A New Way to Cruise - 2007 Hyosung Avitar Road Test

There's certainly a lot of potential in this brand


Those of you who like the light weight, easy handling and affordable price tags that a light-middleweight (as opposed to heavy middleweights like the V-Star 1300 or Honda VTX1300) cruiser gives you might also wish for a bigger dose of handlingpower, and maybe even some styling that strays from the usual Milwaukee cues. Well, there is an alternative, and it's from as far away from the American heartland as you can get. Hyosung, up-and-coming motorcycle maker that they are, offers for your approval a stylish, powerful and good-handling cruiser that packs performance and looks hard to match in the sub-$10,000 category.

It's called the Avitar -- and yes, the Hindu word for the physical embodiment of a Diety is usually (but not always) spelled "avatar" -- and it's here in the US in an attempt to conquer the middleweight cruiser market. We tested the GT650 Comet not too long ago, and while that bike represents solid value, it's not exactly an SV650 beater. It's much heavier than its competition and has some rough edges. We've also tested the GT650R sportbike and although it looks nice, it's still not quite as good as it could be. Will the Avitar be the same story?

It's a good day for a ride, no?
Krazy Kustom Korean Krome!

To build the ultimate expression of Kustom Krusin' Korean style, Hyosung started with their basic 647cc motor. It's the same liquid-cooled, DOHC 90-degree motor they use in their GT650, except with a softened power delivery (for a broader spread of power) and a five-speed rather than six-speed gearbox.

It breathes in through a pair of 39mm Mikuni carburetors and out through a two-into-one exhaust system with an adjustable exhaust endcap (adjusting the endcap really just changes the look of the muffler). Hyosung claims 72hp at the crank. The bike's chassis and styling are what really set this bike apart.

The boys in Changwon City (where the grass is green and the girls are pretty, I've heard) used a perimeter frame that looks inspired by Harley's V-Rod. It's made of large-diameter steel tubing that highlights the benefits of hydroforming (using extremely high water pressure to form metal tubing), which Hyosung clearly can't do: the bends in the tubing have unsightly stretching and dimpling the Harley frame lacks.

"Still, it's bold and striking visually and promises a solid ride compared to the weedy hidden frames most cruisers offer."

It's also long and low, with a 65.6-inch wheelbase and a 27.8-inch seat height. Claimed dry weight is just 485 pounds. The rest of the components share more in common with sportbike than cruiser equipment. The front forks are fancy-looking inverted cartridge jobs, adjustable for rebound and compression damping (but not preload). Bringing up the rear is a pair of chromed shocks with five preload settings. The front brake calipers are sliding-pin two-piston TCIC units clamping big floating rotors. The wheels are sporty three-spoke alloys, with good Bridgestone sport-touring radial BT-54 tires, a 120/70-18 in front and fashionably fat 180/55-17 aft.

Professional rider portrayed here on closed circuit. Do not attempt to emulate this style of relaxed cruising on your own. Ask your pharmacist if an Avitar is right for you.

The bike is furnished somewhat lavishly for a middleweight. The "vacuum florescent display" instruments (which look like my old LED Sony clock radio to me) are held in a plastic nacelle and include a clock, fuel and temperature gauge and dual tripmeters.

However, there's no tachometer, a glaring omission on a power cruiser. At least you get some goodies like adjustable forward-mounted foot controls, an LED taillight and clean, quiet, low-maintenance belt final drive. At first glance, I was impressed with the bike's unique look.

The V-Rod's styling influences are there, but Hyosung's designers added their own touches, like the stylized fender supports, giant chromed belt guard, and Softtail-ish back end.

However, there are plenty of things that just look wrong; this kind of bike needs a drag bar and many of the components -- including the blocky liquid-cooled motor -- are either too industrial-looking or are slathered in cheap-looking chromed plastic. However, it still has a fresh, distinctive visual presence that will impress bikers and non-bikers alike.

OK, maybe not impress, but seasoned motorcyclists who laugh at shoddy Chinese-made motorcycles and scooters make a curious "huh!" sound when they see an Avitar. On board, the bike once again surprises the rider. The Avitar lacks that cast-iron cruiser feel, and the seat is low, but not ridiculously so. The stretch to the pegs is very roomy; I think most riders will prefer the closer of the two footpeg positions (they require some tools and a different shift linkage to adjust). The handlebar may be too high for a power cruiser, but it's hardly an uncomfortable apehanger.

The seat is supportive and well-shaped. The switchgear is as solid-feeling as Japanese stuff, with some added treats like a hazard lamp switch, passing light and an adjustable brake lever. After sliding the choke lever towards you and switching on the oddly-placed ignition key (located on the plastic trim panel on the right side of the tank), the motor fires up easily.

The fast, whirring idle and mechanical, high-pitched exhaust note reminds you -- again -- that this is no cookie-cutter V-twin. After warming up for a minute, the motor revs freely, giving away its sportbike heritage. The clutch and gearbox, while not as precise as Japanese machinery, are still smooth and easy to operate; the Avitar might have the easiest transmission to slip into neutral I can remember.

Shift 967 Jacket

Gabe and his Shift 967 jacket out for a spin.

We all know motorcycling is an activity that holds potential danger for its practitioners. That's why we wear helmets, boots, gloves and other protective apparel. This makes our lives as motorcyclists somewhat difficult; what if we occasionally want to trade a little protection so we can wear something that's comfortable and stylish off the bike? Shift Racing, purveyors of a full line of street, dirt and road-racing apparel, have an answer; the 967 Jacket. It's made from 1.1-mm distressed leather for a fashionably lived-in look, and is cut to be roomy and comfortable on the bike or off. Features include a snap-fastening collar, taffeta-like liner, removable CE-approved armor in the shoulders, a back protector pocket, two inside pockets, zippered hand-warmer pockets on the outside and zippered sleeve cuffs.

There are also waist tabs and a little loop in the back to attach to your belt to avoid the plumber's butt. Unless you are Nicole Kidman, I do not want to see your crack. The 967 is very comfortable to wear. It's almost as light as a textile riding jacket, and the leather is soft to the touch. It also looks good, with its antiqued hardware and the hip horizontal stripes. On the bike, the leather blocks the wind enough so the jacket is sufficiently warm with a fleece underneath (and it's roomy enough so you can layer), and off the bike it's so comfortable it's like wearing a casual jacket. It also doesn't flap and billow in a dorky manner, like many fashion jackets will do at speed.

"It's sharp enough to look good when you're not on the bike, making it an ideal around-town kind of jacket."

It has its flaws as a riding jacket, though. The elbows only offer some sewn-in rubber foam and have no provision for real armor. And although I can't attest to the protective qualities of the leather -- and leather thickness doesn't always equate to abrasion resistance -- it seems that it would not be as tough as stiffer, heavier material. I also had trouble snapping the collar shut with gloves on, and finally, there is no venting (other than under the arms) to keep you cool when the thermometer is in the unreasonable zone.

That, combined with the way wind leaks in around the neck, would make this a late spring and early fall kind of jacket for those of you who choose to live places with actual seasons.

However, it's sharp enough to look good when you're not on the bike, making it an ideal around-town kind of jacket. I actually find myself wearing it a lot. It's definitely not race-ready, but if you think of it as a fashion jacket that has enough motorcycle-specific features to make it a decent riding jacket as well, and you like the way it looks, it's a stylish, well-designed good value that I can recommend.

Shift 967 Jacket, $349.95
Sizes: Small to XX-Large
Colors: White/Blue, Black/Red, Black/Orange
Available at Shift dealers or Shift Racing.com

"What's also expected from middleweight cruisers is value, and compared to its competition, the Avitar delivers."

Around town, the Avitar is delightfully easy to ride, despite the lazy steering geometry and long wheelbase. It nips in and out of traffic like a moped, and the motor -- which feels much torque-ier than a 650cc twin should -- has no trouble propelling you to whatever velocity triggers your brain's pleasure centers. The only two weaknesses are suspension and brakes; although the front forks do a great job of soaking up rough urban terrain, the rear shocks lack the damping and travel to cope with choppy surfaces. The brakes are just adequate at best, with a dull feel and weak bite.

So flee the city in search of smoother roads, and point the long nose towards the nearest on-ramp. The Hyosung gets to freeway speeds much faster than any other middleweight I can think of, and is smooth and stable at law-breaking flow-of-traffic speeds. The high bars turn the rider into Rocky the Flying Squirrel at speeds over 70 mph, but Hyosung's accessory windscreen ($260) should cure that. What it won't cure is vibration; at cruising pace a noticeable high-frequency buzzing is noticeable through the footpegs and handgrips that could irritate on long trips.

Where this bike really impresses is on a twisty road, as long as it's smooth. There, the Avitar turns quickly and easily while feeling stable through the apex, even at high speeds. And high speeds do happen; 72hp goes a long way with a sub-500 pound cruiser.

It's not the worst bike we've ridden and is more than most riders ever need or use. If you're in the market for an inexpensive cruiser and there's a Hyosung (or UM) dealer nearby you should check it out.

The sportbike-ish power, light weight and radial tires make you feel like you're on some kind of chopped roadracer, and a good rider can easily keep a sportbike in sight as long as the law isn't being violated too badly. Like most cruisers, the low footpegs stop the fun before the chassis does, and don't make a habit of scraping; there's no replaceable feeler like most footpegs have. Also limiting the party is the unyielding rear suspension, which will either force you to slow down when the road turns bumpy or make you best friends with your local chiropractor. But that's expected from cruisers, right?

What's also expected from middleweight cruisers is value, and compared to its competition, the Avitar delivers. It's not the best-priced at $6,199; Honda's Shadow VLX is just $5,799, and Yamaha's V-Star 650 is $6,099. But the Hyosung's sophisticated frame and motor are so superior to these bikes that it's almost unfair to compare them. Even the larger-displacement Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 and Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom can't touch this bike in performance and features, and the heavy middleweights like the V-Star 1300 and Shadow VTX1300 are just too, well, heavy to deliver the confidence in traffic and on twisty roads the Avitar does.

What the competition does offer is a larger dealer network and a well-known name, but Hyosung is working hard to change that: their dealer network has grown explosively in the past year, and a two-year warranty should assuage fears of things breaking in a few miles.

So is this a bike I would buy? I think I would strongly consider it, as the performance and value is genuinely there and it's a quality product built by a company that isn't going anywhere. There's certainly a lot of potential in this brand, and I think we'll see better and better bikes coming from South Korea in the future.

You can't say you weren't clearly warned. OK, maybe not exactly clearly. But you were warned: don't let anybody touch you on the muffler!
LED tail lights should be DOT-mandated, if you ask me. But I would never date a man.

Cost of Ownership

While researching the service costs of the three budget bikes last month, I was surprised to find that the Hyosung 650 motor has a pretty intense maintenance schedule if you go by the owner's handbook and shop manual.

It calls for valve inspections every 6,000 kilometers (3,600 miles), including a re-tourquing of head bolts, which requires removal of the camshafts. The Avitar's manual even calls for de-carbonizing the combustion chambers at 12,000 miles, which involves pulling the heads and pistons off the bike! That's pretty intense, and at $90 an hour, can drive service costs into areas previously only inhabited by exotic Italian equipment.

What are they smoking in Korea? However, some emails and phone calls to Hyosung's people revealed a company that knows this is a problem for the US market, and they are taking steps to fix it. Apparently, the manuals are global, which means they are written for the harshest conditions (including the rotgut gas one might find in second and third-world countries), so they tend towards very comprehensive maintenece schedules to be safe.

"Hyosung's engineers are looking at increasing the interval for valve inspection to 12,000 miles."

Ron Luttrell at Hyosung told me the valve inspection intervals are actually at 6,000 miles in the US, and that de-carbonizing is not necessary.

Also, Hyosung's engineers are looking at increasing the interval for valve inspection to 12,000 miles, since dealers are finding they don't need to change the shims at 6,000 miles anyway. Like we said about the GT650, expect to spend from $1,500 to $2,000 for regularly scheduled service up to 30,000 miles on an Avitar (figuring a service runs about 2.5 hours) and enjoy the benefits of the low-maintenance belt drive as a bonus.

** 2007 Hyosung Avitar **
Specs provided by Hyosung
List Price $6,199
Engine Liquid-cooled DOHC 90-degree V-twin
Valvetrain DOHC four valves per cylinder
Displacement 647cc
Bore/Stroke 81.5 X 62mm
Compression 11.6:1
Fuel System Twin Mikuni 39mm carburetors
*Claimed* Mfr HP Rating 72.1hp
*Claimed* Mfr Torque Rating 45.4 ft/lbs.
Transmission Five-speed
Final Drive Poly-chain belt
Overall Length 95.7"
Wheelbase 65.6"
Rake/Trail 35 degrees/6.3"
Seat Height 27.8"
Fuel Capacity 4.5 gallons
*Claimed* Dry Weight 485 pounds
2007 Colors Black, Silver, Blue, Orange/Black, Silver/Orange

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