Kawasaki ramp up technology for three-wheeled superbike project

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Anyone who’s ridden a tilting three-wheeler like the Yamaha Niken or Piaggio MP3 has probably idly wondered what might happen if similar chassis tech was applied to a full-blown superbike.

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Kawasaki’s engineers certainly have and development work on just such a machine has been ongoing for the best part of a decade.

The first hint at the project came in 2013, when the ‘Concept J’ show bike was unveiled in Tokyo, combining a host of radical technologies including electric power, a shape-shifting riding position and the three-wheeled layout.

That three-wheeled layout was notable for the use of two single-sided front swingarms and unusual handlebars which move in harmony with the wheels – so when cranked over in a corner the bar connected to the inside wheel rises and the one attached to the outside wheel moves down – and has been subject to a string of patent applications from Kawasaki since the Concept J made its debut.

Kawasaki Concept J in action

Now the firm have given us a glimpse of the next stage of development, with a new three-wheeled superbike making an appearance in a recent strategy document.

Although only appearing as a (very small) general illustration of future tech, the bike’s emergence coincides with patents filed earlier this year for the latest version of the front twin-swingarm suspension, showing a simplified version of the set-up developed for the Concept J.

While it’s hard to pick out details from the tiny image, some components are recognisable. The single-sided rear swingarm, for instance, is directly from the supercharged Kawasaki H2.

The development of the three-wheeler and the H2 has run in parallel; the Concept J made its first appearance at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show, and at the same event Kawasaki showed the supercharged four-cylinder engine that would go on to appear in the production H2 two years later.

Kawasaki Concept J front

While sharing a swingarm doesn’t necessarily mean the three-wheeler also borrows the supercharged engine, it’s the most obvious choice from Kawasaki’s current array of power units, particularly given the fact a three-wheeler is likely to be bigger and heavier than a conventional bike.

Kawasaki’s most recent patents also appear to show it with a tubular steel frame, similar to the H2’s design – the patents mention a ‘framework… formed by using a metal pipe’ – and a ‘gasoline engine’, although an electric motor is mentioned as an alternative.

Cleverly, the front suspension is designed to fit to a conventional frame, even repurposing the usual headstock as a mount for the front shock. Vertical links from the two front swingarms act on rockers bolted to the monoshock at one end and to a central mount at the other.

The system means that the bike can lean freely – the shock simply shifts from side-to-side – but the rockers compress the spring when both wheels move upwards simultaneously.

Kawasaki Concept J patent drawing

An extra frame section, bolted to the front engine mount, forms the mounts for the twin front swingarms.

To make sure the wheels turn in unison, they’re connected via longitudinal links running along the twin swingarms to a pivoting transverse link mounted in line with the swingarm pivot points. Kawasaki could relatively easily transfer the same technology to multiple models.

It’s more than likely that we’ll see the system appear on another concept construction – potentially the H2-based machine glimpsed in Kawasaki’s recent strategy document – before it appears in a production model.

There’s a good chance that the machine was originally destined to be revealed at the 2021 Tokyo Motor Show, but that event has been cancelled due to the Covid pandemic, so it’s possible we may see it by the end of this year at one of the European motorcycle shows.

Have Kawasaki taken the three wheeler concept to the next level?

First published on 15 January 2018 by MCN

Kawasaki are attempting to pave the way with a new three wheeler concept bike. The firm claims this is the future, but have we seen it all before?

In 2013 the Japanese firm unveiled the J Concept at the Toyko Motor Show, where Kawasaki President Shigehiko Kiyama spoke about the concept and said it ‘explores the attractive possibility of an adaptable transport platform that is fun, easy and convenient’.

The video released on Kawasaki USA’s YouTube page last week echoes similar advances: The future, to us, isn’t constrained by today’s limitations. It is set free by our imaginations.

Last year Yamaha released their three wheeler, the Niken, which became the first three-wheeled production bike and was by far one of the most dramatic bikes to be revealed at the lastest TMS.

However the concept above includes new features, seemingly offering a bit more than the MT-09 based platform from Yamaha, including a head-up display, an upright and attack mode.

Ben Purvis

By Ben Purvis