10 Thoughts About The 2019 Yamaha Niken GT

Pondering Yamaha’s newest oddity

After spending a couple of days riding the Tracer GT and the Niken GT back to back, it was the funky leaning three-wheeler that I kept thinking about.

Here are 10 thoughts about Yamaha's actually-not-that-weird oddball.

It really works!

Yamaha Niken GT
Is there gravel in this corner? Who cares!Jeff Allen

The Iwata factory’s Leaning Multi-Wheel (LMW) tech functions as advertised. Yamaha’s design objective was to make a motorcycle with superlative front-end grip and stability without diluting the conventional dynamics of riding. Two contact patches up front add a big dose of confidence in less than ideal conditions.

It's a marketer's worst nightmare

2019 Yamaha Niken GT
It’s a motorcycle. With wheel arches.Jeff Allen

With a typical vehicle, to see it is to know what it’s for. With the Niken GT, because it’s the first of its kind, its looks don’t naturally convey who it’s for, what it does, or why it exists. That means even at the dealership level, there’s an added layer of disbelief and confusion that have to be punctured. What does that mean for casual buyers? Maybe they’ll be attracted by the sheer weirdness of it. Or maybe it will be a non-starter, limiting the Niken’s audience to true enthusiasts who’ve read up on the thing and really understand it.

The revised engine is great for sport-touring

2019 Yamaha Niken GT
Vroomy crossplane triple.Jeff Allen

Yamaha’s crossplane triple is tried and true. In the Niken GT, there’s a slightly heavier crankshaft for improved drivability and a revised gear ratio via two additional teeth in the rear sprocket. Given the motor has to haul around an extra 100-plus pounds, Yamaha also made the gears out of a higher-strength steel alloy for added durability. On the road, the engine is less revy but more tractable, skewing slightly more toward sport-touring than it ever has before.

The luggage seems like an afterthought

One of the main attributes that distinguishes a sport-touring motorcycle from a naked or a sportbike is nicely integrated hard bags. The Niken GT has small-ish semi-hard ABS bags that zip open and closed. And they aren’t waterproof (they include waterproof bags to stow your stuff in should the heavens open). For a machine that has “tour” in its description, no-nonsense luggage should be a no-brainer.

It isn't as well-equipped as the Tracer GT

2019 Yamaha Niken GT
Fork tubes are for structural rigidity and have no springs inside.Jeff Allen

The Tracer GT and Niken GT share the GT designation but don’t boast the same level of trim. Because the LMW tech is pricey, it seems like Yamaha had to cut costs in other places. The Niken GT doesn’t have hard bags, an adjustable windscreen, or a TFT dash.

It might be a future cult classic

2019 Yamaha Niken GT
Unlike anything else out there.Jeff Allen

Like the GTS1000 from the ’90s, Yamaha may have another cult classic on its hand. Bikes that are a bit odd in their day always seem to become endearing in their twilight years. We hope the Niken GT has many years of sales success (it deserves it), but if it doesn’t, we predict that it will become a collector’s item because of its audacity and uniqueness.

LMW tech would be interesting off road

2019 Yamaha Niken GT
When does the pavement end?Jeff Allen

With great front-end grip and stability, it was only natural that we wanted to spool on some knobbies to see what would happen. Pushing the front on a big ADV off road can feel like a game of Russian roulette, so if there’s anywhere where an extra wheel makes sense, it’s in the dirt. There isn’t a lot of front-end travel, but on uneven surfaces, the magic-carpet-like ride the LMW system offers makes for an intriguing prospect. If you’re a Niken owner, please do this and let us know how it goes.

Its price makes it "for experts only"

2019 Yamaha Niken GT
Does it look cool or just weird?Jeff Allen

Yamaha is clear that the three-wheeler is not for new riders or older riders hoping to extend their biking years with a machine that doesn’t fall over at a standstill. The Niken is not that bike. You know what makes it more obvious that the Niken GT isn’t for newbies? The $17,299 price tag.

It's not an ideal machine for introverts

2019 Yamaha Niken GT
It won’t be long before someone comes over to look quizzically at the Niken.Jeff Allen

If you relish the anonymity that flipping down your dark visor provides, don’t buy a Niken GT. The Niken is a conversation starter. Pull up to a gas station on a Ducati Panigale V4 S and no one seems to notice. Pull up on a Niken, and people will ask to take selfies with it. Seriously.

Even though it's great, I still don't want one

Yamaha nailed its objectives with the LMW tech, but it’s not this uncrashable, experience-altering bike that will revolutionize motorcycling. It looks too different from a conventional motorcycle but behaves too similarly to a conventional motorcycle to justify the extra $4K, the added weight and complexity, and all the gas station attention. Still, I’m glad Yamaha is bold enough to build a bike like the Niken GT and I have zero reservations about recommending it to people.