Yamaha Tricity: The rise of the three wheelers
Search Driven for vehicles for sale
The new breed of leaning three-wheel scooters look geeky and awkward, but they’ll probably be the next big thing.
Sure, it’s not a design with much of that “sexy motorcycle pizzazz”, marketers have relied upon till now.
On the side-stand my borrowed Yamaha Tricity 155cc just looked like a half-deflated hovercraft . . . on the centre-stand, like something that had just run over a segway.
But leaning three-wheelers are eminently user-friendly, which more than makes up for their odd looks.
And I think they’re only going to become more numerous as folk latch onto the advantages.
Their rise could resemble that of the four-wheel ATV, which — on account of being safer and more stable — progressively displaced its three-wheeler cousins back in the 1980s.
Leaning three-wheelers are fast making inroads among those of us who ride with cost-saving, safety and convenience as our guiding lights.
But early images of the Honda Neowing or Yamaha MWT-9 and other “rocket ships” suggest the basic design won’t be limited to commuters for long.
At this rate the leaning three-wheeler concept will soon be applied to long-range-touring; off-road trails; back road adventures and exploring wilderness tracks . . .
Canterbury | Sockburn
$806.64 p/w $3,226.56 p/m
Auckland | Penrose
$102.85 p/w $411.41 p/m
Now it’s all about “geeky commuters”, but three-wheel rocket ships like the Yamaha MWT9 are just around the corner. Photo/Supplied
Three main attributes
And the reason for that is that aside from the quirky looks, this configuration has almost everything going for it.
Firstly, you can ride one of on a car licence, making them accessible to a vast army of additional riders.
This provides the kind of product sales penetration motorcycle manufacturers could previously only have dreamt of, so stand by for more R and D leading to lot more three-wheeler choice.
Secondly, such bikes are far cheaper to own. You pay a fraction of the annual registration fee when compared to a motorcycle, because for inscrutable reasons transport authorities have decided they should be registered as cars. I disagree, but like every rider am hardly likely to look a gift horse in the mouth. (It’s strange that machines registered as a cars still enjoy the perks of riding in Auckland bus/motorcycle lanes and parking for free in the council’s motorcycle parking areas — but I didn’t make the rules).
And thirdly, the leaning three-wheeler design a huge step forward — delivering superior braking, road holding, stability and wind protection when compared to most motorcycles.
I began to wonder about all this while snapping dozens of powerful Yamaha and Piaggio three-wheelers in Paris last year.
The Parisians value three-wheel scooters for their ability to corner more safely on cobblestone streets, wet or dry, without any loss of power compared to “normal scooters.”
The Yamaha Tricity 155cc
The diminutive 155cc easily carried Charman -- a rider 180cm tall, weighing 108kg. Photo/Debra Christensen
I formed more definite opinions after Yamaha New Zealand kindly loaned me the latest three-wheeler to hit the Kiwi market, the 155cc Tricity.
(I turned the opportunity to review the 155’s little brother, the Yamaha Tricity 125cc. Much as I admire the latter’s basic design and relatively low purchase price, I eschewed it as being just too under-powered. A 155cc is an entirely different matter. That extra 30cc doesn’t sound much, but it actually makes all the difference when attempting to stay up with the motorway traffic. Of course, on one side of the coin any 155cc machine is only marginally able to do this, and on the other, a 125cc may be perfect vehicle for low-speed roles).
My week with the Tricity 155cc comprised daily hops across the Auckland Harbour Bridge to my place of work in the CBD. There was a little lane-splitting/traffic-filtering in both suburbs and CBD, plus some fairly sedate motorway riding . . .
Comparisons are odious, but I’m still going to compare the Tricity to my regular ride — near new Suzuki GW 250cc motorcycle.
Not really a fair comparison, sure, as the 250 has a larger engine, providing better acceleration and top-end.
But my conclusion was that the Tricity is about equal to the 250 convenience-wise, I mean when tackling my short daily commute.
And while its lack of top-end-power made for less comfort when approaching 100 km/h, the three-wheeler had comfort aplenty.
Riding the Tricity 155cc taught me that, should my budget allow it, I’d happily grab a 300cc or 500/600cc three-wheeler for use as my sole commuter.
Okay, a few notes from my week of commuting aboard the Tricity 155cc
Ergonomics, instruments, luggage
I’m on the big and heavy side, so appreciated the 780mm seat height (same as my motorbike) plus the ample knee room. I was less impressed by the tapering mirrors, which while not the worst I’ve used, gave me a better view of my arm than the road behind. I wish all mirrors were either round or square, thus providing more accurate data ahead of committing to a lane-change. This can save your life! So I marked the three-wheeler down for mediocre mirrors, a fairly tinny indicator switch and a slightly dim digital instrument display for the speed, fuel gauge etc.
Having said that, the scooter was easy to manoeuvre and park, though the centre-stand needed a wee bit of getting used to. The ignition key has a nifty Allen-type knob on the back to open a spring-loaded dust covering over the key hole. This dust cover has the potential to stop you riding – but it didn’t bother me much, as it stopped working following a couple of days. The key also “clicks open” the voluminous storage locker under the seat — always a huge asset of scooters.
In fact, this storage (plus the small compartment up front) represent real advantages over owning a motorcycle, in my view. And there’s justification in making a comparison between “apples and oranges” here . . .
To buy new, my 250cc cost a very reasonable $5000 plus on-road-costs, while a new Tricity 155cc would set you back $5499 plus on-roads.
I mention this because I enjoy carrying luggage and stowing my helmet (plus wet weather gear) securely when parked.
But after purchasing my motorcycle, I had to buy a carrier and top box to achieve this aim. These items (plus the non-standard centre-stand) for my motorcycle roughly came to an additional $500 all up.
But the Tricity already comes with a large luggage space provided under the seat, plus a centre-stand as standard.
Riding the Tricity 155cc is a pleasant experience, as the machine feels stable and the motor is fairly quiet. Photo/Debra Christensen
The Tricity 155 purrs to life at the touch of a button and seems well balanced right from the get-go. Yes, it actually purrs the whole time, whether plying suburban streets or the motorway, so as I dislike noisy motors that got a lot of points from me. The ability to pass lines of parked cars backed-up from motorway on-ramps was about the same as on a bike. A marginal difference was that scooters are intimidating as they whizz past wing-mirrors of stationary motorists . . . Once on the motorway, things changed somewhat. My Tricity only had about 300 km on the clock and so nowhere near run-in.
Even so, it kept up admirably with motorway traffic up to about 80 km/h, and the fairly low screen did a great job of deflecting wind. But after about 90 km/h the gallant little scooter had definitely run out of breath, but never so as to make me feel vulnerable or unsafe. The thing just purred up the harbour bridge each day, as if it didn’t know it was being ridden by a 180 cm tall man weighing 108 kg.
This was remarkable in my view, and a credit to the Yamaha’s powerful little motor. Promotional calls this unit, “our latest generation four-stroke engine featuring a variable value actuation system for faster acceleration”.
All I know is it went-and-went, providing a comfortable ride, which kept up with the traffic despite me weighing the equivalent of a couple of Year 13 College kids riding two-up!
Yep, the Tricity did well from Glenfield to the Auckland CBD (a trip of maybe 13 km) but let’s be realistic: I wouldn’t like to ride one in from, say, from Orewa to the CBD every day.
Traffic tip: if waiting for the revs to rise so that the bike accelerates from 90 km/h to 100 km/h, bring along something to read while you’re waiting!
Okay, the scooter might go faster when run in.
I wish all bikes stopped as well as the Yamaha Tricity 155cc. Frankly, I had not realised that such braking even existed. The ABS system operated three powerful discs progressively and with no drama. All it took was the lightest touch to slow the Tricity and a semi-panic stop I experimented with turned in a more-than-impressive stopping distance. I suppose that’s only what you’d expect from such a light bike (165kg dry) with three discs, but it’s impressive for all that.
As their officially cars, the looks of three-wheelers have to be marred by the addition of a front number plate. Photo/ Paul Charman
The day I picked it up the Tricity Auckland was suffering a major storm. The two NZ flags at the apex of the bridge were out hard right and perfectly square, as a child might have drawn them. Side winds were strong and I’m quite used to getting blown around on my motorcycle in such conditions. But while conventional wisdom has it that scooters (with all those flat panels) catch more wind than motorcycles, this one was much steadier than I would have expected. It was probably more stable in the wind than my motorcycle and I put this down to have that extra wheel on the deck.
But by the way, I am not recommending riding any sort of bike -- whether having two or three wheels -- over the bridge in excessively windy weather.
As for road holding, it corners well. This inspired confidence when leaning the bike over on wet surfaces, though I must admit to only fairly sedate cornering in the wet. And lastly, the ride itself was soft and comfortable, thanks to the first rate 80mm-travel suspension units front and back, which worked very well indeed.
The petrol cap was easy to reach under the seat. I don’t have fuel mileage figures, but riding about 180 km on half a tank would suggest fuel consumption was pretty good (the scooter has a 7.2 litre tank).
Above all, I just found the little Yamaha easy and pleasant to ride; far more relaxing than endlessly operating a motorcycle clutch and gear lever . . . Though this may provide an additional and much needed burst of speed in an emergency.
But scooters seem to give you more time to smell the roses and they certainly puts less wear and tear on your shoe leather, which gets worn changing gears.
All up, I appreciated the sensation of having more rubber on the road thanks to that extra wheel, which made me feel safer and more stable on the road most of the time, while giving away little in terms of manoeuvrability.
And while it’s asking a lot for any 155cc machine to be all things to all riders, I feel this one amply proved the worth of the new three-wheel configuration.
Um, even if it was a mild relief to get back to my more powerful two-wheeler.