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The idea of a three-wheeled motorcycle brings to mind Harley-Davidson or Honda Goldwing trikes, with two wheels across the back and the standard single wheel up front. These take a unique skill to ride since they don't lean like a traditional motorcycle and can be somewhat tippy if you don't know what you're doing. That's why the sale of off-road three-wheelers was banned in 1988. But Yamaha has released a new interpretation of the three-wheeler called the Niken that looks pretty darn cool.
New Atlas confirms that the Niken is strongly based on the FZ-09, as we reported last year, and will likely share its 847 cubic centimeter, inline-three engine. Yet unlike the FZ, it has a pair of 15-inch wheels up front. Like the Tricity scooter, each wheel has its own independent suspension that allows the bike to tilt and lean like a two-wheeled bike. Though there is not much new information on the three-wheeler, Yamaha will be officially unveiling a production model soon, and it's expected to go on sale next year.
I've ridden a Harley-Davidson Road King with the Tilting Motor Works three-wheel conversion. Though the design is completely different from the Niken, it provides the same end result, a three-wheeled bike that can be ridden like a two-wheeler. All of my riding instincts from years of riding, such as countersteering, worked perfectly on the modified Harley. Not only was the front end extremely stable, with gobs of grip from having two contact patches instead of one, it also provided the smoothest ride I've ever experienced on a motorcycle. Of course, when it comes to a Harley, a smooth ride is more important than maximum performance, which is what the Niken will likely be tuned to favor.
I've also ridden a Yamaha FZ-09, which I thoroughly enjoyed. That inline-triple engine is a gem, and the bike fits me like a glove, better than the smaller FZ-07. The combination of the FZ-09 experience with two wheels that tilt in the front will make an unusual but interesting naked sport bike with the potential for awesome performance. I never thought the FZ-09 lacked for grip, but the additional contact patch will provide an extra margin of safety as well as performance during high-speed cornering.
Yamaha has not yet announced pricing for the Niken nor where in the world it will be available. I'm hoping it comes to the U.S. so I can give it a try at the next local Yamaha demo day. For now, you can see it in action here.