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DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD | LIVING WITH

Most of us ride bikes to get away from it all, but the Niken’s uniqueness attracts the hordes

If you don’T mind a bit of attention and answering a few questions each time you stop, then Yamaha’s Niken might be the bike for you.

“What’s it like?” “Does it stand up on its own?”
“Does the other wheel stay on the ground when you corner?” “Can you feel any difference?”

A couple of days earlier, I’d stepped off my Kawasaki ZX-14 and onto the Niken, and my initial thought was that it was a bike for the old blokes. But after I stepped off the Niken some 1600km later and back onto the 14, the weight on my arms and the hunched-forward riding position nearly had me wishing I stayed where I was!

There’s so much more to this bike than just its unconventional dual-wheel front end. I did a lot of research around the Ackerman design that facilitates the leaning multi-wheel system, and found it interesting that each wheel – separated by 410mm at their centres – has a very different turning radius on full lock.

I got thinking about the effect this might have on counter-steering at different speeds, but soon realised that I don’t need to know how a power station works to be able to benefit from a light switch – all we really need to know as users is that it works. The Niken feels intuitive and the bike behaves and steers like a conventional 2019-model machine.

I was headed for this year’s Alpine Rally and, after meeting some the Melbourne crew at the half-way point of Eden on the New South Wales south coast, we headed inland to begin our climb up to the rally site, which was nestled in the cold and icy Kosciuszko National Park.

From Eden to Nethercote, through Dalgety, Berridale and Adaminaby, the final run up the Snowy Mountains Highway was flanked by thick snow. I opted for Touring mode instead of Rain mode – it was where I’d spent most of my time so I was familiar with it and despite the icy conditions, the roads remained dry. The bike felt stable and the further I rode, the more trust I gained and the more I enjoyed the ride, despite the less-than enjoyable temperatures.

The only changes made before leaving Sydney for the rally was adding a little preload on the rear shock to offset the 30kg of gear strapped to the rear seat – it was cold, alright?! – and I adjusted the tyre pressures to suit both the extra load and my preferences.

The front-end felt good as it was, so I didn’t touch that, and I worked out that the one-directional quickshifter works a treat over 5000rpm, but it’s a
bit hit-and-miss under load before then – it makes you a bit of a hoon at the lights!

The small wind deflector is a simple design and, even though it’s not particularly effective, either modifying it or fitting a taller, after-market option would be a, um, breeze. The mirrors, set quite far forward on the fairing, create some wind protection for your hands, which is great, though their positioning also creates a relatively large blind spot, so extra care needs to be taken when changing lanes.

The cruise control was pretty precise; crest a hill and the bike will overspeed by just 3km/h before it begins to correct itself. The dash is easy to read, even for those of us who now need longer arms and all the info – even the small stuff – is legible in both day and night conditions.

The headlight throws a rectangular-shaped beam, which is great in a straight line, but impractical on a dark and twisty road. It’s not an issue unique to the Niken, but cornering lights are becoming more and more common and the Niken would really benefit from even a basic set of these. If improving front-end confidence is the name of the Niken’s game, then you’ve got to be able to see where you’re pointing it.

The MT-09’s 900cc triple-cylinder engine is a proven product in both reliability and performance. In its Niken application, it has more than enough power in Touring mode and, while I found it a little snatchy in Sports mode, I suspect some riders may prefer the immediate pick-up.

I’m not a tall bloke and wasn’t entirely comfortable manoeuvring around the rally site at slow speed on the 820mm-height seat. It’s relatively wide too, which didn’t help things.

If I owned the Niken, I’d improve the initial bite of the front brakes by fitting braided-steel lines, but they were still good enough to pull me up confidently when a car unexpectedly turned in front of me. And the rear is great with plenty of feel.

No bike will suit every rider, and if there was such a bike no one would be able to afford it. There are horses for courses and this horse will devour many courses; it’ll scratch, commute and tour – on the road or off it. You just need to be prepared for a crowd and many, many questions.