We have tested hundreds of motorcycles at Ultimate Motorcycling, and it is rare that we test something that is inarguably revolutionary and revelatory. The 2019 Yamaha Niken GT fits that bill. Yes, it is polarizing, as it disrupts our ideas of what a motorcycle is and should be. However, the proof of concept is in the riding, and that is what we did—we rode it.1. The 2019 Yamaha Niken GT is best described as a motorcycle with two front wheels. While you can call it a trike or a three-wheeler, that discounts the primary motivator of the Niken GT—it leans like a motorcycle, rather than staying upright as we expect from a three-wheeled vehicle. Because it leans into turns, has a handlebar, and traditional seating, we consider the Niken GT to be fully a motorcycle—one that just happens to have two front wheels steering it.
2. Yamaha based the Niken GT on the two-wheel Tracer 900 GT sport-tourer, but there are significant differences beyond the front end. The Niken GT takes the Crossplane Concept CP3 847cc triple from the Tracer 900 GT, and then adds some additional crankshaft inertia, a more robust transmission, two more teeth on the rear sprocket, and fueling adjustments to allow the motor to best propel the 125 pounds heavier Niken GT. The hybrid cast-steel/high-tensile-steel/aluminum trellis-framed Niken GT chassis differs quite a bit from the Tracer GT’s controlled fill vacuum cast aluminum frame. The Niken GT’s wheelbase is about a quarter-inch longer than the Tracer 900 GT, while the Niken GT’s rake is tucked in an eye-popping four degrees. The seating position is also more upright and slightly lower on the Niken GT.3. The front end of the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT is industrial art underneath the shroud. Two parallelogram arms, a steering tie rod, and dual steering heads are hidden from view, which is a good thing because they would be distracting while riding. Watching them operate is fascinating, as they control steering, leaning, and articulation over bumps. The action is amazingly light. With the bike on a stand and the front wheels off the ground, the balance is so perfect that you can easily lift either wheel with a single finger. There is quite a bit going on, yet everything works with a sense of Zen harmony.4. Although there are four KYB fork legs, they aren’t what they seem. The leading fork leg on each side is inert—there’s only lubrication inside—so it is not technically suspension. The 41mm leading legs are there for stabilization, alignment, and support. The trailing legs are traditional fully adjustable suspension units with a spring inside. Also, it is worth remembering that the articulation system offers bonus wheel travel. This is especially noticeable when riding onto or off a soft shoulder—you only feel the rear wheel hit the edge, as the front-end transitions transparently. Potholes and other imperfections get the same treatment from the articulating front end—it is impressive.5. The Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41F front tires are mounted on 15-inch rims. That’s an unusual rim size, but this is a unique design. Using a pair of 17-inch rims would have resulted in too much rotational mass, and Yamaha engineers worked out that 15-inch rims were the ideal size. While 15-inch tires aren’t standard, you aren’t stuck with the Adventure 41s if you prefer something else. Still, most 15-inch tires come from the scooter realm and may not be appropriate. Getting ahead of ourselves, we can tell you now that the stock tires work great.6. When you are sitting on the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT, you won’t notice that there are two wheels up front. You can’t see them, and the feel at the grips isn’t unusual.7. As soon as you set off on the Niken GT, you are likely to feel a difference. The language that the front end of the Niken GT uses to communicate to the rider is foreign, yet not alien. It does not have the scalpel-like feel of a single front edge. Instead, there is a bit of an automotive feedback, which isn’t surprising, given that there are two front wheels. There is also a planted feel to the front that you don’t get with a solo front wheel. In town, it has a reassuring aspect to it.8. The Niken GT will tip over, so you do have to balance it at slow speeds and when stopped. That steering mechanism allows for 45 degrees of lean, so the Niken GT will fall on its side, just as a two-wheel motorcycle will. Balance, albeit less of it, is required at low speeds, and you do have to put a foot down at stops to hold it up. It’s a reminder that you are on a motorcycle with two front wheels, rather than a traditional trike.9. The proof of the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT concept is in the cornering, and it passes every test. Once you find your way out of town and in the twisties, the purpose of the Niken GT becomes apparent. This is a motorcycle that corners like no other. With two contact patches 16 inches apart, the Niken GT has a stance that defeats front end push. However fast you think you could hustle the Tracer 900 GT through a corner, the Niken GT exceeds that by a significant magnitude. The Niken GT loves to corner hard, fast, and authoritatively.10. It is virtually impossible to overstate how much cornering confidence you will have in the front end of the Niken GT. The Yamaha will repeatedly challenge you to challenge it. Initially, you might complain of a vague feeling up front. Again, it is about learning the language of the Niken GT. Once you familiarize yourself with the way it delivers feedback, you will have total confidence in what the front end is doing, even as it does things that will leave you happily speechless.11. Difficult conditions are where the Niken GT shines. While the difference in the dry is substantial, when the road is less than perfect, in a wide variety of ways, then the Niken GT takes on a whole new level of amazing.12. There is no motorcycle made that is safer in the wet than the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT. It’s not even close. If you ride in the wet frequently, this is a motorcycle you should strongly consider having in your fleet. As the rain falls, the Niken GT hardly notices. You can ride it nearly as hard in the rain as you can in the dry. In wet corners that would have you tiptoeing around on a motorcycle with a single front wheel, the Niken GT encourages you to fly through the corner with little or no concern for the moisture. The level of security the Niken GT gives a rider in a turn is mind-bending.13. In mixed conditions, there’s no need to worry; the Niken GT has your back. Typically, a damp patch spells trouble when going through a corner. Not so on the Niken GT. In fact, if you don’t notice the problem visually, you’re not likely to feel it through the grips. The front end of the Niken GT will track right through the corner and mask the damp spot without troubling you. It is almost unnerving how well it works. Mid-corner corrections for obstacles are a thing of the past, as the Niken GT isn’t demanding about where you put it.14. You will get the same sort of help should there be sand or gravel in a corner. Really, the Niken GT can’t be bothered by some loose material on the road. It has a second contact patch to handle that. Even if both wheels hit gravel, their wide stance diminishes the adverse effects of the road conditions. Occasionally you might feel something not quite right in the worst situation, but it’s over before you know it and the Niken GT reestablishes normal service. It works on a level so high that it feels almost too good to be true—yet it’s real.15. There are limits to what the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT can do, though how it responds exceeding the limits is impressive. I threw the Niken GT into a wet corner coated with leaves and moss at a speed far higher than I should have. Had I been on a motorcycle with a single front wheel, I would have instantly fallen, without any question. On the Niken GT, I sent all three wheels into a slide. Typically, that would be alarming. However, the feel was like an automobile sliding across a corner. Although all three wheels lost traction, at no time did I feel that I was going to fall. Once through the turn, the Niken GT hooked up without a hiccup, and I was headed in the right direction.16. Braking is linear, yet not quite as strong as you would expect with two front wheels. The Niken GT will slow down quite nicely if you get hard on the binders and the 298mm discs. In the rear, the Niken GT gets a wider tire and a larger 282mm disc than the Tracer 900 GT, so the rear brake is a useful unit. ABS is standard, not adjustable, and not unusually intrusive. Yamaha warns you, however—no stoppies due to the various movements of the steering assembly.17. The 2019 Yamaha Niken GT also has three power modes, though they aren’t the secret to its success. Yamaha has given the CP3 motor three power levels, and choosing the right one for conditions is a smart move. Yamaha numbers the levels rather than naming them. Level 1 is the most responsive, though the fueling can feel jerky if you don’t get the throttle just right—save that for hooligan riding. Level 2 is smooth and perfect for sport touring. There is still good performance, though you can feel the toll of the weight on the motor when compared to the Tracer 900 GT. I used Level 3 when it was raining—there’s less power and throttle response is padded way down. Be safe.18. Traction control is available, though not convenient to change. For a motorcycle that does so well in mixed conditions, it makes sense to have a couple of levels of traction control, as well as off, and the Niken GT gets that. The odd news is that the motorcycle must be stopped to switch traction control modes. That is something that should be easily accomplished on the fly.19. For superslabbing it on your tour, the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT is perfect—except for the wind protection. That planted front end is much less fatiguing on a long haul run. On the downside, the windscreen is fixed. That’s a serious shortcoming on a touring bike. If you want a taller screen, you have to install one—no adjustments are available, even with tools. When riding through the rain, the lack of adjustment was especially unfortunate. On the upside, the Niken GT isn’t too concerned about standing water on the road—the kind that would make for white knuckles on a two-wheel motorcycle.20. The zipper-closure semi-hard bags feel a bit cheap on the Niken GT, compared to the hard bags on the Tracer 900 GT. Maybe Yamaha was saving money, or weight, or just wanted to differentiate. Soft saddlebags and a tail bag from Nelson-Rigg are available from Yamaha Genuine Parts & Accessories, as is a hard top case.21. The tuning fork folks took a chance with the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT, and it paid off. While the internet-based beard-stroking naysayers may think they can judge the Niken GT by looking at it, they are wrong. The front end of the Niken GT is nothing short of stunning. It may have two front wheels, but it is still a motorcycle, and it is simply one that must be ridden to be believed and understood. There is nothing else like it on our motoring planet.Photography by Joseph AgustinRIDING STYLE
Hello everyone and welcome once again to Motos and Friends, the weekly podcast brought to you by Ultimate Motorcycling. My name is Arthur Coldwells.
Motos and Friends is brought to you by Yamaha. You can check out the amazing YZF-R7 at your local Yamaha dealer, or of course at YamahaMotorsports.com. The YZF-R7 is an amazing supersport machine that is comfortable too!
In this week’s first segment, Editor Don Williams takes the smallest BMW ADV bike on an urban adventure in Los Angeles. The BMW G 310 GS is a full size motorcycle with a modest engine, so of course we wonder if it is a little too underpowered and might struggle. Don put it through its paces and gives us his take.
In the second segment, Neale Bayly and Kiran Ridley have returned from the Ukraine to Paris where Kiran is based.
Kiran is an award winning photojournalist, and as an accomplished documentarian, he has covered stories as diverse as drug smuggling around the Mexican border, to the devastation of the Australian Bush Fires, to the tragedy of the Mediterranean migration crisis. Neale and Kiran reminisce about their motorcycle adventure in the Ukraine, and their observations and experiences with the incredibly resilient people of Ukraine, who have been put through such brutal hardship.