2000 Valuebike Shootout

Who let the MO out?

story by MO Staff, Created Dec. 29, 2000
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Torrance, California, December 29, 2000 -- "Can I buy you a drink, or do you just want the money?" You, being the avid biker with the suave ghetto-smooth moves that you are, naturally end up with a date for the evening with a pick-up line like this. No doubt the new pair of shoes with the flame motif did their part; another case of money well spent, ey, chap? Not to be the bearer of bad tidings, but if this -- or some equally lame-brained scheme -- is how you spend your weekend nights, you had better forget about that beautiful Ducati 996 you've been lusting over and focus on something more realistic: A Value Bike.And might we suggest a $6,000 limit on how much you should spend? Then, maybe you could stand to spend some money on a new personality with all the money you'll be saving...

Either way, it's the end of the year and things are looking pretty good for you. Your old hooptie is paid off and hasn't gone for a ride on the back of the local towing yard's finest in at least two weeks now. Your credit card bills are under control so you've got a bit of extra cash burning a hole in your pocket. It must be time to invest in some tech stocks, then. Or is it? The market is so volatile right now and nobody is sure what's around the corner.

"Differences aside, any one of these machines would be a welcome addition to a garage. Hey, even the ugly chick in the corner goes home with somebody sometimes."

The bikes; ready for battle.

If you're going to just throw away some money, you might as well get something tangible, other than an invoice from your broker or a phone number and an empty promise from that dame at the end of the bar to show for it. To help you out in your quest for an affordable ride that won't bore you to sleep like an Al Gore speech, MO has resurrected our once-popular Value Bike shootout.

And as the the various specimens rolled into our garage, we acknowledged the wide range of style and purpose of the six bikes that meet our price point.


Sixth Place - Buell Blast: $4,395

The Blast doing a wheelie and a burnout.

MO graphics editor Calvin "HackFu" Kim summed up the Buell Blast nicely by stating it's "our idea of a scooter" just after a fellow tester snickered something about its name which they pronounced, "the be-last." Be nice people.

Sure, the popular definition of a scooter entails small wheels, an even smaller engine, automatic shifting and a little platform for your feeties, however, we have our own definition of what a scooter should be. To us, a scooter offers light, nimble and economical transportation that's great for zipping around town. Oh, and we like to shift, thanks.

The primary intent of the Blast is as a user-friendly platform for new riders. The Blast is amusing to us because it looks like a Cyclone M2... only shrunken (honey, I shrunk the Buell!). Performance is also Buell-like in that it's quirky, even if it works as an effective overall package.

Ergonomically, even the shortest legs can find pavement while straddled over the bike. The wheelbase is relatively short, the seating position (there are two different seat heights available) is comfy, and everything falls right where it should. Friendly touches include an automatic choke function, digital trip meter and a "flash to pass" button that we wish we could transplant from our Blast onto some women we know.

The Blast exhibits surprising cornering ability.

"Aside from a grabby clutch, it would be hard to beat this Buell for learning purposes."

The motor has more torque than some riding mowers that its sound mimics quite closely. It steers lightly and the brakes are progressive and smooth. The only problem with all this is that riders who catch on quick will outgrow the Blast even quicker. The next Ben Bostroms need not apply. Essentially, the Blast is a $4,000-plus learning tool that may only last a summer because it's so easy to outgrow.


Still, if something about the Blast grabs you or you just have a lawn mower fetish, you won't regret your purchase. If you want a beginner's motorcycle, the 883 would probably be a better choice. If you want a scooter that can shift, corner and do rolling burnouts, you might want to check out the Blast. Besides, Vance & Hines has a number of performance products for it already available. You and Tim Allen can have lawn mower races all year long now!

Fifth Place - Kawasaki KLR650:$4,999

The KLR's dirt pedigree allows for maneuvers that can't be done on a regular street bike.

This bike is like a Nissan Xterra: Everything you need for the urban jungle with only a small number of overdone accouterments. Of all the bikes in our shootout, this is clearly the most versatile. For commuting, the light weight, slim stance and beau-coup suspension travel is overkill, though it does open up a few "alternate routes."

When you turn off the freeway and onto the road less-traveled, launching over medians, plowing through pot holes and other acts of urban assault come as naturally as a Sunday football and beer-drinking binge with the boys. Out in the country, the KLR has adequate off-road prowess to handle some fairly rough terrain, let alone the occasional forest service road or gravel road.

And for you aspiring hooligans out there, our own Minime quickly discovered the KLR's ability to muster block-long wheelies and catch air off practically any rise in sight. It's like a top-heavy Kawasaki 'Motard bike in many ways. And if you ride it as such, it can be a lot of fun.

More wheelies.

The behind-the-seat platform offers generous space to bungee down a few night's worth of gear while the hand guards protect fingers from the cold as well as incoming foreign objects.

The economical windshield keeps the blast off your chest, but doesn't impair your vision unless you're doing your own dirt-tracker impressions up and down the roads, tucked in with your left hand holding onto the upper left fork leg. Not surprisingly, some of these things that enable the KLR to tackle dirt roads so well have a negative effect on it's on-road effectiveness.

The wide bars hamper lane-splitting ability and the motor buzzes along at highway speeds, constantly reminding you that the 651 cc single below you would rather be churning up a gravel-infested incline than maintaining pace with that Peterbilt behind you.  People travel the world on a KLR for thousands less than a BMW R1150GS, or an F650GS for that matter.

"This Kawasaki can do it all, you just have to decide how much you value versatility over day-to-day practicality."

If you want a well-designed bike that can accomplish any task needed of a two-wheeler, the KLR easily offers up mucho bang for the buck and makes this a very attractive choice for those who tend to be a little bit schitzo in their riding preferences.

Fourth Place - Honda Nighthawk 750: $5,799

The quintessential standard in the city. We tried to do hooligan antics, but the Fuzz came and put a quick stop to that.

This bike has remained essentially unchanged since its introduction a decade ago. It made this year's roundup largely because it emerged victorious in our "Frugal Flyers" Shootout held five years back and is still regarded as the all-time standard standard. It's a staple like bread and water, really. The 750 is incredibly easy to ride.

The clutch action is smooth, shifts are swift and sure and the power delivery is the smoothest we've seen this side of a Jamba Juice blender. The no-nonsense seating position, long wheelbase and tall top gear give the Nighthawk impressive highway legs. Unfortunately, the lack of a windshield as standard equipment hinder any attempt at joining the Iron Butt clan on their yearly sojourn.

Still, soft saddlebags (Marsee makes a great set) and a tank bag enhance the touring abilities of the Hawk, but we've even seen Givi hardshell panniers and a top case along with a large wind screen mounted on the beast for extended jaunts. Other sundry attributes of the Nighthawk include, a 200-mile cruising range and the ability to put up with 87 octane fuel.

Look in the motorcycle dictionary under 'standard' and you'll see a picture of a Nighthawk 750.

"The Nighthawk also has a decent suspension. But, the spongy feel, combined with the bias-ply tires are not exactly confidence-inspiring in the twisties."

Put aside your fears, however, and the Nighthawk is fully capable of foot peg-scraping lean angles and the ability to keep up with a race-replica as ridden by far too many Sunday Anonymous Squids. So, why doesn't the Nighthawk 750 earn a repeat win in our shootout? Well, it's sort of dull. Sure, it has plenty of juice to smoke practically any new Corvette or Mustang and it easily pulls to more than 120 mph.


But we're not talking gut-wrenching, arm-stretching thrust. Just the type of family-friendly oomph that's good for everybody. Unfortunately, some of us prefer a bit of spice in our dish and this bike just never red-lined our excitement meter.

In a nutshell, if you want a motorcycle in the homogenized-yet-effective sense, the Nighthawk has got to be one of the best choices of all time. Lube the chain, change the oil if you have some extra time and a few spare beers one Saturday, occasionally have a mechanic inspect the thing and it should last forever. Heck, the valves even adjust themselves. If you want a bike to cater to your emotions, though, look elsewhere.

Third Place - Yamaha V Star Custom: $5,599

The V Star: around the town and on the road. Looks nice, doesn't it?

The big surprise of the shootout is the V Star Custom. We knew the 650 cc cruiser could deliver classic American looks, loads of chrome, legendary Yamaha build quality and adequate performance. What we didn't expect was how fun the bike was to ride. Though not offering the boatloads of torque, the V Star's engine is plenty strong for real-world riding. Especially surprising is that this little twin had enough cojones to inspire its share of hooliganism.

Even our prim and proper CEO was coaxed into a spontaneous burnout -- though he later lamented his lack of restraint (typical). The V Star does a good job of playing the nasty boulevard cruiser role, even if it hails from Japan and displaces only 650 cubes.

Suspension is expectedly soft, but it's just what you need for around town. It never feels harsh and rarely feels like a wet sponge, striking good balance for a cruiser. The brakes are pretty good and only get edged out by the likes of the SV650 and CB750. Even the ergos were regarded as some of the most comfortable of the group. This is an especially amazing feat since the Yammie is also the most capable of accommodating riders of smaller stature.

"For riders desiring real cruiser vibe in over-the-counter strength, the V Star Custom offers a lot of bike for just a little dough."

The V Star received comments from "Is that a Harley?" to that?" Overall, most people liked its looks.

Minor niggles include a clutch that catches too late and has a very narrow range of engagement. The bike doesn't feel all that planted at superslab speeds, either, though that's most likely traced to the tread design of the front tire and the oh-so-necessary rain grooved freeways out here in notoriously, torrentially stormy Los Angeles. Sigh.

But, this bike isn't meant to connect straight lines that are state lines apart. It is meant to connect key points on a local map while exuding style and flare. And, it does this better than you'd expect from an inexpensive cruiser.

The Yamaha was constantly lauded as the best looking bike of the bunch.

For our cruiser-earmarked money, we'd likely opt for the 883 because, to this day, nothing emulates Harley feel like a Harley. But we believe the V Star is certainly worth a look-see should you be in the market for a lightweight cruiser that will entertain you for years to come. There's even a rather impressive array of accessories for this bike already, should you choose to make it turn even more heads.

Second Place - Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster: $5,595

The 883 has a great sound. It would probably sound better with some phat straight pipes!

When there was an errand to run, we MO-ites found ourselves reaching for the 883 key more than any other.

Why? It's hard to say since the bike isn't particularly quick, the handling is nothing special and the brakes would benefit from an additional front disk. What the 883 does offer is style and character - and lots of it. But unfortunately, certain Harley-Davidson riders with Freudian issues deem the Sportster a "girls bike" or a "beginner's bike." Real men ride Fat Boyz or Road Kingz. We tend to disagree. We're into the sportier side of cruiser-dom. We're into light weight and, get this - we like to turn! Though not a big-inch cruiser like the majority of the H-D line-up, add a few Screaming Eagle parts over time and you can turn this mild performer into a serious street rod.

Our 883, right out of the box, offers classic good looks and a feel that, to date, only The Motor Company has been able to provide. In fact, we believe the base model is the best looking, most understated Sportster in Harley's line-up. Better yet, the narrow drag-style bars improve lane-splitting prowess, an act hampered by big-ass handle bars, hard bags and beer-fed bubble-butts commonly found on larger bikes and their riders.

"We could easily see a newbie rider purchasing an 883 right out of the MSF course. The modestly-powered bike should not intimidate new riders but will still offer plenty-o-juice to cruise on the interstate."

As for comfort and ergos, the stiff springs and short travel transmit the thud of every freeway expansion joint right through your spine. On the other hand, the super low seat height and upright riding position make the Sporty a joy around town. And for those short of stature, the 883 is tremendously easy to maneuver.

The littlest Harley is easy to ride around town, thanks to its compromise between stable-cruiser and nimble-standard.

Best of all, the Sporty offers H-D hallmarks like the clunky-but-sure shifting, solid overall feel and that trademark rumble (the very same rumble they tried to patent)... all for a third of the price of a Road King. As the rider's skills improve, he or she could bump up displacement (a common mod), and then in another year or two, start adding those Screaming Eagle parts and hopefully an additional front disk brake. Or, the owner could customize the bike with bags and a windshield, a larger gas tank and other tour-worthy modifications.

In other words, a rider conceivably could spend an entire career on a Sportster without ever outgrowing it. And, niggles aside, that's the very definition of value.

Page 2First Place - Suzuki SV 650: $5,799

The original start date for this value bike roundup was iced when a (bad) man in a truck blew a stop sign and T-boned our hapless graphics editor (read about the crash). The only entity who perhaps fared worse than dear Calvin was the Suzuki SV650 he was riding. Fortunately, Suzuki supplied us with another bike (we love you, Mark). This was a wise move on their part, because it gave MO a chance to crown it champion of our shootout. And, shootout notwithstanding, we would like to add that this is one of our absolute favorite bikes regardless of price. Assuming you keep the rubber side down and delay your new career as a hood ornament, as Calvin discovered, the nimble, narrow and torquey SV650 can do practically anything you want. Urban commuting? No problem. Sport touring? Throw on some soft bags, a small windshield and head on out. Canyon carving? Pulleeezzee.

The SV650 is extremely competent in just about everything.

"The tighter the twisties, the more potent the little twin becomes."

We've seen several of these things flying around local backroads and racetracks, prepped with a set of early GSX-R600 forks, a steering damper, custom rear shock, free-flow exhaust and few other little niceties. In stock form, some readers have complained about the soft suspension.

Even though the non-adjustable forks and rear shock are sprung more for comfort than for speed, they're a good compromise considering the wide range of uses this bike is likely to encounter. For lighter riders, actually, the stock suspension is great.

Our testers constantly fought over the SV650's key.

If you're an aggressive, track-bound rider or heavier than an empty keg, though, you'll likely want some suspension mods.

The best word to describe the SV650 is "crisp." Twist the throttle, the engine snaps to attention and propels you forward. Grab some brakes, the wheels stop in a hurry. Wanna be in that other lane, push on the grip and you're there. The SV is a joy to ride in everything from slow to medium-paced backroad twisties.

Still, only in the really fast stuff did we wish for a larger-displacement, full-faired sportbike.

The life of a moto-journalist can be so hard. Just look at that blue sky. For shame.

"Suzuki hit the nail on the head with this one."

You can commute on this bike, too. But the lack of a wind screen makes the chore a bit tough for extended jaunts. The transmission is widely spaced, though, so the SV has no problem passing even rapidly flowing traffic.

Best of all, the SV650 has character. It sounds like a proper twin, the lines are clean and the seating position is comfy with just enough of an "I mean business" quality. Suzuki hit the nail on the head with this one. And the price makes the deal that much sweeter.

Conclusion:

What at first looked to be a tough comparo wound up being a runaway victory for the redhead, er, Suzuki. We can't say enough about the excellent blend of comfort and performance. The price is right and it's doubtful the clean lines would offend anybody, regardless if they dig Calista Flockhart or Cameron Manheim, sportbikes or cruisers.

Group drive-by.

That's not to say we wouldn't recommend any of the other five, though. The 883 offers the most vibe for the buck like that older lady who lays waiting in the shadows but could surely teach you a thing or two if you would just ask her politely. The KLR clearly can deliver maximum versatility just like that lady who came to your house complete with her own goodie bag that night long ago.

The Nighthawk, legendary for its great all-around ride, reminds us of your mom. No offense to her, but she's just too nice and concerned about your well-being to make us want to take her out for the evening.

The V Star was surprisingly fun to ride (insert your own pun here, we've already done enough damage to ourselves to open this door), and the Blast lived up to its name, provided you stayed in the city, or at home. "I would've voted the Blast lower," said one (request-to-be) Anonymous Squid, "but there were only six bikes in the test."

The thing we learned from all this? Price need not be an obstacle between you, the wind, the sun and your favorite destination. After all, if you can pick up chicks in a bar with lame come-ons like that one about the drink or the money, any of these bikes is way too good for you anyway. Enjoy.

Rider Impressions:

Brent "Minime" Avis - Never had nothin' and still ain't got nothin'

Coming from a dirt background I was able to appreciate the KLR more than the rest of the testers. It's a hooligan bike that begs you to blast through parking lots, grassy fields and anyplace else that you really shouldn't be. It was lots of fun, but for the most part it's not very practical -- and it's just so damn ugly. Reminds me of a Glad trash bag with glitter. I still liked it better than the Blast, though. I just do not get that bike.

On the other side of the love/hate globe is the SV650. It's like an old friend from school that you still keep in touch with because, even though they're not terribly fascinating, they have their shining moments and they're never dull. Every time I ride the SV, I wonder why I don't spend more time on it. For any bike, that's high praise.

Someplace in the middle are the Honda (as generic as a motorcycle gets), the Harley (if I'm gonna buy a Harley, I'm gonna buy a big-ass Harley) and the Yamaha which is pretty damn cool as far as Japanese cruisers go. But none of these bikes do it for me like that damn Suzuki. I only wish our first one remained upright so I could have played with it longer. Damn, I'm sounding more like my girlfriend every day...

Roland Sands - Got somethin' but ain't sharin' with us

I think you need to hear the outcome of the value bike shootout according to me, Professional Suzuki destroyer. If my memory serves me correctly there were six bikes.

My least favoritest was the Buell because it was half as fast as a normal Buell.

"No competition from this bunch. The SV wins hands down." Even though it was the second best handling bike it was more like riding a scooter that a motorcycle and that bummed me out. It was bright yellow too, so not only will you be going slowly, but people will notice you going slowly. Not good in my book, but then again my book reads a bit differently than you're average street rider.

5th place. The V Star, it was big and very cruiserish'. It had the clutch of death, nothing, nothing, nothing, then everything. If I was a beginner I would of dropped the bike more than once due to the unpredictable clutch. It's actually a good-looking bike, but it's not really my style.

4th place. HD 883. I didn't ride it, but I've ridden enough of them to know it's a solid bike. It handles better than you'd think and with some mods it makes a fun and pretty street bike. Plus it's a Harley and it will get you chicks, or guys, or both, whatever your preference.

3rd. Honda 750. Dude, this bike kicked ass. I've never even thought twice about wanting to throw a leg over this thing, but it's actually an ass kicker of a bike. It's got a solid motor, predictable handling and it's fun to ride. Even though it looks boring as sh*t, it's really not. Surprise.

2nd. What's big and tall, wheelies really far and can jump over a Buell? That's right, the KLR. I picked this second based on the value, you get a street bike and a dirt bike for the price of one bike. Not a bad deal. Although it doesn't shine in either arena, it works. The major flaw was the front brakes, they were scary for street use, then again, you don't have to worry about locking up that skinny-ass front tire. Best wheelie bike in the test.

1st. Suzuki sv 650. No competition from this bunch. The SV wins hands down. It's the best-looking, best-stopping, best-handling, best-riding bike in the test. If you're looking for the most bike for the least dough, do yourself a favor and buy an SV. You won't be bummed, It's like the Gary Rothwell starter kit. Just look out for sand when doing stand up burnouts.

Page 3Brian Lindquist - Guest Tester

I ranked the Suzuki first. It's a clean-looking bike bike with solid lines and color. The ride is impressive: great power and acceleration, smooth shifting and solid braking -- everything you would expect in a good sportbike. I also found the rider's position to be very comfortable, even being a tall rider.

I liked the Honda a lot, and ranked it a close second, but the feel of it and rider position was not up to the par of the Suzuki. It is a fine-looking bike though, and would satisfy most entry-level sporting riders.

The Yamaha was on a level of the Suzuki for style points but for me a cruiser just does not compare to a sport bike. Nice handling, decent power, I found it uncomfortable for a pseudo road hog. Fun to ride but, well, it's a cruiser.

The Harley was cool-looking but felt pretty clunky. Good torque in typical Harley fashion but not my favorite out of the two-bike cruiser showdown. I've got nothing against Harleys -- never have -- but they just don't do much for me, especially in a price-conscious comparison.

The Kawasaki was kinda clumsey on the street. Might have been more fun on a desert or woodsy trail. Clunky shifting, it also seemed under-powered and over geared.

The Buell was too small and too finicky shifting and not much fun to ride. It did corner well due to its low center of gravity, but wasn't much of what you would expect from Buell. If you're a newbie rider that's intimidated by big, powerful bikes, this is probably the scoot for you.

From left to right: Roland Sands, Brian Lindquist, Brett Ratner, Carl Pedersen, Philip Strauss, Brent Plummer.
Buell Blast Harley-Davidson Sportster 883
Honda Nighthawk Kawasaki KLR650
Suzuki SV650 Yamaha V Star 650 Custom

How we voted

All bikes were placed on the dyno within one hour of the others so as to ensure as unbiased numbers as possible. A specal thanks to our friends at Dynojet for the excellent Model 250 dyno.

  Brent Plummer Brent Avis Brett Ratner Roland Sands Carl Pedersen Brian Lindquist Totals
Suzuki SV650 3rd 1st 2nd 1st 1st 1st 37
Harley 2nd 2nd 1st 4th 3rd 4th 27
Yamaha 1st 4th 4th 5th 2nd 3rd 24
Honda 4th 3rd 3rd 3rd 5th 2nd 22
Kawasaki 5th 5th 5th 2nd 4th 5th 16
Buell Blast 6th 6th 6th 6th 6th 6th 36
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