2019 Yamaha Niken | First Ride Review

2019 Yamaha Niken
Straight from a robot sci-fi movie and into U.S. dealerships this fall, the Yamaha Niken is its first production Leaning Multi-Wheel Vehicle, or LMW. (Photography courtesy of Yamaha)

We don’t often think about the total size of the two tire contact patches that are ultimately responsible for keeping our motorcycles on the road, upright and in control, despite it being just a few square inches of rubber, less than the average male footprint. That’s probably because modern motorcycle tires provide remarkable amounts of traction on clean, dry pavement, enough to produce lean angles of up to 55 degrees on a road-going supersport bike. We don’t worry much about our tires, in fact, until the road conditions are less than perfect, i.e. wet, dirty, icy, greasy or all of the above, and traction is scarce. While not daunting enough to keep the typical motorcyclist from riding (hopefully you just slow down), I doubt there are many who would complain if you could somehow double the area of tire contact and dramatically increase grip up front—where a loss of traction usually results in a 90-degree lean angle—without detracting from or changing the overall motorcycling experience, especially leaning into corners.

2019 Yamaha Niken
Based on the 2019 Tracer 900, the Niken will be part of Yamaha USA’s Touring lineup, and its three-cylinder 847cc engine has been revised for more low-end grunt.

Someone from Yamaha must have had the same thought, because after building several Leaning Multi-Wheeled (LMW) concept machines like the 2007 Tesseract and 2014 TriCity and 01GEN, now the mind-blowing Niken will be coming to dealerships this fall. Based on the 2019 Yamaha Tracer 900—a soon-to-come cushier version of the popular MT-09 triple—the Niken turns heads and corners with two front wheels and leans just like a two-wheeled motorcycle, up to about 45 degrees before you start grinding off the footpeg feelers. A Yamaha MT-09 is said to be capable of 51 degrees of lean, but the Niken’s mission to increase grip and stability for maximum cornering performance and confidence is not an attempt to out-corner sportbikes, but rather to reduce the risk of losing the front, particularly in the cold and wet and on rough roads. Not only is there twice as much rubber in contact with the road, the Niken’s 16.1-inch (410mm) track up front produces far greater stability than a single wheel, and its front suspension and anti-lock brakes only enhance that stability by working independently over bumps and differing surfaces.

Read our 2018 Yamaha MT-07 first ride review

2019 Yamaha Niken
Parallel quadrilateral arms that support the Niken’s cantilevered suspension allow it to lean as much as 45 degrees before the bike starts dragging the footpeg feelers.

Although the leaning two-in-front concept isn’t new—Piaggio’s MP3 scooter has a similar layout—Yamaha is the first to take it this far on a production motorcycle. Up front parallel quadrilateral arms support the cantilevered suspension, which is mounted outside the wheels to allow maximum lean and comprises two USD fork legs per side—a 43mm rear leg with fully adjustable preload and damping, and a 41mm front leg that holds the wheel/brake assembly in alignment. Steering is achieved with a separate group of tie rods and linkages that include offset steering knuckles (Ackermann steering geometry, as used on most cars), so that the inside wheel turns progressively more than the outside, solving the problem of the two wheels needing to trace different radii in a corner. Stub axles on each side carry cast aluminum wheels sized at 15 inches for agility with stability, and these are wrapped in 120/70-ZR15 Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41 radials, a good combination of wet/dry performance and handling.

2019 Yamaha Niken
Front wheel track is 410mm or 16.1 inches, narrow enough that the Niken is still considered a motorcycle and remains highly maneuverable.

Supporting the whole shebang is a hybrid frame with a cast steel headstock, tubular-steel main frame and cast aluminum swingarm pivot support and swingarm, presumably a much stronger arrangement than the all-aluminum frame of the Tracer 900, yet the Niken’s wheelbase is just 10mm longer. Several changes were also made to the liquid-cooled, transverse 847cc DOHC in-line triple, including stronger transmission gears, revised EFI settings, slightly lower final-drive gearing and 18 percent more crankshaft mass to make starting out on the heavier bike easier. Throttle-by-wire, three riding (D-Mode) and traction control (TCS) modes plus cruise control and a very functional Quickshifter (QSS) for upshifts are all standard.

2019 Yamaha Niken
Yamaha’s CP3 in-line triple gets revised EFI settings, stronger gears, a lower final drive ratio and more crankshaft mass to cope with the Niken’s increased weight.

The last Crossplane triple, or CP3, Yamaha engine we dyno tested was in our 2017 FZ-09 test bike, and it made 105 horsepower at 10,200 rpm at the rear wheel and 60.3 lb-ft of torque at 8,400 (Yamaha says the Niken’s revised engine makes 64.5 lb-ft of torque at the crank but doesn’t give out horsepower numbers). The CP3 mill provides a satisfying amount of power for the Niken, with great in-line triple sound, smooth fueling and little to no unpleasant vibes. The old A-STD-B riding mode settings have been replaced with a simple 1, 2 and 3, with 1 being most responsive, 2 like the former STD and 3 softer response for rain. I spent most of the riding day in the 2nd mode, which provides smooth response without any abruptness, but used the 1st for blitzing the curves and enjoyed it immensely.

2019 Yamaha Niken
Steering is separate from the leaning structure and uses offset steering knuckles to turn the inside wheel progressively more than the outside (Ackermann steering).

Yamaha took us to the Austrian Alps for our first Niken experience, and I put about 140 miles on the machine over the course of the day on all kinds of roads, from the chic winter resort town of Kitzbuhel, over the twisty 8,500-foot Grossglocker High Alpine Road to the straight, flat river valleys near Lienz. As proof of concept the Niken is an eye-opener—I could push it harder into corners than anything I’ve ridden without a wit of concern, and other than at low speeds, when you can feel a small amount of feedback in the bars from the two front hoops, the steering is butter smooth, neutral and low effort, not unlike a typical larger motorcycle with a wide handlebar. We unfortunately didn’t have any rain to dampen the roads for a real test of the setup, but I’d wager that it will be difficult to ruffle its feathers even under those conditions—there’s simply a phenomenal amount of grip available for cornering and braking. The bike is so solid, secure and planted even when you’re fully heeled over it almost feels as if you could take your hands off the bars, and over bumpy roads the Niken is very stable and confidence inspiring, like it simply can’t get out of shape. The result is that many riders will find it more fun and less stressful to ride than a single-track motorcycle.

2019 Yamaha Niken
Rear USD 43mm fork leg does the suspending, with fully adjustable preload and damping, and 41mm front leg maintains wheel/brake alignment.

Suspension front and rear is firm without harshness, and the single rear shock offers adjustable rebound damping and convenient remote preload adjustment. Like other performance motorcycles the Niken has triple disc brakes—the fronts are just a bit farther apart—and they haul the big machine down quite well, though a bit more bite from the fronts would be welcome.

2019 Yamaha Niken
That wide handlebar contributes to low-effort, neutral steering that is smooth and agile—the only time you really notice both front wheels is at low speeds and over bumps.

As part of Yamaha USA’s Touring lineup, the Niken gets a fairly upright, relaxed seating position with a comfortable rider’s seat, decent legroom and a wide handlebar, yet the rider still feels solidly in control during sport riding. Dual-axis steering linkage moves the handlebar and rider back about two inches to compensate for the heavier front end and maintain a 50/50 weight distribution, and this becomes quite obvious when you’re tossing it around in the corners, though the 32.3-inch seat height had me on my tiptoes at stops. That small windscreen keeps wind blast off your chest and the cruise control is precise and easy-to-use—hopefully in fact Yamaha will eventually offer a taller screen and some luggage for the Niken, since it’s comfortable enough for long distances. Useful features include an adjustable brake lever, comprehensive negative LCD meter and a small amount of storage under the locking passenger pillion. All LED lighting includes quad headlights and front turn signals integrated into the functional mirrors. Styling-wise the scorpion-based look is a love it or hate it proposition I suppose, though I don’t believe Yamaha did itself any favors with that somber Graphite color choice….

2019 Yamaha Niken
All LED lighting is cool looking and seemed quite effective in the many tunnels we rode through in Austria.

“Twinned” wheels less than 460mm apart are considered a single wheel in most countries, so the Niken remains firmly in motorcycle territory when it comes to licensing and helmets and such. It’s 410mm front track is narrower than the handlebar, so it’s also highly maneuverable at low speeds—sharing lanes on California freeways, for example, should be a snap. But at a claimed 580 pounds with 4.8 gallons of fuel, the Niken weighs 155 pounds more than the 425-pound MT-09 (a Tracer 900 wet weight isn’t available yet), and with the exception of the Niken’s cruise control and QSS the dual front wheel setup and its associated changes are responsible for all of it. It’s also expected that the Niken will retail for around $16,000, so while it’s definitely a step up in terms of traction and safety in imperfect conditions, many riders will find it hard to justify the extra weight and cost. But for someone who wants more stability, control and incredible grip up front, especially when the conditions are less than ideal, or just wants to own one of the most unusual and exciting machines Yamaha has ever built, the Niken is a triple treat in more ways than one.

Keep scrolling for specs and more photos!

2019 Yamaha Niken
Yamaha says the Niken’s styling was based on a scorpion, and is intentionally minimalist and open to expose the bike’s technology and attract gearheads (“technologists”) and early adopters.

2019 Yamaha Niken
Base Price: NA
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Website: yamahamotorsports.com

Engine
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse in-line triple
Displacement: 847cc
Bore x Stroke: 78.0 x 59.1mm
Compression Ratio: 11.5:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 26,000 miles
Fuel Delivery: EFI w/ YCC-T & 41mm throttle bodies
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 3.6-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated assist & slipper wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Electrical
Ignition: TCI
Charging Output: 430 watts @ 5,000 rpm
Battery: 12V 9.1AH

Chassis
Frame: Hybrid cast/tubular steel & cast aluminum diamond, cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 59.4 in.
Rake/Trail: 20.0 degrees/2.9 in.
Seat Height: 32.3 in.
Suspension, Front: Double USD telescopic, 41mm front, 43mm rear fully adj., 4.3-in. travel
Rear: Single linked shock, fully adj. w/ remote preload, 4.9-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 266mm discs w/ opposed 4-piston calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 298mm disc w/ 2-piston floating caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 15 in x 2
Rear: Cast, 6.00 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR15
Rear: 190/55-ZR17
Claimed Wet Weight: 580 lbs.
Load Capacity: 430 lbs.
GVWR: 1,010 lbs.

Performance
Fuel Capacity: 4.8 gals., last 1.06 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (low/avg/high) NA
Claimed Range: 186+ miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,000

2019 Yamaha Niken
You guys in the Land Rover that shot this stuff, you rock! A little crazy maybe, but you rock nonetheless…
2019 Yamaha Niken
“The hills are alive, with the sound of dragging footpegs…” Hey, we were in Austria, give me a break. The Niken allows plenty of lean before anything starts to drag; first to touch are the lengthy footpeg feelers.
2019 Yamaha Niken
Mounting the fork legs outside the wheels allows for more lean angle than if they were inside, but requires strong quadrilateral support.
2019 Yamaha Niken
Dual-axis steering mechanism at top and offset steering knuckles (just inside front fork leg) are somewhat visible in this photo.
2019 Yamaha Niken
Brace under muffler boombox adds frame strength and protection for the exhaust system.
2019 Yamaha Niken
Gort, klaatu barada nikto!
2019 Yamaha Niken
As on the R1, the Niken’s all-aluminum fuel tank saves weight and is stamped and partly hand-welded.
2019 Yamaha Niken
Negative LCD meter is comprehensive and relatively easy to read, but the rest of the cockpit seems kind of plain.

41 COMMENTS

  1. Why do all these motorcycle companies make bikes with the peg back ninja bike style? That knocks out older guys like me and pretty much anyone around the 50 mark.

    • The front-end stability is a fine idea, but the Niken is totally ugly. It looks like something dropped by invading aliens to hunt down and devour humans.

    • Why do all these motorcycle companies make bikes with the peg forward cruiser bike style?
      That knocks out older guys like me and pretty much anyone around the 50 mark.

      Different styles for different people, I suppose.

  2. Radically different engineering already alienates many potential buyers, why double the shock with radically different styling as well? Didn’t the failure of Suzuki’s wankel-engined bike teach that lesson?
    A radical change in engineering calls for the most conventional styling possible to lesson the shock, especially when the potential market for this bike is most likely to be customers who didn’t grow up on video games.
    Perhaps another model could be introduced with styling based on a V-star.

  3. Mark, at one point in the article you mention being on tip-toes while stopped. I take it then that the bike, despite the three wheels, will tip. When parked it must be on a side or centre stand?

    Well written with lovely photos…thanks,
    David

  4. You guys say “phenomenal amount of grip” but that doesn’t jive with comments I’ve read in other “first ride” reviews. More complicated to maintain and repair, more weight, more expensive – and yet I’ve read comments elsewhere that it just doesn’t really give you any advantage in cornering and grip.

    I dunno. I like my motorcycles simple and elegant. This doesn’t strike me as a smart move on Yamaha’s part. I predict it’ll be a huge flop.

  5. I agree with Jim. The target market for this bike, clearly, is not young people. It’s older people who buy Trike$. For one, they have the $ and two, they are not such performance hounds which this bike would not shine in. The first thing you’d have to do with this beasty is put some forward pegs on it, (if possible), so a long/touring ride in a road suit wouldn’t cripple you. Also, the tall seat hight precludes most women. Nice try otherwise.
    I have fond memories of my Yamaha XS1100 shafter which died at 11 years because I couldn’t obtain new vacuum throttle slides. The bike shop said he’d never had one apart.

  6. Your lack of “wit” (sic) concerns me not one “whit,” but your atrocious spelling & poor editing surely does! Back to school with you!

  7. Too bad the seat height is so tall. Pushing 70 yrs old this bike might have been a good one to replace my 1100 Monster. Lower the seat, raise the windshield and provide some touring luggage and I’d be interested.

  8. Who would be the target by her? I would think it would be guys who are looking at a trike or can I am want a bike that will lean on quarters. So in other words like the other comment someone 50 and over. We watch touring type bikes not café type racer bikes the whole layout of this bike is wrong for that age group I believe. I would want to bike that sound like a Harley but had this three wheeled configuration.

  9. This is so goofy looking it looks like it would be fun and I would love to take one for a test ride when it becomes available. I have ridden the MT-09 and was very impressed with its performance and style. However, at $16,000+/- for the Niken, it’s hard to justify the cost for a gimmick motorcycle when the MT-09 is around $9000. I wish Yamaha well with this new model, it will be very interesting to see how the public accepts the design and performance.

  10. I’m 64 and looking forward to giving the Yamaha Niken a go. Three tire patches for better cornering and braking with full leaning capability? I’m on board with that.

  11. Who are they targeting for this bike? I would think the only people Interested in this bike would be old farts like me that see a trike in their future but want one that will lean into curves. But most of us want a more laid-back cruiser style bike so I think they’ve missed the boat. They’re on the right track though.

  12. Love the concept; don’t love the weight and especially don’t love the seat height. Offer something in the 650 – 750cc range with a seat around 30″ tall and I’d be a lot more interested.

  13. As an old guy that’s been riding for 54 years I am fully aware that myself and the vast majority of riders young or old do not possess the abilities to ride anywhere near the capabilities of most machines so there should be no concern about a few extra pounds here or there on any bike. Of course there’s tons of arguments against this theory and that’s ok. The probability is that not one in a thousand riders could even qualify to race the Isle of Mann so again, who cares about a few pounds…. Thanks for the article. Outstanding.

  14. Let’s see what Honda comes out with to compete with the Niken. A lower seat and slightly more forward foot controls would make it quite attractive for me.

    • No locking device, a pity. MkII perhaps will have this practical facility . Plus panniers. What is the service interval?

      • This is just a guess, but I’m thinking bag sets that will fit an MT-09, SHAD for instance, would also fit the Niken. Yamaha Canada offers them as accessories, and it’s easy to cross-reference what’s available direct with aftermarket folks like Revzilla… or call them direct.

  15. If I am correct the Piaggio’s two front wheels lock upright at very low speeds, so that there is no need to put your feet down at a stop. I am assuming that the Niken does not have that feature. For older riders that are considering a traditional trike, so that they do not need to worry about maintaining balance at low speeds, the Niken might be a good fit IF it had a way to automatically balance at very low speed.

  16. I’m sorry to see all the comments about this bike being for old guys who would otherwise ride some lard-ass Harley trike. I don’t see it that way at all. I’ve read all the reviews I can find, and apparently it feels and handles just like a two wheel motorcycle once you’re moving. Standard trikes aren’t like that at all! When you’re riding the Niken, you can’t even see that there are two front wheels let alone feel them. But the grip and lean angle are better than 95 percent of riders will ever need or achieve. For most of us, the added confidence that we can lean further and safer without worry about losing the front end will actually result in most Niken riders going faster on this bike than they would on two wheels. I can’t wait to ride it, but I would imagine it might be hard to find a dealer willing to allow a test ride. And the line for test rides at the motorcycle shows will be a mile long! Thanks Yamaha for showing such innovation.

  17. I like the idea and concept and the motorcycle itself.Yes it’s odd looking but very kool.I bet if I purchased one and went to the Rock Store and up the snake to the overlook.Everyone would want me to ride it fast down the snake to see how it handles.I might purchase this or the Kawasaki H2 SX SE.I like the H2 more cause it has a supercharger.

  18. Rider triangle appears cramped for older riders. Personally I prefer the UJM style and do not see myself on a Niken or any other ride with similar rider ergos and definently not on a feet forward ride.

  19. I agree w/everyone who is “seasoned” & looking for a 3-wheeler: they missed the mark. Uncomfortable ride (unable to sit at stops & lights; must put a foot down); peg placement all wrong. AS w/the Can-Am’s & a Harley, a reverse gear would be appreciated. Parts for the Can-Am are hard to come by (must come from Canada) & expensive to repair. Harley’s are waaaayyyy expensive. I hear Honda has a concept 3-wheeler. Coming to market w/in 1-2yrs.

  20. Looks like a pile of shite. What is the point of it? Why not just buy a Reliant Robin instead. This isn’t a motorbike, it is a joke.

  21. I’m part of the older rider group. I was lucky to survive my California canyon racing days unscathed (thank you Keith Code racing schools). Now I ride mountain passes like Bear Tooth Pass next to Red Lodge Montana. I haven’t ridden the Niken. I did demo the Piaggio MP3. I was impressed with the front wheels stability in bumpy turns. Anybody who has ridden bumpy/broken pavement knowns the risk of a low side crash when the front wheel loses traction from a bump in the turn. That risk you can experience on those back roads heading down from Skyline Road (close to Alice’s restaurant near San Francisco), or on most mountain passes where I ride. I look forward to trying the Niken because it would be a significant performance upgrade for that type of public road. The added weight may keep it from being competitive on the race track (prepped track, nice and smooth), but it would probably outrun the sportbikes on the rougher roads (the supermotos used to outrun the sportbikes on those back roads off of Skyline… But my experience was 30 years ago).
    Better performance also translates to better safety margins. It turns my stomach when I see bikers leaning over the center line on blind corners because they are afraid to follow a line along the outside of the corner. With two wheels up front, the off camber/bumpy/gravely outside edge of the road should be less intimidating. I hope to get a chance to test the Niken under those conditions. Maybe Yamaha will bring the Niken Experience tour to Sturgis (super moto race or Rally), or to the Red Lodge Rally. I could test my anticipation.

  22. Yamaha will eventually sell the initial inventory and the. honda will come out with one and sell all they can make.

    Yamaha forgot who they’re trying to attract. It can’t begin to compete with even a much smaller bike in terms of outright performance yet stuffs the rider into a sport bike style riding position. Then, instead of some nice bodywork that the people who can afford this want, they create a transformer thing.

    I had the money waiting to buy this bit the execution is horrible. I’m just 60 and will not buy a machine that doesn’t have luggage ready to go (really Yamaha, you couldn’t figure it out?), a lower seat and adjustable footrests and bars that move more than 1 millimeter.

    There are lots of people who own FJRs, ST1100/1300 and other similar bikes but who no longer want nearly 700 pounds of machine and they would have been natural customers except what Yamaha put out is something for millenials spending their parents social security. Too bad they aren’t buying this either.

    There is nothing to refine or evolve here, it is what it is and just as ansport bike with luggage does a sport tourer not make, this is an orphan from the start and already a curio more than something you’ll buy.

    Yamaha came out with the perfect bike everyone wants to ride…once.

  23. Quit crying about seat height and peg location. If the bike isn’t for you, don’t but it. The seat height isn’t high at all. If you want forward pegs, they come on these bikes made in China (HD) lol.

  24. “I’m too old.” Buy a hover round! The guy in the Yamaha advertisment doesn’t look like he’s 50-60 years old. Trying something new is good for the industry even if it doesn’t sell.

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