MCN Fleet: Can Yamaha’s Niken GT cut it as a genuine mile-muncher?
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 crew had tucked the three-wheeled Yamaha into its own spot, we weren’t in anyone’s way and there was no need to rush.
The Niken is actually no wider than most bikes with panniers, so I assume the 'preferential parking' was down to the common misperception of size those twin front wheels give.
A BMW RT, for example, is 100mm broader and there were a couple of those lashed down in the regular ranks. As I roll down the ramp, a glance at the satnav reveals I’ve got the best part of 200 miles to go so reckon on around 4.5 hours with a fuel stop.
Before long the city streetlamps are behind and the Yamaha’s superb twin LED headlights instead cut a bright white swathe of light through the miles of motorway darkness that lie ahead.
The GT version of the Niken is kitted out for touring, so I notch the heated grips onto the lowest setting to compensate for the summer gloves I’m wearing and lock in its cruise control.
Although quite firm, the comfort seat outlasts its fuel range (I generally eke it out to around 170/180 miles) so a leg stretch at fill ups is all that’s required for covering big miles.
The #NikenGT ‘s twin front wheels may be excellent at finding grip in adverse conditions, but they’re also rather good at finding sheep poo too! #mcnfleet19 @MCNnews @YMUKofficial #ride5000miles pic.twitter.com/YSMrkwmxGc— Justin Hayzelden (@justingetsabout) June 8, 2019
The lightweight panniers have grown on me, despite the fact that I find the inner dry bags and combination padlocks a faff, but the design is such that they can be carried in one hand off the bike which is something I really like.
The standard touring screen is dreadful and as dawn breaks across the horizon I’m still hunched behind it trying to find some respite from the wind roar.
It’s a shame, as apart from that the Niken is extremely capable of going the distance as a sports tourer. I’ve since fitted the OE Yamaha high screen (£194) which is far more effective at deflecting airflow and reducing noise - perhaps it should come as standard?
Update two: What's hot and what's not about the Yamaha Niken GT
First published: 10.07.19
This may be no surprise, but if you’re going to ride a Niken you need to be prepared for attention.
I don’t think I’ve ever ridden a motorcycle that consistently attracts so much interest – and not just from the biking fraternity, either.
Cars pull alongside on motorways for a peek, pedestrians double-take on crossings and I’ve yet to park anywhere without returning to find a curious bystander lingering for a chat.
But all that’s fine because it’s a pleasure to extol its virtues. Simply: it’s a clever bit of engineering that works – extremely well.
Over the past month I’ve covered around 3000 miles on journeys involving local bike nights, camping in Wales, a trundle around central London and a week at the TT – not to mention visiting various cafés up and down the country – and it’s hard to think of many moments when I haven’t been happy to be on the Niken.
That said, for everything I really like about it, there are some I don’t. For example, the engine is a peach, let down by a clunky quickshifter, so let’s take a closer look at what’s hot and what’s not about the Niken GT.
Screen protection: Miss
I’m 5’11” and the upright riding position fits me well. The screen, on the other hand, is more akin to a medieval torture device. It directs the airflow around the sides to pummel my upper arms, and over the top to buffet my head. I’m looking into alternatives and hope to find a solution.
Fuel tank range: Miss
With an 18-litre tank, the Niken can’t do the distance I expect from a touring bike. The fuel light comes on at around 150 miles and although I’ve successfully squeezed 189 miles from its 17.62 litres, there’s little room for error. The problem is it’s ready to stop before I am. A bigger tank would be very welcome.
Suspension quality: Hit
With so much said about front end grip it’s easy to overlook just how good its ride is. On even the bumpiest back road the Niken remains composed. So far, I haven’t felt the need to adjust anything but I’m tempted to see what difference a pro set-up would make.
Reassurring front end: Hit
It’s hard to quantify the level of grip provided by those twin front wheels, but having spent my first fortnight riding in persistent and sometimes torrential rain, a lack of grip has never been apparent. More significant is the stability and precision with which they track a turn, inspiring confidence and giving great feedback.
Engine performance: Hit
The 847cc, MT-09-derived triple retains much of its high-spirited nature despite the Niken’s extra bulk. Throttle response is superb and the pull-away assist (which increases revs automatically as you release the clutch in first) makes for smooth launches two up. On pipe, it sounds divine, too.
Update one: Introducing the Yamaha Niken GT
The Niken GT could be considered as the second attempt Yamaha have made to answer a question no-one really asked – but that would be doing it a big disservice. When we first put the Niken through its paces last year, it was a revelation.
Not only did it perform with impressive composure on the MCN250, and over 1000 more test miles, but it even delivered a shockingly good ride on track.
The criticisms we levelled at it were all to the effect that it would make more sense as a grand-tourer than it does as a naked sports-tourer. Yamaha clearly had the same thought, and the challenge now will be to rack up the miles and see if the GT changes deliver the touring dream.
- Key stats: • £14,869 • 113.5bhp • 64.5ftlb • 820mm seat • 267kg (kerb)
- Rider: Justin Hayzelden