I suppose it was inevitable that we’d get motorbikes from Korea. We’ve had cars from Korea for a long time now. They came in as the “cheap-and-cheerful” alternative to the Japanese brands, which had gradually crept up in price. And low price was where the Koreans were at. They were nothing to get excited about in terms of quality and driving dynamics etc, but they sure were cheap! Most people probably considered them the sort of car you bought when you couldn’t afford a “decent quality” one. These days the quality has improved, of course, and they’re still great value for money. The image has improved too, although they’re still not held in the same esteem as the Japanese or local brands. And so, enter stage-left, the Korean motorbike! A kind of two-wheeled Hyundai; low price, probably reasonable quality, but nothing to get excited about. In a market driven so much by passion and brand-image they probably should have failed, but they didn’t!
Hyosung have come a long way in a relatively short time. They were founded in 1978 as a division of the Hyosung Group of industries, and began producing Suzuki designed bikes under license in 1979. In 1986 they established their own research and development centre in Japan, and the next year began production of their own designs. In 1988, not ten years after their first bike rolled off the production line, they were appointed official motorcycle supplier for the Summer Olympics in Seoul. In 2000 Hyosung Motors Australia was established and began importing the bikes here. In the years since then they’ve carved out their own niche in the new bike market, and have gained quite a bit of respect. However it’d be fair to say that the name still isn’t held in the same high esteem as the more established brands. Many people (including me!) still see them as a kind of two-wheeled Hyundai! Actually, I was going to call this article “Korean Krap Or Korean Kwality?” And that really is the question; how good really are they? I thought it was time I found out! So this was going to be more than just a road-test of a bike, this was going to be a road-test of an attitude, or prejudice!
The obvious models to look at here are the 650 range. And there’s a few of them! There is a cruiser model, and then three sports / sports-tourers. The cruiser has a few less kw and one less cog in the gearbox, but the others are all mechanically identical. The GT650 is a naked, the GT650R is a fully-faired sports, and the GT650S is a half-faired sports-tourer. Of these, the GT650S I think is the one with the widest and most practical appeal. And that was the one I got to test.
So, first up, let’s have a closer look at what this is. Considering it’s heritage, it’s not surprising that it looks like a Suzuki SV650. But different. The engine looks similar too, but is actually very different in internal specifications.
The engine is, of course, a V-twin, running twin overhead cams with 4-valves per cylinder. Fuel is fed via two CV-type carbies, and it produces a very respectable 58.5kw and 68Nm of torque. These are produced at 9,500rpm and 7,500rpm respectively.
The whole thing is built on a twin-spar alloy frame, and weighs 180kg. Suspension at the front is by up-side-down forks, with adjustments for compression and rebound, while the rear has a mono-shock that is adjustable for pre-load only. Brakes are twin-disc at front and single disc at the rear. But enough of the basics, let’s get to the test-bike.
There was one slight problem; the demo bike was a LAMS model. For states like NSW and Tasmania where the Learner Approved Motorcycle scheme applies, Hyosung produce a lower-powered learner-legal version. This, of course, is a very good idea! Learners can have something much better than a 250 to ride on, and then once they’re on a full licence the bike can be converted to normal operation. Ducati do a similar thing with their Monster 620. In Hyosung’s case, the way they do this is quite simple; the carbies are fitted with special slides. Apparently the slides have holes drilled in them; which reduces the effect of the vacuum above them, thereby restricting their movement, and restricting the bike’s power. At engine speeds up to about 5,000rpm this results in a bit less power and softer throttle-response, but at engine speeds above that the drop-off in performance is more dramatic. It only manages about half the “Full-Power” version’s maximum power, and simply doesn’t get to the revs to make the same power anyway. To convert from LAMS mode to Full-Power mode all that has to be done is to change the slides to the normal ones. Simple, quick and cheap!
It made sense for the dealer to have the LAMS version as it’s test-bike (more potential owners could ride it!), but it meant that I wouldn’t be able to properly evaluate the performance. But that was okay; I’d be taking it to the road, not a race-track; and I could still get a feel for the bike and how it rode and handled etc.
First impression was that the bike looks really good! I liked the bright yellow of the test-bike actually, but if that isn’t your choice you can have it in “hot chili red” or “titanium silver”. It might look a bit like a Suzuki SV, but from the front I thought the headlights were reminiscent of a Ducati 999; my first clue to labeling this a “poor man’s Duke”!
Sitting on the bike reveals a riding-position that is almost ideal for the bike’s intended purpose. The foot-pegs were surprisingly high though. They’re adjustable, which is a nice feature, but they were already at their lowest position. I might be a lanky old bloke, but I reckon only a midget would want them any higher than they were! This resulted in my lower leg being bent up quite high. I soon got used to it, but it did feel a bit cramped. And there’s no need for them to be that high; it’s not a sports-bike!
The seat is wide and flat; and also quite firm. Not exactly uncomfortable, but over the time I rode it I did start to feel the vibes from the engine through my bony backside at times. (If I owned it, the AirHawk seat would be a permanent fixture!).
Time to start it up and ride. There’s a handlebar mounted choke (it’s got carbies remember!), which seems odd in these days of fuel-injection. The bike sounded great! A deep throaty exhaust note; which was the next clue to me labeling it a “poor man’s Ducati”. There was even an occasional throaty crackle on the over-run! I was to learn that this lovely sound was not standard; the dealer had fitted an after-market muffler.
A quick familiarisation with the controls and then off into the city traffic. The bike is very easy to ride. All the controls work well. The clutch is smooth, and the gear-change also smooth. Some testers have described the gear-change as “notchy”, but I never had a problem; despite having a fairly long linkage in the shift mechanism. I did find that the blinker switch needed a firm push, but other than that everything worked very easily.
The cockpit has the usual analogue tacho (red-lined at 10,500rpm) and digital speedo. The display housing the speedo also has small displays for odometer, fuel, engine temperature, and clock. The neutral light is also in there; right above the speedo. It’s the small green “N” you can see – if you look hard enough – in the photo. It’s very small and a bit hard to see; especially in direct sunlight.
During the ride I stopped to take the photos and have a good look around the bike. A few road tests have criticised the quality of the finish but I reckon it’s well-made. There’s a definite quality feel about it. I pulled at the fairing and other body parts, but everything was solid and firmly mounted. Unlike the Yamaha FZ6S, for example, (which I thought had a rather “plasticky” feel about it), the fairing is firmly mounted to the frame at the rear edges. The bike feels solid on the road too.
Performance was of course restricted by the LAMS mode, but at the revs I was mostly using, it wasn’t too bad. It felt like there was a pillion on the back. Acceleration was still okay, and even on a very steep hill it still pulled quite strongly. It was actually quite impressive; for a bike with butchered carbies I thought it went extremely well! Road tests often describe the engine as being the best part of the bike, and I have no doubt that in Full-Power mode it would be! Surprisingly though, for a V-twin, it wasn’t terribly happy under 3,000rpm. From 4,000rpm onwards it felt happier. (I doubt the carby mods would have effected this very much).
I took the bike out to the short section of back-road I described in the test of the Yamaha TDM900; a 500m slightly up-hill straight between two right-angle corners that I normally take at about walking-pace. The bike still got to 110kph, although I did turn into the straight a bit faster this time, and it didn’t have room to cruise at that speed. Without the nobbled carbies it’d fly!
Out on the highway the bike settles in to an easy cruise. Top gear (of 6) runs 23kph per 1,000rpm, so it’s quite relaxed at 110 – 130. The test-bike sat easily enough on these speeds, although did feel a bit sluggish (like the pillion on the back was a sumo wrestler!). With the carbies working normally it would be “Look out horizon, here I come!”
The day I did the test was the first sunny day after a couple of weeks of rain, and some of my favourite twisty roads were very wet and littered with debris. So I didn’t use those to try out the handling! Instead I took it out into open country; using much the same test-route as I did for the Yamaha TDM900. But even there many of the corners had water running across the road. I did manage to find some dry corners though; and a good variety, from tight bends on single-lane back roads to open-road sweepers. And it handled well! My only criticism was of a slight lack of feel through the front; which didn’t easily inspire confidence. Having said that though, it was never really a problem and the bike was always stable and predictable. It was also easy to change line mid-corner. For example, arriving at a corner and finding water across the road, the bike was easy to slow and steer around the wettest bits. I wasn’t riding fast, but anyway, it felt safe and in control. And even at slow speed, you appreciate that.
On the highway it was secure and stable. And the stability continued right down to walking-pace; where feet-up U-turns were easily accomplished.
Some testers have criticised the brakes as not being up to the job, but I never had a problem. I didn’t really push them hard, but they felt fine anyway.
Less impressive was the ride. The front was okay, but the back was very firm and gave quite a jarring ride. I don’t alter the suspension settings on these test-rides, but I did check the pre-load on the rear unit. It was set at about half way. Winding it back to it’s softest setting would no doubt improve it, but I don’t think it would ever be plush and compliant! (The firm seat didn’t help here either!). Even on the highway it was disappointing; jolting over bumps that most other bikes would hardly notice. I didn’t try it on my patched-bitumen rough section (described in the Yamaha TDM test again), as that would not have been a pleasant experience! It’s a pity, because it’s the one thing about the bike that really disappointed me. In all other aspects it was quite impressive.
If the engine is one of it’s best features the other big draw-card is, of course, the price. And here it’s a real winner! The list price is just $8,990. I was quoted $10,000 on-road; so even the on-road costs are less than most other bikes. At that price it’s about $1,700 less than the Suzuki SV650S, and $2,700 less than the Yamaha FZ6S. But wait, that’s not all! With the Hyosung you get throw-over panniers, heated hand-grips, and a luggage-rack. Can’t argue with the value for money! It’s also about $3,800 cheaper than the (un-faired) Ducati Monster 620!
Okay, why am I going on about Ducati? Surely you can’t compare it to a Duke! Well, as I was thinking about those 999-style headlights, the V-twin engine configuration, and imagining the engine in it’s Full-Power mode (it has 10kw more than the Ducati too!), and listening to that throaty exhaust, I began to think that it would indeed make a good poor-man’s Ducati! I could imagine blasting along a twisty road (the feel of the front-end would be fine once you were used to it) with that exhaust burbling and popping, and it would be easy to pretend you were on a Duke. If you covered up the name! Sure, if you rode it that hard maybe the brakes would show some inadequacies, as would the suspension probably, but hey, we’re only pretending!
So, bottom-line; is it “Korean krap”, or “Korean kwality”? Well, I think it’s a pretty good thing! It’s exceptionally good value-for-money, and does most things pretty well. It also seems to be well-built. I said at the top that many people look at the Hyosung as a kind of two-wheeled Hyundai. And that’s probably what it is! Because, despite the prejudices that people like me still have, Hyundais are actually pretty good things. Sure, they aren’t quite up to the standard of the Japanese, but they’re still decent cars and excellent value-for-money. And that’s the Hyosung too! The biggest hurdle it has to overcome is probably the name; it just doesn’t have the same appeal, or prestige, or market-acceptance, as the Japanese and Europeans. Old prejudices die hard! But despite the name, and the inherent image, it really is a pretty good thing!
It has to be said too, that for someone on a restricted licence (“L”s or “P”s), this would be a great bike to buy! It’s cheap, well-made, way better than a 250, and once they're on a full-licence they can easily and cheaply convert it to a bike that will do just about everything they’ll want it to.
For me though, there are problems. The comfort leaves a bit to be desired. The seat is really too hard, and the foot-pegs make the legs feel pretty cramped. But the real turn-off is the ride. The rest I could probably live with, but not the ride. But then with the money you save over other brands, you could always go for an after-market rear-unit. Oh yes, and you’d just have to have that after-market exhaust! Then it really would be a poor-man’s Duke!
There were some significant changes to the 650 range during late 2009. The most significant being the change to fuel-injection, replacing the old model's carbies. Power only went up by about 2kW, but there is more of it (or torque anyway) in the low-end and mid-range. Apparently the computer is capable of accepting re-mapping up-dates too, so future tweaks can be down-loaded and installed. Pretty impressive!
The brakes came in for an up-grade too, with the calipers now being 4-piston units. Brakes attracted a bit of criticism with the old model, although I didn't have a problem with them. So I'd reckon they'd be very good now.
Other changes have been more minor; things like the seat cowl, and a (very) slight reworking of the instrument panel. And there are new colours, and different decals somewhere.
Here's an interesting thing though. The bike now comes with a kit for moving the foot-pegs back. So you can have yourself a pair of rear-sets if you want to! The kit includes a longer gear-linkage rod to suit.
The general build quality has improved over the years and it really is a quality product. I was impressed with it in 2007, and if anything it's only got better since then.
Some of the "problems" I've mentioned in the test above (like the harsh ride) would still exist, but really, these are a great value bike!
At the time I did this test, there were three Hyosung 650 models; the naked GT650, this one, and the fully-faired GT650R. Now there are only two. Guess which one they dropped? Yes, this one. That’s a pity because I reckon it was the most practical of the three; the half-fairing providing some protection from wind and weather, without going to the whole racing-crouch down behind a full set of plastic panels that the R model brought with it. The model that is closest to it is, of course, the naked GT650. It’s kind of like the old S without the semi-fairing and with the usual funky headlight etc. In terms of riding-position it’s pretty close to the S model.
The riding-position of the R is a bit too aggressive for my tastes, but if you like sportsbikes and can accommodate the riding-position that goes with that, then you do get a few extras with the R model, the main thing being KYB adjustable suspension front and back. That would be a good benefit to have.
Over the years there have been a few tweaks to keep it up-to-date – most of which happened with the 2009 model as listed above – but it is essentially pretty similar to the one I rode back in 2007. Use the test above – and these up-date notes – as a general guide then if you’re interested see if you can grab a test-ride on one for yourself. One thing is sure, they are a quality product that deserve equal consideration with the Japanese brands, even if they still don’t quite have the Japanese brands’ image.
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