I got to ride the Yamaha Niken today at the track with the Yamaha Champion Riding School. Niken means “two swords” in some language, I’m told, in case you were wondering.
But before I get into any of that, I want to preface this little review with a little known fact about me: I’m an oldschool dick.Especially when it comes to motorcycles, I’m very resistant to change. I’ve never owned a motorcycle that had a quick shifter. I don’t like slipper clutches or Rekluse clutches. I don’t want auto-blip. I don’t use traction control…I’ve ridden damn near every modern day motorcycle known to man, both electric and petrol based. All I need is for someone to gimme a motor and two wheels without all the frills and I’m happy. Now get off my lawn!
Back to the Niken review…the TL;DR version: WOW. FUCKING WOW.
The more in depth review: WOW. FUCKING WOW.
And to answer the number one question I’ve seen to date about the Niken: “Why yes, sir, it does do wheelies.” Photo: Anthony Sansotta
If you put a professional on the Niken (Kyle Wyman), it’ll do even SICKER wheelies!
This morning, I hopped on the bike…wait, can I actually call it that? A “bike”? I hopped onto the Niken extremely jilted about what I was about to do. First of all, as I straddled it, I felt very much like I was about to mount a snow mobile. Not that there’s anything wrong with snow machines, cause I freggin love em…but this was supposed to be a motorcycle. The entire front end is MASSIVE. It’s like sitting in grandpa’s old 70’s Cadillac, barely even able to see the horizon over the hood. It’s really long. And wide. And big.
“Grandpa-pa, when can I drive?”
I put the kickstand up and sorta had this expectation that the bike was going to stay upright on it’s own. It doesn’t. But being a taller rider, I can easily flat foot while parked. I expected the weight of a BMW RT. It’s not. In fact, it feels marginally heavier than my FJ09 (which, I rode the new Tracer 900 today too, but that’s another story).
I pulled in the clutch, put it in gear, eased the clutch out and braced myself. Except nothing happened out of the ordinary. It gently rolled away like any other motorcycle I’ve ever ridden. I sped up to about 15 mph and gave the brakes a touch as I always do when riding a new-to-me bike. They worked. I sped up to 25 and did it again. They still worked. Now it was time to give this bike a thorough parking lot test.
Mark spent most of the morning riding the Niken. He really liked it.
I rolled up to the skid pad of Inde Motorsports Ranch where we are having the Yamaha Champions Riding School. It was empty up there and I could goober around on the bike without having to worry about anyone else being around to see me on this ridiculous looking contraption. I kinda eased into a few wide circles, tightening them up and playing with turning radius and slow speed lean angle. Then I did some figure eights going both directions to get a feel for it’s ability to transition side to side. I sped up to about 55 a few times, building maximum brake pressure with the front and rear and both to get a feel for it’s stopping power as well as stability.
It can lean!
Consensus? The Yamaha Niken is a fucking motorcycle. As weird as it is to admit, it handles and feels every bit like a motorcycle in the parking lot. It’s turning radius is insane! I’m pretty good at slow speed manuevers on a traditional two-wheeled motorbike…lock to lock slow speed turns with no dabs is a breeze for me on pretty much anything (except Dustin Coyner’s old R6 race bike. This is an inside joke that maybe only one person in the world is gonna get).
The Niken? Sharper. Tighter. Uncut. The weight feels so low on the machine that it inspires confidence. Or is that because it’s got TWO fifteen inch front wheels with some sort of moderately sticky Bridgestone contact patches on it? I don’t have the slightest clue. It’s so foreign that it’s difficult to fully articulate. But it’s EASY. It might be the ULTIMATE keyhole test bike.
“I’ll show you a key hole!”
About three hours later, I took the Niken out on the track with Brianna riding pillion. As far as I know, there are exactly ZERO photos of a Yamaha Niken on one wheel while two up. This was an opportunity I felt like I’d be an asshole for if missed it. Hehe. I asked Anthony Sansotta (@a_sansotta) if he’d snap a few pics of Bribri and myself out being hooligans and he happily obliged! Thanks a ton, Anthony!
“Check out my sick jams, bro!” photo: Anthony Sansotta
Have you ever ridden a Sea-Doo on perfectly smooth water before? No? Me either…but that’s the best way I can liken the Niken on how it turns in. It’s pretty incredible how smooth and stable the Niken is. It’s like a luxury sedan with how profoundly it soaks up bumps while still remaining entirely planted on the ground. Even running the inside front tire up onto the curb, you almost don’t even feel it. I had an expectation of one of the wheels rebounding off the ground and pushing the bars or something, but that didn’t happen at all. The way the front end articulates, it doesn’t give you any negative feedback at all. I did run the inside front onto the curb a few times, as I’m used to running tight apexes. Both wheels still stay firmly planted on the ground. It’s crazy! You do have to be aware of bike placement while riding the Niken as the front wheel track is about as wide as the handle bars are (which is pretty damned wide, to be honest). I almost put the front inside wheel into the dirt a few times too. I kinda wanted to do it on purpose just to see how well the outside wheel would grip. Hehe. I’ll wait till I ride the Niken solo for that.
Mark demonstrates that it’s about as fucking long as a tugboat.
I was able to comfortably trail brake the Niken into corners with ease and confidence unlike I’ve ever felt on a two-wheeled motorbike. I took it pretty easy the first few laps, just lightly trailing in, but after warming up the tires and suspension, I pushed the Niken into a few tight corners pretty hard. Not quite race bike hard, but certainly with spry, youthful vigor. The bike was on rails. Absolutely on rails. I was blown away by how good it felt right out of the box.
Because ‘MERICA! And ‘APAN!
The Niken doesn’t have much room for lean angle though. We were pretty easily dragging hard parts through corners. I don’t feel like we ever maxed out the available articulation angle of the front end, but the foot pegs were on the ground pretty easily. I was told after riding it that the preload adjuster on the rear was all the way out…I may have to try it again with the preload maxed out to see if that helps. I did feel a little but of undulation eminating from the rear in the faster corners, but I was also riding it with traction control turned off and I could feel the rear spinning up some. It was all smooth and predictable, but caused the rear to rebound a bit. I’m not 100% sure which model of Bridgestone tire comes on it stock.
It felt like trying to slow down a heavy bike. Let it be known that I’ve not done ANY research on it, so this is all 100% opinion based musings. I think it has R1 calipers on it…two of em… Lulz. That said, the brakes work as intended and will ultimately slow you down and make you stop.
Yep. Those are brakes. And 15″ wheels.
As far as I know, the engine is pretty much the same thing as the FZ-09/MT-09/FJ-09/XSR900/Tracer thing-a-majobbies. I’ve ridden them all. It felt as though the cross-plane 900cc triple was detuned quite a bit. Even the exhaust note was muted. Normally with the Yamaha triple I can snap up 2nd gear wheelies at this elevation with little more than a twist of the wrist. The Niken took significantly more coaxing. Granted, the front end is likely much heavier than it feels.
It has 3 modes…I’m not sure which was which, so I tried them all while out on track…I think it was Mode 1 that felt like it had marginally more power and what I went with. Mode 2 and 3 had an undiscernable difference between. Something like that. It has multiple traction control modes as well, but as I mentioned already, I turned that garbage off before I even left the paddock. I think the R1 motor would make the Niken a bit more Woke and maybe a little less snowflake. ;)
Kyle is so Saucy. I bet you people photoshop my water mark out of this and repost it on instagram a million times, fuckers!
All in all, I was shocked. Firstly by how it actually felt like a real motorcycle. I had EVERY expectation of it feeling like some weird contraption made by NASA MIT CIA scientists merely because they can. Hell, that might be true, but it works! Second by how WELL it did motorcycle things. Again, I can’t stress how SMOOTH the ride is…even over known bumpy lines at this track, the Niken simply soaks it all up and breezes along. I was totally surprised. You should ride one. Reading about it isn’t going to help you understand…so if you just read all this, I hope you at least enjoyed the pictures, because you still have NO fucking clue what it’s like to ride. Lulz. Loooooove you!
I mean really…just look at it. It’s so UGLY yet totally something you’d put your pee-pee in. Don’t lie.
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