When is a motorcycle not a motorcycle? When it’s a trike, of course!
Having an extra wheel on your motorbike is rare, but nothing new. Over the years, manufacturers have been adding and taking away wheels from their cars and bikes for various reasons (usually to help car drivers ride bikes, or vice versa) but last year Yamaha created a real storm by introducing the NIKEN, with its two wheels up front and one at the back.
The Yamaha is not the only three-wheeler on the market though, as we discovered when we took a look at four other ‘trikes’ currently on sale today.
Back in 1942, Canadian company Bombardier started out making snowmobiles. These days, the now multinational giant makes everything from trains and jets, through to jet-skis and ATVs through its part-owned Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) division.
In 2007 BRP introduced, under the Can-Am brand, its Spyder trike. With two car-style wheels up front and one at the back, the Spyder has a motorcycle style riding position with traditional handlebars and a generous bike-style saddle and pillion seat, with a storage trunk to boot.
The Spyder proved pretty popular in the US, even though they’re few and far between on British roads, and last year Can-Am introduced the smaller Ryker. The solo seat Ryker is powered by the choice of either a 600cc two-cylinder, or 900cc three-cylinder, Rotax engine, producing either 47bhp or 77bhp respectively.
At £8699, the stripped-down Ryker is almost half the price of the Spyder. Those car style tyres and the fact that it doesn’t lean means that we might be might be pushing the boundaries by calling it a three-wheeled motorcycle but as they can be ridden (or is that driven?) by car licence holders aged 21 and over, it’s one of the easiest ways for car drivers to have a motorcycle style experience without going through the full licencing process.
Piaggio first brought out the MP3 in 2006 and, since then, it has proved hugely popular on mainland Europe.
The idea was to take a standard scooter concept, while adding an extra wheel up front for more security – making it more accessible for riders who might be put off by riding a traditional powered two-wheeler.
What is clever about the MP3 was the front suspension, which allows the body to tilt and be ridden like a traditional scooter. It is heavier than a two-wheeled equivalent, but it’s not unwieldy and can be filtered through most traffic.
Peugeot produced a similar model, called the Metropolis, while Piaggio also sell a sportier, 500cc, variant under the Gilera Fuoco banner.
Invariably there is some confusion about what licence is needed to ride an MP3. This is because there are many different variants with different engine capacities and the spacing of the front wheels, and this affects how the DVLA categorise them. Larger capacity models with widely spaced wheels may be able to be ridden on a car licence, but it is important to check and see how the MP3 is registered before committing to a purchase.
Following the success of the MP3, Yamaha introduced the Tricity 125 in 2014.
The beauty of the Tricity is its simplicity. The parallelogram style front suspension is far less complex than that of the Piaggio, more akin to that of a traditional motorcycle than a car, and this makes it lighter and more agile than the MP3.
Yamaha has also kept things simple from a licencing perspective by making the Tricity as narrow as a regular two wheeled scooter. Not only does that make the Tricity a doodle to filter through city traffic on, it means that it’s classed as an 11kw category motorcycle. That means that a Tricity can be ridden on an A1 motorcycle licence, or on L plates after completing the CBT.
Harley-Davidson Tri-Glide Ultra
Trike builders have long been using big Hogs and Honda GoldWings as the base for their creations and, 10 years ago, the Motor Company introduced its own factory trike, the Tri-Glide Ultra.
Although a niche model, the trike makes perfect sense for many customers, especially in their home market. The set up is classic trike, with a traditional motorcycle front end and a twin wheel axle at the rear. That makes it almost as wide as a small car, although being classed as a motor tricycle means that there’s no need to wear a crash helmet in most cases. That it can be ridden on a car licence in most cases is also a bonus for some buyers.
Not that the Harley-Davidson Tri-Glide Ultra is meant for darting through traffic. The sumptuous king and queen seat, ample luggage and booming hi-fi system means that this is one machine designed to devour those long, straight US highways. It’s not unusual to see a tow bar and trailer fitted to some of the big touring rigs.
Trikes are also popular with riders who can no longer ride traditional two wheelers due to injuries or health issues and there is also a strong following among enthusiasts who like the wind in the hair experience only a trike can provide.
Harley’s factory trike isn’t cheap. This high-end touring model starts at almost £32,000 at the time of writing, while the stripped-down Freewheeler is some £7000 less.
There were lots of heads being scratched when Yamaha unveiled the NIKEN a few years back.
Few motorcyclists could quite work out the point of the MT-09 derived machine, with its Transformers style front end with twin front wheels in the style of the Tricity, but with bikes now arriving in showrooms the world is starting to see what Yamaha’s engineers had in mind with their new creation.
It’s all about front end grip. The twin 15” wheel set-up gives so much grip that the NIKEN (which means Twin Sword in Japanese) can feel uncrashable at times. Because the cantilever suspension keeps the wheels aligned, carving through the corners feels not dissimilar to a skier slaloming down the slopes. It gives a really secure feeling, especially on dodgy surfaces, and allows the rider to brake through corners in a way it wouldn’t be possible with just one wheel up front.
In many ways, the NIKEN rides just like a regular motorcycle. The narrow front track means that it’s classed as a motorcycle (meaning that you need a full licence to ride it) and ergonomically it feels like a typical bike. It can filter through traffic, get a rider’s knee down and even wheelie in the right hands. No-one’s laughing now…