Six months later: The definitive Yamaha Niken review | 4,000 mile road test

John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor
By John Milbank
BikingMilbank BikeSocial Consumer Editor, John owns a Yamaha MT-10 and Honda Grom. He's as happy tinkering in the workshop as he is on twisty backroads, and loves every bike ever built (except one). He's bought three CBR600s, a KTM 1050 Adventure, two Ducati Monsters, several winter hacks, three off-roaders, a supermoto pit bike, a Honda Vision 50 and built his own custom XSR700. 

 

Chris Moss shows what the Niken’s capable of

 

Mileage: 4,245 | Economy: 45.6mpg | Power: 113.5bhp | Torque: 64.5lb-ft | Weight: 263kg | Price: £13,499

 

The Yamaha Niken is not everyone’s cup of tea. If I’ve learned one thing in the six months I’ve been riding this one, it’s that some people will never be willing to accept that a motorcycle can have three wheels, and that it can be damned good fun to ride.

Covering well over 4,000 miles and using it almost every day, I can honestly say that this unique machine is well worth a test ride. It’s got many advantages over a two-wheeler, and I can guarantee that if you try one, you WILL be surprised. But it’s not perfect…

 

What’s the point of the Yamaha Niken?

Having two wheels up front doesn’t automatically give you an increased contact patch – that’s determined by the air pressure in the tyres and the weight pushing down on them. But the two 15” wheels are hung from an ingenious linkage that does add weight – I’d guess about 50kg. Because of that, you get a larger contact patch from the two wheels (with no more weight, the contact patch would be the same, just shared across the two wheels). You can see it measured and read more by clicking here.

If you’ve been unfortunate enough to lose traction on the front wheel of a motorbike, you’ll know how quickly it tucks under, and how it usually leads to falling off. While the Niken will fall over if you let go of it – just like any other motorcycle – the two wheels give increased stability. Of the three times I’ve pushed this Yamaha too hard, the front has just under-steered. On one of those occasions, I’m certain that if I’d been on my own MT-10, I’d have been in the ditch.

That doesn’t mean that the Niken is uncrashable – we tested it to find out, while highly skilled and experienced journalist Chris Moss also managed to crash a Niken on track in the wet (though he admits he was pushing way too hard).

 

Can you crash a Niken?

BikeSocial asks Chris Northover to test the three-wheeled motorcycle

 

What’s the Yamaha Niken like to ride?

Despite having three wheels, the Niken feels much like any other motorcycle to ride. At 263kg, it does weigh 70kg more than the MT-09 it shares an engine with, but on the move it’s barely noticeable. Long

For reference, it’s two kilos lighter than a Super Ténéré. That’s helped by slightly wider handlebars, and only when moving the bike around in the garage, or if you take your hands off the bars with the great cruise control enabled and try to steer it with your hips (don’t do that), do you become more aware of the weight. Otherwise, it’s as nimble and easy to ride as it’d be with two wheels.

 

Back roads on the Niken

An early video explains what the Yamaha feels like when it loses grip

 

The suspension is good, though the small wheels occasionally feel a little more crashy over small bumps. It’s also a little annoying when filtering over cats-eyes, as you can’t really sit just to one side or straddle them – one of your wheels will catch them.

The three-cylinder MT-09 motor is famed for its glorious delivery, and it’s still a lot of fun in the Niken. But the extra weight does dull the experience a little; it still sounds good, pulls well and never runs out of puff, but it’s not got the thrust of its sibling. It would be great to ride one with an MT-10 motor, but that would have pushed the price of an already quite costly bike just too far.

The small screen of the standard machine is pretty noisy – there’s a tall option available from Yamaha for £194, which also comes on the GT version.

When the traffic snarls up and you need to filter through traffic, it’s the large mirrors that seem to be the biggest problem, sitting at just the same height as many car wing mirrors. Still, as I’ve used the Niken more and more, I’ve found it easier to lane split. It’s not quite as easy as a bare MT-09, but compared to the average adventure bike, it’s fine.

 

Filtering on the Yamaha Niken

One of the early videos of the three-wheeler; I’ve since got a lot better at carving through traffic on it

 

Is the Yamaha Niken expensive to maintain?

There’s no denying that working on the Niken is slightly harder due to the two front wheels – while you can use a paddock stand on the back as usual (or fit the optional centre-stand), getting the front wheels off the ground is more of a challenge. I use the brilliant Abba Sky Lift, which is also massively useful for my own bikes, but Yamaha has its own stand for the workshop (you can’t buy one).

 

Six months later: The definitive Yamaha Niken review | 4,000 mile road test

The Abba Sky Lift makes short work of jacking up the Niken.

 

But that’s about it. There are two pairs of forks, but only one pair has oil in – the others are just guides, so there’s no real worry about additional fork seals. The engine and transmission is just the same as an MT-09, so it’s the linkage up the top at the front that will add to the cost. This is needs inspecting at 12,000 miles (the same as the steering had bearings on an MT-09), and as the fairing would be stripped anyway, it should only really add about an hour to a service. The bearings are well sealed, and due to the way they operate, they’re not experiencing ridiculous loads, so unless you’re blasting a jet wash right into them, they’re unlikely to need replacing for a very long time.

 

What’s the Yamaha Niken like for a pillion?

When I took my friend Steve on a 120 mile winter journey through heavy traffic and light snow, he hated it – he found the grab rails difficult to hang on to and the pillion pegs mounted too far forward. He did have my heavy rucksack full of camera kit on, but he wasn’t impressed.

However, when I took my wife on a (much warmer) ride of a similar distance, she loved it. So what changed? The main thing must be that she didn’t have a massive rucksack on. She found the pillion pegs to be fine, and the seat was as comfortable as anything else she’s been on this side of a Gold Wing.

Of course, what also made a difference was the excellent Shad luggage, which gave her a comfortable and reassuring back rest. The fitting racks also push the grab rails out a little, making for more room to get your hands in.

As a rider, the extra weight over the front of the Niken means that this machine feels much better balanced than many others bikes when you load it up with luggage and a passenger – there’s far less of that light, vague feeling you can too often get. See what Helen thought of it in this video:

 

Yamaha Niken: Pillion opinion

Find out what a pillion thinks of this unique machine

 

Any faults or problems with the Yamaha Niken?

In the six months I’ve had it, there have been no problems with the Yamaha Niken. The complex front linkage has been conspicuous only in the fact that when riding, you’re unaware of it; though the two wheels do tend to spray road filth up the side of the engine and your boots.

After giving the bike its final thorough clean before returning it to Yamaha after this long-term loan, I have been able to find some disappointing details, mainly due to corrosion.

While I sprayed the Niken with XCP Rust Blocker, some areas still suffered corrosion. Most obvious are the brake caliper banjo fittings and small metal hangers around the bike. The wheel spindles are also pitted, as are the tops of the forks.

The Niken had a hard winter with me – being ridden every day over some long distances, it wasn’t cleaned as often as it should have been, but it’s still a shame to see some frosting of rust.

The heel guards on the rider foot pegs have also shown significant wear – particularly on the right. This must be down to my boots, but I’ve not seen it as much on other bikes I’ve ridden.

 

What accessories would we recommend for the Yamaha Niken?

The Shad hard luggage would be my number one recommendation for the Yamaha Niken – not only does it give you a great amount of carrying capacity and make it even better for a pillion, it actually balances out the aesthetics of the machine.

It’s worth noting that the Niken’s maximum load capacity is a healthy 195kg. That’s just 18kg less than the FJR 1300 (which weighs 26kg more), and 28kg more than the Tracer 900.

A taller screen would be worth investing in, and among the other Yamaha accessories are the £154 heated grips I have, which aren’t the most powerful, but they integrate well with the dash and existing switchgear. I’ve also got the front fork protectors, which at £117 for a pair of plastic shields are very pricey. If you did drop the bike though, they could help protect those fork bottoms. The Yamaha accessory I’d definitely go for would be the £238 centre stand.

If you do want some heftier protection for the Niken, it’s worth having a look at the £153.95 crash bars from SW Motech. A £194.95 engine guard’s also available though this is more of a styling exercise on a bike that’s not going to be taken off road.

Particularly useful would be £99.95 SW Motech’s hand guards, which I wish I’d had over winter – combined with the heated grips, these would keep the wind off a treat.

Tank bags and soft panniers are readily available to suit the Niken, either from Yamaha, or SW Motech (which makes the Yamaha kit).

I tried an HM Quickshifter on the Niken – while this really made a difference to the gear shifting, which tends to be quiet heavy and a little clunky as standard, it’s unlikely many owners will spend the money to replace the quick-shifter that’s already fitted. On older MT-09s with no shifter for instance, or for faster riders, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the strain-gauge equipped HM unit, but on this bike it’d be more of a luxury.

There isn’t a huge range of after-market accessories available at the moment – many manufacturers are waiting to see how well the bike sells, but with big names like SW Motech and Shad supporting it, there’s still a good choice of quality kit out there.

 

Who should buy the Yamaha Niken?

Given the increased confidence and grip that the Niken offers, and how well it’s balanced with a pillion and luggage, the Niken has got to be considered a great touring machine. Imagine a couple riding through the Alps for instance, coming across plenty of sketchy surfaces as they take to the mountains, but wanting all the freedom a motorcycle can offer; the Niken is a brilliant option. And when the rider is on their own, this thing still handles – it’s got no problem putting a smile on your face.

The one thing that lets it down as an outstanding sports-tourer is the 18 litre tank. With my average 45mpg, you need to be looking for fuel at 150 miles. I’m quite heavy-handed, so often had the reserve warning flashing at 130 miles, but most touring riders should happily get 150.

I’m not the only person to have enjoyed my time on the Niken. Chris Moss has had his just as long, and is looking forward to continuing to ride it. You can see how he gets on at his own YouTube channel, MossyMoto, and in Motorcycle Sport & Leisure magazine.

 

Road, track and crash

We discuss over 8,000 miles of riding the Niken with legendary journalist Chris Moss

 

Social media has seen many negative comments from those who haven’t tried the Niken, but more open-minded riders are starting to appear, particularly on YouTube:

“I’m enjoying my GT model. It is fun to ride. Too bad there are so many haters out there that don’t understand the Niken.” Ron Ahlstedt

“I took a niken out at MCN festival for a giggle but I've got to admit I was impressed. It's not going to replace the ninja any time soon but kudos to Yamaha for the concept.” Scot Mulligam

“If I hadn't bought two motorcycles before the Niken was released, it would be one of the bikes in my garage. I'm digging that bike.” Pinkiwerewolf

“Cracking test and the results are expected. I recently took a Niken out for a demo and the front-end stability is very noticeable. Also, it’s WAY more fun to ride than I expected.” Renegade

“As an owner of a month-old Yamaha Niken GT with 2,600 miles on the clock I found this very interesting. As a 55yr old motorcycle instructor I have owned all sorts of bikes in the 38 years since passing my test including five Triumph Explorers covering over 85,000 miles in the last seven years.

“Having watched the excellent shots of the Niken sliding progressively across the wet tarmac and Chris’s excellent description of that feeling in your stomach when the bike ‘lets go’ reminded me of a very wet day two weeks ago and the same thing happened to me on a roundabout – the front ‘tucked’ but gave me time with a bit of opposite lock to push the bike back up and then on acceleration out of the roundabout lit up the rear tyre to the point I actually stopped to check I hadn't got a puncture! Certainly saved me from an unplanned dismount!

“The Niken GT is definitely a ‘Marmite bike’ from the reaction I have had so far amongst fellow bikers, but without doubt in 38 years I have never had so many non-bikers look at a bike so much. Everybody wants to know about it. Fuel stops take twice as long!

Plus points: The most comfortable bike I have owned; Excellent slow speed control (very useful following 16yr olds on a CBT!); Gets me noticed!

Bad Points: Apart from good natured abuse (so far) I will let you know.” James Langston

“Anybody who doesn't want to see more motorcyclists on the road (making is safer for all riders) cannot call themselves a true bike fan. 1,2 or 3 wheels, it is still a 'cycle” Ford Driver

"I bought one without a test ride based on the reviews, especially the Bennetts review with a bunch of riders at a track somewhere and haven't regretted it. I fit the mentioned profile of "anxious in the wet" and the Niken goes a long way to reducing anxiety. Keep the posts coming." Phil Miller

 

What’s the future for the Niken?

Yamaha has proven the bike’s versatility in its support of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta cycle races. We’d all love to see a race series with them in, but as a hint of what’s possible, BikeSocial reader Keith Williams from Australia sent me a fascinating link to a turbo-charged Niken. You can read more about it here, and watch the video below.

Keith told me that during the 12 or so episodes that have been produced by the BikeMeTV YouTube channel about Yamaha’s Niken, there’s been a lot of negativity from viewers; “Frustrating, but hey, nothing new,” says Keith. “On the positive side he [Boris – the guy behind the channel] also noticed it didn’t happen in person, [it was] mainly just on the internet and social media.

“I like to think the neophobic keyboard warriors are the vocal minority and that the silent majority are motorcyclists who appreciate innovation and the necessity to push the envelope in order to improve and advance.”

During my time with the Niken I did get a lot of flack on social media, but not in person – in the real world, almost everyone was fascinated by the engineering and curious about how it handled. Unless you’re having to put yourself in the firing (on)line, you’re most likely to just find a lot of people wanting to say hi. And with the final video now uploaded, there’s been a definite shift in perception… Maybe we’ll see more of these on the road in the coming year.

 

The most powerful Niken ever

Watch the world’s first turbo-charged Yamaha Niken

 

Three things I’ve loved about the Yamaha Niken

• Handles great with a pillion and luggage.

• The extra stability is welcome in sketchy conditions.

• It’s an engineering marvel.

 

Three things that weren’t so good…

• Tank range could be better.

• Noisy screen.

• Tarnishing after a hard winter.

 

Nine non-believers try the Niken

BikeSocial took nine rider’s who’d never tried the three wheeler to Bruntingthorpe test track so they could have a go…”

 

2018-2019 Yamaha Niken specification

New price

£13,499

Capacity

847cc

Bore x Stroke

78.0x59.1mm

Engine layout

Three-cylinder

Engine details

Liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valves

Power

113.5bhp (84.6kW) @ 10,000rpm

Torque

64.5lb-ft (87.5Nm) @ 8,500rpm

Top speed

136mph (limited)

Average fuel consumption

45.6mpg tested / 59.5mpg claimed

Tank size

18 litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

181 miles

Rider aids

ABS, traction control and throttle maps

Frame

Steel tube frame

Front suspension

Two pairs of upside-down forks

Front suspension adjustment

None

Rear suspension

Single shock

Rear suspension adjustment

Remote preload adjuster

Front brake

2x 298mm disc, Yamaha semi-monoblock

Rear brake

282mm disc

Front tyre

120/70 R15 Bridgestone

Rear tyre

190/55 R17 Bridgestone

Rake/Trail

20°/74mm

Dimensions

2,150mm x 885mm 1,250mm (LxWxH)

Wheelbase

1,510mm

Ground clearance

150mm

Seat height

820mm

Kerb weight

263kg

Warranty

2years

Website

www.yamaha-motor.eu/gb

To insure this bike, click here

 

Yamaha Niken frequently asked questions…

Is the Yamaha Niken a trike? No, it’s a motorcycle. The DVLA classes it as such, and it rides just like any other motorcycle. It is NOT a trike. The wheels are too close together to be classed as a trike for a start.

Is the Yamaha Niken a good solution for disabled riders? No, as it offers nothing over a standard motorcycle that would make it easier to ride by anyone who’s lost the use of a limb.

Will the Yamaha Niken stand up on its own? No, it still needs a side-stand and will fall over if you let go of it. This honestly feels just like any other motorcycle to ride, regardless of how many wheels it has.

Is it meant for unconfident riders? No, it’s not just for unconfident riders. And it’s not for riders who ‘still need stabilisers.’ The extra front wheel does add confidence, but that means that any rider of any experience can enjoy their bike even more, right through the year.

Can you still filter on it? Yes, you can filter on it, and the more I ride it, the easier it’s getting to dive through traffic. But those mirrors – being the same height as most car mirrors – do get in the way; I’ve had to fold them in on occasion.

What’s the Yamaha Niken’s top speed? It’s restricted to 136mph, but it pulls strongly all the way up to that. If that’s too slow for you on the road, then you probably won’t hold your licence long enough to worry about it.

 

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