YAMAHA NIKEN (2018 - on) Review
At a glance
Overall ratingNext up: Ride & brakes
Pilot a Niken and you’re a celebrity with a ready-made audience. Everywhere people look at you. Kids wave, cyclists nod, pedestrians smile. It can’t help but brighten your day. Non-bikers love it, but strangely, the Austrian bikers we met on the bike’s launch didn’t seem to want to know. Few bikes have split opinion as much.
First unveiled at the end of last year to a combination of fascination and incredulity, Yamaha’s LMW (Leaning Multi Wheeler) wasn’t, as some thought, for disabled riders (it’ll fall over when its stationary, just like any other bike) or an easy way for car drivers to become bikers (its track is too narrow to be ridden on a car licence).
Instead, it was all about trying to enhance riding pleasure. Yamaha’s engineers wanted to come up with a bike that gave more front-end confidence and allowed more people to exploit it. Their reckoning was that losing the front was a biker’s biggest fear – and the way to allay those fears was to increase grip.
Ride quality & brakesNext up: Engine
The key to the Niken is the front parallelogram system that mounts to the pair of fork units. This allows it to pretend it’s a ‘normal’ motorbike and gives 45 degrees of lean. It does add weight though and also increases the bike’s frontal area significantly.
Once you’re rolling, only subtle clues let you know the bike has two front wheels. The first 5mph is a bit wobbly thanks to the amount of weight being carried up high and weave from side to side and there’s slight resistance to your inputs.
Each time you turn the bars you alter the trajectory of two spinning wheels, plus what must be a good few kilos of castings, bearings, linkages and rose joints that all pivot on the Niken’s cast headstock.
Yamaha's Niken is perfect for high-speed corners
Flowing from one 90mph corner to the next on a dream Austrian A-road, the Niken feels great – and you get so much joy from hustling such a bizzare machine.
The gyroscopic effect of those two spinning 15-inch wheels imbue it with peerless stability. On roads that don’t require sudden direction changes there’s a neutrality and accuracy that has you believing the three-wheeled marketing hype. At high speed it shrugs off mid-corner bumps better than most bikes, doesn’t get upset by camber changes and doesn’t tramline over ruts.
On these roads, the quality of the suspension is obvious – there is little in the way of the weaves and wobbles you’d get on an MT-09 or a Tracer. All of this points to the bike working well when the first demo bikes hit the UK later this year.
You can exploit the limits of lean
With 45 degrees of lean, ground-clearance can become an issue, though. Once you understand the Niken’s capability’s it’s easy to run its lean limits, grinding pegs and toes with impunity.
It’s fun and frustrating in equal measure as you’re still far from the limit. According to Yamaha, the outside wheel will lift at 50-degrees…
Handling is upset by tight corners
Sadly, things unravel a little as the roads get very tight. By now we’re snaking up the kind of single-track, filthy road that is meant to be the Niken’s speciality but it’s easy to lose your way in slow corners.
It starts when you brake. Yamaha opted for a 15-inch in a bid to make the bike more nimble, but the downside is you can only fit small 265mm discs inside them.
The result is less mechanical leverage and bite than normal and while the bike does stop consistently, you do need to apply some lever pressure.
A 20mph first-gear uphill switchback looms, but there is little chassis feel at this speed – you just have to trust there is grip. Sadly, it’s harder to get the bike to turn than you’d wish, too and as I lever on the bars, the Niken isn’t tracking the line I want. This isn’t the corner-carving dream!
There's a lot of weight over the front
When you examine the physics it isn’t that surprising – with so much weight at the front, Yamaha have moved the rider backwards to compensate.
It makes the weight distribution correct at 50/50, but it’s like trying to turn your shopping trolley with a crate of beer at either end – the opposite of mass centralisation.
Slow-speed corner exits aren’t great either. While the front grip is stunning, if you’re cracking on, it’s too easy to unsettle the rear and while the support of the extra wheel at the front means small slides at the rear seems less of a drama than a normal bike, it is disconcerting.
It all points to a poor Bridgestone Adventure 41 tyre – in the wet it’s especially numb and will lose traction too easily, negating the confidence-inspiring front. All this mars an otherwise impressive bike – we’re just glad the UK doesn’t have many super-slow hairpins, as aside from this, it really delivers.
EngineNext up: Reliability
Get on the gas and it responds with refinement and enthusiasm. Compared to the other bikes that share the Niken’s 847cc triple, the crank has 18% more inertia and there’s revised fuel mapping.
This is enough to significantly change the character of the motor – it’s smoother and slower revving, but you do find yourself on full throttle and waiting for the motor to catch up more often than you’d imagine - especially in higher gears. The quickshifter helps, though.
Reliability & build qualityNext up: Value
The build quality of the Niken is very good and the engineering involved in the front end is stunning. In fact, it’s a real shame that you don’t get to see any of it, as it’s hidden behind the bike’s bulbous front end.
The suspension also works well and it doesn’t fade or sag, despite its weight. It’s also littered with quality components, such as switch gear that allows you to seamlessly switch modes and displays without the need to move your hands off the bars.
The quickshifter is also good and while the bike doesn’t come fitted with an autoblipper, the slipper clutch works very well.
Value vs rivalsNext up: Equipment
The Yamaha Niken is a lot of money – especially when you consider you could buy a brand-new Suzuki GSX-R1000 with all of its performance and quality for similar money.
A two-wheeled Yamaha MT-09SP is more fun and it’s about 30% cheaper. There’s nothing wrong with the Yamaha Niken, but there’s a penalty for having that third wheel. There’s the additional cost, frontal area and the sheer complexity and there is no getting away from that.
What’s most surprising is that the Niken is a closet sports tourer. Wind protection is good enough for 100mph in comfort and the relaxed nature makes it the perfect companion for clocking miles in widescreen scenery.
There’s a 12volt socket for your sat-nav as standard and if I owned one I’d fit the optional top box, find a taller screen and dream of traffic-free runs on the Route Napoleon. The options list is quite extensive, too.
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled DOHC triple|
|Frame type||Steel aluminium hybrid|
|Fuel capacity||18 litres|
|Front suspension||Four telescopic forks, adjustable for preload and rebound|
|Rear suspension||Monoshock, adjustable for preload and rebound|
|Front brake||2 x 298mm discs, four-piston calipers|
|Rear brake||282mm single disc with two-piston caliper|
|Front tyre size||120/70 x 15|
|Rear tyre size||190/55 x 17|
Mpg, costs & insurance
|Average fuel consumption||-|
|Annual road tax||£93|
|Annual service cost||-|
|Used price||£9,500 - £12,500|
How much to insure?
|Warranty term||Two years|
Top speed & performance
|Max power||113 bhp|
|Max torque||64 ft-lb|
|1/4 mile acceleration||-|
|Tank range||186 miles|
Model history & versions
The Niken shares an engine with Yamaha's three-cylinder MT-09 family, although it has some differences like a heavier crank.
Launched in 2013, it recieved updates to the suspension and cosmetics, as well as receiving a quickshifter and a swing-arm-mounted numberplate bracket.
In 2018, Yamaha then launched the MT-09SP, which gained an Ohlins rear shock and reworked KYB forks. Production of the Yamaha Niken began in July 2018, with a view to have the first available units by September of the same year.
MCN Long term test reports
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It’s just gone 1.30am as I fire up the Niken’s triple and prepare to negotiate my way off the Steam Packet’s catamaran on my return from the Isle of Man. I’m one of the last to leave, mainly because what little sleep I had came at the end of the crossing and I was reluctant to wake up. But as the cr…
Owners' reviews for the YAMAHA NIKEN (2018 - on)
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