Mat Durrans on the Yamaha Niken – Lean on Three


Story: Mat Durrans
The Niken will probably arrive in South Africa sometime in the middle of this year. It’s coming from Japan, so with a name like that it could be anything from a camera to some sort of sea monster.

Yamaha Niken three wheeler_YAM_MXT850_EU_DNMG_ACT_004-55395

It’s neither, but with three wheels, a big engine and aesthetics straight out of a Mad Max film it has the presence to match the slightly menacing name.

We’ve seen these leaning three-wheelers before, and although they’re still very much a rarity in South Africa you’d be amazed how commonplace they’ve become across much of Europe. In these markets their extra cost over a traditional two-wheel scooter is gladly accepted by many in favour of the increased safety that double front wheels entails.

The majority of these models have come from European manufacturers and are generally equipped with 250-400cc engines. Performance is a touch down on the equivalent scooter, too, because there’s obviously more weight to shove around, but the width of the whole package isn’t compromised and so lane-splitting is still an option.

Yamaha Niken three wheeler_YAM_MXT850_EU_DNMG_DET_008-55799

Yamaha got into the game with a 125cc 3-wheeler Tricity in 2016, and I thoroughly enjoyed my short stint with it. It was very slow, but the leaning mechanism worked well and the Tricity was an absolute hoot to blast around town on shorter journeys.

Keen fans of the Yamaha brand have probably noticed over the past few years that the boffins behind the scenes seem to have developed an obsession with this whole three-wheeler idea. Various concepts given exposure at the annual Tokyo Motor Show have revealed a strange desire by Yamaha to scale the idea up by stuffing a big bike engine in one of these contraptions, and though we’ve admired the slight madness of such a project we’ve always laughed it off.

Big mistake, because the Niken is now in production, and I really, really want a go. Even though they’ve started building them, details are still incredibly vague. What we do know is that it’s powered by a liquid-cooled three-cylinder engine that looks very much like the unit out of the naked MT-09.

This is a good start because that is a quite lovely motor that, in two-wheel form, pushes out a very healthy 86Kw with a big fat spread of useful torque. Two 15-inch wheels up front should generate enormous grip, and with Yamaha’s expertise in electronic rider aids there will undoubtedly be different ride modes and a sophisticated traction control system.

No information as yet on pricing, but there’s every chance it will sneak in under the R200,000 mark, making it a relatively affordable commuting tool that also happens to have the performance of a supercar.

If the thought of three-wheels is still too much for you, but you’re still intrigued by the whole leaning dynamic, then Yamaha may have something in store for you. As far back as a decade ago Yamaha used the Tokyo Motor Show to reveal a four-wheel version of the Niken. The Tesseract still leans, still has a powerful motorcycle engine and will still be narrow enough to split lanes and eat traffic congestion for breakfast.

Yamaha has said that the Tesseract very nearly came into existence in 2008/9, but the worldwide financial meltdown put those plans on hold. You’d think if the reception for the Niken is encouraging then mothballed concepts like this will have their chance.

Can Am has proved that there is a viable niche market for traditional 3-wheelers, but the addition of leaning into the riding experience adds the motorcycling dimension back into what is otherwise a 3-wheel car. Yamaha has taken a bold step with the Niken, and begun a process that opens up a world of possibilities for the near future.



See below for two Yamaha videos, one an overview of the Niken and one a more technical view:


gallery – click to enlarge:

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