The New Evolution

Three wheels has always been an acquired taste, but I have never come across such a biased audience as when I said I had ridden the new Yamaha Niken, pronounced Nike-N. ‘What a load of rubbish’ – ‘who wants a trike’ – ‘it’s just like that scooter thingy’ – ‘I’d never ride such a pile of s**t’- ‘they must want their heads tested’.

Closed minds and closed attitudes. No wonder Yamaha decided to break into the market gently with advertisements in MCN for a pre-launch trial ride at 3 locations in the UK and many others abroad, aimed at the normal rider. Yes, the opportunity was there to try something different – a different experience completely!

Luckily one of the locations was at Box Hill, and is not far from me, so I applied, and was accepted. On 4th August I found myself at an inaugural event with 19 others in an hourly timeslot to see and ride the new ground-breaking machine. It looks different, it is different and thank goodness Yamaha are brave enough to bring it to market!

Firstly we had a presentation, where we learned that this concept has been decades in the making. We were shown the superb engineering under the bikini fairing which is just stunning, and told what to expect when riding. It’s like carving through a curve when skiing we were told. These 20 bikes in front of us were the only 20 production bikes in existence at the time, prior to the launch in September.

We were given a briefing of the do’s and don’ts on the ride and then got ready. The first thing you find out is that despite having 3 wheels, this bike, when stationary, does not stand up on its own. It’s just like any other 2 wheeler, and requires manual input or a side stand. Sitting on it I found the riding position to be quite upright and, being vertically challenged, I found the 820mm seat height to be about my comfortable maximum. Like any modern bike, there are various electronic riding aids, and we were asked to put them all in the medium position.

Then we were off. The route around Box Hill being varied and quite tight and twisty, it was easy to find out what the Niken was capable of. Well, it was easy to change direction – despite 2 front wheels, 4 shock absorbers and all the extra crossbars holding them together it was totally effortless. This is wrong according to my physics, because the extra mass should make it more difficult to turn but that was not the case.

Puzzled, I continued and found that in tight corners it was amazing. Slowly you start to realise and understand that the cornering ability far outstrips anything you have been used to in the normal biking world.

Two front tyres, two rubber contact patches with the road and amazing stability means you can take liberties in the corners. If you brake quite hard mid-corner, the front doesn’t try to stand up, it just carves through the bend. Neither is there any serious fork dive when braking hard – and when I came across a patch of gravel mid corner, the Niken just rode through it like it wasn’t even there. It’s all just taken care of without any cheek-clenching moments that you would normally expect in those circumstances.

Will the front ever be totally overwhelmed? I am sure it can be, but it’s moved the goal post by at least 50% of the norm, and there are going to be many R1 and Fireblade riders who are totally embarrassed when a Niken spectacularly outrides them on a bend at a trackday.

After just 20 minutes riding the Niken I was totally relaxed and knew that the front end was not going to slide, let me down or cause any reason for raised blood pressure in any circumstances. The riding position was fairly upright and the seat moved slightly rearwards to balance the 50-50 weight ratio with the increased front end weight.

With the front end being so stable, the attention goes to the rear wheel and how soon and how much throttle you can apply when exiting a bend. Possibly not exciting in an R1/Fireblade way, but this is not a sportsbike – it just behaves similarly and is probably in the sports/tourer section with an easy riding position that evokes stability and massive confidence.

The rear of the bike is borrowed from the MT09, as is the 847cc 3 cylinder motor, which has been tuned to give plenty of low down grunt and a very sporty feel with instant pick up, which is surprising considering its moderate 113bhp and the bike’s 260kg weight!

The Niken is the next evolution in motorcycling, and soon the rest of the manufacturers will have to take notice because it takes the average rider and turns then into a road riding god, taking bends in poor weather conditions like you were enjoying them on a sunny day.

So where does the Niken fit into the market? Despite other perceptions it is NOT a trike, nor a scooter. It’s a fully grown motorcycle with 3 wheels. It’s not a commuter bike either, as it’s too wide, and it’s not a sportsbike, as it will never lean to a 60 degree angle like a MotoGP bike, but it is a comfortable long distance sports tourer with a sporty flair, great fun and would give masses of confidence in those hairy Alpine bends.

So would I buy one? I got off the bike grinning ear to ear, so yes I would. £13,500, is not cheap, but for the next biking evolution, fantastic value! I look forward to seeing them in the dealers, and possibly trying one for a couple of hours to really find out what it will do!

Phil Donovan

First published in Slipstream October 2018