When Yamaha first launched its radical, leaning, three-wheeler Niken as based on the Tracer 900 in 2018, it’s fair to say that, although an admirable engineering feat and genuinely impressive dynamically, it wasn’t a huge commercial success. And, with dimensions that made it only usable by motorcycle licence holders (Yamaha’s smaller and crucially narrower-tracked Tricity 300 and 125 can both be ridden on a car licence) plus a price tag well in excess of the Tracer, it’s not that difficult to guess why.
Yamaha, however, was undaunted, responded with a more specific sports touring version – the tall-screened, heated-gripped and pannier-equipped GT – and the Niken suddenly seemed at least a little more practical and viable, if still hardly selling by the container-load.
Now, for 2023, Yamaha has updated it again. Euro5 has forced the adoption of the latest, 890cc incarnation of its CP3 triple, while the extra popularity of the GT version has directed Yamaha to concentrate on its sports-touring attributes. As a result, the standard Niken is no more and the new GT also now gets: a more rigid frame and tauter rear suspension (both to improve rear end ride and control, especially with luggage/pillion); a new, now adjustable touring screen; slightly slimmer seat to help shorties reach the ground and, perhaps most eye-catchingly of all, an all-new, big 7in TFT dash in place of the old small LCD version that’s bristling with features and now accessed by new, simplified switchgear, both of which are a development of those found on the latest TMAX maxi scoot.
And, on this first experience on the island of Sardinia, the location for its world press launch, all these updates have made the new Niken GT a significantly better and more credible sports-tourer.
First impressions of a Niken are always slightly bizarre, and that was especially the case here as we departed en-masse from our airport rendezvous. On board, although from the tank backwards it’s essentially a conventional Tracer 9, from the rider’s viewpoint the Niken can be quite intimidating: the bodywork covering the ‘LMW’ (Leaning Multiple Wheel) mechanism reminds more of a snowmobile than a motorcycle; the handlebars are wide, mirrors wider and a sense of bulk is unavoidable. All that’s unchanged.
What is new and immediately impresses is the new, posh, 7in full-colour TFT dash which dominates your eyeline, and the equally new switchgear which, thankfully, is far simpler, with fewer, more tactile buttons, a far more intuitive operation plus a new five-way thumb joystick which enables easy navigation of the dash. Usefully, the switchgear is also now backlit, aiding use in tunnels or at night.
The dash itself is clear and easy to read (no more horrid LCD and little digits) and there are three different design themes which are all clear, attractive and display everything you need. On top of that it’s also Bluetooth connectable for your phone functions via Yamaha’s MyRide app plus it can also be your navigation screen, too, via Garmin’s subscription app. A headset is available as an extra.
More goodness comes by way of the new windshield, which is now also adjustable through 70mm (although slightly annoyingly this is done via a lever on the right-hand side done, Yamaha says, to discourage operation on the move).
Setting off on the oddball three-wheeler is always initially unnerving until you quickly realise your caution was unnecessary. Steering is adequately light, response immediate and, by the first roundabout, you’ll be impressed.
The new engine is familiar Tracer 900/MT-09 triple fare, too, with a pleasing, curdly character, decent midrange and familiar punch – but it, too, has been improved. Largely for Euro5 reasons, it’s now the 43cc bigger 890cc version of the CP3, which debuted in the latest MT-09 but also differs slightly in being adapted for more midrange by way of a heavier crank and revised exhaust and airbox ducts with the result producing the same peak torque as the MT-09, but 1500rpm lower down the rev range.
On the drive (ride?) out of Olbia, however, those specifics matter little. On these fast, sweeping A-roads, the Niken is utterly steadfast and stable in a straight line and there’s plenty of instant pull from the refined yet characterful motor.
There are four modes but thankfully Yamaha has now ditched its old, confusing ‘1, 2, 3’ etc naming protocol and gone with a more conventional Street, Sport, Rain and Custom set-up. Street is full power as is Sport but with a sharper, more aggressive throttle response. Rain cuts power by 18% and Custom can be tailored to what you want via the dash. All are now easily selected by a prod of the Mode button on the right hand switchpod on a closed throttle. All add to the fun and practicality, and all are easy peasy to use, as is the cruise control via a dedicated switch on the left pod.
Although the front end of the new Niken is little different to the old, it’s worth repeating here how impressive the ‘LMW’ steering is. Curve-carving ‘Niken-style’, where surface quality doesn’t seem to matter and repeated mid-turn adjustments for a slightly tighter line are all taken in its stride, means its whole, planted manner is an increasing pleasure the more you tune into it.
With familiarity, as said, surface quality becomes irrelevant, as, increasingly, does grip. Instead, you just point and carve, pretty much as you would on a conventional two-wheeler (albeit slightly more ponderously) and your confidence and speed simply grows and grows. The best way I can put it is that, on a conventional bike, with increasing lean and speed you also become increasingly aware of diminishing grip and increasing peril. But on the Niken you don’t – it just grips. If you want a bit more speed or to turn a bit more, you just do it. There is a limit, of course – 45 degrees – and the whole bike’s also so bulky, heavy, with the weight conspicuously dampening engine performance (there’s no wheelies off the throttle here) that the Niken can in no way be confused with a light, nimble sports bike. But credible sports-tourer handling there certainly is.
This handling is also improved over the old Niken primarily due to a series of chassis improvements. The centre section of the new frame is now significantly more rigid than before, and the rear shock features a new linkage and revised damping rates. The result is that, where the old Niken was sometimes criticised as being a little ‘loose’ and oversoft at the rear, the new is now sportingly taut and remained well behaved and controlled all day long.
That said, you still can’t ignore the Niken’s weight. The new version is 3kg heavier than before at a full 270kg wet. But it’s all well-controlled and balanced and, as Yamaha themselves are at pains to point out, it’s also a full 20kg less than the old FJR1300, so is no leviathan. Even so, there are compromises. As it stands, the new Niken GT is homologated only for twin panniers, NOT a full touring three-box set-up, which may affect your view of it as a credible tourer. A top box is available as an extra but only recommended to be used in isolation, not in addition to the twin panniers.
So, where does all that leave the new Niken GT? Firstly, it undoubtedly works better in almost every way than the old. The engine is improved, the chassis, particularly the rear end, enhanced, while the new dash, switchgear, adjustable screen etc are probably the biggest advance of all. As a result, the new Niken’s also sportier and a better tourer. But it’s still not as sporty as, say, Yamaha’s own Tracer 9, nor as good a tourer as the latest Tracer 9 GT + (which can take three boxes and has more features), both of which are cheaper.
My conclusion? The new Niken GT is better than the old and makes an even more compelling argument for its three-wheeler prowess than ever. If you can, try one for yourself and you’ll be impressed. But you still really have to WANT the three-wheeler concept and be prepared to pay a premium for it for the Niken GT to make sense. It’s available in May.
2023 Yamaha Niken GT specification
Engine: 890cc, transverse triple
Power: 113.3bhp/84.5kW @ 10,000rpm
Torque: 90.7Nm/66.9lb.ft @ 7000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed, chain final drive
Frame: Steel-tube diamond frame
Suspension: ‘Leaning Multiple Wheel’ (LMW) telescopic forks, no adjust. Preload-adjustable link-type, mono-shock
Brakes: Radially mounted, four-piston front brake callipers and 2 x 298mm discs (1 per wheel). Single-piston, pin-slide rear calliper and a 282mm disc.
Wheels: 2 x 15” front, 17” rear, cast alloy
Tyres: Front 120/70-15. Rear 190/55-17.
Ground clearance: 150mm
Seat height: 825mm
Kerb weight: 270kg
Fuel capacity: 18 litres
Words: Phil West