2004 Middleweight Standards

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


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3rd Place: Triumph Speed Four

Sean -- Ah Kermit da Bike, it's funny how the Speed Four feels like a Super Motard bike on the racetrack yet feels like a road race bike on the street. I suppose this is a function of the crowd that it happens to be surrounded by. In this case, the ergos seem crouched like a racer, in comparison to the true "standards" in the class. On this loop, the high pegs and relatively low clip-ons grew tiring. Though I appreciated the front-end feel during hard-cornering, the rest of the time, I wished I was on one of the other bikes. I've spend many hours circulating racetracks on the Triumph and must say that it makes an excellent commuter/track day combo bike. However, if you are not going to be doing track days or blasting through long sweepers at over 100mph, the Speed Four probably isn't the best choice for you in this group. It remains great fun to ride and great fun to look at, but now that I have ridden the Honda 599, I must say that for my all-purpose streetbike dollars, the Triumph comes up a hair or two short.

Buzz -- For me this was the coolest bike in the group. The Triumph has funky good looks and an awesome intake soundtrack. The engine shrieks, the intake snorts menacingly and the front wheel points to the sky with the slightest twist of the throttle. This is the most narrowly focused of the group with the highest pegs, lowest bars and a stiff suspension making my ride home in rush hour a chore. In the canyons, the bike was a blast making me feel like a Superbike hero, although I'll bet I was faster on the Honda. I don't know if I could live with this motorcycle every day but it would look nice alongside my Electra Glide.

EBass -- This my second pass at the Speed Four. About this time last year, Triumph gave us a lime green '03 as a wild card entry in our 600cc shootout. I really liked the bike then. It was outclassed by the racer replicas on the track, but it was a great ride. Funny looking though. We nicknamed it Kermit because of its frog like appearance and remarked frequently how "cute" it was. Well, it's been one year and a coat of black paint later and the fun, cute little frog has grown some chest hair and turned into a bad to the bone naked bike. Nothing's really changed performance-wise, but with that howling exhaust note and luxurious styling, the Trumpet is hands down the most charismatic bike of the bunch. Also, it's the most uncompromised in terms of ergos. It's configured like a racer rep and you're meant to be in a tuck, this puts more pressure on your wrists than is ideal for street use.

Martin -- My fourth choice in this group would be the Triumph Speed Four. I really expected to like this bike a lot more than I did. The problem, I suspect, was the suspension, which was not set-up properly for me and therein lies the problem. This is a very focused bike, which requires more care to ride at any kind of a sporting pace. High pegs, low clip-ons, peaky motor, grabby brakes and razor sharp handling -- this bike is a scalpel in a drawer with a bunch of butter knives. I had more trouble riding this bike at a rapid pace than any other, which really surprised me. It is a visual and aural feast though with the best styling of the lot and far and away the best exhaust note.

2nd Place: Suzuki DL 650 V-Strom

My my, what a funky billy goat. The DL 650 conquers a variety of terrain and it nearly conquered this test.

Sean -- This one was no surprise to me. I already knew how good the 650 V-Strom was, because I just rode one at Suzuki's Press Intro in January. Though the DL 650 makes a reasonably healthy 66hp, it still feels somewhat "underpowered" in freeway use. If Suzuki would just retrofit the DL motor with SV parts, we'd have a 70+hp bike that quite possibly would have tied for 1st place in this test. Still, if you're a reasonably tall 5'8"+ person and you like to do everything with your motorcycle, the DL is an excellent choice.

Buzz -- Have you ever seen the guy who cruises the streets with his dual sport machine with a milk crate strapped on the back? The VStrom is like the modern equivalent of that very bike. This is the best all round urban assault vehicle here. If you can only own one bike and like to do a little of everything (commute, canyon carve, fire road, etc) and don't have a lot of cash, this is the best of the bunch. The motor is so willing and flexible in this bike. It felt like so much more than a 650 V-twin. The Suzuki has super plush suspension for slamming through LA's horrible streets yet it sticks like glue in the canyons. The seat sucked though. It's a little cheap in some spots and is not easy on the eye. It might be the best bike here but I'm probably too metrosexual to own one. This is the ultimate motorcycle for "practical, engineer-guy." I'm sure at some point in its development Suzuki strapped a milk crate on the back.

EBass -- I'm going to swim against the tide here and say that I didn't love this bike. I respect it, but I don't love it. The fact is, the V-Strom is a street-oriented duosport and if you're going to take it off-pavement, then this might be your bike. However, I don't really play that way and for pure street use, I would choose something else. Simply put, the riders who tried this bike quickly divided into two camps. The tall guys adored the V-Strom and the short guys didn't. I'm 5'9" with a 32" inseam and I was on the balls of my feet to reach the ground at a stop. I also like to hang off around aggressive turns, and hanging off the V-Strom felt like hanging off a bar stool, which is to say, ridiculous. I'm not saying it's a bad bike. I "get it", I just don't "want it".

Martin -- The biggest surprise of the day, was the Suzuki V-Strom 650, which for all-purpose riding would be my favorite bike. The big old Soozook just flat out does everything pretty darned well except look cool (it gets an "A" in ugly). The V-Strom is a superb urban commuter with compliant suspension with lots o torque on tap for wheelies or any other necessary traffic maneuver. About the only functional drawback of the V-Strom is it's size -- it's a tall motha and several of our shorter riders had difficulty with the seat height (easily the tallest of the bunch) and the relatively high and forward center of gravity. Nonetheless it seemed to be a group favorite. Great wind protection, superb easy to use motor, comfortable riding position, good brakes, OEM suspension able to accommodate relative behemoths like Sean, Ebass and myself and work just as well for Pete and Tammy in a variety of riding situations. Furthermore, I was more than pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to wick up the pace when the roads turned twisty even with the dual sport OEM tires on the rims. Wow!

The Winner! Honda 599 (Hornet)

Like the Ducati 999, pictures just don't do the 599 justice. In person, this bike is just neat.

Sean -- Carved from billet. Like many others, I was shocked to learn that Honda was going to pit its "old" F3 engine based Hornet, against Yamaha's newer R6 engine based FZ-6. To me it seemed like the winner would be a foregone conclusion. After all, the Yamaha had a newer engine, a useful looking fairing and a lower price tag. However, when I picked the 599 up from Honda's Torrance HQ, I was immediately struck by the simple "rightness" of its compact shape and sexy styling. My impression only got better after riding the bike. I can best describe the overall effect as a "sweet spot" everything fits in a harmonious way, parts, controls, rider, feel etc... It's a similar feeling to the Aprilia Tuono for me (Without the X-Rated soundtrack and 90MPH power wheelies). The 599 seems more purposeful, looks more elegant and plain works on a higher level than its competition. I rode aggressively down the Angeles Crest Hwy, one-handed on the Honda and it never flinched nor did anything that made me want to put my left hand on the bars. This doesn't sound like a big deal, but I assure you that speeds were high, the road was rough and it was downhill the whole way, these are conditions that often have much more expensive "Sportbikes" tied in knots.

Though it gives a cushy ride on less-than-perfect roads, if I had to pick-nits with the Honda, I'd choose to complain about the non-adjustable suspension which is sprung a tad on the soft side and a seems little under-damped. Of course a soft and under-damped suspension can help to make you a smoother rider, so it isn't all bad. There is no single thing that I can point to that makes the Honda the best, but after riding it back-to-back with all of the other bikes, there was little doubt that this is the best bike in today's "Middleweight Standard" category.

Buzz -- I was really looking forward to riding the Honda because I've been sniffing around MV Agusta Brutales lately and I figured with a similar riding position and stance (though not quite as pretty), the 599 could answer some questions for me regarding un-faired standards. This is really a wonderful motorcycle from the moment you first swing a leg over it. It's compact, solid, and comfortable. It's got a great engine (although not quite as much torque down low as the Triumph). This was the easiest bike to get on and instantly go fast. There was no learning curve at all. It was so effortless through the corners and supremely comfortable as well. I was imagining myself writing the check at the Italian motorcycle dealership while I was riding or I could just buy the Honda and take a nice cruise with the dough I'd save.

EBass -- Honda 599 - Speaking of schoolgirls, the Honda sort of reminds me of the plain Jane who wears loose-fitting frumpy clothes, dorky glasses, and keeps her hair up in a bun. Then one night at a party you're kinda drunk and you start making out and next thing you know, you're up in somebody's parents room and she throws you down on the bed, climbs on top of you, the glasses fly off revealing beautiful baby blues, the bun comes undone, her blond tresses flow down onto your chest, and beneath the frumpy clothes... well I'll just let your sick, twisted imagination take over from here. Bottom line, the Hornet doesn't look like much, but this gal freakin' rips! You might even fall in love with her (or at least lust). By far the best acceleration of the bunch ,and predictable, confidence inspiring, Honda-like handling through the curves. The low-mounted instrument array and lack of a fairing leaves your field of vision barren except for the tarmac ahead and creates a "low flying hawk" sensation. The ergos were a little bit off for my taste. The seat was really hard, and the steep angle kept sliding my groin into the gas tank. I couldn't sit straight up in traffic to take pressure completely off of my hands either, but it wasn't a severe problem. Overall, the pure performance champ of the test.

Martin -- My second choice would be the Honda 599 Hornet. Geeze what a cool bike! I know it's a hackneyed bit of motor-journalist lingo but it really does feel as if it were carved out of a single piece of billet. Great compliant suspension, superb motor (watch the wheelies), best brakes of the lot, great seat and riding position with wide superbike-style bars, well placed controls and foot pegs, absolutely the best instrument cluster of the bunch. This bike oozes quality and sophistication. Absolutely the best sport bike of the bunch. The only thing I wouldn't want to do on this bike in the trim we tested would be to tour on it because of the near total lack of wind protection afforded by the large headlight housing and instrument cluster which is all that is between you and the breeze. Otherwise two thumbs up.

HOW WE VOTED (Worst Vote Dropped, Lowest Total Wins)
  Sean EBass Fonzie Martin Buzz Total Points
Honda 1st 2nd x4th 2nd 1st 6
Suzuki 2nd x7th 3rd 1st 2nd 8
Triumph x4th 1st 2nd 4th 3rd 10
Kawasaki 3rd 3rd x7th 3rd 5th 14
Yamaha 5th 5th 1st 7th x7th 18
Harley 6th 4th 5th x6th 4th 19
BMW x7th 6th 6th 5th 6th 23

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