Serious Mecha: Honda and Yamaha’s Monster Three-Wheelers

The 2015 Honda Neowing concept.

A number of companies have leapt into the tilting three-wheeler (TTW) market since Piaggio debuted its groundbreaking MP3 model in 2006. Peugeot, Yamaha, the short-lived Vectrix and others have sought to use the the “two front, three tilt” wheel arrangement to expand the appeal of riding to commuters and recreational riders by providing increased stability. Tilting Motor Works in Washington state offers a conversion kit to turn cruisers into tilters. The implicit message is that these vehicles are easier, and safer, to ride than two wheeled scooters — and more fun than the various non-tilting trikes and three wheelers.

The pair of TTW concept… bikes? …unveiled by Honda and Yamaha at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show have a clearly different intent: to take the concept and push its performance potential by adding features more often seen on superbikes and high-end sport touring motorcycles. Accept the bulk, compensate with power and handling. The Yamaha sports an 849cc three cylinder motor. The Honda Neowing has a four cylinder horizontal hybrid engine that’s still a bit of a mystery — no other specs are available. Similar (non-hybrid) Honda engines are in the 1200-1300cc range.

Yamaha’s sporty MWT-9 concept

Both Honda’s Neowing and Yamaha’s MWT-9 abandon the friendly, accessible style of scooters for more perfomance-oriented forms derived from motorcycles. The differences in classes of vehicles are getting murkier as manufacturers push to innovate. The now-common exchange of technology and features between the platforms could someday make the distinctions between “scooter” and “motorcycle” irrelevant. Until then, both sides are benefitting.

In profile, the Yamaha MWT-9 could easily be mistaken for a two-wheeled supersport touring concept. The fairings are sleek and smooth, tapering from the wide front to a fairy traditional back end. But from any other angle, it’s clear that this is neither a traditional sports bike nor anything the TTWs currently available. The front wheels are flanked by massive twin cannon shocks positioned on the outside. The MWT-9 looks as if it could crouch down and pounce, panther-like, on unsuspecting road prey.

The Honda Neowing concept is more Decepticon than Autobot and probably a pain to clean.

The Honda Neowing concept is more Decepticon than Autobot and probably a pain to clean.

Honda’s Neowing isn’t as sleek, wrapping its burly frame in an armor-like shell with carbon fiber-like accents. The machine looks huge, but its immensity is belied by its slick Dunlop racing tires. This thing’s built for speed, or at least supposed to look as if it is. The Neowing’s silhouette is closer to the (non-tilting) three-wheel Can-Am Spyder, though the angular, multi-faceted front looks like it was designed on Cybertron. (Should the Neowing go into production, we expect to see more Transformers decals on them than vanity plates on Teslas.) Overall, the look is striking and unlike anything else on the road.

It’s unclear whether either of these will see production. Of the two, the Yamaha seems more likely. They already sells the Tricity three-wheeled scooter in Europe and Asia. In recent years, the company has shown a number of multi-wheeled tilting vehicles, including the four-wheeled Tesseract and last year’s 01Gen sportsbike. There’s an obvious evolution from the 01Gen to the MWT-9, which appears much closer to being a production-ready vehicle.

Ancestry: Yamaha's 01Gen concept (left) and the production TriCity scooter.

Ancestry: Yamaha’s 01Gen concept (left) and the production TriCity scooter.

For what it’s worth, Honda also has a tilting three wheeler for sale overseas. The Gyro is a one front wheel (which tilts), two rear wheel (which don’t) model that’s been in production since 1982 and is based on a BSA/Ariel design that dates back to the ’60s. It’s small-engined, used primarily as an urban delivery vehicle, and has almost nothing in common with the futuristic Neowing other than the manufacturer’s name emblazoned on its body.

The three-wheeled Honda Gyro has been in production in some form since the 1980s.

The three-wheeled Honda Gyro has been in production in some form since the 1980s.

However, a legal complaint filed by Piaggio earlier this year may get in the way of Yamaha’s plans to expand its three-wheel lineup. Piaggio, which builds the MP3 and is the parent company of Vespa, Gilera, and others, claims that Yamaha and Peugeot have infringed on its patents. As Yamaha collaborated with MP3 designer Luciano Marabese on earlier concepts, the Italians may have a valid complaint.

Honda Gyro image by Flickr user numlok.

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