“This is a bike to enjoy the open mountain road” says Arata Kato from Product Planning. “Our key development target was maximum cornering performance” says Project Leader Takahiro Suzuki.
He continues: “Yamaha has been studying this new technology for a long time. At first, the benefit seemed to lie in the area of stability, but we were not satisfied with that. We are experts in riding fun. In the end we decided to apply this technology to what lies close to our heart: sporty motorcycle riding.”
Niken came about after a long development, explains Arata: “Yamaha investigated many types of constructions, 3 or 4 wheelers. In the past we’ve shown concept models such as Tesseract and MWT-9. Eventually we found that a leaning 3-wheeler could give the same level of excitement as a motorcycle. Our whole technical construction is based on that idea. It’s not built with car-like technologies like the simple 3-wheeled scooters from other brands. Our focus was on natural handling and leaning and movement, and therefore we used our special LMW construction with dual upside-down front forks. And by mountng the forks on the outside of the wheel, we could reach a deepest possible banking angle of 45 degrees!”
*LMW = Leaning Multi Wheel
The front-end geometry with its parrallelogram links keeps the front wheels always aligned and the front track width remains unchanged when the chassis leans. But there is more, as our Project Leader explains:
“We used the Ackermann principle for the Niken. This is a popular principle in car construction: the circle the inner wheel has to make in a corner is narrower than the outer wheel. Therefore the inner wheel should ‘toe in’ more than the outer wheel. To apply this to a leaning motorcycle is very complicated because the wheel is not only steering and moving up and down, but also leaning! By creating independent steering and lean axles with a specific offset joint we could solve this issue and develop a very natural steering feel. This technology is a key contribution to NIKEN’s cornering ability!”
Takahiro reveals: “Another issue for us was the weight distribution. Experience from MotoGP told us that to get the ultimate handling, the weight distribution between front and rear has to be about 50/50 including the rider. But with NIKEN you have obviously more weight on the front because there are two front wheels. Therefore, we developed a dual steering axle, so we could set the handlebar and the total riding position a bit more to the rear and still achieve the ideal 50/50 weight distribution. Also the ligtweight, full aluminium fuel tank helps a lot for this.”
Key benefits: grip
With NIKEN’s two front wheels, the contact patch with the ground is significantly greater. This increased traction at the front provides the pleasure of exceptional cornering that can only be offered by two front wheels. They provide additional stability and grip, especially beneficial for riding situations like bad quality roads or under hard braking or high speed cornering.
And there is another benefit: the feeling for the front wheel, which is so important in motorcycle riding! As Eric de Seynes, director of Yamaha Europe, explains: “With the front wheel, you need to get information and feedback. Here, you have two tires which give two times the information. So you know always where you are and how you can feel the grip of the front end. The quality of this transmission of information is absolutely excellent.”
MotoGP rider Valentino Rossi also confirms this: “You have an incredible feeling with the front. And you can arrive very close to the limit also in a difficult condition. This feeling with the front is something new.”
Peace of mind
“With NIKEN it is very easy to go fast, even on bad roads” say Product Planning manager Oliver Grill.
“It is fun and sporty to ride and has very good roadholding. This way you can relax more, and ride for a longer period without getting tired. And when you ride in a group with other bikes, it’s easier to keep up.”
And there are other merits of this technology. The extra grip not only provides great braking itself; especially also, you can control braking easier thanks to its great confidence. In corners there is an extra sense that the bike is leaning in a more stable way and that the front has less intention to slide away from under you. And then during the further cornering phase, our test riders mention they can open the throttle earlier. Overall, this gives a much greater feeling of freedom because there is so much more flexibility in choosing your braking points or throttle-opening points.
Some other benefits of the system?
· Shock absorption on bumpy roads adds comfort because the system can transfer the impact at one wheel through the whole system.
· To ride up a curb at an angle is easier because the wheel that hits the curb won’t ‘skid away’ so easily and the shock is transferred through the system.
· Riding with a passenger or luggage won’t affect the weight distribution as much as on a traditional motorycle.
When asked about disadvantages, our development team remains quiet for a moment: there are not many items they can think of. “Well, obviously the weight with two front wheels is higher than a normal motorcycle” says Arata Kato. “And in town, in narrow places, you have to take care of the width in front.”
“The body design is very sporty”, mentions Arata, “the overall body shape is a bit like a scorpion and this high contrast design from front to rear end will make you imagine sporty riding on mountain roads.”
“On top of that, we wanted to express agility and controllability. A key item to achieve this, was to open the construction of the front section, so that you can really see the movement of the wheels. We didn’t cover or hide the technology and when the bike leans you can see each wheel moving clearly.”
According to Takahiro: “Our MT-09 engine is torquey and light and easy to control. It’s clearly one of the best engines in the market to enjoy mountain riding. We developed it towards more torque with more crankshaft mass because the weight of the bike is a bit higher as well.”
The hybrid frame construction with the combination of tubular steel trellis construction combined with a cast aluminium swingarm mount allowed our engineers to carefully develop and set the exact flex versus rigidity balance for the ideal handling of the NIKEN.
The front upside-down forks have dual functions: the front ones act as guides, the rear ones take care of the shock absorption. They can be set for compression and rebound damping.
The rear suspension features a convenient remote preload adjuster. Damping can be tuned at the shock itself.
The quickshifter allows fast and smooth upshifts without clutch.
Traction control prevents the rear wheel from spinning on loose surfaces.
D-mode allows you to set the throttle response to your preferred setting.
Cruise control makes it easier to ride in speed-restricted or long-distance situations.
“In typical Yamaha tradition, this bike will be a revolution in the motorcycling world” says Oliver. “It gives you a totally different feeling and allows you to ride differently. A new perspecitive on sports motorcycle riding since a long time!”