2019 Yamaha Niken GT | First Ride Review

2019 Yamaha Niken GT action lean
It took a while to overcome my instincts and APF (acute pucker factor) before I could pitch the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT into wet corners at dry-road speeds, but once there it does indeed stay stuck. (Photography by Joe Agustin)

Following our first ride on the 2019 Niken at the press introduction in Europe, Yamaha pre-sold every one of the relatively few examples it brought to the States, and test units of the world’s first production Leaning Multi-Wheeled motorcycle were tough to come by. Although I was able to write a fairly comprehensive review of the two-front-wheeled bike based on the 140-mile intro ride, questions still remained. Namely, how does the Niken work on the wet, dirty, snotty, bumpy roads it was designed to tame, rather than just licked-clean, dry and perfectly surfaced twisties in the Austrian alpine sunshine? Fortunately we were able to get back on the LMW’s saddle recently at the launch of the 2019 Niken GT on some wonderfully varied roads in Central California. And not only did it rain all freakin’ day, I was able to abscond with a test bike to put on our scale and into the curious hands of the entire Rider staff.

2019 Yamaha Niken GT action lean
Wide handlebar provides ample leverage, and with the smooth action of the leaning mechanism and suspension makes the Niken steering effortless.

My riding impressions, the tech details and features of the Niken in my First Ride Review still hold true, but know this: Regardless of your feelings about its angry-robot looks, the 580-600-pound wet weight (depending on model) of the 3-cylinder, 847cc bike or insecurities about being seen on such a weird and groundbreaking motorcycle, I have never ridden faster around a corner in the rain on a machine that leans in my entire life. In the pouring rain on the tightest, slickest, bumpiest part of snaky Tepusquet Canyon Road, I repeatedly tried to break the Niken GT’s front end loose, and failed. There is so much grip front and rear that–while it takes some time to put your trust in the disconnected feeling common to alternative front ends–once you do the Niken will simply keep leaning farther and farther without a hint of looseness or instability, right up to the 43 degrees of lean when its footpeg feelers touch tarmac. With two tires up front, should one tire slip in some dirt or leaves the other takes over, during braking as well as cornering, and road irregularities like tar snakes and rain grooves simply disappear. The sense of effortless stability from the steering and suspension is unequaled by any normal motorcycle as well.

2019 Yamaha Niken GT chassis no bodywork
A hybrid frame with a cast steel headstock, tubular-steel main frame and cast aluminum swingarm pivot support and swingarm result in a much stronger arrangement than the all-aluminum frame of the Tracer 900 from which the Niken gets its engine.

Sure, a good sportbike can exceed 43 degrees of lean without trying hard, even the 45 degrees of which the Niken is capable before its parallel quadrilateral support arms bottom out. The Niken and Niken GT aren’t intended to push cornering extremes, but to add a level of confidence to everyday riding and safety to riding in poor road conditions. Since it’s a full-size motorcycle, not a scooter, doesn’t have a tilt lock and must be held up at stops and parked on its sidestand (or GT’s centerstand), the Nikens are intended for experienced riders, perhaps those looking for a little less worry or stress when riding in the rain or at a brisk pace. Most of all they’re a lot of fun to ride thanks to that riding-on-rails stability combined with sportbike-like agility–every time I ride one I’m reminded of the Speeder bikes in “Star Wars” zipping through the trees in the Endor forest. And yes, you can easily share or split lanes–the handlebar is the widest part of the bike, and it’s no wider than a typical adventure bike bar. I’d still like more bite from the front brakes–although there’s an opposed 4-piston caliper on each wheel, the discs are smallish at 266mm–and while the heated grips worked well on the low and medium settings, on our test bike they didn’t heat evenly on high.

2019 Yamaha Niken GT action
Fifteen-inch front wheels provide agility with stability, and the stock Bridgestone Adventure A41 tires grip remarkably well.

Mark’s Gear
Helmet: Shoei Neotec II
Jacket: Tour Master Transition Series 5
Pants: Rev’It
Boots: Dainese Long Range

Read our 2019 Yamaha Tracer 900 GT Road Test Review

The Niken is part of Yamaha’s sport-touring lineup, and well it should be, given its relaxed upright seating. Unlike the Tracer 900 it’s based upon, footpegs are underneath the rider rather than behind, and are low enough to allow plenty of legroom. There’s a natural reach to the high, wide handlebar, which doesn’t put any weight on your wrists, and comfortable weight distribution between your butt and feet. The Niken GT takes the touring equation several steps further by adding a wider, taller windscreen, heated grips, comfort rider and passenger seats, a passenger grab rail that is top-case ready, an additional 12-watt power outlet, a pair of quick-release 25-liter saddlebags and a centerstand. Although not quite big enough to hold a full-face helmet, the semi-soft, zippered clamshell saddlebags have a slick, lightweight design to help keep the GT’s load capacity above 400 pounds. Separate waterproof liners and small combination locks for the zippers keep you gear dry and secure, and both the bags and mounting racks lock to the bike but release easily so you can take just the bags with you or remove the entire setup, leaving just a small mounting stub on either side.

2019 Yamaha Niken GT chassis no bodywork steering
With bodywork removed and lifted with a floor jack, you can see the full range of motion of the parallel quadrilateral arms that allow the Niken to lean.

All told the GT package only adds 20 pounds, and all of its components work exceptionally well. The comfort seats are plush and cozy for long rides (though they do raise the rider’s seat height about an inch, which puts me on my tiptoes at stops), the windscreen provides good upper body coverage and the centerstand eases final drive-chain service (and lets you lift the front to show off the movement of the parallel fork support arms). For more wind protection a 2.4-inch-taller windscreen is available for the Niken GT, and Yamaha offers heated comfort seats as well.

2019 Yamaha Niken GT action lean
With just 16.1 inches between tire centers, the Niken’s handlebar is the widest part of the bike, so sharing lanes is a snap.

As Yamaha’s and the world’s first production LMW motorcycle, given the small number of Nikens and Niken GTs the company is offering globally (and their premium pricing), I have to believe that it’s testing the waters in the real world not just to see how well its known performance parameters are accepted, but also its unknown ones–what sort of effect might the Niken have on a rider’s attitude about going back to a regular bike with “just” one wheel in front, for example? Given its testing of more extreme LMW variations and even self-balancing autonomous motorcycles, you have to believe that the Niken is just the first salvo in a separate line of LMWs if it shows promise. Imagine its front end on an FJR1300, for example, with tilt lock as an option. Sport touring would never be the same.

2019 Yamaha Niken GT
Niken GT adds a taller, wider windscreen, heated grips, comfort seats, 25-liter saddlebags, passenger grab rail that’s top-case ready and a centerstand.

Check out Rider’s Guide to New/Updated Street Motorcycles for 2019

(Scroll down for more photos)

2019 Yamaha Niken GT Specs
Base Price:
$17,299
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-and-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 w/ cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 59.4 in.
Rake/Trail: 20.0 degrees / 2.9 in.
Seat Height: 32.9 in.
Suspension, Front: Double USD telescopic, 41mm front, 43mm rear fully adj., 4.3-in. travel
Rear: Single linked shock, fully adj. w/ preload remote, 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
Wet Weight: 600 lbs.
Load Capacity: 410 lbs.
GVWR: 1,010 lbs.

Performance
Fuel Capacity: 4.8 gals., last 1.06 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 AKI min. (low/avg/high) 36.0/41.4/45.8
Estimated Range: 199 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,000

2019 Yamaha Niken GT engine
Liquid-cooled, transverse 847cc in-line triple gets a number of minor changes for use in the Niken.
2019 Yamaha Niken GT dash meter gauge
LCD meter is clear, easy-to-read and provides heated grip, ride mode and traction control settings and trip computer data at a glance.
2019 Yamaha Niken GT cockpit
Taller, wider windscreen on the GT provides ample upper body protection; a 2.4-inch taller one is available, too.
2019 Yamaha Niken GT
Plusher GT seats add comfort for long rides (and rider’s is about one-inch taller).
2019 Yamaha Niken GT saddlebag
Lightweight, quick-release semi-soft saddlebags hold about 25 liters, or 11 pounds, and come with waterproof liner bags.
2019 Yamaha Niken GT preload adjuster
Additional 12-watt (1 amp) power outlet on the Niken GT, and remote rear preload adjuster.
2019 Yamaha Niken GT
If those two wheels don’t their attention, the twin LED headlights will.
2019 Yamaha Niken GT action
A break in the rain at beautiful Avila Bay, California, after lunch at the Olde Port Inn on the pier. With the addition of the GT equipment, the Niken is ready for some long and memorable rides.

12 COMMENTS

  1. I test rode one at Bike Week. The front suspension is fantastic. I never felt any bumps and steering was so natural. I was so impressed. The rear suspension was a little hard.

  2. As an aging Goldwing rider who has to face the reality that he may need something lighter than the current 900 pound plus bike that I ride, the Niken is intriguing. But I think I will wait for one with locking wheels available at slow speed and stops so that I don’t have to worry about dropping the bike or putting my feet down at stops. I’m more that willing to give up a bit of sportiness in return for the stability, as well as a lower seat height. A Niken with the features I want will make a real dent in the trike market for older riders.

  3. As a reverse trike designer and builder one of my initial ideas was a leaning reverse trike. And prior to the Nikon Harley ,CanAm and others tested this concept. None including me decided on building a leaning trike as in actual testing it offers little increase in traction as the weight on each wheel is cut in half which also means the effective traction is halved. It also entails great complexity and in the end you have a 3 wheel vehicle with is trying to mimic a 2 wheel vehicle. At best what you have is a very expensive novelty bike. This is why you don’t see leaning cars or leaning anything multi wheeled as it seems cool but is in fact impractical.

    • Norm, your statement, “…in actual testing it offers little increase in traction as the weight on each wheel is cut in half which also means the effective traction is halved” would be true if all else remained the same, but the Niken is 100 pounds heavier than the MT-09 two-wheeler upon which it’s based, and has 50/50 weight distribution. It’s front tires are 2 inches smaller in diameter, so while it’s true that traction isn’t exactly doubled, the Niken’s two front wheels do give it much more front-end grip than the MT-09 and possibly any normal motorcycle. The bike also benefits from what is essentially “redundant traction,” in that if one tire loses grip for whatever reason, the other is unlikely to do so at that exact moment. But don’t take our word for it—go fling a Niken through a corner in the rain. We did so far beyond the speeds at which any motorcycle we’re aware of would stay upright.
      Leaning into a corner helps counteract centrifugal force, a desirable effect in any vehicle, and it’s a must if you’re going to enjoy the increased stability of a 3 wheeler and maintain the motorcycle experience. The idea behind the Niken is to maintain the motorcycle experience while offering unprecedented front end grip, especially in adverse road conditions, and more stability for increased rider confidence. It’s likely just the first of many machines like it.

  4. They had half a dozen bikes at COTA for MotoGP this year. I was so disappointed that I didn’t have any gear with me, because I would absolutely have taken one out. They look big and heavy, but also like they’d sport tour all day.

    • I’m a believer after a demo at Americade earlier this month. All it took was that first turn to cause my brain to register a noticeable pop in confidence. From there it was genuine wonder at the newfound sense of stability with no loss of agility. Something new and exciting is going on in motorcycles. Seriously entertaining thoughts of trading in my touring bike for more of this new, fun feeling. Thanks Yamaha for moving sport forward!

  5. Be it Mr. Kobes (comment above) or someone else with a engineering/physics background, I’d love to be told why Can-Am hasn’t used this technology. During the past year I’ve spent quite a bit of time in France and Spain, where three-wheel vehicles are as common as baguettes. Which reminds me . . . like a baguette, you can squeeze a two wheeled motorcycle into and between places other vehicles can’t go. Can the Niken do the same?

  6. Having ridden the Niken GT at my local dealer demo, I found it incredible. The handling was precise and the ergonomics spot on. I rode my Yamaha XSR900 to the dealer on a very windy day, and while I love my bike, I was getting blown around pretty good on the highway. The demo ride also had us on a highway, and while I was getting jostled by the wind, the Niken was rock solid on the straights and through the turns. At one point, we went through a subdivision with speed bumps. I took the first one with both front wheels going over the bumps (slowly) and the suspension handled them with only minor movement. Then, at the second one, I lined the bike up so one wheel went over the bump and the other passed by the side. It felt like there was almost no bump at all and the bike remained stable. Everything else on the bike was similar to my XSR. Overall, I was very impressed. By the way, I also ride an Aprilia Tuono and a Yamaha FJR. I don’t know if I would give any of these up for the Niken, but if I was constantly having to ride rough and/or wet roads, it would be at the top of the list.

  7. While this design is new to the U.S., it has been in Europe for years. This is great for some folks that may not like the lesser stability at a stop, like my wife, or that inherently don’t feel stable on a motorcycle with two wheels.

  8. Please ignore what Norm Stokes says. anyone who build something like that should talk of what Real Engineers create!
    https://endeavortrikes.com/product/reverse-trike-conversion/
    He was Banned from the GL1800Riders.com forum under the name “Storm” for attacking normal folks on the forum.
    That aside.

    I can’t wait to get my hands on a Niken GT. I studied it very well at my local dealer today.
    Kudo’s to Yamaha for this Brilliant bew design.

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