I’d been wanting to test the Kawasaki ER6-F for quite a while. Firstly, as a couple of people have pointed out, Kawasaki is a make that’s been under-represented in the list of bikes I’ve tested. Not by intention, let me emphasise, it's just happened that way. Secondly, I wanted to test this particular Kawasaki as part of my mid-size comparison, because I thought it would be a good example of an all-round practical mid-size bike. And also, having ridden a few mid-size four-cylinder sports-tourers, I was interested in having a run on a current twin-cylinder from that category. I’d looked them over in the showroom, but a shortage of demo-models meant a delay in getting a ride on one. However the friendly folk at Southern Highland Motorcycle Centre were able to provide a current model for test. It was actually 2nd-hand, but still as-new and with low kilometres. I don’t need an excuse to spend a day in the lovely Southern Highlands area of NSW, so off I went. I should mention that, at the time of writing this, an up-dated model is soon to be released. It won’t be drastically different to this one though; and what differences there are I’ll detail in an “Update” section at the end. Essentially, the ER-6 is a conventional twin-cylinder mid-size bike. It is (and this is not meant in a derogatory way!) a sensible bike; designed to suit riders stepping up from smaller learner-type machines, and perhaps older riders returning to motorcycling after a period away from bikes. Nothing too threatening here, just a good basic sensible mid-size bike. Even its appearance (in faired form at least) is appealing without being radical. Ah, but look closer and there are a couple of unusual features. The first is the rear-suspension, with that lay-down mono-shock unit mounted on the right-side of the bike. That looks weird! It kind of looks like they forgot about the rear suspension when they were designing the bike, and suddenly remembered it after all the drawings were done. Then one of the designers, who probably wanted to get away early that day, said, “No worries, we’ll just whack it on the side here.” Looked at from the side it just looks a bit strange; kind of like Superman with his undies on the outside. The worst view is from the three-quarter rear; from that angle it really does look weird! Other unusual features are less radical; like the under-slung exhaust, and the petal-edged brake discs. Exhausts used to be a prominent design feature; big chromed things poking up alongside the bike. Now they’re often hidden away under the seat or down underneath the bike. I think I prefer the old chrome-pipe-along-the-side style! The serrated edge on the discs I think are supposed to help dissipate heat. In truth it’s probably just to look a bit trick and fancy! Apart from the afore-mentioned rear suspension, I think the bike looks good! In faired form, anyway. The naked version looks a bit weird from the front to me. But this looks good, with its full-fairing and modern lines. But enough looking, let’s get on and try it out. As I mentioned above I’d previously checked them out in the showroom, and I’d found the seat fairly hard. This time though, I thought it was okay; so maybe it softens up with a bit of use. It still didn’t feel quite right though; like it was sloping forward, and also quite narrow. And with a height of 785mm it doesn’t need to be narrow to allow your feet to reach the ground. There’s not a lot of room to move around either, so you’re pretty much fixed in one position. The foot-pegs seemed a bit high too. But, like any good bike, things work much better on the move. Once I was riding it, the seat felt quite comfortable (although still a bit narrow), and the pegs were fine. Maybe old blokes with long legs (like me!) might start to feel a bit cramped after a long time in the saddle, but I was okay on the test-ride. Riding-position is very good. It’s fairly up-right, with just the right amount of lean-forward to the bars. And the bars felt good. They’re wide and reasonably high, but the position and angle were ideal. Hmm, I’m starting to like this! Instruments consist of two analogue dials; a speedo numbered to 220kph, and a tacho numbered to 13,000rpm with red-line at 11,000rpm. Both are easy to read. Surprisingly, there are no gauges for coolant temperature or fuel level. (Unless they come up in the odometer display. There were buttons to push, but I assumed they were just trip-meters). There are warning lights though; so you know when the engine is already too hot, or you're about to run out of fuel! Just one other criticism while we’re looking around the bike; I found the side-stand hard to get at. You’ve got to reach back for it, which felt a bit awkward. I suppose you’d get used to it, although I still had to look down to find it when I got back from the test. Hit the starter and the engine gives a solid throb. At idle it sounds a bit uneven, but it smoothes out once on the move. Vibration is virtually nil. The engine is a parallel twin, of 649cc, running a compression-ratio of 11.3:1. Maximum power is 53kw developed at 8,500rpm, while maximum torque gets to 66Nm at 7,000rpm. It’s quite a tractable engine, pulling away from 2,000rpm without drama. It does shake a bit at that, but as soon as the revs build up a bit it smoothes out. From 3,000rpm it’s totally happy. The power feels very linear, with no dead-spots or sudden rushes. A couple of times it felt just a little snatchy coming on and off the throttle, or when holding a constant speed, but only occasionally, and it wasn’t enough to be a problem. Other than that the fuel-injection worked fine. Hmm, yeah, this is quite a nice bike! Twist the throttle and the bike accelerates well. It’s not neck-snapping, of course, but it’s still quite quick. The rate of acceleration is disguised a bit by the smoothness of the bike and the linear feel of the power. It mightn’t feel particularly fast, but watch the speedo and you realise that you’re accelerating quicker than you think. The gearbox is a 6-speeder, and works well. Changes are easy and positive, and changing up without the clutch is no problem either. The only criticism I have was that it was sometimes hard to find neutral at standstill. (And that despite what Kawasaki claims to be a ‘positive neutral finder’ in the gearbox!). On the subject of gears, in top gear the bike runs 22kph per 1,000rpm. So here is a mid-size sports-tourer that is capable of relaxed cruising! Most of the 4-cylinder brigade run significantly lower gearing; and if you’ve read my tests of bikes like the Suzuki GSX650F and Yamaha FZ6, you’ll know that I am critical of their open-road cruising ability because of this. For example, at 110kph the Kawasaki is spinning at 5,000rpm. The 4-cylinder bikes are pulling that before they get to 100kph. At 120kph the 4-cylinder machines are well over 6,000rpm, while the Kawasaki is running almost 1,000rpm less. It’s a significant difference, and one that, to me, makes the 4-cylinder bikes a bit unpleasant, or not relaxing anyway, on a long ride. The Kawasaki feels comfortable and relaxed at highway speeds, with ample power on tap for overtaking and hills etc. (Hmm, yes, this is how mid-size bikes should be!). There was, however, a surprising amount of wind getting past the fairing. The screen is big and wide, but I was feeling the wind even at suburban speeds. The screen doesn’t seem particularly low, so maybe it’s just me; maybe shorter riders wouldn’t have the same problem. (Although I bent down and it didn’t seem to make much difference). The bike rides well. The suspension is fairly basic; having a conventional non-adjustable fork up front, and the afore-mentioned lay-down mono-shock (with adjustment for preload only) at the rear. Despite the fairly basic specs, it works well. Around town it’s smooth and comfortable. Out on the highway the typical patches and ripples are absorbed well, showing an impressive amount of compliance. Larger bumps make their presence felt, but over-all it’s pretty good. The roads I was on weren’t smooth highways, but were reasonably good; so I kept an eye out for some bigger bumps to try it on. And I came across a choppy section of road with bad patches and a few re-surfaced pot-holes. That was enough to unsettle it, with some fairly harsh hits coming through the bars and seat. But over-all the ride was pretty impressive. Of course ride is relative. After the test I rode my own bike, a big bike with the suspension softened up for comfort, along part of the same route. When I came to that choppy section, the suspension soaked up the bumps with a plush ride that almost made the road feel smooth. But for what it is, the Kawasaki rode well. (And backing-off the preload at the rear would make it ride smoother still, no doubt). It felt better than some other mid-size bikes I’ve ridden. Handling is very good. At just on 200kg it’s not exactly a heavy bike, and it feels light to point through the bends. But it’s also very stable and accurate. It’s also good fun! I didn’t encounter any tight twisties, but there was one section on a back road that had smooth flowing corners; the sort taken in 4th or 5th gear. The bike felt so good riding through those that I went back and rode them again! On the main road, cruising at higher speeds, it impressed with it's stability and accurate steering. It’s the sort of bike that inspires confidence very quickly. It isn't a sports-bike, but ridden in the way it is intended, its handling is very good. Mild mannered, but still good fun! The brakes aren’t overly powerful, but they do the job asked of them. At least during my ride they did. (Although I admit I wasn’t very demanding of them!). This suits its intended market. Riders stepping up from smaller machines, or those returning after a long absence, won’t be thrown over the bars if they grab a big handful of front brake. But they still provide efficient braking. I’m not really a fan of under-slung exhausts. I don’t like the look of them, and they can produce more heat than a pipe that’s out in the wind. But heat wasn’t a problem at all on the ER-6. It was quite a warm day, but there was no heat off the exhaust, or trapped by the fairing. I didn’t ride it in heavy traffic, but I don’t think heat would be a problem in normal riding. The salesman said he’d ridden it in 35-degree heat and while it was, as you’d expect, uncomfortably hot, he said the ER-6 was a much better bike to be on than many others he could have had. What else can I tell you? Fuel tank capacity is a bit on the small side, with just 15.5 litres. And there was a rather annoying rattle from the fairing. That was probably just this bike (a loose mounting screw or something perhaps?), but it was there, so I’ll mention it. Price is $10,690, which seems pretty good value for money to me. In some ways it reminded me of the Yamaha XJ600 I used to own; but with more power and slightly better high-speed stability. The Yammie had a rattle (or more a buzz actually) from the fairing too. But the main thing was that the ER-6 has the same sort of mid-size all-round efficiency that I liked about the XJ600. So there it is; Kawasaki’s mid-size sports-tourer. And I reckon it’s a good thing! It does everything well and isn’t left wanting in any area. And, to my way of thinking, that’s something that not many mid-size bikes manage today, actually.
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The ER6F was replaced in 2009 by a significantly up-dated model, called the Ninja 650RL. The main difference was the engine, which had been enlarged to 649cc. So a bit more power for the offering. As you'll notice, the styling - particularly the fairing - came in for a bit of a re-work too. It definitely looks more modern and sporty - especially around the headlights. It weighs a bit more - up to 208kg from 200kg. From 2010 it also got ABS brakes. And there are a few other significant changes too. A reader, Pino, has owned both models, so who better than him to fill you in on the differences. "The bars are rubber mounted, as is the engine, and rubber on the pegs; in contrast with the ER6F. It is also a little heavier than the ER6F so sits on the road a little better. It is sportier looking and no longer has the buzz in the fairing reported on by Elwyn - which turned out to be an endemic problem with the model. It has a better screen and a rear hugger. In short, Kawasaki had made a good thing better."