Editor's Note: The Niken is, sadly, no longer available in the U.S. This review is for all of our faithful readers in the U.K., the E.U., and other places where cool bikes are still sold. - JM.
Let me introduce you to Yamaha’s 2023 Niken GT—the advanced, daring, and much-discussed three-wheel production motorcycle that receives major updates this year.
The 890cc triple—in terms of wheels as well as cylinders—was first shown to the public with an 847cc CP3 engine in 2017. Astonished onlookers simply didn’t know what to make of the thing. What was it for? Who was it for?
It certainly wasn’t for car drivers to ride without a bike license as the front wheel track is too narrow, and the bike will still fall over if you let go of it. Instead, Yamaha stated that it basically wanted to give more front-end feel to a premium sports tourer. Just as in climbing, where holding onto the wall with two hands is better than just one, with two wheels at the front there is more grip and less chance of losing the front.
The more open-minded were intrigued. I first rode a Niken in 2018 and have subsequently covered many miles on the three-wheeler, including touring Scotland. I like the grip and stability of the unique Leaning Multi Wheel (LMW) front end, which allows you to get away with murder cornering-wise. There were niggles, however. Particularly, a soft rear end, a small non-adjustable screen and, by modern standards, a general lack of premium spec and tech.
For 2023, Yamaha has given the Niken a new lease of life by addressing some of those flaws and adding a few quality touches we weren’t expecting. We rode the new Niken GT for a full day on the stunning island of Sardinia, Italy, to assess the updates.
Although it looks much like the older bike there are significant changes. The 2023 model receives the new SP3 890cc motor, up 42cc, and now produces 84.5Kw/113.3bhp at 10,000rpm and 90.7Nm/66.9ftlb at 7000rpm. There's a new steel and aluminum hybrid frame, and Yamaha has improved and redesigned the rear suspension, too.
There's a reshaped seat to help shorter riders access the ground more readily and, tech-wise, a generous adjustable, seven-inch, high-luminosity screen replaces the unpopular smaller dash. This latter change was something that Niken owners desperately wanted. New switchgear comes in—and the Yamaha control wheel goes—while an up-and-down quick-shifter is now standard along with cruise control.
The Niken splits opinions like no other production motorcycle. Simply uploading a few images of it to the internet sends social media into meltdown. Half of the commentariat swears that it’s a pointless and misshapen freak while the other half vociferously praise Team Blue for the bravery and vision of its concept and engineering. Whatever you may think, the Niken is undeniably an interesting bike. No matter where you ride, it turns heads.
More than ever the new Niken exudes quality. The finish is immaculate, reminding us all that it is a premium product. The new TFT dash is generously large and pleasingly busy with crisp and colorful information plus connectivity and full map Garmin navigation on tap. Everything is accessible via a new five-way joystick on the left bar, with the sometimes annoying ‘Yamaha wheel’ on the right bar now removed.
The new seat is reshaped, making it a little easier for shorter riders like me to get two feet on the ground. Despite its quoted wet weight of 595 pounds, as a small rider, I’ve never had a problem with the bike’s weight. Fun fact: the Niken is actually lighter than Yamaha's conventional sports touring FJR1300, which is around 644 pounds and only about an inch wider than Yamaha’s own Tracer.
Despite having plenty of experience riding the Niken, my first few feet aboard the new model are a little disconcerting, simply because of all the extra front-end architecture under my nose. In reality, however, the road feeling through the bars is barely any different from that of a conventional machine.
The steering is certainly a little heavier than a normal bike of similar mass and capacity but otherwise, it behaves as you'd expect from a friendly, well-appointed sports tourer. Each front wheel is independent of the other, meaning that if one wheel hits some hazard in the road it isn’t felt by the other, which you have to tune in to. On occasion, the rear wheel can hit a bump that has been passed either side by the fronts, which feels weird. But once you get your head around these slight abnormalities, it stops, turns, and goes much like a normal bike.
Then you have a moment and realize the advantage of having two front 15-inch tires and the enormous quantities of grip that brings. In town, you can lay the bike over from the onset as the front, in theory, won’t slide. Slow-speed roundabouts are highly entertaining as you can carry a decent angle of lean on a cold tire, and you don’t have to worry about losing the front on a manhole cover or white line.
In fact, the Niken GT is a pleasing surprise in the urban jungle. It's assured, easy to handle, has loads of smooth torque on tap, and a particularly sweet quick-shifter. Furthermore, it carries its weight well and is only fractionally wider than your average two-wheeled sport tourer. You can still slide it down almost the same gaps in the traffic.
Yamaha treated us to some amazing roads in Sardinia, including a seriously challenging stretch which, in all honestly, was probably ridden a little too briskly. That said, it did highlight the advantages of the LMW front end and the much-improved rear suspension.
On the older Niken, the front end had astonishing grip and felt planted and solid, but wasn’t matched by the rear, which was on the soft side and lacked composure when pushed hard. For 2023 Yamaha has changed the shock's spring rate, revised the linkage, and added some spring preload, making the front and rear more equally matched. With this new suspension setup, you can push the Niken GT a little harder without the rear shock giving up and spoiling the fun. It’s much more controlled and predictable when you’re asking a lot of the suspension.
Yamaha quotes a possible 45 degrees of lean before the pegs start to tickle, which is a lot for a sports tourer and quite easily achievable thanks to the extra side grip generated by the unique dual front wheels. Sure, it’s not a pure sportbike, but the unique front end and new suspension setup allows you to carry peg-scraping degrees of lean with confidence.
There are two ways to look at this. You could argue the Niken needs more ground clearance because it touches down relatively easily, or that 45 degrees of lean is quite enough for this type of bike, thank you. After all, few, if any, other sport tourers can get close to matching the Yamaha's corner speed. Even when the pegs start to fold up there's no loss of composure or compliancy.
In the relentlessly brilliant Sardinian mountains, I grew to appreciate the GT's now highly refined handling. All its grip and easy corner speed matched by a new sense of composure make for a fun ride, and the new free-revving triple—which produces the same peak power but even more torque than the previous model—only adds to the fun.
It's a joy to shortshift through its midrange, not just for the way it shovels you up the mountain but for the acoustic hit of that lovely crossplane triple engine. Engine modes—Sports, Street, and Rain—can be changed on the fly, and it only takes a few seconds to turn off the traction control should you want to try hoiking those front wheels off the ground. Traction control and ABS are not lean sensitive as there is no IMU on beard the GT, so the bike’s onboard systems won’t be butting in while you’re really thrashing it through the corners.
There are limitations to the updated Niken, however. For those who will predominantly use the Niken for fully-loaded, two-up touring on faster roads, the 110bhp CP3 might feel a little underpowered. There is also a lot happening up front—a lot of unsprung mass, which makes the steering heavier and more tiring than normal during fast direction changes.
While there is grip galore on tap, it is grip that is trusted—assumed if you like—rather than felt. In other words, there isn't the confidence-fuelling feedback you'd expect from a pair of conventional telescopic forks and a single contact patch and you can’t easily feel what the twin front tires are doing. Instead, you use the Force and trust that the grip is there.
Braking performance, too, can be seen in two ways. On one hand, you have a large overall contact patch created by two tires plus a long wheelbase and excellent stability. However, the small 15-inch wheels run relatively small 298mm-diameter brake discs despite having to stop 600 pounds of bike plus a fully-kitted rider—plus any gear and passengers packed along for the ride. When you are attacking downhill mountain passes it shows. there's a lack of outright stopping power and a need to compensate by working the lever hard.
Comfort has always been one of the Niken’s strong points. For both the rider and pillion, that comfort is further improved for 2023. With the windscreen fully upright and with such a large frontal area, you can easily hide from the wind and rain. Up to a point, that is. The rider sits further away from the windscreen than normal, so there's some mild turbulence and, in the rain, the two front tires spray road water all over your boots.
Cruise control now comes standard but isn’t active like some bikes in this class. The large, 30-liter, hard-sided side panniers also come as standard and are big enough to take a full-size helmet. Because stability is so good from the Niken, Yamaha can fix the hard luggage without upsetting stability, another advantage of three wheels.
We covered around 125 miles in our single day ride, which isn't far enough to fully test the bike’s touring credentials. That said, I have ridden long distances on older Nikens and always love the way the ergonomics work for rider and pillion over house in the saddle. Set the cruise control, sit back, and enjoy the ride and informative display, which can be switched to full map Garmin navigation. In fact, the new dash and switchgear are among the best on the market today. I particularly like the dash's three different layouts while those who love their phones will appreciate the connectivity.
Gallery: 2023 Yamaha Niken GT First Ride
Economy-wise, Yamaha quotes 5.8l/100km or 49mpg (UK), meaning the GT's 18-liter tank delivers a theoretical 193 miles before running dry. Realistically you’re going to need to start thinking about fuel after 150 to 160 miles. On this test, I averaged 45mpg (UK), which wasn’t bad considering the spirited nature of the ride. Fast touring with fully loaded panniers and a pillion should return low 40s and steady solo riding over 50mpg and 200 miles before empty. Given the all-day comfort (of older Nikens at least) I expect some would prefer a larger-capacity tank to extend the distance between fuel stops.
Talking of stops, potential Niken GT owners should prepare for the fact that everyone and their dog will offer you their opinion of this motorcycle. Stopping for fuel can take an hour, as everyone rattles off their comments or simply asks ‘What is it?’.
Love or hate the looks, you have to appreciate the engineering and thoughtful development of Yamaha's crazy but practical three-wheeler. The grip, stability, and surefootedness of its front end are exceptional.
To attract even more riders to the Niken, Yamaha has broadened its appeal with a new sweet-sounding MT-09-derived engine, cruise control, and quick-shifter as standard. A larger and now adjustable larger screen and arguably one of the best dash-and-switchgear combinations available on the market add a premium feel while a reshaped seat, large panniers, and new colors give a high-end finish.
Handling and ride quality has also been improved with a re-designed rear linkage and tweaked shock. The rear now matches the front to produce a more enjoyable and sporty ride.
There are downsides. The steering is heavier than a conventional bike, and some riders will want a better tank range, while some may even complain about the ground clearance, which is similar to that of other bikes in this class but far easier to use up.
The elephant in the room is the price of £16,210 (18,741 Euros). Yes, you can see where the money has been spent, and the Niken GT is a wonderful piece of engineering but there are a lot of conventional sports tourers on the market for similar money or less. However, none can match the Niken’s front-end grip; having that peace of mind and cornering stability will appeal to many riders, especially those who ride two up – it almost takes away the possibility of losing the front.