Published on November 21st, 2018 | by Boris0
2018 YAMAHA NIKEN REVIEW – THE HOLY TRINITY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOSH EVANS
This cannot be right. It’s not a motorcycle. It’s dual front-wheel set-up offends my highly-developed motorcycle purity gland.
How dare Yamaha even produce such a thing, then presume upon my purity by taking me to New Zealand and letting me ride it?
And would I even be riding it? Surely it would be more akin to driving? What possible relationship could this abomination have with heroic lean-angles, sorcerous counter-steering, and the salty tang of centrifugal force? These are, after all, the very DNA of motorcycles.
And this, friends and relatives, is not a bloody motorcycle, is it?
Except it really kind of is.
And it’s a bloody great one at that.
Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s very hard to move past the primal programming. I struggled as well. It’s like not believing in Jesus and suddenly, one day, there he is, descending on a rainbow into your backyard and saying: “How’s that atheism working out for you now, blue-eyes?”
A man would be forced to alter his thinking, I would imagine.
This is pretty much what happened to me in New Zealand.
Sure, I had seen the videos of the Niken wheelstanding, and belting around corners at full lean, and I had read the gushing tributes of various overseas motorcycle journos.
None of whom I believed at all.
Just as I imagine some of you will not believe me.
Look, I’m still coming to terms with it myself.
But the hard-nosed and utterly unchangeable fact is this:
The Niken feels and handles exactly like a motorcycle. In fact, I have ridden bikes that don’t handle half as well, steer more heavily, and cannot offer anywhere near the lean-angles the Niken does.
But you’re right. It’s not a motorcycle. And it’s not a trike, either.
Yamaha call it an LMW, which stands for Leaning Multi-Wheeler.
But I shall call it the Niken. Or Jesus. Because over two days and some 800km of New Zealand’s tastiest bends, where speeds of 207km/h were observed (once you get away from the corporate minders all things are possible), and the Niken was well and truly ridden hard and put away wet, I am a believer – sing hallelujah!
Of course, I did not want to become a believer. No-one ever does. When one works in the almost conservatively puritanical and sometimes medieval world of motorcycling, it’s very hard to accept new things.
There are people out there who still think they’re better than ABS. There are still people out there who want to torch Harley-Davidson for not building the Panhead anymore.
And those people will always be there and the Niken is not for those people. For those people a three-wheeler that will certainly ride around the outside of a lot of bikes (and more importantly riders), and squeeze their thrill glands dry while it’s doing so, will forever just be…well, wrong, I guess.
I am not one of those people.
I was a little bit. But I’m not no more.
So let me first deal with the Why of it. Many people have voiced that question. Why has Yamaha created this? Why is it answering a question no-one has seemingly asked?
I too was curious in this regard. And I spent some quality time with Mr Takashi Keieda, Yamaha Australia’s Managing Director and the very engineer who saw the Niken project through from blank paper to “Please ride this and tell me what you think”, so thanks to the cheerful good graces of Taka-san, I do have an answer to the question.
And it makes a lot of sense.
It goes like this…
The motorcycle market is not in the best of shape. Sales are not booming as they were in the 80s and 90s. Yamaha’s research has shown as many as 65 per cent of motorcycle-licence holders no longer ride.
And they cite “safety” as the over-arching reason why they no longer ride.
The challenge to attract more buyers, as Yamaha thus saw it, was to build a safer motorcycle. A motorcycle which would instil front-end confidence in riders who may have lost that confidence over the years, or who were never all that down with what the traditional front-end was doing.
So when you consider most ambulance passengers who ride have lost the front-end as a result of their own incompetence/uncertain surface/feral panic, it’s easy to understand the appeal of a bike with twice the front-end grip.
So is it a safer motorcycle in that regard? Of course it is.
Of course, when building a safer motorcycle, one must also consider the needs and wants of motorcyclists who are very confident in their front-end, enjoy pushing it so hard the front tyre squirms and walks, and thus thrills the buggery out of them by offering them the ragged edge of red disaster if they get it wrong. And more power to them, and praise be to their skills, and does everyone understand that 98 per cent of people just don’t ride that hard?
Nonetheless, Yamaha addressed this challenge as well.
If you ride like 1000 brilliant bastards, you now have a motorcycle with two front-contact patches, or some 45 per cent more grip at the business-end. So you will be able to ride like 2000 brilliant bastards rather than a paltry 1000 brilliant bastards.
And please don’t give me this “Oh, it’s only got a 45 per cent lean-angle and, like, that’s just not enough for when I’m on it, aye?”
Bitch, please. Be honest. The last time you ever got near a 45-degree lean-angle was in your dreams after watching the MotoGP.
But just so you know, the Niken’s footpeg hero-knobs kiss the tarmac at 45 degrees of lean. You may continue onwards if you wish. Yamaha tells me a front-wheel will lift if you proceed to push past 50 degrees. I will take its word for that.
In almost every respect and situation (bar really slow hairpins and stuff which requires rapid, race-like changes of direction), the Niken felt utterly planted at the front.
The problem was me. I am of an age where I no longer feel the burning need to death-brake into corners and trust to my front-tyre to see me out the other end.
It took me maybe 20 minutes to come to terms with the Niken. Most of that was expecting it to not behave like a motorcycle, and then rejigging my brain when I found that it did. Except when it came to lashing it into fast corners. Then it behaved like a magnificent motorcycle. I actually found myself pushing it harder than I would have a normal bike. That front-end provides that confidence.
What takes getting used to is learning you don’t have to brake as early or as hard coming into a bend. This was something I did over and over – because let me assure you, it will totally kill those bastard Kiwis to install guardrails on every corner of their splendid mountain roads, so they don’t, and if you get it wrong it’ll stay wrong forever. So I would brake where I would brake on a normal bike, not fully grasping I could brake much later (or maybe not at all) on the Niken and still bang the bend thanks to that front-end.
A hard-wired brain in an aging body is like that.
The sheer engineered integrity of the Niken is a force majeure. This is not a voodoo-computer dealing with your ham-fisted inputs and adjusting its traction control to your desires. This is a mechanical contraption that adheres to the laws of physics by providing you with twice the grip at the front.
The Niken is at its very best in fast, flowing corners. And that best is amazing. The only time the Niken feels a bit odd is at very lows speeds. It tends to feel like it’s wandering under 10km/h. It’s probably not, but it does feel like that. You’re like: “Do this…”, and it’s like: “Um…yeah…OK, then”.
And really catastrophic walking-pace hairpins require some application by the rider – but I have yet to nail a 15km/h hairpin with any élan on a normal bike.
The front-end is heavier than a normal bike’s front-end, so the rider has been shifted backwards to give a 50/50 weight distribution – so the mass isn’t optimally centralised, if at all. The handlebars are wide and offer all the leverage you might need, but in super-tight stuff you will just have to trust the front-end grip because you won’t be getting the feedback a single tyre will give you.
The upside is that mid-corner bumps are nothing to the Niken. It will not track along road-ruts, and where a sudden surface- or camber-change may send you into a wall on a normal bike, the Niken simply deals with it.
At speed on flowing, windy roads with maybe an indeterminate surface, it’s astonishing.
So what else is going on that makes the Niken so good and enjoyable?
There’s the suspension. There’s tonnes of it at the front, so consequently, the front feels great. It soaks up bumps very well, and coupled with an eminently able rear-set-up, it’s quite good to ride all day. Though it will be the rear that lets go before the front, and then you will certainly praise the switchable traction control and just carry on.
Strangely, this makes the Niken an excellent tourer. The big frontal area provides great protection from the wind, and you could seriously fizz at 160 all day, except not in Australia where you will be shot and your corpse jailed.
The seat was great…until it wasn’t and that seemed to happen at around the 500km mark. It’s firm and fine, and then it’s not. I thought it may have been my aging buttocks, but then a few other riders whose opinion matters noted this as well. Ergonomically, it’s spot on. It’s just that the seat is maybe not plush enough for high-end touring. There is a GT version in the offing, so that may well be addressed.
The Niken runs the richly torquey, sophisticated and refined 847cc MT-09 triple engine, with 18 per cent more inertia in the crank, so it feels rather different to the normal MT-09. It revs a bit slower and it’s smoother, and the only time you feel it working hard is when you’re being an unmedicated psychotic and trying to catch blokes who are faster than you. I felt a bit of a buzz in my inner thighs and sack as I pursued men who usually leave me for dead. This was at very high revs (8000-8500) and only for about 500 of them. Either side of that, it was smooth as.
The fuel mapping is revised, and maybe this is the issue with the high speed thigh-buzz. It also felt a little hesitant both getting on and coming off the throttle at the 180 to 190-mark. So you feel like you’re maybe waiting for the engine to play catch-up with your inputs a little. Or maybe you’ve just been made a little insane by charging along on this three-wheeled marvel in a country where you intend to plead diplomatic immunity if the police catch you.
I’m being a bit nit-picky, huh?
I’m sure that no-one who buys a Niken will ever flog it as hard as I saw them being flogged over our two-day tour of the South Island. So normal people will not even notice what I told myself I was noticing. Oh, and I also noticed that when you’re following one, it looks like the rider is dragging his legs along the ground.
It is, by any reasonable measure, an astonishing piece of engineering. Refined, complete, clever, and so fit-for-purpose, it was one of the best things I have ridden in ages.
I didn’t want to love it. I didn’t expect to love it.
But I did.
I may well be damned to Hell for even questioning the purity of the ancient two-wheeled paradigm, but so be it.
It is better the reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
ALL THE SPECS AND PRICES CAN BE FOUND HERE
I’m trying to second-guess what you might ask. Bear with me.
That front-end is not infallible. It will still kill me, yes?
Oh Lord, yes. You have twice the grip, but that does not mean it’s limitless. I would like to ride in the rain to see what’s what.
If I ride one, will motorcyclists point and laugh?
Some will. For sure. But when you make them your candy-girl on a few bends it won’t be so funny. Otherwise, you will be the subject of intense on on-going scrutiny from everyone on earth when you pull up somewhere. Riding it nude with painted yellow privates is the only way to get more attention.
It will fall over if I leave my feet up at the lights, right?
Yep. It sure will. Think of how much laughing and pointing there will be then.
What assistance does it offer the discerning tech-nut?
There are three Rider modes, A, B and C. C is rain. It did not rain. A and B felt much the same to me. You also have traction control which can be turned off (which you should do in the dirt for maximum chuckles), cruise control, ABS, and a dash simple people like myself will not adore. There is a full-colour TFT unit coming, and I will probably love that, but the dash requires gazing at for longer than is maybe wise at 190. I solved this problem by just not looking at it. Both front and rear bouncers can be adjusted for preload and rebound.
Fuel economy? Is there any?
It will do at least 350 to a tank if you’re being Christian. If you’re worshiping pagan gods, then look at fueling up at 300.
So it wheelies. Does it stoppie and lane-split?
I did not wheelie it, but I saw others do it. First gear take-offs which I understand require commitment. My injuries preclude me taking someone’s bike and learning to wheelie it while there are cameras recording my failures and powdering bones. I have seen photographic evidence of stoppies, but no-one attempted them during the launch. The Niken lane-splits just like any other bike. It’s only as wide as the fold-back mirrors, and I broke many international laws and treaties getting into a tourist-laden Queenstown on Day Two. So it will work just fine in traffic.
What does Niken mean and how do you pronounce it?
It’s a combo word. The Japanese word for ‘two’ is ‘ni’. The word for ‘sword’ is ‘ken’. Thus ‘Niken’ is ‘Two Swords’. The Japanese expect us to pronounce it Nigh-Ken. They pronounce it Ni-Ken. You can pronounce it Jesus for all I care.
Will there be an Adventure or dirt version?
Yeah, probably. I asked. But I think Yamaha is waiting to see what the market response will be before committing to other models. Single-track stuff will not be the Niken’s forte. We did a bit of dirt and it was very fun and able, so it will certainly carve fire-trails like a boss. Single-track, Trials, and Motocross will kill you.
How does this front-end work?
Yeah, like I’m the bloke to ask. There are several YouTube vids around that explain the technicalities of this better than me. This is not new technology. This concept has been around for 40-odd years. The mathematics have always added up. But the materials and engineering know-how to make it a reality has only recently been available.
I do not care how sausages are made. I just eat them. To me the Niken is divine sorcery.
Would you buy one?
In a second.
THIS NEW ZEALAND THING
Piss off, New Zealand. You have no right being so idiotically majestic, peopled with genuinely nice folks, while also offering visitors great fresh food, superb customer service, and roads so utterly bewitching it’s like some kind of motorcycling retard’s paradise.
We rode around Queenstown mainly – Coronet, the Devils Staircase, Arrowtown, Wanaka, Glendhu Bay, Cardrona, Mt Cook, Kawarau Gorge, Lindis Pass, Lake Pukaki, and so on – and I could spend a decade exploring the rest of the South Island. It is stunning.
You must, of course, mind the tourists, who are just as over-awed by the scenery and prone to doing Crazy Ivan shit in front of you.
Our guide and lead-rider for this odyssey was the beaut Scott Columb. Scott and his family are born and bred Queenstowners, and Scott has raced motorcycles all over the world, but his heart is all New Zealand.
His family runs off-road (ATV and SSV) adventures, dirtbike and roadbike tours all over Kiwistan, and a more knowledgeable, friendly and righteous bloke you will not meet. I am posting links to his sites, not because I need to, or because he asked me to, but because it’s one way I can say thanks to him. This is the bloke I would follow all over New Zealand, safe in the knowledge he is showing me the very best sights to see and roads to ride.
He was the lead rider for the launch and set a pace astride an MT-10 that was pretty much spot-on. It kept me smiling and out of jail.
It was only when three of us managed to sneak off on the way back from staring in awe at Mt Cook that we opened all the taps and thus saw some hilarious numbers on the Niken’s speedo. Scott had nothing at all to do with that and was not even there. I blame Trev and Mav, and I will plead diplomatic immunity when Interpol comes for us all.
If you’re going to the South Island and you need some guidance, advice, or are looking at a top-notch guide, then Scott is your man.
You may click on the following links to see what he does…