2019 Yamaha Niken GT: Commuter Test
I ride a lot of different motorcycles to work, so it is always interesting to see which models spark a comment. Harley-Davidsons are almost always good for an approving remark, especially from the non-motorcycling folks in the building.
Unsurprisingly, the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT has been a real attention-grabber. This three-wheeled motorcycle looks nothing like the three-wheeled “trikes” or “reverse trikes,” as the Niken’s two front wheels sit close together.
The Yamaha Niken GT throws people for a curve, as they’re not sure what to make of it. The parking attendant stopped me as I was riding out of the parking structure to ask if this three-wheeler was considered a motorcycle. Indeed, it is.
As I took off on my first daily commute on the Niken, it was obvious that something was quite different. That odd-looking front end delivers a planted feel unlike anything you’re used to, and it is especially noticeable at very slow speeds.
Normally, you have to pay extra attention to balance when speeds are so low that the rotational mass from the engine isn’t doing much to keep the bike upright. With two front wheels, you’ve widened your stance from the width of one front tire to almost 20 inches. That’s a game-changer!
While you might think that would make steering ponderous, it does not. The Niken GT handles as smoothly as the Yamaha Tracer 900 GT—the two-wheel motorcycle that the Niken is based on—though the steering is not as fast. Maneuvering through busy commuter traffic is no different than on any other mid-sized sport-tourer. The 847cc triple—based on the sporty MT-09’s CP3 engine—is a torquey, responsive powerplant with selectable riding modes. I used level 2 of 3 for commuting and around town riding. Level 2 is a perfect balance between performance and ease of use—save level 1 for the canyons and level 3 for the rain.
A woman from a CPA’s office on the 5th floor asked hopefully in the elevator if the two wheels up front meant it would not tip over. I’m afraid not—you still have to balance. While an initial glance to the uninitiated might suggest the two wheels mean this is a motorcycle aimed at beginners who won’t have to learn to balance, the Niken GT is definitely not intended for neophytes. The performance-oriented sport-touring motorcycle will lean up to 45 degrees, and when you come to a stop, you will have to touch down and keep the 500-plus pound motorcycle upright.
With a seat height a hair below 33 inches, and a somewhat wide girth, I am only able to touch toes down with my 30.5-inch inseam. Although this has me out of my usual comfort zone given the weight of the Niken GT, with that broader front end, it is not unmanageable.
At speed, I didn’t notice the Niken’s extra poundage at all. It is light enough on its Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41 tires to maneuver through sluggish traffic, and I was able to split lanes as well as I do on any wide-handlebar motorcycle. In fact, it is easier, thanks to the twin 15-inch wheels up front. For instance, Botts dots do not affect the Niken, nor do painted lines between lanes, seams, uneven levels of pavement on Southern California’s overworked urban and suburban freeways. Transitions between road surfaces, bumps, lumps, and train tracks are non-events on the Niken.
While having two front wheels to steer with certainly leads to a more planted feeling, it is not automotive in character. The twin wheels lean simultaneously, yet track independently, via a sophisticated system that includes double fork legs on each wheel. The leading fork legs are simply for stability and alignment, with traditional fully adjustable suspension components in the trailing fork legs. The feel and ride are as you expect from a motorcycle, with perhaps double the confidence in the front end. You can read all about this in our original, in-depth review of the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT.
While my daily commute doesn’t include any winding backroads, unfortunately, I do get to enjoy fast sweepers on the way home when I work late. Twisting the throttle and letting the sport-tourer stretch its legs is a nice adrenaline rush at the end of the day. This is when I take advantage of the clutchless up-only quickshifter, eschewing the clutch lever and simply manipulating the shift lever with my toe during acceleration.
The Niken is one smooth character and, at a fast pace, the extra weight feels nicely secure on the road. The upright ergonomics are supremely comfortable, the relaxed footpegs retain a sporty position, and the non-adjustable windshield bears the brunt of the windblast. The contours of the tank lend themselves to a secure grip with my knees, and that always adds extra confidence when riding more aggressively.
A stranger on the street was bent over staring at the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT’s front end when I came out of my local polling place. “So, this stops faster with two front wheels, right?” he asked. This is a reasonable assumption considering the additional contact patch you get with twice the rubber up front.
However, the Niken is about 125 pounds heavier than the Tracer 900 GT, so I wasn’t feeling a particularly stronger stopping action when pulling the front brake lever. Despite the twin front wheels, there are still just two 298mm discs—one per front wheel—along with the 282mm disc in the rear. Feel at the lever is perfectly dialed, and a firm squeeze returns convincing power. It’s enough to inspire fast-paced rides.
In addition to the stability gained from a third wheel on the ground, the Niken GT has two levels of traction control. It’s not switchable on the fly, surprising for a bike with sophisticated electronics, and it can be completely switched off. ABS is also included, and I was able to initiate it fairly easily when moderately hard on the brake pedal. This didn’t read as intrusive to me, just reassuring.
The GT package includes convenient soft saddlebags, easy-to-use cruise control, heated grips, and a centerstand, among other touring-friendly features. With the roomy and nicely padded saddle adding to the cush suspension, your back and seat get a break when traversing rough roads during the Monday-to-Friday grind. While the front brake lever is adjustable, the clutch lever is not.
The amount of attention the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT garners is impressive. Riders and non-riders alike are compelled to comment and ask questions about this intriguing design. As unusual as the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT looks, the ride is as familiar as any two-wheeled motorcycle, and with the most planted front end you’ve ever felt.
Photography by Don Williams
2019 Yamaha Niken GT Specs
- Type: Inline-3
- Displacement: 847cc
- Bore x stroke: 78.0 x 59.1mm
- Compression ratio: 11.5:1
- Valvetrain: DOHC, 4vpc
- Transmission: 6-speed w/ up-only quickshifter
- Clutch: Assist and slip
- Final drive: Chain
- Frame: Die-cast aluminum
- Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable inverted 41mm and 43mm forks; 4.3 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-free spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustable shock; 4.9 inches
- Tires: Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41
- Front tires: 120/70-15
- Rear tire: 190/55-17
- Front brakes: 298mm discs
- Rear brake: 282mm disc
- ABS: Standard
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 59.4 inches
- Front track: 16.1 inches
- Rake: 20 degrees
- Trail: 2.9 inches
- Maximum lean angle: 45 degrees
- Seat height: 32.9 inches
- Fuel capacity: 4.8 gallons
- Curb weight: 589 pounds
- Matte Phantom Blue
2019 Yamaha Niken GT Price:
- $17,299 MSRP
Yamaha Niken GT Test – Photo Gallery