It’s easy for us to get carried away in the spirit of the MOment, no matter what kind of motorcycles we’re testing here at the MO. Manufacturers are constantly showering us with the latest greatest machines: $30,000 six-cylinder sport tourers? We love them. $15,000 retro nakeds? Fantastic! Cruisers? Fresh surprises every year, including the new Indian Scout.
But when we say the middleweight Twins in this shootout (plus KTM’s overachieving Single) really are some of our favorites, this time we mean it. These are the bikes people actually buy in bulk, the ones that let the kids get a foot in the door, bikes you could ride to work every day and embarrass way more expensive ones in yon canyon on the weekends. While the OEMs spare little expense in engineering their one-percenter models, these bikes walk a tightrope between performance and price, between high-tech and bottom line, which seems to really bring out each manufacturer’s very best thinking.
Affordable performance for everyman, a chicken in every pot and four valves, too. With no further ado, we bring you six awesome bikes we could actually buy ourselves (God forbid it should ever come to that), from lowest-ranked on the official MO six-man Scorecard to most desirable. In this bunch, even the loser is a winner.
The cool kids always pick on the weird one, the kid with the hump, the wandering eye, the massive storage compartment where its gas tank should be. You could argue that the Honda NC700X doesn’t even belong in this group, but we decided to let it come along anyway, since it’s great for stowing GoPros and things. Oh, and because Yamaha identified the 670cc parallel-Twin NC as a competitor for its 689cc parallel-Twin FZ-07. As the heaviest bike here and second-to-weakest in the horsepower department, it wasn’t going to win the backroad-maniac competition. It’s also the longest of wheelbase and is 0.2-inch from having the tallest seat. Heck, man, it’s not even naked with that little windscreen; in profile it’s more a small adventure bike.
The funny thing, though, is whoever was riding the NC over all the ridiculously twisty, entertaining roads these bikes dragged us to like truffling pigs, always managed to keep the pack in sight. Is it easier to go fast on the 115-pound lighter, 19-hp stronger KTM Duke? Yes. Can the Duke carry a bowling ball? No. Which one do you want to drag your tired butt home over the freeway when playtime is done? That’s right, the NC.
As usual it’s horses for courses, and if you’re after the best sportbike in the group, the NC isn’t it. But 42 foot-pounds of torque at only 4700 rpm means you can always get the throttle open early, and the NC’s long, stable chassis and lack of any kind of horsepower hit make you feel like it’s okay to just keep it open. Run it a gear higher to take advantage of its torque and avoid the low rev limiter. Longish-travel and well-balanced suspension works very well for the whole MO crew, ranging in weight from 150 to 270 pounds. “Considering its suspension travel is the longest of this group, the spring/damper combination keeps the bike remarkably composed when ridden aggressively,” says Captain Duke.
Some of us couldn’t wait to stop riding in order to recommence slagging on the NC, usually following a midpack finish, while fishing a warm Gatorade and a granola bar out of its live well.
There’s more to life than sport riding. As a day-to-day commuter/errand runner, the NC has no peer in this group. None. If you’re a one-bike family, you could do way worse than the NC700X, and don’t forget the 58 mpg under combat conditions – the best fuel mileage here by a long shot.
Kawasaki Ninja 650
Bringing up more rear than Miley Cyrus and the NC700X combined, would be the green machine. I kid! It was very close, but the Ninja is hurt by its 465-pound weight, only 10 less than the NC700, and by the fact that it just looks a bit long in the tooth in this more modern company, with dated styling and unseemly gaps in its bodywork. Were the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles really that long ago?
The old Kawasaki Ninja 650 got hammered hardest in the Ergonomics category, mostly for having the least legroom and the most rearset footpegs, causing our taller riders to kink up and our shorter ones to complain about their boys being squeezed against the gas tank. Rather than the more modern, broad and thin saddle, the Ninja goes for old-school narrow deep-dish. For most of us, it’s less comfortable, and makes the rider feel more locked into position. But if you’re a long-torsoed person with an inseam on the short side, this could be your bike.
The Ninja navigates tight roads almost with the best of them, but its more oversquare 649cc doesn’t pack quite the horsepower on top, nor the more potent midrange of the bigger FZ-07 engine – or the SFV for that matter. Rubber-mounted bars, that thick seat, and relatively awkward ergos add up to to a bike that just doesn’t quite connect you to the asphalt as well as some of the motorcycles here. Slightly vague. Its brakes are strong, but lack the feel of some of the other bikes’. “The Ninja’s a heavy bike, and it steers heavier,” says E. Brasfield. “After riding the FZ, where I felt as if I was sitting on the front wheel, the Kawi’s front wheel feels like it’s a half-mile away.”
Go ahead and trust it, though, and the Ninja’s suspension does a great job smoothing out rough backroads and slabby freeways; as a commuter/runabout, the Ninja cruises smoothly along as nicely as any bike here, with the most wind protection. And if you require antilock brakes (smart), the Ninja 650 ABS adds just $400 to the base $7,199.
EIC Duke points out that Kawasaki’s Versys might’ve been a better match in this bunch, but Yamaha ID’d the Ninja as a target for its new FZ, so we included it. There’s a new Versys on the way … stay tuned.
Well, your original Honda CB550F from the ’70s has become a sought-after cult classic lo these 40 years later. According to my internet sources, its key numbers were: 26 degrees rake/ 105mm trail; wheelbase 55.5 inches; 423 pounds with a full tank of fuel. For our new 2014 CB500F, Honda says 25.5/103mm rake and trail, 55.5-in. wheelbase and a wet weight of 420 pounds (our scales say 418). Why mess with success?
Forty-three horsepower are not many, but on our favorite roads they mostly seemed to be enough, even under our heaviest pilots. Like with the NC, the overall CB package is so balanced and all systems work so well together, the CB encourages you to keep its two little 34mm maws inhaling air and fuel nearly constantly, maintaining momentum. Dirty Sean did indeed look like a gorilla in love with a football on the way up Highway 39, but he seemed to be opening a gap in spite of it. Hmmm …
“The other bikes should have left it in the dust,” says Sportbike Troy, “but that wasn’t the case. It’s way more athletic than I expected. I started to feel guilty at how much I was pinging it off the rev limiter to keep up with the rest of the group, but it was the surprise of the test. I was expecting it to be outgunned in every category, to the point I wouldn’t want to ride it. Not the case. I really enjoyed riding this bike and hustling it for all it’s worth.”
Once down off the mountain, the skinny little CB is also surprisingly comfortable, commendably fuel-efficient and a great dissecter of congested traffic patterns. Kudos to Honda for bringing this thing to market for a mere $5799.
Which brings us to the Suzuki SFV650, which finished a step ahead of the Ninja and CB500, but still solidly mid-pack in spite of the fact that the original SV650 of 1999 is to the youngsters at MO what the GSX-R once was to us Boomers: a life-altering machine. It was still a great middleweight Twin over the years in spite of losing its original oval-tube aluminum frame and gaining weight. It’s like somebody’s wannabe-designer child at Suzuki (who’s really more into shoes) was given the SFV to learn on. In 2009, it reappeared as the Gladius, which Suzuki hinted was intended to be a chick bike, and which we, of course, translated immediately to Gladys.
The mini-Ducati 90-degree Twin it’s packing remains an all-time favorite engine, and the chassis doesn’t let it down. Still, Suzuki seems to go out of its way to make the SFV look like something Liberace would park next to the sequined baby grand. The red trellis frame is kind of cool, but then it’s half covered with a big red piece of matching plastic trim. The exhaust is a big ugly black thing whose stainless heat shields just draw attention to it. It’s all supposed to be organic and flowing, of course, but it looks a little forced and fake with all the droopy covers designed to fool the eye that don’t. The Suzuki finished last in our Cool Factor category.
None of that keeps it from being a great bike to ride: 67.5 horses at 8300 rpm is the most ponies here, and 8000 rpm is a good place to be for maximum auditory pleasure. The SFV’s engine and transmission finished second on the collective Scorecard, and it picked up a solid third in the handling department.
Dirty Sean Alexander, the biggest, tallest guy in our pack and well over 200 pounds, could barely stop raving about the SFV, which is funny because if you’re short, you’ll like that it shares lowest-seat honors (30.9 inches) with the CB500F. Lighter riders felt the SFV could use more rebound damping at the rear, as it would attempt to catapult them out of the seat over bumps occasionally.
It’s an excellent freeway cruiser, albeit with a firmer seat foam than the others that’s also shaped to encourage our delicates to become more familiar with the gas tank than we prefer. The comprehensive Salvador Dali instrument panel serves as a remedial flyscreen. We could be less harsh if the $8,149 MSRP wasn’t the second-most expensive bike here. Suzuki must’ve realized the SFV’s price was on the high side, as its MSRP drops by $500 for the 2015 edition, now in a Pearl Vigor Blue / Pearl Glacier White color scheme.
KTM Duke 690
Which leads us to our second-place finisher, on our Scorecard, by less than a third of a percent. The KTM Duke 690 is already the priciest bike here, at $8,999 in stock form, but for quite a bit more “as tested,” with KTM’s Factory Services suspension work: $1,349.99 for the fork and $749.99 more for the shock, both fully adjustable. Did we need that for street use? No. In fact, those of us who’ve ridden both appreciated the stock Duke’s comfort/performance balance, although it can be overwhelmed by weighty and red-misted riders. But the re-valved Duke was the only one KTM had for us to borrow, and we’re really glad we did. We knew the Duke would be a blast to ride on the mountain, but we came away also impressed with how real-world practical a motorcycle it is.
Stock suspension or not, you can’t not love the small Duke (little bro of our 2014 Motorcycle of the Year) when the road is anything other than straight and level, and it’s not so bad even when it is. The Duke’s biggest advantage is that it’s 43 pounds lighter than the next lightest bike (FZ-07), at just 360 lbs., and it’s a full 115 lbs. lighter than the NC700X.
Even though it’s a Single in the company of Twins and displaces but one cubic centimeter more than the Yamaha, that doesn’t keep it from making comparable power and torque. As a matter of fact, 46.87 foot-pounds of twisting force at 5500 rpm is the most here. You do give up a little low-rpm grunt with the Duke, which doesn’t like to pull much below 3000 rpm — but clutch pull is superlight, and fanning it a little, MX-style, really just adds to the Duke Experience, as does shifting up through the super-slick six-speed box, then taking advantage of the clutch’s slipper function on the way back down.
“Holy crap,” says Troy, muttonchops fluttering with excitement. “When it comes to twisty roads, the KTM simply can’t be beat. Super flickable, launches out of corners, but only if in the right gear. Very impressive for a Single. If I had a canyon road in my backyard (I kinda do, actually!), I’d pick this bike over a sportbike.”
Once above about 3k rpm, all is forgiven and forgotten: 62 hp at 7600 rpm is like no Single you’ve probably ridden. Dual-plug ignition, each plug with its own map for max combustion efficiency, and ride-by-wire give it excellent manners and throttle response.
The dirtbike ergos are great on the tightest backroads, where you find yourself sticking a foot out rather than a knee down, and the wide aluminum bar gives ultimate confidence. “While the other bikes in this test need to be, in varying degrees, coaxed into corners,” says EiC Duke of the Duke, “it dives eagerly for the inside of each turn.”
As you’d expect, the special suspension on our test bike allows it to be made to work for any size rider, and the Duke deals with bumps, ripples and hard braking better than any other bike here. Having said that, our previous experience with the standard suspenders on the base model was also positive; the stocker’s actually a bit more compliant for everyday riding, although its damping is a little weak for heavy, aggressive riders.
The faster you go, of course, the less well the Jeremy McGrath ergos work, but the Duke’s even surprisingly not bad on the freeway flog home. The little boat-style reverse lip windscreen above its instruments punches a small hole in the wind for your torso, and the engine’s counterbalancer is highly effective. Tingles come and go at various road speeds, but seldom enough to bother any but the most finicky vibraphobes.
Some of us love the wide plushness of the Duke’s seat and that the bolster on back of it helps balance out the windblast: Some feel a bit locked in and don’t like it so much. Seats are very personal aren’t they? Anyway, Tom of Roderick, whose buttocks tend to be the tenderest of the MO crew, says the Duke is surprisingly comfortable over long distances even for taller people. If it’s middleweight naked touring you had in mind, the Duke is not your best choice of the group. The NC700X is. But it’s not bad. Not bad at all.
How cool is it that the next-to-least expensive bike here, the $6990 Yamaha FZ-07, squarely trounces all the other Twins right out of the Yamawomb, winning the Engine, Transmission/Clutch, Ergonomics/Comfort and Instruments competitions, coming up second in Handling, Brakes, Quality, and both Cool and Grin Factors.
|Our FZ-07 was equipped with an array of accessories from Yamaha’s Accessories catalog. They provided extra bling but added a hefty $949.41 to the FZ’s bargain-level MSRP, which penalized its Value rating on our scorecard.
Light weight is the most expensive part of any sport vehicle. A Ducati Superleggera weighs 390 pounds and costs $65,000. The FZ-07, granted, doesn’t make quite the horsepower of the Ducati, but it only weighs 403 lbs (and 3 of those are the Yamaha accessories our bike is wearing), and costs about a tenth as much as a Superleggera.
Lightness also means that even if its engine were only on par with the other Twins here, it would still win with a superior power-to-weight ratio, but the FZ’s engine is superior also. Its peak horsepower number is right there with the SV at 67.1 horses at 8900 rpm, but the FZ uses its extra cc’s to out-torque the other Twins, cranking out a healthy 46.7 lb-ft at a lowish 6500 rpm; that 2400-rpm spread from torque peak to hp peak is a remarkable achievement, and it squirts the FZ out of corners quicker than any other bike here but the Duke. Like the “crossplane” crank in Yamaha’s R1, the FZ’s crankpins are 90 degrees apart, giving it a very similar sound and feel to a 90-degree Twin while allowing the tighter packaging of a parallel.
Speaking of packaging, this bike is a perfect example of how racing improves the breed. Though it makes no claim to being a real supersport bike, it pulled a 9.2 (out of 10) average rating in the Handling Dept. when we remove Sean’s 7, because he’s simply a little too heavy for its rear shock spring. If you pay attention to MotoGP, you know that a big key to handling is tuned chassis flex, a big part of which depends on how the engine is mounted.
On the FZ-07, the engine is a stressed member, but the two big front mounting bolts ride in plastic bushings that probably quell a little vibration, but mainly serve to allow a little lateral engine movement. The secondary front mounts are thin steel ears that descend from the main frame and bolt to the rear of the head on either side of the bike, also allowing a little lateral movement. It’s all very YZR-M1, on a cheaper scale, the end result of which seems to be a bike that turns now and lets the engine, with its heavy gyroscope of a crankshaft, catch up later.
The handlebar risers ride in the same stiff plastic (or so it appears) as the front engine mounting bolts instead of rubber ones, like some other bikes.
Whatever’s going on, the FZ’s a hoot to ride on tight backroads, always nipping at the Duke’s heels and diving into corners and squirting back out with the same confident hyperactive puppy energy and excellent road feel, some part of which is down to its excellent stock Michelin Pilot Road 3 radials in big-boy sizes front and rear. It does everything quicker and with less effort than the other Twins here, including stop: Careful when you hop from any of the other bikes onto it; its brakes will easily lift the back tire. (Say, those four-piston calipers look exactly like the ones on my old 2000 R1.)
When you’re done playing Valentino Rossi for the day, well, these are all really good streetbikes, but the FZ again just has a little something extra. That extra bit of low-rev grunt and a clutch with a wide engagement band make stop-and-go traffic almost enjoyable, because its ergonomics and seat are top of the heap. You sit so forward on the bike, the turn signals glow out ahead of you at night. (When the weather cools off a little, we’ll ask Yamaha where’s the GYT-R flyscreen?) The thinnish seat is narrow toward the tank for easy flat-footing, but broader toward the rear to spread the load on long drones.
Its LCD instrument panel is cleanest, clearest and most comprehensive too, with numerals big enough to read and a bar-graph tach you don’t really need to consult much. Its average fuel consumption meter seems to be unusually pessimistic, hovering at around 45 mpg while we usually got more like 50 mpg in urban and freeway use, where its supple suspension and wide seat serve up a smooth ride, nicely augmented by its smooth-running Twin, (whose valves only need inspecting every 24,000 miles). Are you hearing us? This is a great motorcycle for the money. Heck, this is a great motorcycle for quite a bit more money.
THE ENVELOPE PLEASE …
Our hats are all off to the geniuses at Yamaha who built this thing. It’ll run right with the curve-slaying $8,999 KTM Duke up and down our favorite roads, then deliver you home with nearly the comfort of the practical-shoes Honda NC700X, for considerably less money than either of them.
We believe the Duke’s a great stable pony for the well-heeled enthusiast who has another bike or three in the garage more suited to the everyday slog. But if money is an object, and you’ve got to pick one bike to do it all, you really can’t do better than Yamaha’s new FZ-07, a motorcycle that can’t decide if it’s a sportbike, eco-commuter, naked hooligan or standard? You will not go wrong with the FZ-07 or the 690 Duke, our two favorite bikes in our favorite class. This week.
|2014 Middleweight Mash-Up Six-Way Shootout|
|Category||Honda CB500F||Honda NC700X||Kawasaki Ninja 650||KTM 690 Duke||Suzuki SFV650||Yamaha FZ-07|
|Price and weight are scored based on objective metrics. Other scores are listed as a percentage of editors’ ratings in each category. The Engine category is double-weighted, so the Overall Score is not a total of the displayed percentages but, rather, a percentage of the weighted aggregate raw score.|
|Honda CB500F||Honda NC700X||Kawasaki Ninja 650||KTM 690 Duke||Suzuki SFV650||Yamaha FZ-07|
|MSRP||$5799 (ABS: $6299)||$7799 (DCT ABS: $8799)||$7199 (ABS: $7599)||$8999 base; ($11,097 as tested)||$8,149.00||$6990 base; ($7939.41 as tested)|
|Type||471cc liquid-cooled parallel Twin||670cc liquid-cooled parallel Twin||649cc liquid-cooled parallel Twin||690cc liquid-cooled Single||645cc liquid-cooled 90-degree V-Twin||689cc liquid-cooled parallel Twin|
|67.0 x 66.8 mm||73.0 x 80.0mm||83.0 x 60.0mm||102.0 x 84.5mm||81.0 x 62.5mm.||80.0 x 68.6mm|
|Fuel System||PGM-FI, two 34mm throttle bodies||PGM-FI, one 36mm throttle body||EFI, two 38mm throttle bodies||EFI, ride by wire||Fuel injection||Fuel injection|
|Ignition||Digital||Digital||Digital||Digital, two spark plugs with individual mapping||Digital||Digital|
|Compression Ratio||10.7:1||10.7:1||10.8:1||12.6:1||11.5 : 1||11.5:1|
|Valve Train||DOHC; 4 valves per cylinder||SOHC; 4 valves per cylinder||DOHC; 4 valves per cylinder||SOHC; 4 valves per cylinder||DOHC; 4 valves per cylinder||DOHC; 4 valves per cylinder|
|Emissions||EPA, CARB compliant||EPA, CARB-compliant||EPA, CARB-compliant||EPA, CARB-compliant||EPA, CARB-compliant||EPA, CARB-compliant|
|Horsepower||43.04 hp @ 8400 rpm||46.59 @ 6300 rpm||64.86 @ 8900 rpm||61.78 @ 7600 rpm||67.47 @ 8300 rpm||67.11 @ 8900 rpm|
|Torque||29.13 @ 6800 rpm||41.78 @ 4700 rpm||43.76 @ 7100 rpm||46.87 @ 5500 rpm||44.20 @ 7900 rpm||46.7 @ 6500 rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed; multi-plate wet clutch||6-speed, multi-plate wet clutch||6-speed, multi-plate wet clutch, positive neutral finder||6-Speed, wet, multi-plate slipper clutch||6-speed; multi-plate wet clutch||6-speed, multiplate wet clutch|
|41mm fork; 4.3 in. travel||41mm fork; 5.4. in. travel||41mm fork; 4.9 inches travel||43mm inverted fork, fully adjustable; 5.3 in. travel||41mm fork, preload adjustable; 4.9 in. travel||41mm Telescopic fork; 5.1-in travel|
|Pro-Link single shock, adjustable for spring preload; 4.7 inches travel||Pro-Link single shock, preload-adjustable, 5.9 in. travel||Single cantilevered shock; preload adjustable, 5.1 in. travel||Single shock, linkage-mounted, fullly adjustable; 5.3 in. travel||Single shock; 3.9 inches travel, preload adjustable; 5.1 in. travel||Single, preload-adjustable shock; 5.1-in travel|
|Front Brake||320mm wave disc; 2-piston caliper||320mm disc; 2-piston caliper||Dual 300mm petal discs, 2-piston calipers||320mm disc, radial-mount 4-piston caliper; ABS||Dual 290 mm discs, 2-piston calipers||Dual 282mm discs, 4-piston calipers|
|Rear Brake||240mm wave disc; single-piston caliper||240mm disc; single-piston caliper||220mm petal disc, single-piston caliper||240mm disc, 1-piston caliper; ABS||240mm disc, single-piston caliper||245mm disc, 2-piston caliper|
|Front Tire||120/70-17||120/70 ZR-17||120/70-17||120/70 ZR-17||120/70 ZR-17||120/70 ZR-17|
|Rear Tire||160/60-17||160/60 ZR-17||160/60-17||160/60 ZR-17||160/60 ZR-17||180/55 ZR-17|
|Rake/Trail||25.5° / 4.05 in. (103mm)||27° / 4.3 in. (110mm)||25° / 4.3 in. (110mm)||26.5° / 4.53 in. (115mm)||25° / 4.1 in. (104mm)||24° / NA|
|Wheelbase||55.5 in.||60.6 in.||55.5 in.||57.7 in.||56.9 in.||55.1 in.|
|Seat Height||30.9 in.||32.7 in.||31.7 in.||32.9 in.||30.9 in.||31.7 in.|
|418 lb.||475 lb.||465 lb||360 lb.||449 lb.||403 lb.|
|Fuel Capacity||4.1 gal.||3.7 gal.||4.2 gal.||3.7 gal.||3.8 gal.||3.7 gal.|
|52 mpg||58 mpg||44 mpg||47 mpg||45 mpg||49 mpg|
|LCD panel with tachometer, fuel gauge, clock, odo, two tripmeters. High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning lights||LCD panel with tachometer, fuel gauge, clock, gear-position indicator, odo, two tripmeters, average fuel mileage. High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning lights||Analog tachomter, LCD panel with speedo, fuel gauge, clock, odo, two tripmeters.High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning lights||Analog tachomter, LCD panel with speedo, fuel gauge, clock, odo, two tripmeters.High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning lights||Analog tach, LCD digital speedo, dual tripmeters,
odometer, clock, digital gear-position indicator; High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning lights
|LCD bar-type tachometer, gear-position indicator, digital speedo, odometer, dual tripmeters, fuel gauge, fuel reserve tripmeter, clock, instant and average fuel consumption. High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning lights|
|Available Colors||Black, Pearl White||Black, Red||Candy Lime Green / Metallic Flat Spark Black, Metallic Spark Black / Metallic Flat Spark Black, Pearl Flat Stardust White / Metallic Flat Spark Black||White, Black||Metallic Thunder Gray, Glass Sparkle Black||Liquid Graphite, Rapid Red, Pearl White|
|Warranty||One year, transferable, unlimited miles||One year, transferable, unlimited miles||12 months||24 months, unlimited miles||12 month unlimited mileage||One year|
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