News and Reviews Section — 2019 Yamaha Niken Review
Okay, right out of the gate, let’s get a couple of misconceptions out of the way: The Yamaha Niken GT is not self-balancing. It will fall right over on its side if you let it, so it’s not some new-fangled invention intended on getting the uninitiated into motorcycling. The Niken’s Leaning Multi-Wheel System is not some technical exercise in alternative front suspension to replace the telescopic fork.
Motorcyclists tend to be a conservative bunch when it comes to major change. When liquid-cooling entered the industry, many decried the added weight. Fuel injection’s introduction brought howls of more complexity and cost. And there’s still resistance in the US when it comes to ABS. Yet all those systems are now commonplace and readily accepted on today’s motorcycles.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Niken’s LMW front end is going to replace the standard single-track two-wheel motorcycle design. There’s simply too many things a standard telescopic fork (and single front tire) does well for it to be phased out by an alternative design.
But if you can just move past the unconventional appearance and/or any hardened opinions on what the definition of a motorcycle is, you’ll understand that Yamaha just might be on to something here. The benefits of having an extra front tire contact patch to work with in adverse weather and pavement conditions are simply too great to ignore.
Straight from a robot sci-fi movie and into U.S. dealerships this fall, the Yamaha Niken is its first production Leaning Multi-Wheel Vehicle, or LMW. (Photography courtesy of Yamaha)
We don’t often think about the total size of the two tire contact patches that are ultimately responsible for keeping our motorcycles on the road, upright and in control, despite it being just a few square inches of rubber, less than the average male footprint. That’s probably because modern motorcycle tires provide remarkable amounts of traction on clean, dry pavement, enough to produce lean angles of up to 55 degrees on a road-going super sport bike. We don’t worry much about our tires, in fact, until the road conditions are less than perfect, i.e. wet, dirty, icy, greasy or all of the above, and traction is scarce.
While not daunting enough to keep the typical motorcyclist from riding (hopefully you just slow down), I doubt there are many who would complain if you could somehow double the area of tire contact and dramatically increase grip up front–where a loss of traction usually results in a 90-degree lean angle–without detracting from or changing the overall motorcycling experience, especially leaning into corners.
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