Kawasaki Continues Tilting Three-wheeler Development
More than two years ago in January 2021, we revealed Kawasaki’s designs for a leaning three-wheeled motorcycle with a simplified suspension and steering system compared to its rivals. Now additional patent applications have been filed indicating that the project remains alive—even if some of the benefits of the original design appear to have been lost in the latest iteration.
Like the original patent documents, the images in the latest versions are intended to illustrate the idea rather than to represent the final shape of the bike, so don’t read anything into the engine layout or the slightly comical proportions of the machine they show. The key point is that Kawasaki is still putting R&D resources into this idea, suggesting the firm harbors ideas of manufacturing a Yamaha Niken-style tilting trike of its own, if there’s enough of a market for such a machine.
The latest designs carry over a key element of the original patent by positioning the tilting mechanism of the three-wheeled arrangement in an unsprung position below the suspension rather than following the likes of Yamaha and Piaggio by placing it above the suspension. Like Yamaha’s and Piaggio’s tilting three-wheelers, the Kawasaki design uses a parallelogram linkage to make the front wheels lean in the same direction as the main body of the bike, but it’s mounted much lower. It’s a similar tilting system to the one used by Kawasaki’s Noslisu sub-brand, which makes electrically assisted three-wheel bicycles. But where the Noslisu machines don’t have front suspension, the motorcycle version of the system needs it.
On the first iteration of the design, Kawasaki simply placed the tilting system at the base of a conventional telescopic fork, giving the same direct steering connection between the bars and front wheels that you experience on a conventional motorcycle. On the latest version, however, there’s a more complex steering linkage that’s closer to that used on rival three-wheelers.
Instead of two fork legs, like the original design, Kawasaki’s new version uses three telescopic elements, mounted close together in a triangular layout between the front wheels. These telescopic legs aren’t connected to the bars. They’ve been moved forward and now act only as suspension, rather than turning with the wheels.
So it’s a more complex arrangement than the one Kawasaki originally envisaged, but—according to the patent application—it still has advantages over the designs used in machines like the Niken. Most notable of them is how narrow the system is; the Niken and other tilting trikes using a similar setup with separate suspension for each front wheel are inevitably wide, particularly above the front wheels. The Kawasaki is intended to be narrower in this section, offering advantages in aerodynamics and weight. The firm’s patent says: “…since the shock-absorbing mechanisms are not individually disposed left and right, the suspension can be disposed to the center of the vehicle in the width direction only. Thus, the size of the front portion of the leaning vehicle in the vehicle-width direction can be small. Moreover, it may also simplify the configuration and reduce weight.”
The patent shows a bike with a combustion engine, but the text makes it clear that the same suspension system could also be used on an electric vehicle or even a pedal-powered machine.
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