Back in 2020 we revealed Aprilia’s early designs for a tilting three-wheeled motorcycle to rival Yamaha’s Niken and after more than a year of silence more information on the project has now emerged.
The original designs showed a machine with a chunky-looking front end design, using cast alloy single-sided struts to support each of the two front wheels. These were mounted to a parallelogram-style tilting linkage at the top—similar to most three-wheelers including the Niken—but had short double-wishbone suspension units at the bottom of each strut to carry the front wheels. Further back, the design featured the rear frame section, engine, and suspension from the 839cc V-twin Mana, complete with its twist-and-go continuously variable transmission, even sharing the Mana’s rear bodywork.
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That original design is likely to have represented a proof of concept, and no doubt a three-wheeled, Mana-based prototype lurks somewhere in Aprilia’s Noale R&D center, but it was never likely to be indicative of the appearance of a production model. After all, the Mana isn’t in production anymore, and to revive its engine and bodywork for a niche three-wheeled motorcycle would have made little sense. Now a new set of patents shows that Aprilia has developed the idea further, showing a simpler and more compact front suspension arrangement and ditching most of the carryover Mana components seen in the first set of drawings.
The new design retains the parallelogram-style tilting geometry, something that Aprilia’s parent company Piaggio pioneered with the MP3 and which it has since fought intellectual property cases to protect, but ditches the idea of car-style wishbone suspension. Instead, each of the two front wheels is supported by a single, short telescopic leg directly above it, with scissor-style linkages between the upper and lower sections to control the steering and stop the lower part from rotating out of alignment. It’s a design not unlike the single telescopic strut used by the crazy-looking Gilera CX 125 back in the early ‘90s. Gilera is, of course, part of the same Piaggio group of companies as Aprilia.
In fact, Aprilia has filed patent applications for two versions of the system. One is very much like the old Gilera CX, with two sections to the scissor-style linkage that steers the front wheel. The other has just a single steering link to the lower section of each strut, but adds a ball joint to the strut’s top mount, allowing between 1 and 3 degrees of movement as the suspension compresses. This layout forms the main part of the latest IP, with Aprilia claiming it adds beneficial pro-dive behavior under braking.
Related: Surprise! Yamaha’s Niken Does Wheelies And Rides Like A Regular Motorcycle
Notably, the latest designs no longer show the Mana-based 839cc V-twin engine. In fact, they don’t show an engine at all, though the wire rear wheel and motorcycle-style chassis show this is still intended to be a much higher-performance machine than the MP3. At least one image does show a front sprocket cover that looks similar to the design used on Aprilia’s Tuono 660 and RS 660, and that parallel-twin, 100 hp engine would certainly be the most obvious choice from the firm’s current array of engines to use in a Yamaha Niken rival. It’s even possible—albeit unlikely—that the company could drop the 1,077cc V-4 from the Tuono V4 and RSV4 into such a bike, creating a completely unique proposition.
While patents offer no certainty that an idea will reach production, it’s clear this is an idea that has been under consideration at Aprilia for some time. The latest document, while only just published, was submitted back in October 2019; if development has continued since then, it might not be too long before we officially see the results of the firm’s work.
Meanwhile, the only mass-made, leaning three-wheeled motorcycle (as opposed to scooter) on the market—Yamaha’s Niken—is also due to be uprated soon. It’s the last surviving model in the company’s range to use the original, 847cc three-cylinder engine from the first-generation MT-09. Now, the MT-09 and its spinoffs have gained an almost entirely new 890cc triple, and the Niken’s old engine is living on borrowed time in Europe, as it doesn’t meet the latest Euro 5 emissions limits. As such, a second-generation Niken with the new 890cc engine and a redesigned frame to match is believed to be on the cards for launch within the next few months.