. The route took us out from the Royal Highland Centre on a loop around the back roads towards Linlithgow giving a fair range of town, country and single-track roads. There were plenty or rough surfaces and gravel lines to play with.

With a seat height of 82cm the Niken is low enough for most riders, and remember although it has three wheels it doesn’t stand up by itself. You still need your feet on the ground like any regular motorcycle and from the point of getting on starting and moving off that’s exactly how it feels – like a two-wheeled motorcycle but with a lot more front end grip, Yamaha say about 80% more.

For the weight of the bike the Niken is incredibly stable at low speed. Watching other riders moving off at the start of the ride you could see a few nervous wobbles at walking speed but by the time we came back in through the crowd at the show every rider was at a crawling pace and stable as a rock.

Out on the open roads the triple engine delivers superbly and sounds great too. Being wary of crashing we took it easy at first until we built confidence in the front end and when you get that confidence (doesn’t take long) the Niken will eat up any corner or surface without missing a beat.

Through the towns and open roads you can feel the sports-touring prowess of the Niken. It’s a very comfortable ride and no doubt you could go all day long if you wanted to.

We pushed it harder into tight corners, deliberately hitting pot-holes and broken edges mid-corner and the Niken kept the line without the slightest feeling that it would lose grip. On these tight roads it will carve up the countryside with a level of grip and stability that is better anything else out there as it stretches out to its max. 45 degree lean angle! That’s not to say you can’t crash the Niken or lose the front but the extra stability that those two wheels and suspension setup provide is something you have to experience.

So our final comment. Get out there and RIDE IT before passing comment. You will be surprised at how well the Niken rides and any negativity regarding the Niken as trike-like will be blown away. Would we buy one? You bet we would!

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