MY PICK OF THE MID-SIZERS
Mid-sized bikes make a lot of sense. They’re much cheaper to buy than bigger bikes, they’re much cheaper to run and maintain than bigger bikes, and they’re much cheaper to insure than bigger bikes. They’re also lighter than bigger bikes; which can be an advantage. You see, none of us are getting any younger (even if you’re only a young person, you’re still not getting younger are you!); and for a lot of us older blokes, heavy bikes can be a problem. They’re more difficult to wheel around the shed and they’re heavier to handle out on the road. Even parking them can create problems. I’m sure we’ve all parked our bike on the side of the road only to realise that the slope of the road-side is greater than we thought, resulting in the bike leaning over steeply. If it’s a big bike, it can be a heavy lift to get it vertical again. With a mid-size bike you can handle these sorts of situations a lot easier. They don’t have the same power as bigger bikes, of course, but if we’re honest, they have all the power we really need. (For a more detailed discourse on power have a look at my article on Power). And here’s a point to ponder. As I say in that article, if we go back a few years (say, the 1960s) the sort of engine sizes we’re looking at here would’ve put these bikes in the “big performance-bike” category. They also make ideal bikes for anyone stepping up from a “Learner bike,” and for people returning to bikes after a period away from them. Let’s take a closer look at the cost factor; because that can be an important issue. The bikes we’re looking at retail for around the $10,000 to $13,000 mark. Bigger bikes of a similar sort of style are generally priced in the $15,000 to $18,000 range. That’s a big difference; in percentage terms we’re looking at an increase of up to 50%! And those running-costs I mentioned, like insurance and maintenance etc, mostly increase by proportional amounts. Here’s another thing; if you’re spending the sort of money these bikes cost, you’ve got a choice of buying one of these brand new, or a 2nd-hand bigger bike that’ll be about 3 or 4 years old and have anything up to 40,000km on it. So when it comes to sheer practicality, affordability and value-for-money, the mid-sizers have got a lot going for them! That’s why I thought a comparison of some of the main contenders was in order! But this is more than just a comparison of mid-size bikes. The question I’m really looking at in this comparison is can a mid-size bike cut it as your every-day, do-it-all type bike? Can a mid-size bike be a viable alternative to bigger bikes? Let me start by saying that, while having come from a background in trail-bikes, and then mid-size road-bikes, I have come to like bigger bikes. I like the power; not just for the performance itself, but for the effortless way they deliver that performance. I like the solid feel of the bike on the road. And I like the comfort. The greater weight of bigger bikes, combined with typically higher-spec suspension, generally provides a more comfortable ride. Firstly, I suppose I should define the guide-lines I used to select the bikes I’ve included in this comparison; because the range of bikes is huge! Well, as I’ve explained, what I’m looking at here is mid-size bikes that can be used as an all-round bike; for those of us who do varied riding and only have one bike. In other words, bikes that will do the commuting thing, as well as weekend day-rides along our favourite roads, and even the occasional tour. So I’ve left out the full-on sports-bikes, cruisers and dual-purpose bikes. These are really in a category of their own, so it’s difficult to include them in a comparison like this; they deserve their own special comparison. Now, of course, it’s true that you can do anything on any bike (to a degree!). For example, take my mate Steve who owns a Suzuki DR650. That, of course, is a big trail-bike and not the sort of thing we’re looking at here. But Steve uses it for exactly the purposes we’re looking at. He uses it for short-distance commuting, does weekly day-rides with the local Ulysses Club, regularly tours on it, and of course rode it around Australia! But for the purpose of this comparison, I’ve kept the bikes included to ones that fall within the general mid-size all-rounder type market-category. Engine wise, these bikes fall into a pretty narrow band; all are within the 600cc to 700cc range. Bigger than 700cc I don’t consider to be “mid-size”. There are some bikes with engines smaller than 600cc that could be considered (like the Suzuki GS500, for example), but their power-output and general performance is starting to drop below what we would consider to be a viable alternative to big bikes. That doesn’t mean they can’t tour, or be ridden in a sporty manner, because they can; but as practical alternatives to the big boys they probably fall a bit short of what we’d want. So I’ve left them out. So, what did I include? Well, looking at mid-size bikes that fall into this all-rounder / sports-tourer type category we have quite a range. The Yamaha FZ6 has been around for quite a while, in both naked and faired versions, as has the Kawasaki ER-6, also in a choice of naked or faired; so they’re both in. The Suzuki SV650 has become something of an institution in the mid-size class, and also comes in a choice of naked or faired. So it’s a natural to be included. And still with Suzuki, there’s the DL650 V-Strom. Yes, I know I said I left out dual-purpose bikes, but I’ve included the V-Strom because it’s such a popular bike, and one that’s often bought for it’s comfort and all-round ability rather than for dual-purpose work. So it’s in. Hyosung has established itself as a viable alternative to the Japanese, and the Hyosung GT650 (again with a choice of naked or faired) fits right into the style of bike we’re looking at here. The Honda CB600F Hornet has kind of been re-born as a practical, naked sportster; so it’s in. Another fairly recent new-comer is the fully-faired Suzuki GSX650F. It’s a natural for a group like this too. From Britain comes the Triumph Street Triple; a mid-size version of the street-fighter style Speed Triple. Is it an “all-rounder” type bike? Well it’s certainly very popular, and people buy it for general use, not just hooning around the suburbs; so it’s in too. And then hailing from Italy there’s the newly-released Ducati Monster 696. It’s available only as a naked, of course, but it pushes its image as the “Ferrari of the mid-size nakeds”; so it’s a must to include. That’s a pretty diverse bunch! Yes, I know there are even more that I could’ve included, but I think you’ll agree that this lot covers the popular choices pretty well. Of course, any direct comparison between the bikes I have included still isn’t really valid, because they still fall into different market-sectors. But we can still see how they stack up as all-round every-day bikes. And part of the decision you’ll have to make if you buy a mid-size bike is what type (or category) of bike you’ll buy. So, hopefully, looking at the bikes I’ve included here will help with that decision too. Now, if you haven’t done so already, you should read the individual tests of these. You can do that by clicking on the high-lighted name. What I’ll write here is just a brief summary of each one. As with my Sports-Tourers comparison, I’ll list them in order of price, starting with the lowest. And then I’ll pick a winner. Well, maybe not a “winner” as such, but I’ll tell you which one I think is best at this over-all role we’re looking at here. So let’s begin! If price is your main criterion, then look no further! The Hyosung is over $1,000 cheaper than its nearest rival. And if you buy on price alone, you won’t necessarily be disappointed, because the Hyosung is actually not a bad thing! It has a twin-spar alloy frame, suspension that has some adjustment both front and rear, and a general standard of construction that I think puts it well beyond it’s “cheap-‘n’-cheerful” price. Power and torque figures are pretty respectable, and I was very impressed with its performance. The model I rode had an after-market can that I reckoned had it sounding like a poor-man’s Ducati. In fact, the “poor man’s Ducati” was a theme I kept coming back to in the test. In addition to the sound, it has the same engine-configuration, and it even looks a bit like a Ducati, from the front anyway. And its engine-power all but matches the mid-size Duke. Another impressive thing was the gearing, which gave it good highway cruising ability. That’s something that you don’t get in quite a few of these mid-size bikes. Less impressive was the comfort factor; the seat and the ride were both a bit hard for my liking. As a testament to its ability to perform with the big boys, when I did the test of the Moto Morini, which was a group test comprised of Moto Morinis and Benellis, the lead-rider was on a Hyosung GT650. (The dealer also sold Hyosung, and they wanted to leave all the Italian bikes for the test-riders). True, the rider was probably riding it fairly hard at times, and on some occasions the bikes behind were going significantly quicker than the lead-bike, but the fact that it was out there leading this bunch of Italian sports bikes on a test-ride showed just how capable it is! Price is just $7,790 for the naked version, and $8,790 for the faired version (and there are actually two different faired versions).
SPECS: Engine: 650cc, 58kw, 68Nm. Weight: 180kg. Seat: 780mm
The Suzuki GSX650F has been a very successful model for Suzuki during the relatively short time since its release. It was the third best-selling sports-tourer in 2008. Out-selling bikes like it’s other stable-mate the Bandit, as well as sports-touring institutions like the Triumph Sprint, Honda VFR and Blackbird is an admirable achievement indeed! It looks great, and is also pretty comfortable. The riding-position is fairly up-right, which makes it more suitable as an all-rounder than the lean-forward sports-bikes. The engine continues the practical theme, being designed with an emphasis on low to mid-range power. Suzuki say they designed it to suit entry-level riders, but I reckon this also makes it a good choice as a general-purpose all-rounder; for both beginners and experienced riders. I was very impressed with it’s performance! Weight is an issue. Despite looking pretty sleek, the GSX is the “Miss Piggy” of the middle-weights. At 216kg it’s 30 kg heavier than the Yamaha FZ6, and 40kg heavier than the Triumph Street Triple; both of which have more power. So, despite the looks, and despite me saying it goes really well, if performance is your main criterion, you’d best look elsewhere. To me though, weight isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. In fact, before I rode it, I looked at the weight of the bike as an advantage; because heavier bikes generally provide better ride comfort. Unfortunately that didn’t turn out to be the case with the Suzi. The ride I thought was quite firm; and with limited adjustment there wouldn’t be a lot you could do about it. Gearing, as with most mid-size 4-cylinder bikes these days, is fairly low; which to my way of thinking limits its appeal for open-road cruising. For example, 120kph has the tacho swinging above 6,000rpm, which to me, isn’t relaxed cruising. But at just $9,990 it’s excellent value! Look closely enough and I reckon there’s evidence of cost-cutting in the plasticky nature of some bits, but it’s still a good thing.
SPECS: Engine: 656cc, 64kw, 62Nm. Weight: 216kg. Seat: 770mm.
Park the Suzuki V-Strom next to any of this lot and it’ll look like a monster! Umm, no, I don’t mean it’ll look like a Ducati, I mean it’ll look huge! And that’s because it is. It uses the same frame as the 1,000cc version; so it’s really a big bike with a mid-size engine. Despite this though, it still weighs in at less than 200kg, so there isn’t too much of a weight-penalty for using the bigger frame. Suzuki calls it a “sports-enduro-tourer.” In their blurb they say, “If you want a machine with the versatility to let you ride through city streets, over outback roads and mountain passes, the V-Strom 650 is for you.” That, as I said in the test, is a pretty good summary of it actually. Plus it’ll handle the highways (at legal speeds, anyway) just as well as any of the others here; and better than some. There are some legacies of its dual-purpose type nature though. For one, the seat is fairly high. So if you’re short-of-leg then maybe you should look elsewhere. Strangely though, when you sit on it you feel as if you’re sitting down in the bike; a feeling exaggerated by that big screen reaching up in front of you. Another thing is the styling. None of the dual-purpose type bikes look particularly attractive, and this certainly doesn’t make any exception to that rule! The engine comes straight out of the SV650; although tweaked a little to make it more suitable for the different type of bike. At 48kw, it’s the least powerful of the bikes here. But, as I said in the test, it’s a very willing performer and revs out quickly and smoothly. I actually thought it went quite well. It’s not great at low revs, being happiest when it gets to around 5,000rpm; but, being a twin, it doesn’t feel or sound as busy at higher revs as the four-cylinder engines. The performance is fairly linear throughout the rev range too; so it’s more satisfying than you might expect, given its relatively modest output. Gearing is a bit taller than the 4-cylinder bikes, running at 22kph / 1,000rpm. So at 110kph the engine is running at 5,000rpm; which is about 1,000rpm lower than the 4-cylinder machines. So it provides quite a relaxed cruise on the highway. The suspension is pretty basic, with a non-adjustable fork up front and a rear unit adjustable for preload and rebound, but it gives the bike a comfortable ride. It’s good at coping with our “real world” roads. Small bumps are smoothed out well; larger bumps are felt, but it’s a cushioned jolt, not harsh. It’s easy to see why the V-Strom is so popular; it’s easy to ride, and pretty good at just about everything. It’s a bike for sensible people to ride on real roads; not for someone who wants the adrenaline-rush of sports-bike acceleration and race-track handling. Another plus for the V-Strom is that it comes with the option of ABS. And it’ll only cost you an extra $500 to get it. At just $9,990 it’s another example of Suzuki’s bargain-pricing; and another reason why the bike has been so popular.
SPECS: Engine: 645cc, 48kw, 65Nm. Weight: 194kg. Seat: 820mm.
As I mentioned above, the SV650 has become something of an institution in the mid-size market; although sales have dropped off a bit in recent years. At the end of 2008 it wasn’t in the top-10 in any category; sports-tourer, naked or sports. There are newer bikes about now that are capturing the buying public’s attention. Despite this though, the SV is a great mid-size practical sports-bike. But being a sports-bike narrows its appeal a little. The riding-position is sporty, requiring a reasonable lean-forward to the bars. The foot-pegs are fairly high; and the seat isn’t terribly comfortable. So it’s not quite as much an “all-rounder” as some of the others here. Old blokes like me might consider it just a bit too sporty compared with the other lot. At this point I have to say that I haven’t actually tested one. But a riding-acquaintance has one, I’ve given them a good look-over in the showroom, and I’ve read tests on them. So some of these comments are based on what I’ve read, and some have come from my own observations. Road-tests have sometimes been critical of the handling. Well, more precisely, they’ve said it handles well, but just not as good as it’s newer competition. It seems to be well-made and reliable; perhaps even more so than some of its newer stable-mates. And if you are more inclined (no pun intended!) towards the sportier style of things, then I reckon this is well worth considering. And at just $9,990 it’s the usual Suzuki bargain.
SPECS: Engine: 645cc, 56kw (approx), 66Nm (approx). Weight: 165kg. Seat: 800mm.
The Kawasaki ER-6F has a lot to recommend it. Available in both naked and semi-faired versions, it’s aimed exactly at the sort of use we have in mind here; an easy-to-ride bike that’s capable of everything from commuting to touring. These abilities have been recognised by the buying public too, putting it at tenth spot on the list of best-selling sports-tourers for 2008. The ER-6 starts to impress as soon as you ride it. The riding-position is fairly up-right, and the bars are well placed. Ergonomically I reckon it’s just about spot-on. Except, perhaps, for the foot-pegs, which I thought were a bit high. (But then I’ve got long legs!). I did find the seat a bit narrow, and it also slopes forwards a bit. But out on the road everything works well and I found the ER-6 quite comfortable. It also rides well. Larger bumps make their presence felt, but over-all it’s good, and doesn’t feel overly firm as a few of the others in this group do. Handling is impressive too. It’s light and easy to ride, but also totally stable. Steering is positive and accurate, and it immediately inspires confidence; whether slicing through tighter bends or cruising open-road sweepers. Suspension is fairly basic, but it obviously does a good job. The engine is unique amongst this lot in being a parallel-twin. It has less power than most of the others in this group, but the power is concentrated more towards the mid-range, and it delivers it in a very linear fashion. I think it performs well. It’s smooth and efficient. The gearing runs about the same as the other twins, giving it a comfortable cruising ability. At 120kph it felt smooth, capable and relaxed. I reckon it looks good too; in faired form at least. (Although that lay-down side-mounted rear unit looks kind of weird!). What I like about the little Kwaka is that it does everything well; and nothing badly. It’s not outstanding at anything in particular, but it’s not left wanting in anything either. That impresses me; I like bikes like that. It’s the sort of bike that you could live with very easily. The naked version is $9,990, and the faired version $10,690.
SPECS: Engine: 649cc, 53kw, 66Nm. Weight: 200kg. Seat: 785mm.
P.S. I’m writing this in April 2009, and an up-dated model is just a month or two away. The styling is a bit more angular, and the engine comes in for some re-mapping to make it more user-friendly in the mid-range. Over-all power and torque remain the same. There has also been some work done to reduce the amount of vibration; although there’s not much vibration in the current model.
If ultimate performance is your thing, and you want a “standard” type bike (not a more radically-styled street-racer), then the Yamaha FZ-6 really produces the goods! Most road-testers agree that, in comparison to most other mid-size bikes, the Yamaha is top dog. I mentioned the comparative power-to-weight ratios with the Suzuki GSX650F above, and you can see why the Yamaha blows it away! And it’s a similar situation with probably all of the other bikes, with the exception of the Triumph. The only problem with this, for me, is that it doesn’t feel as powerful as it is! Well, not unless you really pile on the revs. And that’s the thing. While the Yammie can be easily ridden at low revs, it’s only when you get that tacho needle swinging into the higher numbers that you unleash the real power. And that’s why bikes like the Suzuki GSX650F and Kawasaki ER-6, which concentrate their power more in the mid-range, can actually feel better; at lower speeds, anyway. But don’t let these comments put you off. The engine is good! What really impresses is the way Yamaha have taken a sports-bike engine (it comes from the R6) and turned it into an amazingly tractable road-bike engine. They did this with the FZ1 too. At low revs it’s easy and docile; at high revs it goes ballistic! So even if the FZ6 does feel a bit lacking in the low-end, it’s still smooth and very useable at low revs. And it’s good to have that power there up top when you really want it. It gets very good reviews in the magazines. Nigel Crowley, when testing the naked version for Australian Motorcycle News, raved about its performance, summing it up by saying, “This thing is frankly amazing, and has one of the best and most fun engines I’ve ridden.” Mick Matheson, testing the faired version for the same publication, wrote, “It’s a responsive and fun engine, one that runs happily in the mid-range but has a thrill in the top-end.” How much you like the FZ6 will depend, to some extent, on your riding style. On the subject of revs, like most mid-size 4-cylinder bikes these days, it’s a bit under-geared, in my opinion, for highway cruising. Okay, so if the thing is red-lined at 14,000rpm, why do I complain about it doing 6,000rpm on the highway? Because to me, that isn’t relaxed cruising. It feels buzzy. And in saying that, I’m not just comparing it to bigger bikes; I’m thinking of things like the XJ600 I used to have, which at 110kph was doing a more comfortable 5,000rpm. The suspension gets good reports from the critics too. The faired version I rode in 2007 I thought rode well; the naked version I rode in 2008 a little less so, although still okay for this type of bike. The handling is great! That’s partly due to the impressive die-cast twin-spar frame, but also to a well-sorted suspension. It’s easy to steer, totally stable, and pin-sharp accurate. It’s good fun and inspires confidence. So, it’s a good bike; especially if you like operating at high revs. But I still say perhaps a little less impressive if you don’t. The naked version is priced at $10,499, and the faired version (which is the one I’d recommend) just $500 more at $10,999. So pretty good value too!
SPECS: Engine: 600cc, 72kw, 62Nm (approx). Weight: 186kg. Seat: 815mm.
This is another bike that I haven’t actually tested. I’ve looked at it in the showroom, and read magazine road-tests, so my comments here are based on those observations and what I’ve read. The Honda looks good. It’s modern and trendy, but not too over-the-top. Adding to the appearance are things like the forks – upside-down gold-coloured Showa units. It looks aggressive and purposeful; and it looks quality. It feels quality too. Hondas are usually well-built, and they give that feeling when you look at them and sit on them. And the Hornet is no different; it feels like it’s made from good-quality stuff. The ergonomics are good. There’s a nice lean-forward to the bars, without being too sporty. It’s fairly up-right actually. The seat feels reasonably comfortable at first, but you soon realise that it’s actually quite firm. It seems fairly small too. You’ll notice the difference in the showroom if you swap to its bigger brother, the Hornet 900, which has a larger and softer seat. Maybe it’s the shape of the whole instrument pod, but looking forward gives the impression of being in the cockpit of a small plane! The high-rounded shape houses a huge tacho, with a small digital display underneath. The speedo lives in that small display, and the numbers are relatively hard to see. Even the magazines reckon it’s a bit of a mess! The specifications show great promise – good power and light weight. However, according to reports I’ve read, the reality is less impressive. The main criticism is lack of low-end power. In a test in Australian Motorcycle News, Nigel Crowley said, “The lack of low-down grunt from the Honda was immediately obvious. Opening the throttle hard below 6,000rpm was pretty pointless.” To put it in context, this is the same tester who described the Yamaha FZ6 as having, “one of the best and most fun engines I’ve ridden.” So if it’s more lacking in low-down power than the Yamaha, then I don’t think I’d be very impressed! I’ve read the same comment in other tests too. It’s also, like the other 4-cylinder bikes here, a bit low-geared, making it fairly buzzy at highway cruising. The suspension, despite looking the goods, is fairly basic, having non-adjustable forks and a rear unit with preload adjustment only. Most reports I’ve read praise the handling; so in that at least, it appears to work well. Hondas are typically priced on the high-side of their market segment, and at $11,990, this is no exception. It’s not the most expensive bike here (there’s another two above it), but it is getting a bit expensive for a mid-size bike. The quality of the thing goes some way towards justifying that though.
SPECS: Engine: 599cc, 73kw (approx), 62Nm (approx). Weight: 173kg. Seat: 800mm.
The Triumph Street Triple is another example as to why any direct comparison between these bikes probably isn’t valid anyway. Like the V-Strom, it’s really a different kind of bike to all the others. It’s comparable with the other nakeds in terms of general specs and style, but really, it’s a different type of bike. Different it might be, but it’s been very successful for Triumph, being the second-best selling naked for 2008. It’s often described as a “hooligan bike.” And you’ll probably look like a hooligan when you ride it, even if you aren’t! Of course, the styling and look of the bike (mainly at the front) is a matter of personal taste. But even if you do like it, I reckon if you bought one you’d be constantly explaining it to your (non-motorcycling) family and friends. As I said in the test, unknowing people will assume that it fell off the back of the delivery truck, and the dealer just botched it up to sell it rather than repairing it properly. But of course, that’s the kind of image the “street-fighter” bike is all about. And, as such, Triumph does it better than probably anybody else. But it’s not just about style though; this bike is capable of going just as hard as it looks! The engine is the largest of the group here, and it’s also the most powerful. But it’s the way the power translates into user-friendliness that really impresses. Like the Yamaha FZ6, the engine comes out of a super-sports-bike; in this case, the Daytona 675. And, like Yamaha, Triumph have managed to turn a race-engine into a remarkably flexible road-bike donk. Except they’ve arguably done an even better job of it than Yamaha. They designed it to be flexible, and claim that 90% of its torque is available from 3,500rpm. On the road this is borne out by an ability to pull strongly from 2,000rpm in top, and then rev freely into the high numbers. Put simply, the engine is a beauty! And it flies! Gearing is about the same as the 4-cylinder bikes, but being a triple, it didn’t feel quite as busy at high revs. So highway cruising felt more comfortable and relaxed than the 4-cylinder brigade, even if the revs were actually the same. The Triumph handles well; and not just around the “streets”, but out on the open road too. The steering is a bit quick (“flighty” is too strong a word), but you’d get used to that I suppose; and it’s good fun to point-and-shoot through the twisties! It always felt totally stable during my time on it, but I never really felt confident with it, because of the quick steering. But as I said, you’d probably get used to it. The riding-position is good. Most nakeds have a relatively up-right position and the Trumpy follows that trend, adding in bars that are quite flat and well suited to the bike. The seat is pretty comfortable too. Ride was a bit firm, with even small ripples and patches in the road-surface being felt. Bigger bumps brought bigger thumps through the seat and bars. The suspension isn’t adjustable either – apart from the usual preload on the rear – so, like most bikes in the mid-size category, you’re stuck with what you get. So, to sum up, if you’re an old bloke who wants to just cruise along and take it easy, this is perhaps not the bike for you. As I said at the top, it’s a bit of a hooligan bike. However (and Triumph mightn’t like me saying this!), if you’re an old bloke who wants to really live out the Ulysses Club motto (“Grow Old Disgracefully”), this is probably just the thing! At $12,490 it’s pretty expensive, but you get a very “individual” bike with a load of character and great performance. So I guess it’s worth it. Obviously the many buyers think so!
SPECS: Engine: 675cc, 79Kw, 69Nm. Weight: 167kg. Seat: 800mm.
P.S. I should mention that there is another model of the Street Triple available, called the Street Triple R. The intention with this was to pitch it kind of half way between the basic model and the Daytona. As such it gained the Daytona’s radial-mounted 4-piston brakes, and up-graded suspension that is fully adjustable at both ends. They’ve set the suspension a bit firmer than the standard model, but a report I read said that it’s actually quite compliant. Being fully adjustable should allow you to fine-tune it for your ride / handling preference; although I think the emphasise is on handling rather than ride-comfort. There are a couple of other differences too, like tapered handlebars. This costs $1,000 more than the standard model, at $13,490.
The 696 hadn’t long been released when I started putting all this together, and I haven’t had a chance to test one yet. But I have had a look at them. And I’ve read tests on them. And I did test its two predecessors, the 695, and the 620. Compared to the 695, power goes up a bit, to 60Kw at 9,000rpm; and there are improvements to running-gear like brakes (now radially-mounted), and suspension. And you also get a slipper-clutch. Weight is down a bit to 161kg. Oh, and just to answer one of my criticisms of the 695, the foot-pegs are now a bit lower. The seat-height remains the same, at 770mm. It’s a pretty comfortable thing too. The bike is good for smaller people; but lanky old blokes (like me) might still find it a bit cramped, as I did with the 695. I was impressed with the ride of the 695, and there’s no reason to think the new one would be any less impressive in this area. Press response has mostly been very positive. Peter Thoeming loves it! Praise of it’s handling has been pretty much universal. It’s also praised for its ease of riding. It seems to be popular with buyers too, because, despite only just being released, it was the tenth best-selling naked bike for 2008. There have been criticisms though; with the engine's lack of mid-range power being the main thing. Lack of equipment is another criticism; with items like grab-rails, under-seat storage, span-adjustable levers, and even a helmet-lock all reported as missing in action. The fuel tank is still a bit small, at just 15 litres. When thinking about the 696, I started wondering what Ducati expects of the bike. The high gearing might suggest it’s intended to hit the open road, but the lack of equipment and the small tank suggests that perhaps they don’t really expect you to go interstate touring on it. Maybe they see it as a “sports-commuter” rather than a “sports-tourer”? Maybe. I know one thing Ducati don’t expect you to do, and that is compare it to the Japanese. Well, that’s what one sales-rep told me anyway. At $12,995 it’s the most expensive bike of this group. To put this in perspective, it’s $2,500 more than the Yamaha FZ6N, and $3000 more than the Suzuki SV650 naked. But to Ducati that’s not an issue. To them, that’s like saying a Ferrari is more expensive than a Toyota. I’m not sure everyone else sees it that way though. Whether you see it as a Ferrari or not, (maybe it’s like a baby one?), the bike has that unmistakable Italian character and flair. And it has it in spades! The Ducati is different to all the other bikes in this comparison simply because it’s a Ducati! If you like Italian bikes you’ll love the look, the style, and the sound of the 696. You’ll love it’s handling, and you’ll love riding it just because it is a Ducati. So you’d probably buy one and love it! But if you decide to buy one of the other bikes instead of the Ducati, you’ll probably do so for reasons that wouldn’t change, no matter how good it was. I said that the Hyosung, with it’s sporty muffler, gave an impression of being “a poor man’s Ducati.” Well the 696 is the real deal! And you’ll get admiring looks wherever you go with it. But that bloke parked over in the corner on his Hyosung is quietly smiling; knowing he saved over $5,000 on the purchase price and probably pays less in service and maintenance costs as well. Maybe it is a question of a Ferrari or a Toyota!
SPECS: Engine: 696cc, 59kw, 69Nm. Weight: 163kg. Seat: 770mm.
One other bike I should mention here is the Yamaha XJ6 Diversion. At the time of writing (April 2009), this hasn’t yet been released. But if it is out by the time you’re reading this, then the new Yammie is one that should be well worth checking out. It has less power than the FZ6, but it produces that power at lower revs. It’s intended for people who prefer riding the low-mid-range, rather than having to rev it out to access the engine’s potential. It will be available in both naked and semi-faired versions, with the semi-faired one I think being a good looking bike! It will be priced just a bit lower than the FZ6. So it should appeal to a lot of buyers! I just wish it was out now so I could include it in this comparison; I have a feeling it’d do pretty well!
QUICK OVER-ALL COMMENTS.
The first thing to say is that there are no “bad” bikes here. You really could “do it all” on every one of them. Yep, even the “cheap-‘n’-cheerful” Hyosung! Throw in the afore-mentioned practicalities of mid-size bikes and it becomes clear that these machines can be a good choice for your all-round motorcycling requirements. The point should be made however, that if you’re after that “big-bike experience” then these machines don’t deliver exactly that. They are, by their very nature, different to big bikes. And that can be an attraction, or a compromise, depending on your point-of-view. Power is entirely adequate. No, they won’t give you that rush of power that you get from a big bike, but they give you all the power you really need. Some more so than others. The main issues with these bikes, for me, are comfort and open-road cruising ability. Seat comfort can be an issue on these smaller machines, but that’s a problem many bigger bikes suffer too. Same thing with ride comfort. The problem here is that, mostly, these bikes have fairly basic suspensions that provide very little in the way of adjustability. So you’re stuck with what you get; unless you start doing more serious suspension mods. Current trends to gear mid-size bikes fairly low means that, again for me anyway, they feel a bit stressed, a bit buzzy, at highway cruising speeds. But, as I said, these issues not withstanding, all of the bikes we’ve looked at here will do-it-all. Inevitably, though, some will do it better than others. And that’s what this comparison was all about, which ones do the all-round duties the best.
I’ve already said that any direct comparison between these bikes isn’t really valid, because they fall into different categories. So there can’t be an over-all “winner” I suppose. But, as I said above, we can still consider how they stack up as all-round every-day bikes. So I’ll kind of pick one. You’ll see. A naked bike is probably not ideal as an all-rounder. Although they can still work in that role. My own bike is a naked, and with the addition of a screen works very well as an all-rounder. But generally, as an every-day all-round practical bike, I think something with some form of fairing is probably a better choice. Mick Matheson, former editor of Australian Motorcycle News agrees. In a test recently he wrote, “Line up a heap of naked bikes and I get all excited. Stick me behind the ‘bars though, and it doesn’t take long for me to whimp out and want a fairing. On any long, cold, windy or wet ride I know the sensible side of me always wins. A fairing is the way to go if you’re being smart about it.” But before eliminating all the nakeds, I should perhaps cast a vote for my pick of those, for the sake of anyone who might be looking for a naked. There are naked versions of most of the bikes listed above, of course, but when it comes to picking a “winner” I think it comes down to a choice between the Triumph and the Ducati. Both have loads of character. The Triumph has a mean, aggressive, street-fighter character about it. The Ducati, on the other hand, oozes its Italian flair and seems to be saying, “Look at me! I’m a Ducati!” The Triumph certainly delivers on performance, but the quick steering puts me off a little. And then there’s that “cobbled-together in the shed” look. The Ducati isn't as powerful as the Triumph, but it handles brilliantly and, from my observations and my test of it’s predecessors, I’d say has the edge over the Trumpy in comfort. So maybe I should call it a tie, depending on personal preference. For me though, the Duke is the one I’d pick. (And then I’d probably end up wishing I’d bought the Triumph!). Okay, so what about the others? Well, I’ve narrowed it down to a “top-three.” The Suzuki GSX650F looks great, it’s terrific value, and the engine characteristics give it very good useable performance. But for me, it was let down by its ride, and of course, by it’s gearing. I also think the cost-cutting is obvious if you look close enough. The Yamaha FZ6 is another goodie! I prefer the power characteristics of the Suzuki, but the Yammie has to get the nod for performance. I also think the ride is better. But for me, the engine-characteristics are just not what I prefer, and it isn’t as relaxed on the highway as I’d like. The Kawasaki ER6-F was the last bike I rode before putting all this together. At that stage I had pretty much decided which bike was going to be my pick. I was still keeping an open mind when taking the little Kwaka for a ride, but I didn’t expect my choice to change. But it did. I remember the precise moment. It was towards the end of my test-ride; I was cruising along a main road, the speedo nudging towards 120kph. The road was good, but not billiard-table smooth, and I was rounding a long sweeper. The bike had already impressed me, but it was at that moment that the realisation really hit home that this was a bike that, as I’ve said above, did everything well and nothing badly. This was a bike that was quite capable of performing all the roles required of a good all-round motorcycle. It was a good commuter, it cruised well at open-road speeds, it handled well, it was quite comfortable, and it went well. This was a mid-size bike that really could play with the big boys – provided the big boys didn’t play too hard of course. Sure, there are bikes that are better in certain areas. There are bikes that perform better, there are bikes that ride better, there are bikes that are more dynamically exciting, and so the list could go on. But those bikes are, to me, let down by other aspects. The Kawasaki isn’t outstanding at any one particular thing, but it’s quietly capable of everything required of it. Yep, this, I decided, is a bike that deserved my pick as best all-round bike of this bunch! The Kawasaki ER-6F answers the question we’re asking with this comparison. Yes, a mid-size bike can cut it as a good all-round bike. And yes, a mid-size bike can be a practical and useable alternative to a big bike. You’ve just got to find the right bike. And the Kawasaki is, I reckon, the right bike! And you don’t have to just take my word for it. In the December 2008 edition of Two Wheels magazine, (which I got to read after making my decision), a tester wrote the following. (I’ve edited it slightly to make it more compact). “This bike fully justifies Kawasaki’s claim to be able to satisfy new riders as well as experienced ones. If you’ve been forced to drop down from a sports-bike to one of these, you’ll have just as much fun and it’ll cost you a whole lot less. As a first big bike meanwhile, the ER-6 is arguably the very best choice you can make. Much cheaper than a Honda Hornet, dynamically better than the ageing SV650, up for hard riding action or a helping hand for beginners. That’s a pretty impressive portfolio.” Impressive indeed! They were actually writing about the naked version, and I reckon that, as an all-rounder the faired version makes an even better choice. Then they went on to say that the new one (the naked version of which had just been released overseas) was even better! So, yep, I think it deserves to get the nod.
BUT ON THE OTHER HAND….
There’s no doubt that, to my way of thinking, the Kawasaki is the best all-round mid-size bike here. But would I buy one? Hmm, well, I’m not so sure. You see, there are a couple of issues that, for me, might become a problem with long-term ownership. The ride, while good for a mid-size bike with typical low-spec suspension (and better than many others in this group), would probably end up being a problem for me; especially on rougher back-roads. And, while it wasn’t a problem on the test-ride, a long trip might have the old legs feeling a bit cramped. The Suzuki V-Strom, on the other hand, while not really as good an all-round bike as the Kawasaki, still ticks most of the boxes as a good all-rounder. And ticks the boxes in areas that are of particular concern to me. So it could be the one I’d be happier living with. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, the V-Strom is really in a class of its own amongst this lot. But the qualities inherent in its design brief also make it work well as an all-rounder. The main attraction, for me, being the comfort factor; the ride particularly, but also seat comfort. The ABS option is another plus. It’s not the best looking bike, and I wouldn’t mind a bit more power, and low-end tractability, but if it came to laying down my hard-earned and buying one of these bikes for myself, I just might pick the V-Strom. The Kawasaki would be hard to pass up in favour of this thing, but for me, it might just be the best choice. As an example of how well the big Suzi works in this role, a guy I know was forced to down-size from his BMW R1150RT. The bike he decided on was the V-Strom 650. And he loves it! That’s as good a recommendation as you’ll get, I reckon!
P.S. For a different perspective, see what a reader bought when he went looking for a mid-size bike. Click here for the story of his bike and why he bought it.
Click here to return to the front page. Click your BACK button to return to the previous page.