Ever since it introduced the three-wheel Niken in 2018 followed by the Niken GT in 2019, Yamaha has been trying to convince us that the additional wheel offers more grip. This isn’t exactly something that’s easy to test unless you’re willing to throw your Niken on the side—for science of course. The folks at Bennetts decided to give the third-wheel theory a fair shot and test it out. So, what do you think their conclusion is?
On paper, one more contact surface equating to more grip makes perfect sense. Whether it’s a placebo effect or actual physics, having ridden the Niken myself, it does feel steadier in the corners. Some might argue that “feeling more confident” should be good enough, whether the second front wheel provides more grip or not. That being said, it’s also interesting to know if there’s any proof to the manufacturer’s claims.
The guys at Bennetts took to the Niken to the track alongside an MT-09. They put stunt rider, riding instructor, and journalist Chris Northover on both bikes and had him “crash” them. By “crash”, I really mean try to lie them down in a slippery bend without actually damaging the bikes. This was achieved by fitting the two motorcycles with an outrig, a set of spring-mounted arms that act as training wheels and push the bike back up when traction is lost.
Both the Niken and the MT-09 were equipped with the same outrig and used the same tires to ensure that the testing was done in the same conditions.
So, what conclusion did Northover draw? Apparently, that third wheel actually makes a difference. He explains in the video that when the Niken started losing traction, there was a bit of “buffer” period, like a warning prior to losing the bike that allowed him to ease on the brakes. The Niken reacted very gradually which gave him a chance to correct his maneuver. On the MT-09, like on any two wheel motorcycles, he commented, once traction was lost, the bike was just going.
Writer John Milbank who discusses with Northover even tested the contact surface of the two motorcycles by lifting them up, painting the front wheels, and then lowering them on pieces of paper with him sitting on them. The MT-09 has a contact patch of 31.5 square centimeters (4.88 square inches) while with its two wheels, the Niken has a combined contact patch of 65.5 square centimeters (10.15 square inches).
So there you have. Are three wheels better than two? Apparently so!