Out of all the bike firms, Yamaha is definitely one of the more daring, in terms of technology. Over the decades, it’s brought us two-stroke power valves, aluminium beam frames, five-valve cylinder heads, monoshock rear suspension, ride-by-wire throttles, crossplane crank engines, and much more. And here it is again, shaking things up with a wacky-looking three-wheeled ‘bike’ – the new Niken.
It’s a ‘leaning multi-wheeler’, meaning that, yes, it leans over in corners like a ‘proper’ bike, despite having two small 15-inch front wheels, held by a pair of USD fork legs on each side. The front pair of 41mm fork legs is empty apart from some lubricating oil, and serves simply to locate the wheel hubs, with the rear pair of (43mm) legs containing springs and damper units.
The fork legs are attached to a complex-looking parallelogram linkage system under the wide fairing, which takes care of the steering and leaning functions, making sure the wheels point in the proper direction to get you round a bend while leaning like a normal bike would.
There’s no damping, electrics, hydraulics or anything else in the linkage system – when you turn the bars, the wheels turn, and the leaning mechanism is totally passive, responding to your steering inputs and leaning the bike over in a natural manner. And unlike some previous three-wheeled scooters, there’s no way to lock the front end in an upright position. If you get off a Niken and forget to put it on the sidestand, it will fall over…
If the front end is totally off-the-wall, the rest of the bike is actually fairly conventional. It’s an MT-09 engine, swingarm, electrics and back end, bolted into a bespoke steel tube and alloy swingarm pivot-plate frame, with the new front end grafted on.
Yamaha has fitted curious tyres to the Niken – Bridgestone A41s – and it’s quite easy to provoke the traction control into action. Get on the gas hard out of slower bends, and the back spins up, even in the dry. When we get onto some wet roads later on, the rear skips and slides over white lines and overbanding, and you’re definitely left thinking you could do with a grippier hoop out back.
The ‘A’ in the A41 moniker stands for ‘Adventure’ and this tyre is aimed at road-biased use on adventure tourers like the Yamaha Super Tenere and BMW R1200GS. It’s a good fitment on those bikes – but wonder why Yamaha’s chosen a tyre for the Niken that actually says ‘adventure’ on the side, when this is definitely not a big adventure bike. Indeed, Yamaha’s been very insistent that the Niken is a performance-oriented design, aimed at cornering fun, and not touring.