Five things we need more than a third wheel

First Yamaha turns its weird, big three-wheeler into a production model and now Kawasaki shows signs it may do the same. Why? Aren't there things motorcycling needs more?

Five things we need more than a third wheel

THE MT-09-powered Yamaha Niken is due to go on sale this year and Kawasaki has just shown a new teaser video for its electric J Concept (above), raising the weirdness stakes with Transformer-like shape-shifting ability.


I don’t doubt these new leaning three-wheelers are brilliant. I love the Yamaha Tricity scooter for the ridiculous level of grip its two front wheels provide. But if I can tell you one thing about motorcyclists, it’s that they like motorcycles.

Offering them three-wheelers is a bit like saying to a cricket batsman, ‘Have you tried tennis? Honestly, try it. The bat’s much wider, so the ball is easier to hit.'

I don’t know why it’s happening. It may be that, faced with gradually diminishing numbers of motorcyclists, in Europe at least, the manufacturers’ long-term target market is not us at all, but car drivers.

What I do know is that there are things we need more. Here are five:

1: Standardised batteries 

Leaning three-wheelers may or may not have a role to play in the future of motorcycling. Batteries almost definitely will have. But how can electric bikes replace petrol ones when you have to wait around for them to recharge? For longer than most people can remember, the gas industry has dealt with a similar problem through standardisation. The cannister fuelling your barbecue runs out, so you go and swap it for an identical full one, without waiting for it to be filled. Competition between manufacturers has no doubt played a part in hindering moves towards similar standardisation of batteries. But the one to push the idea hardest could yet become the Calor Gas of electric bikes. Maybe it will be Honda, which has just revealed an electric PCX scooter along with a vending machine at which its battery can be swapped.

The new Yamaha Niken

Motorcycling in the UK right now faces a big problem that has absolutely nothing to do with number of wheels: theft. There’s no point offering us three-wheelers if theft is so out of control that none of us can get insurance to ride anything more valuable than a 125 commuter. Anecdotally, rising insurance costs in London, driven by theft rates, are pricing some riders out of the market. If anything will deplete the number of active motorcyclists, this will, while manufacturers busy themselves developing things we haven’t asked for. How about a tracker embedded somewhere inaccessible in every bike? Or mechanisms contained in wheel hubs that prevent them from turning and can only be unlocked by the rider presenting their face to the dashboard. I don’t know. How about some ideas, bike makers?

Obviously, all motorcycles should have heated grips and seat. That’s a no-brainer. But here’s my dream. You put on a riding suit. You get on your bike and the points at which the soles of your boots meet the pegs form electrical contacts to power heating and cooling elements within the suit. You set it to your desired temperature – say, 21C – and that is the temperature it maintains, up to and including your visor, so that you can still see in freezing fog and snow. Far-fetched, yes, but no more so than high-powered leaning three wheelers would have seemed a few years ago.  

No, I don’t think motorcycles should do all the riding for us, so that we effectively become pillions. That would be a nightmare. But how about a motorcycle capable of taking over momentarily when a rider’s ability fails. You know the swerve exercise in the motorcycle test? That’s to prepare riders for the near certainty that at some point a careless driver will pull out on them, and to ensure they know how to swerve around a bonnet rather than freeze in fright, grab the brakes and smash into it. So how about a bike that knows when there is insufficient space to stop, and says ‘No. I’m not letting you brake. What I'm going to do is counter-steer around instead. There. Now that we’re safe, you can have control back. Dufus’?

5: A wheelie button?

Okay, I give up. Over to you. What do motorcycles need more than a third wheel?