2023 Yamaha Niken GT First Ride Review
The three-wheel Yamaha Niken splits opinion like no other new motorcycle. Simply uploading a few images of it to the internet sends social media into meltdown. Some love it, others curse it. But whatever you may think, the Niken is undeniably a fascinating street bike.
Editor’s note: We last test rode the Niken GT during the 2019 Yamaha Niken GT MC Commute Review article and video.
The triple-wheel triple-cylinder sport-tourer was first shown to the public in 2017. Yamaha made no high-and-mighty claims about the Niken as the future of chassis design and engineering. The Japanese factory simply said it wanted to give more front-end performance and security to a premium sport-tourer. As in rock climbing, where holding on with two hands is better than one, with two wheels at the front there is more grip and less chance of losing the front.
The more open-minded were fascinated. I have covered many miles on the three-wheeler and relish the grip and stability of the unique Leaning Multi Wheel (LMW) front end. But there were niggles with the original bike, particularly a soft rear end, a small nonadjustable screen, and, by modern standards, a general lack of premium spec and tech.
For 2023, Yamaha has given the Niken a new lease on life by addressing some of those shortcomings and added a few quality touches we weren’t expecting.
Although it looks much like the older bike there are significant changes. The revised model receives the new CP3 890cc motor, up 42cc, and now produces 113.3 bhp at 10,000 rpm and 66.9 lb.-ft. at 7,000 rpm. There’s a new steel and aluminum hybrid frame, and Yamaha has improved and redesigned the rear suspension too.
A reshaped seat helps shorter riders access the ground more readily and, tech-wise, a generous 7-inch screen replaces the unpopular smaller dash, while an up-and-down quickshifter is now standard along with cruise control. Capacious 30-liter panniers and a larger, adjustable screen come in courtesy of customer demand.
Up close, the new Niken exudes quality. The finish is immaculate, reminding us that it is a premium product (with a premium price). The new TFT dash is pleasingly busy with crisp and colorful information, connectivity, and full-map Garmin navigation on tap. Everything is accessible via a new five-way joystick on the left bar, with the unpopular “Yamaha wheel” on the right bar now removed.
Get rolling and subconsciously at least it’s easy to assume all the Niken’s extra front-end architecture will play havoc with the slow-speed steering, but in reality, the feeling through the bars is barely different to that of a conventional machine. Despite hitting the scales at a quoted 595 pounds (wet), the Niken’s mass is well disguised (and, it’s worth noting, smaller than Yamaha’s conventional sport-touring FJR1300, which is 642 pounds).
The steering is certainly a little heavier than a normal bike of similar capacity but otherwise it behaves as you’d expect from a friendly, well-appointed sport-tourer. Almost.
In terms of suspension, each front wheel is independent of the other, meaning that if one wheel hits, say, a raised pavement marker, this isn’t felt by the other, which is a characteristic you have to tune in to. On occasion, the rear wheel can hit a bump that’s been passed either side by the front tires, which can feel a little weird. But once you get your head around these quirks, you stop thinking about the quantity of wheels you have beneath you and focus on the strengths of its ride.
The main one, unsurprisingly, is the avalanche of grip produced by the LMW front end. When you have a moment, run in too hot on a misjudged, hanging turn, you can’t help but see in full clarity the purpose of the Niken. Its twin 15-inch tires manufacture grip like no other, and in that moment you love it for that. But there’s more to it than that. In town, you can lay the bike over on surfaces you’d usually view with utmost suspicion as the front, in theory, won’t slide. Slow-speed maneuvers 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 drain cover or slimy painted line.
The Niken GT is assured, has buckets of smooth torque on tap, and a particularly sweet quickshifter. Furthermore, it carries its weight well and is only fractionally wider than your average two-wheel sport-tourer. You can still go for the same gaps in the traffic, though precision riding is advised.
The older Niken had astonishing front grip and poise that 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.
Now 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 the pavement, which is plenty for a sport-tourer and quite easily achievable thanks to the extra side grip generated by the unique front end.
On sweeping roads especially this new composure makes for a fun ride, and the new free-revving CP3 MT-09 engine, which produces the same peak power but even more torque as the older bike, only adds to the party.
It’s a joy to short-shift through its midrange, not just for the way it drives you up a mountain but for acoustic hit. Engine modes (there are three of them) can be changed on the move, and it only takes a few seconds to turn off the traction control should you want to try lifting those front wheels off the ground.
There are limitations to the updated Niken. While there is grip galore on tap, the GT lacks the confidence-fueling feedback you’d expect from a conventional telescopic fork and a single contact patch. Braking performance is OK thanks to the grip produced by twin contact patches up front, but relatively small 298mm-diameter brake discs lack outright stopping power.
Economy-wise, Yamaha quotes 5.8L/100km or 41 mpg (US), meaning the GT’s 4.75-gallon tank will deliver a theoretical 193 miles before requiring a fuel stop. And 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.
The elephant in the room is the price of 16,210 pounds sterling (TBD USD). 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 sport-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.
2023 Yamaha Niken GT Technical Specifications and Price
|PRICE||£16,210 (TBD USD)|
|ENGINE||890cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled 3-cylinder; 4 valves/cyl.|
|BORE x STROKE||78.0 x 62.1mm|
|FUEL DELIVERY||Fuel injection w/ ride-by-wire|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||Telescopic fork, fully adjustable; 4.3 in. travel|
|REAR SUSPENSION||Single shock, fully adjustable; 4.9 in. travel|
|FRONT BRAKES||4-piston calipers, twin 298mm discs w/ ABS|
|REAR BRAKE||2-piston caliper, 282mm disc w/ ABS|
|WHEELS, FRONT/REAR||15 in. /17 in.|
|TIRES, FRONT/REAR||Bridgestone; 120/70-15 / 190/55-17|
|SEAT HEIGHT||32.5 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||4.75 gal.|
|CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT||595 lb.|
|WARRANTY||24 months, unlimited mileage|