Yamaha NIKEN (2018) | Review

BikeSocial
By Michael Mann
MannOnABike BikeSocial's Web Editor. Been riding bikes since 1984 and writing about them since 2013. Commuted in Central London for 10 years, fast and smooth road rider, does a reasonable job in a track day quick group. 6 ft and 14 st.

 

Possibly the most intriguing bike to have come out of the Yamaha factory in at least two decades, the ‘striking NIKEN’, with its twin leaning front wheels is the world's first multi-wheel production motorcycle. But where does it fit in the market and to whom should it appeal? BikeSocial hot-footed it, Jake-the-Peg style, to the Austrian Alps and the press riding launch to see if the 80% additional front-end grip claims were true and to find ammunition to inform and educate the swathes of social media-based opinionaters.

Tilting trikes are proven as scooters, but how well will the leaning three-wheel idea lend itself to a sporty, performance machine?

 

VIDEO: from the press launch including on-board
Yamaha's NIKEN with its 3 wheels and 3 cylinders on test in Austria at the press launch

 

Overview

Yamaha have given the world a totally new concept – they’ve pushed the boundaries with a sensational three-wheeled motorcycle equipped with a genius engine, the capability of leaning to 45-degrees with distance riding-like levels of comfort and encouraging amounts of confidence with braking, cornering ability even when riding on uneven or wet surfaces.

The press test took place up and down the gloriously varied and picturesque Austrian mountain roads, 175-miles of them but I spent the first handful of miles trying to work out if it was like a maxi-scooter or a big tourer. Really though, riding the new Yamaha just feels like a normal two-wheeled bike except when I arrived at the first long sweeping corner where the NIKEN's secrets are revealed... the bike showed just why it has the benefits of extra grip and stability. An obvious statement but an interesting feeling when you’re deep into the turn at 40-45 degrees having made no real effort. ‘More fun, less stress’ they say, and with two front tyres, two sets of suspension and two sets of front brakes they’re quite right.

Oh, and just for the record; it’s not a trike because trikes don’t lean. A full bike licence is required to ride it and it doesn’t stand up on its own.

 

Yamaha NIKEN BikeSocial Review

 

Price

£13,499 is what it’ll cost to ride one away from your local dealership in September when they’ll be delivered. A hefty price yes but what about the equipment? Paying a price for revolutionary technology is nothing new as I’m sure Mr Jobs and co. over at Apple will testify. It’s plenty of motorcycle for your money too, all 263kg’s worth.

 

Yamaha NIKEN BikeSocial Review

 

Engine, gearbox and exhaust

The much-loved liquid-cooled, 847cc, three-cylinder four-stroke that's also used in Yamaha's MT-09, Tracer 900 and XSR900 offers the same 113.4bhp at the peak 10,000rpm. Modifications to give it a little more torque have been accomplished by increasing the crank’s inertia and refining the fuel injection settings. The gears have been made with a more durable, high-strength steel alloy while the secondary gear ratio is increased from 45 to 47 teeth. This makes the gears seem taller with plenty of revs for tomfoolery available. For instance, 50mph in 2nd gear sees you at 8,000rpm – so that’s still under the peak torque figure.

It’s the sweet torque-filled triple that can be attributed to a lot of the MT-09’s success and the same can be said for the NIKEN. Even though it’s now powering a machine carrying an extra 72kg (that’s a whole Valentino Rossi) the engine is so manageable and offers just about enough muscle to propel the big three-wheeler around the sweeping Austrian Alpine roads. This is also evidence that only full licence holders should be riding the NIKEN, also any more power and the rear wheel would be sliding all over the show on corner exit - traction control will only keep you in the seat for so long.

The short, stubby, underbelly exhaust is just as pleasing on the ears as you’d expect from a triple, though the Akrapovic accessory exhaust would boost that further. The 6-speed gearbox is fitted with a neat quickshifter for up shifts only, and not once was a gear missed or a neutral found. A missing autoblipper demonstrates a little cost saving but is a strange choice considering a) there's one on the MT-09 already, and b) Yamaha have pitched the NIKEN as a sporty bike. The quickshifter is still ideal kit to keep the comfort levels up too, particularly because the gearbox was given a proper workout with the wet, cobbled 3,000 metre-high mountain top roads and nearby slippery first gear uphill hairpins to fast, flowing 6th gear mountain passes around the gloriously smooth and beautiful Grossglockner High Alpine Road – a must if ever you’re in that part of the world.

 

Yamaha NIKEN BikeSocial Review

 

Power and torque

113bhp to carry 263kg around (plus rider) isn’t a fair power to weight ratio but of course increasing the power i.e. engine size is only going to add weight. And besides there’s not enough grip from the rear to cope with more power so the balance of bhp from the superb triple cylinder motor is a more-than-acceptable compromise. So, it’s the torque figure where the NIKEN, just like the bikes it shares its engine with, excels. Decent drive in the mid-range when climbing out of a slower corner or overtaking, though I’d recommend dropping down a gear to boost the revs. But in this game of three-wheeled Top Trumps, low down torque beats weight off the line and the delivery is plenty smooth in all three of its riding modes; 1 being the sportiest while 3 is essentially the rain mode. The NIKEN will easily return 120mph+ if needed while the cruise control nicked from other Yamaha’s is a relatively simple single on/off button combined with a sprung rocker switch for increasing or decreasing – mind you it only works in 4th, 5th or 6th.

For those who are interested, yes the NIKEN does wheelie.

 

Yamaha NIKEN BikeSocial Review

 

Economy

The NIKEN’s 18 litre aluminium tank is said to return around 186-miles but from the 175-miles covered on the press test I eeked out an indicated 41.5mpg which would suggest the light would be shining noticeably from the dashboard from 145-miles onwards. Three cylinders, 114bhp and 263kg isn’t the most economic combination.

 

Handling, suspension, chassis and weight

The NIKEN’s trump cards are its extra front-end grip with no additional quirky behaviour and no need to re-learn how to ride, it’s braking prowess that seems to unsettle less than a conventional bike and its stability under braking and in corners. The English translation of NIKEN is ‘two swords’ with the pictorial evidence shows a pair carving a parallel curve and that’s where this machine is most comfortable – showing off its ability to gracefully dance around any corner and saving itself for plaudits when it comes to the quicker turns. The hybrid steel tube frame has a cast steel steering head and cast aluminium swingarm attached to it for the right blend of rigidity and flex and a wheelbase of 1510mm, just 10mm more than the Tracer 900. 41mm (front) and 43mm (rear) fork legs allow for 110mm of travel and are situated outside of the front wheels allowing for plenty of lean angle without really making much effort. Adjustable for rebound and compression, the fronts do a sterling job of soaking up the road surface abnormalities – in fact I deliberately rode over man hole covers, gravel and as many imperfections as I could find and each wheel comforted my ride in a way a two-wheeled motorcycle coudn’t.

 

Yamaha NIKEN BikeSocial Review

 

Powering out of tight hairpins is all about finding rear grip and not worrying about the front so much although the mass sits high making turning sharply and slowly a little cumbersome. Instead, it’s the faster sweeping corners where the NIKEN shows its skill, calmly slumping into a big lean with minimal effort, like a pendulum swaying. Bringing it back to steer the opposite way isn’t fast but is smooth.

Those three-wheels aren’t so far apart, 410mm to be precise, so the overall handlebar width is just 35mm greater than the Tracer 900 and with its stability at speed, darting in and out of the slower traffic on an open single lane road is very easy and can be achieved with conviction, you really don’t notice two wheels at the front. If in town and filtering through slow traffic that might require a change of direction then be safe in the knowledge that the lock-to-lock turning circle is very good but the high-up weight makes slow speed shuffling a little tricky for the sub-5’9” folk.

Bridgestone's Battlax A41 are the spurious choice of rubber for the three wheels. 'A' is for adventure and riding the NIKEN is just that at times, especially on these hard tyres. I didn't have one quibble about the fronts especially as my usual sense of grip was over ruled by the two wheels but at the rear, the circular rubber was keen to step out when the throttle was applied too keenly while the bike was not upright. Austrian roads are just as slippery as Spanish ones... particularly the white painted parts which create plenty of spin in the wet.

Yamaha NIKEN BikeSocial Review

 

How does the Yamaha NIKEN steer/lean?

Parallel quadrilateral arms and cantilevered telescopic suspension using the unique gyroscopic geometry that follows the Akermann principal… obviously. Essentially, the inside wheel follows a tighter arc than the outer wheel for increased grip and enhanced tyre wear. Greater lean angles can be achieved by having the dual 15” front wheels inside the upside fork legs thus creating a smaller cavity. The over-and-under parallel linkage plus steering tie rod are the key to the bikes handling, movement and feeling; they control the lean limits and wheel alignment. It just works like a normal bike when you lean but there’s the added benefit of confidence especially at speed; the front is less likely to fold on sketchy surfaces and even though the front wheels are only 15” it doesn’t feel like a maxi-scooter but instead more like a well-balanced big tourer like an FJR1300, for example.

 

Yamaha NIKEN BikeSocial Review

 

Brakes

For a machine weighing 263kg when fully loaded, plus the extra 90kg of me, the ABS-equipped front discs have plenty to do. On paper a 15” wheel with a 265.6mm disc isn’t going to be slowing much but remember there are two – each with a four pot caliper that offer impressive stopping power for a ‘normal ride’, they were strong enough for me to use just one finger when faced with a downhill hairpin and the NIKEN doesn’t pitch forward losing rear grip at the same time. The dual wheels also add stability under braking and therefore confidence to brake more heavily.

 

Yamaha NIKEN BikeSocial Review

 

Comfort

This motorcycle would make an excellent sports-tourer… if it had a taller and adjustable screen and a bit of luggage too and though that might tread on the Tracer 900 (and GT’s) toes I reckon this is where it’s best placed to attract the right audience.

With a short stubby screen the NIKEN feels a little naked. A sporty cowl does a bit to protect from the wind and there’s space in between to fit your gloves when not riding or, like the stereotypical white van man, a copy of the Daily Star and your sandwiches. Well, a wrap.

A seat height of just 820mm looks low on paper and therefore easily accessible for the shorter rider but don’t be fooled because it’s wide, long and despite being rather easy on the bum cheeks after a day in the saddle, it’s not as easy to clamber on and off as you might expect and for a wagon that has three wheels, weighs 263kg (wet) and carries a lot of that weight up top, it’s not as simple to flat foot as other motorcycles with an 820mm seat height.

The riding position is flat and slightly further back than the Tracer 900 which is to do with that weight distribution but even though you have masses of motorcycle splayed out in front, the position is still roomy enough for touring and offers loads of ground clearance before those hero blobs touch down at 45-degrees.

Despite the length of the arches shrouding the front wheels they offered little protection to my boots and lower legs when the rain poured late in the day. Thankfully my Dainese Gore-Tex kit stood firm and repelled any uncomforting dampness.

 

Yamaha NIKEN BikeSocial Review

 

Equipment

Other than the obvious additional equipment, Yamaha’s NIKEN comes equipped with many parts and services seen throughout the range. A quickshifter in my opinion is a must on all new models and is both relevant and useful here. Some systems require too much pressure on the gear lever to change or can be clunky but the NIKEN's is a good system, also seen on the MT-09 - light enough to click a new gear but still with the right kind of resistance to let your foot know it's done the job.

Three riding modes, three traction settings, cruise control, and an assist and slipper clutch are all additional standard kit. A, STD and B modes have been replaced with numbers, so ‘1’ is the most powerful and ‘3’ with the softest throttle action. Until the weather gods/Yamaha gods decided it was time to test the grip in the wet, 1 was where I stayed which offered enough beans for a mid-throttle roll-on overtake.

However, the R1-derived mirrors are only 75% efficient. They’re so far away from your riding position that it makes adjusting them annoying and all I could see in the top quarter was my own glove and the handlebar.

The quad-LED headlights give the bike a mean look alongside it’s Scorpion-inspired styling and they worked superbly well in the tunnels I encountered during the press ride.

My gripe with the handlebar-mounted operations and the LCD instrument panel is that they’re showing their age. For such a modern and revolutionary motorcycle, I really expected modern and revolutionary technology facing me rather than switchgear from the FJR and a display screen that seems a little 720p instead of 4K. I’m not expecting Ultra High Definition but something a little easier to see and use would be mega.

 

Yamaha NIKEN BikeSocial Review

 

2018 Yamaha NIKEN verdict

With some modern tech and accessories including a brand spanking new LCD dash, updated controls, a taller and adjustable screen, luggage and probably even touring friendly touches such as heated grips and hand protectors and Yamaha would have a highly competent sports-tourer. Its comfortable riding position and highly proficient stability on both the approach to and while in the corners is a really big win for Yamaha heaping confidence into all-weather riders or those who need more assurance when leaning.

It’s diverse, it bucks the trend yet like a lost puppy, it just needs a home for it to flourish, and that is as a sports tourer. Overall, Yamaha should be applauded for being brave enough to alter the norm with an intriguing, interesting and imaginative motorcycle.

A smaller capacity version might just be the key to attracting younger A2-licence type riders too.

Not only will the NIKEN be the master of winter, it’ll command the wet summer roads too and it’ll be the one you turn too as local governments continue to destroy British roads with their lack of investment and bodged patchwork repair jobs. Welcome to the Pot Hole King!

And to the army of social media detractors, I urge you to give it a go. After all, how can something be disliked without even trying it? So it’s a good job that Yamaha are embarking on a 34-location European tour from June - October allowing interested parties to give the NIKEN a whirl. Stand by for UK dates and locations.

 

Yamaha NIKEN BikeSocial Review

 

Three things I loved about the Yamaha NIKEN…

• Front end feel and grip

• Smooth power and torque delivery

• It’s novelty value

 

Three things that I didn’t…

• Rear end grip

• Short and non-adjustable windshield

• Ye olde dash and instruments

 

 

2018 Yamaha NIKEN specification

Engine


Engine type

3-cylinder, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-valves

Displacement

847 cm³

Bore x stroke

78.0 mm x 59.1 mm

Compression ratio

11.5 : 1

Maximum power

84.6 kW (113.4bhp) @ 10,000 rpm

Maximum torque

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

Lubrication system

Wet sump

Clutch type

Wet, Multiple Disc

Ignition system

TCI

Transmission system

Constant Mesh, 6-speed

Final transmission

Chain

Fuel consumption

N/A

CO2 emission

N/A

Chassis


Track

410 mm

Frame

Diamond

Front travel

110 mm

Caster angle

20º

Trail

74 mm

Front suspension system

Double upside down telescopic forks

Rear suspension system

(Link type suspension)

Rear travel

125 mm

Front brake

Hydraulic Double Disc, Ø 298 mm

Rear brake

Hydraulic single disc, Ø 282 mm

Front tyres

120/70 R 15

Rear tyre

190/55 R 17

Remark

Dual front tyres

Dimensions


Overall length

2,150 mm (Tracer 900: 2,160mm)

Overall width

885 mm (Tracer 900: 850mm)

Overall height

1,250 mm (Tracer 900: 1,375 mm)

Seat height

820 mm (Tracer 900: 850mm)

Wheel base

1,510 mm (Tracer 900: 1,500mm)

Minimum ground clearance

150 mm (Tracer 900: 135mm)

Wet weight (including full oil and fuel tank)

263 kg (Tracer 900: 215kg)

Fuel tank capacity

18 L

Oil tank capacity

3.4 L

 

To insure this bike, click here

 

Yamaha NIKEN BikeSocial Review
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