First Ride Review – 2019 Yamaha Niken GT

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The Niken GT made me say something I’ve never uttered before, with or without the context of motorcycles: “Hopefully, we get some rain.” Despite my strong preference for the sun, wet roads make for the perfect testing ground for the Niken, because Yamaha’s argument is that riders have more fun when they have more confidence. Cycle News sent me to Santa Barbara for the Niken GT launch to see if Yamaha’s theory holds water, and then they plunked me on the cover of this week’s issue! Click here to read my review.

Feature photo by Joseph Agustin

Due to the minor inconvenience of a “word count”, I wasn’t able to address everyone’s questions. With that in mind, I wanted to take a moment to do so here (but I’d ask that you read the review first):

Darcy Detlor asked: Big question: how does the extra unsprung weight feel over bumps and when moving from side to side at high speed? The gyroscopic forces from having two front wheels must be noticable. Or does it just feel like it has a variable steering damper, increasing resistance with speed? Ugly, wow. It is definitely that. But, with this kind of limited production run, it will draw a crowd everywhere. Maybe that’s the goal. Definitely a loss leader to get people into Yamaha dealerships. Many others had similar questions about the front wheel setup: Wheelz270 asked Does this give us the stabilizing safety of a car while keeping the benefits of a motorcycle?

Hopefully I covered this well enough in the review, but seeing as it’s the defining feature of the Niken GT I figure it’s worth another mention. As I mentioned, the front suspension does an excellent job soaking up bumps in the front. Side to side movements are slower, though in a reassuring way. As you state, the effect is noticeable – it requires a little more effort but it never feels like it would prevent you from switching lanes in an emergency situation or passing the “moose test“.

In general, the answer is yes, it feels like a bike but it has more stability. I’ll defer to the review for more details about how I felt with it at the limit.

If you want to draw a crowd, you could do much worse.

DC asked: I know semi-rigid panniers are popular now, but I wonder why Yamaha didn’t re-use the more-weatherproof hard panniers from the Tracer 900 GT (or even the FJR), especially given the inclement weather appeal of the Niken.
I also wondered this, and I think the bags were a mistake. Two things I heard from Yamaha reps:
1. Yamaha engineers insisted that the widest part of the Niken GT had to be in front of the rider. The current design of the bags just barely squeaks by within the width of the mirrors, and it’s possible that the Tracer bags would not have done so.
2. This wasn’t explicitly stated, but I got the sense that it may have been cost-related, even though one would think that it’d be cheaper to use bags that have already been designed.

Whatever the reasoning, the bags are a bummer, especially (as you note) considering how good this bike is when it’s wet outside.

Alonzo Bodden asked: I’d like to know about comfort, legroom, and is the triple powerful enough. Weird bike but it might be fun to be the only guy on the block to have one.
The GT is incredibly comfortable, though someone as tall as you will probably want the optional larger windshield. The GT comes with thicker seats and they’re some of the best I’ve sat on from an OEM or the aftermarket. Have you ridden the Tracer GT by any chance? The Niken GT’s seat is 0.6″ lower but the pegs are in the same spot, so that distance is coming out of your legroom. The handlebars are set back 2″ so the ergonomics are fairly upright.

I didn’t have any issue with legroom but I’m 6’2″ and I know you’re taller. Hopefully this photo gives you a better idea?

Regarding the motor – at street-legal speeds, it’s still great. The quickshifter helps maximize acceleration and I enjoy the sound the exhaust makes. But the Niken GT is >100 pounds heavier than the Tracer GT, so it’s inevitably going to be slower, especially in higher gears. It’ll still wheelie, though!

Photo by Nathan May

Kendall asked: Can you lane split with it as easy as say the R1200GS? Does the extra width up front equal more than a moto with handlebars and mirrors? (How much WIDER is it?)

It’s easier to lane split with this than just about any Harley or Indian bagger. It’s easier to lane split with this than my current R1250GS loaner, but that’s because I’ve got giant metal bags on the latter. Without the bags, the GS is easier to split with. In other words, while the Niken looks very wide in photos, it’s not crazy compared to the usual big bikes we ride. I wouldn’t consider it a dealbreaker, I’ve been splitting lanes with it in Los Angeles for the last couple of weeks and the only notable thing is that I can tell some people look confused in their rearview mirrors as I approach and they’ll do a double take. At least they’re paying attention!

Yamaha says that the Niken GT is 35mm (1.37″) wider than the Tracer GT when you compare the handlebars, though the Niken’s mirrors go out wider than that:

Nicko asked: Do you forget it has 3 wheels while you’re riding it?
Most of the time, yes. It’s noticeable while you’re:
– at slow speeds (in a good way)
– in corners (in a good way)
– hitting a bump (in a good way)
– doing wheelies (in a bad way)

Hope you enjoyed the review!