2004 Middleweight Standards

F 650CS :: Sportster 1200R :: FZ-6 :: Ninja 500R :: Speed Four :: DL 650 V-Strom :: 599

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5th Place: Yamaha FZ-6

Sean -- This isn't a bad bike. It is quite comfortable, but unfortunately, it is held back by its peaky and buzzy engine and its poor instrument design. With better vibration isolation and some standard gauges that you could read in the daylight, the FZ-6 would probably have been second or third in this test. Unfortunately, it really does have an abundance of annoying vibes that cause your hands, feet and even your elbows to itch and tingle after a few minutes at 70mph. Though it was the most powerful bike in this test, the FZ-6 delivers that power in a high-rpm zone that is preceded by a relatively funky torque curve that doesn't start to balloon, until 7,000rpm. This means that the Yamaha wants you to downshift it aggressively and ride it like a racebike, when you are trying to make-time on the back roads.

This works great on racer replicas, but is simply tedious when covering ground on the FZ-6, while you watch the Honda and Triumph leave you behind. Of all the bikes here, the Fizzer is the one I'd most like to see a version 2.0 of.

Buzz -- Out of all the "Big Four" bike manufacturers, Yamaha is probably my favorite, which is why I'm so disappointed with this motorcycle. This is a perfect example of something looking good on paper but not working in the real world. I'll bet the Yamaha will make the most power on the dyno and is probably fastest in the quarter mile. The motor is gutless below 9000 rpm. Once you climb into the power band an improbable amount of vibration sets in. Every part of your body in contact with the FZ-6 sizzles alarmingly. This was the hardest bike to go fast on. The gimmicky instrumentation, saggy suspension and vibra-matic motor absorbed all my concentration before I could even look through a corner, watch for obstacles and enjoy the ride.

Fonzie is getting pretty good at catching perfect lighting.

EBass -- Everyone seemed to want to take a swipe at the Yammer. I didn't think it was that bad, but it just didn't do anything exceptionally well. It would be hard to see how it would end up at the top of anyone's wish list. I did have an issue with the throttle response as I rolled on to exit a turn. I got a surge as soon as I got on the gas and that ain't good in the middle of an apex. The brakes seemed to bite too hard as well. It was tricky to get the inputs right, but I'm sure that would probably come with time. Otherwise, it was a serviceable ride. Just not the best at anything.

Martin -- Where to start? About the best thing I can say about the FZ-6 is that it has an R6 motor. Unfortunately, I didn't like the suspension, the brakes felt relatively weak, the controls were weird, and it has the hardest to read instrument cluster of the group. Furthermore, it isn't particularly easy on the eyes. Put this in a ring with the Honda (its closest cousin in this group), and it would be roughly like pitting a naked man against a freight train.
(Hmmm.... a reference to "Cousin" and "Naked" in the same sentence, I wonder if Martin gets out of Idaho much? --Sean)

4th Place: Kawasaki Ninja 500R

Sean -- Funny enough, even though the little Kawasaki isn't even close to the fastest bike in this group, the two racers (Martin and I) both picked the Ninja for 3rd place, ahead of the comparatively rocket-like Triumph Speed Four. I think it is because we recognize the fun-factor involved with riding a bike like the Ninja to its absolute limits and embarrassing much larger sportbikes with relative ease.

We also know that the 500 Ninjas and earlier EX-500s make excellent lightweight racebikes that will run forever and are cheap to fix when forever comes. In this test, the Ninja performed well, especially in the handling department.

Martin, Eric and Buzz grab some shade in the 80 degree So Cal winter.

However, the front brakes could use a thicker rotor, four-piston calipers, higher ratio master cylinder and a pad swap (in other words a total replacement) especially, if you want to ride two-up in the mountains. Sure the suspension is soft and mushy, but hey! the bike is super-light so it doesn't seem to care. At an out-the-door price under $5,000, the 500 Ninja simply blows the KPaul price-to-performance ratio out the door.

Buzz -- I dubbed this bike "the little Ninja that could." I was pleasantly surprised with the Kawasaki. It was a little lacking in power on the straights and going uphill but so easy to ride and it kept up with the others. I really felt like I could fling this motorcycle around at will and it would never bite back.

I was chasing Sean on this for a while and was doing a fair job of keeping up. I was grinning the whole time I was doing it. The EX500 is a great beginner bike that an experienced rider can still have fun on.

EBass -- The Ninja is outstanding at being what it is. It's an entry-level bike that offers plenty of room to grow. You can't beat its value for the price. While the adrenaline junkies in the group bemoaned the 500's mild-mannered acceleration, the bike cruises ably even at 100 mph. The ergos were comfy whether upright or tucked. I adored the bike's super light flickability. It was just endlessly forgiving if my line needed adjusting and required almost no pressure on the bars to turn. On downhills, where power gets taken out of the equation, I would put the Ninja up against any of these bikes. I thought the tranny was excellent and never missed a shift. I found neutral easily with a few exceptions. I needed to keep it high in the revs around turns, so definitely downshift early. It has easy to read instruments but a gas gauge would have be nice, particularly for clueless newbies (or absent minded motojournalists). The Ninja was just great for lane splitting too. I would heartily recommend one for a novice/female/light-walleted rider who benefits from a lighter more manageable and forgiving bike but still wants performance and a bike they can grow into for under $5K.

Martin -- My third choice, surprisingly, would be the Kawasaki. I am very familiar with this bike because of it's huge following in club racing and this is for good reason. The same qualities that make the 500 Ninja a great club racer, also make it a great little street bike for beginners, discerning intermediates and cantankerous old farts like me who value handling over big-ass horsepower. It is stable, user-friendly, comfortable, flickable, has good brakes and the parallel twin makes over 51 BHP of totally usable power. You can absolutely cane this baby in the twisties (it compares very favorably to my FZR400 race bike in this regard) and as long as you keep the little twin on the boil you'll easily be able to whoop up on less skilled riders on much bigger bikes. There are few joys greater than chasing down John Q Squid on a R1/CBR100RR/Gixxer 1K/ or Big Ninja in racer canyon on one of these baby's, then placing him well in your wake.

"Notes From the Guest Testers"

Buzz --- One thing that was clearly noticeable was no matter who was riding what, the fastest guys (Sean, Martin) were always in the front, the mid-pack guys (me, Ebass, etc.) were always in a group followed by a couple of riders setting a comfortable pace for themselves. It was hysterically funny watching Sean hop on the Harley Sportster and totally check-out on all of us. He simply disappeared, while I tried in vain to keep up on the FZ-6.

I was chuckling in my helmet the whole time, watching him torture that machine. Keep that in mind the next time you're bragging about performance numbers as the skilled rider on the EX500 rolls past you and blows all your magazine clippings out of your tank bag. My overall rankings are noted in the table, but I wanted to add that that isn't the order in which I'd buy these bikes. If I was spending my own money to have these bikes in my garage, I'd pick them as follows: 1.)Honda 599, 2.)Triumph Speed Four, 3.)Harley Davidson 1200 Sportster, 4.)Suzuki DL 650 V-Strom, 5.)Kawasaki 500 Ninja, 6.)BMW F 650CS, 7.)Yamaha FZ 6.

"This is my first motorcycle shootout; seven cool bikes, eight simpatico riders, the Angeles Crest Highway, legal lane splitting, all-in-all quite a day for a simple Idaho boy" Martin -- Hmmm.... This is my first motorcycle shootout; seven cool bikes, eight simpatico riders, the Angeles Crest Highway, legal lane splitting, all-in-all quite a day for a simple Idaho boy. Seeing a Honda 599, a Triumph Speed Four, a Harley 1200R Sportster, a Suzuki V-Strom 650, a Kawasaki EX-500 Ninja, a BMW F 650 CS thumper, and a Yamaha FZ6 all lined-up in the sunshine outside the palatial new MO compound was quite a sight. Like Jimmy Carter, I must admit that I felt lust in my heart when I laid eyes on the little bright yellow Honda and that sexy black Triumph. Problem was that Buzglyd, Sean, Fonzie, Pete, and Vaughn were also drawn to the seductive charms of the sexy duo and were jockeying for position at the head of the line.

It was looking like some WWF action might erupt for a while. I was pretty sure that I could take Pete and Fonzie but Buzglyd knows Karate and Von and Sean both appear to be large, mobile, agile and hostile (Ebass and Tammy would have been satisfied to just laugh at the rest of us). I was sure there would be trouble. However, the moment passed and we were off. Let me emphasize, that all of these bikes were fun to ride and very competently engineered. I would be happy with any of them. Since my interests are more at the club racing and sport-touring (emphasis on sport) end of the riding spectrum, I expected to be more impressed with the bikes that featured traits from that neck of the woods and in general, I was. As a matter of disclosure, I own or have recently owned a Honda CBR954RR and CBR1100XX, a Yamaha TDM and an FZR400, so I am used to extremes of riding position, power refinement and attitude in bikes.

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