In theory, adding a wheel should increase grip, especially in the wet. So Yamaha added another wheel, and some more wheelbase, to its Tracer 900 GT and called it the Niken. The extra wheel goes in the front, not the back (this isn’t a Harley trike). The two front wheels remain parallel in turns, the way your skis and knees remain parallel as you track across a slope. Does it work? Pretty much, yes. Is it worth it? Depends.
Yamaha showed this off a year ago, to generally good reviews. And it’s still on the market, so people must be buying them, right? (The motorcycle industry is far less forthcoming about sales data than the auto industry. Let’s just say in the last year I’ve seen one and only one here in Southern California.)
All that linkage on the front end is what Yamaha calls its Leaning Multi-Wheel System. The system consists of two inboard-mounted shocks per wheel (four total) that all operate in parallel. The assembly is connected at the top via a system of trapezoidal links. The links are what keep everything parallel all the time, no matter the lean angle or the surface over which you are riding. In that regard, it sounds pretty solid—even if one front wheel whangs into a pothole, the other front wheel will continue to grip the pavement, keeping the front end up. But the system adds a not-insignificant 100 pounds to the bike.
The rest of the bike is a Yamaha Tracer 900 GT powered by Yamaha’s well-loved staccato-brapping 847cc liquid-cooled DOHC inline-three, driving the single rear wheel via a chain. Published figures give it 104 wheel hp and 60 lb-ft of wheel torque, formidable for a bike weighing 603 pounds. The rear suspension is a conventional KYB monoshock adjustable for preload and rebound. Those front shocks are also KYBs and are also adjustable for compression and rebound.
On the road it rides like a … motorcycle. There’s nothing you have to adjust to, for the most part. I felt right at home on the bike right away. You still lean into corners and power out of them just as you would on your two-wheeled sickle. But all those links in front did feel like they added some friction to the leaning process that you simply wouldn’t encounter if there was only one wheel up front. A regular motorcycle encounters no friction at all when leaning over, at least compared to this setup.
As for whether you’ll feel the added grip of a front end that essentially doubles the contact patch, it depends how hard you push it. The braver and more skilled you are, the more you will lean over, up to and including (if you’re really good) the bike’s maximum of 45 degrees. I pushed it further in dry conditions than I might have otherwise, but not as far as I would have pushed a really competent sport bike. I don’t think I got close to 45 degrees. I know you would, but I didn’t. As far as I went, I will say that it did feel more secure in the corners. Indeed, it was confidence-inspiring in corners, just not as much as a Honda CBR1000RR or BMW S 1000 RR. But that was in the dry.
The real advantage to the LMW is supposed to be in the wet, and luckily enough it rained when I had the bike. I suited up in Gore-Tex riding gear and set out as soon as I heard the first pitter patters of raindrops on the Autoweek garage roof. And sure enough, it does feel more secure and confidence-inspiring in the wet. But once again, how much you take advantage of all that forward engineering depends on how far you want to push it. However hard I was pushing it, I never felt the front end slip in the wet or the dry. And on uneven pavement—I was seeking out potholes everywhere—you do feel more confident, especially in turns.
The Niken doesn’t lock up the front end at stops to hold the bike upright like a Piaggio MP3 scooter. You still have to put your boots on the ground at stop lights. I think Yamaha should at least offer that as an option. With sagging sales throughout the industry, motomakers need to reach out to new buyers, and a tripod stop system would be easier on, say, older or shorter riders, both male and female.
While the Niken has advantages over the stock Tracer 900 GT, it also costs $4,300 more, with a sticker of $17,749 including destination charge, versus the Tracer’s $13,449 including destination. Is it worth the $4,300? If you ride across cobblestones in a place where it rains all the time, say Seattle or Portland or Coos Bay, Oregon, it would be. Otherwise, well … in any case try it out and see for yourself. If Yamaha ever takes my advice and adds the lock-up front end option to keep it upright at stop lights (and all manufacturers should take my advice), then it’ll help solve part of the problem of attracting new buyers and riders to motorcycling. Otherwise, time will tell if this is a game-changing innovation or just a funky one-time engineering exercise.
Base Price: $17,749
Drivetrain: 847cc I3, six-speed manual, RWD
Output: 104 hp @ 9,930 rpm; 60 lb-ft @ 8,320 rpm (3rd-party published figures)
Curb Weight: 603 lb (3rd-party published figure)
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): n/a
Pros: More grip, less slip
Cons: Heavier, more expensive, goofy looking
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