Maybe you remember when five grand could buy a pretty sweet Cadillac, or the fastest, most exotic sportbike known to man.
Those days are gone.
Five gees will get you a 10 year-old Honda Accord, a five year-old liter-class sportbike, or one bike off of a shrinking list of rides. In fact, we here at MO searched high and low through the rolls of the various OEMs and only found a few street bikes that can be had for about $5,000.
Not counting scooters or small 250-class machines that have a limited appeal, there are a small number of contenders in this class. We managed to get three of them; the Suzuki DR650ES dual sport, the Kawasaki Ninja 500R, and a new guy; the Hyosung (say "Yo, Sung!) GT650 Comet. They all carry MSRPs of about $5,000 and are full-sized bikes that should appeal to riders with more experience, if not more money. We then spent a few days "working" outside the office to see which one we thought was the bike we'd buy with our money. So what did we choose?
We wanted to check what sorts of $5,000 motorcycles would appeal not just to a new rider looking to get into motorcycling as cheaply as possible, but also to more experienced motorcyclists looking for cheap, fun, reliable transportainment. That's why we left out bikes like the 250 Ninja, the smaller cruisers and other bikes.
So here are the three bikes we did wind up evaluating, and why we did -- or didn't -- like them.
What Did they Leave Out?
In this game, there's always one or more bikes we could have added, but didn't. Here are some we missed, and why:
Buell Blast $4,695
It uses a simple, torquey and durable motor, has an extremely low seat and provides a non-cruiser option for those short-of-leg who want a first bike.
So what's the problem?
We just weren't very impressed by it the last time we tested it, citing vibration, mild performance and a generally limited appeal that would keep it from being a good all-around kind of bike for a more experienced rider.
Suzuki Boulevard S40 $4,399
This is another favorite, and why does it seem that all these budget bikes have been around longer than the Family Circus comic strip?
Well, it could have something to do with the fact that the S40 -- formerly known as the Savage 650 -- is a good, wholesome motorcycle, with a character-ful, responsive 650cc thumper motor and a seat height so low your wallet chain might make sparks. It looks like a cool little drag bike, is cheap as a box of drywall screws and has a low-maintenance belt drive. What's wrong with it? Not a thing. We just forgot to include it. So sue us.
Suzuki GS500F $5,199
Editor Ets-Hokin figured this would be a good bike to compare to the Hyosung Comet, as they are priced about the same, weigh the same and even look like they share a frame (they don't really).
If you're surprised the Hyosung comes from Korea, you'll be even more surprised this one comes from Spain, where Suzuki builds them for the European market. It uses the same frame and motor the GS500 has used since the Neolithic era, wrapped in sexy GSX-R-like bodywork. It would have been a good comparison, as it would really highlight the value of the GT650, but alas, Suzuki told us they didn't have one available for the period of the test. We blame society.
Kawasaki KLR650 $5,199
Oh, Swamp Thing, we hardly knew ye. Now in its last year of production after a mere 20 model years (Ford only made the Model T for 19), the KLR is a hell of a thing, a "tri-purpose" bike that can tour, commute or have fun in the dirt. When the apocalypse comes, two things will be left on Earth; the KLR650 and roaches. It's fun to ride, has a fuel range like the Spirit of St. Louis and can take abuse like Fonzie's liver.
But you knew that, didn't you? We gave it a lot of coverage in 2005, but we left it out this time, because it will be soon replaced by a much-improved KLR model. Stay tuned for an intro report.
Kawasaki Vulcan 500 LTD $4,999
This is a sweet little cruiser that actually uses the Ninja 500R's motor to get it here and there.
It's light, sporty and easy-handling. It's a pretty good bike that should be considered by the short-of-leg who desire a more-sporty than average cruiser.
We forgot to include it; oops!
2007 Kawasaki Ninja 500R
$5,049 Seat Height 30.5"
*Claimed* Dry Weight 388lbs
Let's get right into this evaluation thing, with the Kawasaki Ninja 500R. Kawasaki has been selling this middleweight sportbike since, well, forever. When it first appeared in 1987, The EX500 was pretty high-tech for a middleweight sportbike, with a counterbalanced, liquid-cooled, dual overhead cam motor that was essentially half the fearsome ZX-10 Ninja motor. There are sporty little touches that have made this bike very popular in lightweight club racing, like a four-valve cylinder head boasting 10.8:1 compression, a six-speed gearbox, electronic ignition and oversquare 74mm by 58mm bore-and-stroke figures. Twenty years later, the 53.47hp and 32.74 pound-feet of torque we measured on our Dynojet Dynamometer are still pretty respectable for this kind of motor, which can rev its little heart out to over 10,000 rpm.
The chassis isn't so bad either. It's a perimeter steel thing made out of square-section tubing, with a Uni-Trak linkage and preload-adjustable monoshock (adjustable for preload) holding up the box-section steel swingarm. In front is a good-for-1987 but spindly-for-2007 non-adjustable 37mm fork. The front brake is a single dual-piston caliper and 280mm disc, and the rear brake was upgraded to a single-pot caliper and disc in 1994, under an edict issued by Emperor Constantine. The wheels were also updated (mercifully!) from their pre-'94 16-inch diameters, and now sport Bridgestone Excedra tires, with a 110/70-17 in front and a 130/70-17 rear. Wheelbase is a longish 56.5 inches, and claimed dry weight is but 388 pounds.
Also new for 1994 (along with the movie Stargate, singer R. Kelly and teen pop sensation Newt Gingrich) was some new bodywork, including a high windscreen and a cool lower faring. The gas tank holds 4.8 gallons, and the all-analog instrument panel includes dual tripmeters. A centerstand and folding bungie hooks are yet more thoughtful touches. Colors for 2007 are "Metallic Titanium" or "Solar Yellow". For just over five grand, you get an awful lot. We agreed the 500 has decent styling that has aged well over the decades. "A newbie can get 'sportbike' looks without spending true sportbike dollars," remarked Managing Editor Pete Brissette, and that's good enough for many riders.
We all liked the vibrant Solar Yellow paint, which sparkled nicely in the afternoon sun, but Senior Editor Gabe Ets-Hokin noted the paint on the tank and faring panels looked mis-matched to him in bright sunlight. Build quality is good, and like the KLR650, a reminder of how much more attention to detail Kawasaki lavishes on more-current models; the 500R has lots of inexpensive-looking touches like exposed hoses, silver-painted stamped steel and big, thick welds. Sitting on the bike makes your ass wonder if this isn't some kind of cruiser. "The seat is waaaaaay too soft," said Pete, and Gabe agreed.
"It's a good, solid bike, has a proven record of reliability and goes fast enough to do Bad Things with."
The bars are tall and close together, and the mid-mount pegs close to the low seat give the riding position a weird "squirrel on waterskis" feel, according to Gabe, an "odd-feeling combo" that Pete "didn't particularly care for". The windscreen gives good wind protection; overall the ergos are comfortable enough for commuting, but definitely not sportbike-spec.
Pull the choke lever (yes, we said "choke lever") and the motor coughs to life without too much complaint. After a warm-up period, the motor revs well, with good carburetion all through the rev range. However, Pete found it "flaccid" at normal street speeds, requiring 8,000 or more rpm to really wake things up, when it becomes a "true sportbike" motor. Both Pete and Gabe loved wringing the bike out, calling the buzz-saw exhaust note the best when near redline, but Pete wondered if that peaky power delivery would make it not as suitable for novice riders. Gabe disagreed; he though there was "sufficient" power to tool around at legal speeds, with good response from the carburetors and four-valve motor. The clutch and gearbox are definitely beginner-friendly, though, with a light clutch pull and a precise feel from the shift lever. The Kawasaki neutral finder makes finding neutral from first easy.
"Handling and ride quality are equally good."
The frame offers enough rigidity for a brisk sport pace, although the plush suspension and mild cornering clearance offered by the thick, low footpegs put a limit on things. The suspension is soft and lacks damping, but the light weight and high bars give any rider plenty of confidence to break the law with impunity on a twisty road. The brakes are so-so, but sufficient, requiring a very good squeeze to stop quickly.
Pete complained that the rear brake "doesn't offer any better feel than a drum". Still, even with these flaws, with the engine singing near redline, this bike -- like its 250cc little brother -- can go a lot faster than you'd think and offers lots of fun to any skill level of rider.
It's a good, solid bike, has a proven record of reliability and goes fast enough to do Bad Things with. So why didn't we like it enough to make it our first choice? For $5,049, this bike has a lot to offer, and works well for a 20 year-old design, but has too many limitations -- like a weird riding position, soggy seat and suspension and peaky motor -- to make it a better value than the other bikes. If your riding will be mostly city errand-running, short freeway commutes or relaxed rides in the country this bike is really all you need, but the other bikes in this test can do those things -- and more -- for the same price.
2006 Suzuki DR650ES
$5,099 Seat Height 34.8"/33"
*Claimed* Dry Weight 324lbs
We get a lot of "what's a good first bike" or "which bike should I buy"-type questions, and we often farm these out to the pack of no-goodniks that lurk on our reader forums for more guidance. We're surprised that new riders are more frequently steered to standards and small sportbikes than they are to dual sports.
Sure, a dual sport usually has a pretty high seat, but not every new rider is Billy Barty-sized. For many new riders with long legs, a dual sport is a great choice, with a simple, economical motor that has lots of low-rpm torque (dirt-oriented bikes need to be very tractable at extremely low speeds) and a sturdy chassis that is actually designed to withstand abuse. They're also fun to ride and can lay waste to sportbike-mounted squids if the road is particularly gnarly.
On that note, meet Suzuki's DR650ES. Originally introduced in 1990, in 1996 the DR650 was anointed with electric start and other improvements to become the model it is today. It's built around an air/oil-cooled 644cc single-cylinder four-valve counterbalanced single overhead cam motor that is fed by a "slingshot" 40mm Mikuni carburetor. It gets power to the rear wheel with a five-speed gearbox and chain, blistering our Dynojet to the tune of 35.34hp and 33.91 foot-pounds of torque. That doesn't sound like much, true, but it's making 85 percent of its peak torque at just 3000 rpm; what power it makes gets used.
"The chassis is pretty fancy for a budget bike."
The thin-wall steel single-downtube frame connects an aluminum swingarm to the compression and preload-adjustable rear shock with a linkage. The non-adjustable front fork boasts brawny 43mm tubes. Front braking duties are handled by a two-piston caliper with a single 290mm disc, and there's a one-bucket caliper and 245mm disc in back. Wheels are spoked, of course, and are sheathed with a 21-inch front dual-sport tire and a 17-inch rear.
A snail cam-type chain adjuster makes maintenance easier, and for the short-of-leg among you, Suzuki has a kit which can lower the bike about two inches. The wheelbase is 58.7 inches (58.1 with the lowering kit) and the bike weighs in at 324 pounds dry (claimed), heavy for a dirt machine. A 3.4-gallon steel fuel tank (3.2 gallons in California) and a full lighting and instrument package keep everything legal for street use. There's even a luggage rack and brush guards (which keep your hands protected from cold and car mirrors when it's not protecting them from actual brush). Fancy!
We usually talk about styling here, but what can we say about this bike? Off-road motorcycles, like military or construction vehicles, are designed for utility, for getting the job done with as few frills as possible, and the DR has no wasted shapes, no chrome, no unnecessary features. That gives it a certain brutal handsomeness, and it's supported by good, solid craftsmanship; the Suzuki is made soilidly and looks like it will last.
With automatic compression release and an electric starter, firing up the thumper motor is much more fun than the leg-started DRs of yore. Despite the counterbalancer, the motor still chugs and vibrates at idle, smoothing out as the throttle is twisted -- "not terribly buzzy," in Pete's words. The clutch and gearbox are benchmarks for ease-of-use and simplicity, and riding around town is a snap. Ergonomics are also good, as soon as the short people get their feet up where they belong -- on the pegs. The seat is hard and small, but it's comfortable for a dual-sport seat and offers a lot of room fore and aft to experiment with different riding positions. Still, Pete noted it's "not a long-distance machine"; those seeking a low-cost adventure tourer should wait for the new Kawasaki KLR650.
"Out on a really bumpy, twisty road you understand why God made dual-sport machines."
Around town, the DR is really fun. It wheelies quite easily, and steers with a light touch. The brakes and tires offer enough power and control to get you around safely, and there's even pegs and enough seat for a small, masochistic passenger. A handy luggage rack is milk-crate ready for light loads. The motor isn't too powerful, but it's so responsive and free-revving that it makes you wonder why every bike isn't a thumper, until you're trying to keep up with the 90 mph traffic jam that is LA's busy freeway system. There, you'll be wishing for more power, as well as more wind protection or a bike that doesn't feel skittish when side winds hit or you're taking a big overpass at high speeds.
Out on a really bumpy, twisty road you understand why God made dual-sport machines. Pete "felt comfortable within the first three miles" on this bike, which he found to be a "confidence-inspiring mount" thanks to the upright seating, wide bars and easy-to-use motor. The brakes are just OK, and cause the soft, long-travel suspension to dive excessively. But with 35hp, who needs brakes? If the corners are tight, the DR is so easy to toss around you'll feel like Rossi as you watch your friends turn into tiny, vibrating dots in the rear-view mirrors as they struggle to keep up on their more conventional bikes.
Sounds good, so is it time to break open the piggybank and start putting your pennies into rolls? Not yet. The DR was Pete's first pick, but Gabe placed it third; "it's not the greatest dirt bike, and it's limited as a street bike. Sure it's fun, but there are better answers." What a kill-joy. However, we agree; for the same money, the Hyosung has a lot more versatility as a street bike. If you live somewhere with a lot of fire roads and you think you'll be getting your bike muddy more often than you'll be rolling on tarmac with it, this might be the one, but those who want a more street-oriented ride should read on.
2007 Hyosung GT650 Comet
$4,999 Seat Height 30.7"
*Claimed* Weight 474lbs
Hyo-who? Hyo-what? Say Yo-Sung!, and say it proud, because Hyosung is a well-known, established presence in the global motorcycle market. They've been in business since 1978, and have built well over two million units to date. They have some kind of relationship with Suzuki Motors of Japan, and although neither company gives specifics of what that means, we think it entails some shared research and development and a parts-supplying relationship.
"The high-mount exhaust can is made of aluminum, yet another example of all the goodies a Hyosung buyer gets for his five grand."
We have not seen evidence of Hyosung license-building SV650 motorcycles for the Japanese company, nor is the motor in the GT650 a part-for-part copy of the SV engine, as many folks hold. Comparing specs on the two powerplants -- the 99-02 SV650 and the current GT650 -- we see different bore and stroke numbers, different gear ratios, different oil capacities and many other differences. Let's put this to rest, folks; this is not a license-built SV650, but a completely different model, at least in terms of parts.
The motor is a liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-valve 90-degree V-twin with electronic ignition and a pair of 39mm carburetors. The power -- 66.72hp and 44.33 foot-pounds of torque at the back wheel measured on the 'ol Dynojet -- is impressive, just four hp down from the last fuel-injected SV650S we tested. Power goes out to the world via a cable-operated clutch, six-speed gearbox and O-ring chain.
That respectable motor is bolted into a chassis that while not the best-looking thing ever, seems to get the job done. It's a big steel semi-truss affair with cast-metal sideplates and a steel swingarm that uses a linkage to hold the preload-adjustable rear shock. In front is an inverted cartridge fork that's adjustable for rebound and compression damping, but not for preload. Brakes are twin-piston sliding-pin calipers and dual floating rotors in front, with a twin-piston caliper and solid disc in back. Wheels are cast-alloy six-spoke units shod with Bridgestone BT-56 radials, a 120/70-17 front and 160/60-17 out back. The wheelbase is a tidy 56.5 inches, and the weight is a hefty 474 pounds (claimed).
What else do you get? Well, there's a 4.5 gallon steel fuel tank and a nice pair of analog clocks that on our example had the kilometers per hour in larger numbers than mph; Jimmy Carter would be proud. Switchgear is standard stuff, with the addition of a passing-lamp switch.
The passenger gets a big grabrail that has bungie hooks underneath, and there are also rails under the seat for attaching bungies. The high-mount exhaust can is made of aluminum, yet another example of all the goodies a Hyosung buyer gets for his five grand.
In person, the Hyosung looks like an ordinary motorcycle. Gabe thought build quality was "OK: mid-'90s Italian level," and Pete noted the "unkempt look of all the plumbing for the charcoal canister and clean-air system doesn't help combat the 'cheap' connotation people may have of a Korean-made motorcycle". Other touches, like the clunky footpegs and crude-looking TCIC brake calipers ("Tae Chul Industrial Co.", if you're wondering) do nothing to dispel this notion, as do the thick welds, weirdly-translated warning stickers and blocky styling.
"Even the logo looks industrial," complained Gabe, which is the first time Motorcyucle.com has complained about a logo in a review.But the paint and powder-coat are decent, everything works the way it's supposed to, and the big headlamp and big, no-nonsense proportions make you believe this a real motorcycle, designed by people who like to ride, not just cash in on a hot market while the sun is shining.
Any shortcomings the rider might feel about quality disappear when he gets on the bike. The seat is fairly high, but the handlebar is nicely sized, the pegs are positioned righteously, and the seat has "the right amount of firmness," according to Pete. The switchgear feels good enough, and the bike overall has a solid feel. The motor starts easily, and though it could use some carb tuning to get it perfect (please note that this bike was not set up by Hyosung's fleet center and was also not broken-in fully when we got it to test), once warm it revved willingly and made good power. The transmission, Gabe noted, was "loose-feeling but positive and low-effort." This unit needed some break-in mileage; Gabe has ridden two other GT650s and their transmissions felt much better.
"If you want new, this is the most motor you are going to get with $4,999."
In this company, the motor of the GT650 feels like a Hayabusa, with lots of torque off idle and plenty of punch on the top end. Pete thought the gearing was too tall -- which required slipping the clutch some on launches -- but he still if you want new, this is the most motor you are going to get with $4,999. liked the "broad, useable powerband," which reminded him of "similar V-twin sportbikes." Hmm. Which bike could you possibly be talking about, Pete? Gabe disagrees; this motor feels rougher than a fuel-injected SV650, although it is similar to the older carbureted versions. But there is no debate about the adequacy of power; if you want new, this is the most motor you are going to get with $4,999.
On city streets or commuting on the freeway the Hyosung gets the job done. It has a light and nimble feel around town, with a plush suspension and plenty of oomph to keep up with traffic. It will accelerate up the onramps quickly enough, and at highway speed windblast is not that bad, thanks to a slight forward lean to the riding position and that big, handsome headlamp punching a hole through the air.
Living on a Budget
Just because you have $5,000 -- or the equivalent in credit power -- to buy one of these bikes doesn't mean the spending has ended. Oh, no, it's just beginning. Even though all three of these bikes have robust, proven designs, they still need maintaining.
The Suzuki DR650 is a dirt-oriented design, and therefore simple to work on. A call to John at Del Amo Motorsports' service department revealed a need for a 2.5-hour break-in service, with a 1.5-hour service every 4,000 miles after that. At 16,000 miles the valves get checked and serviced, which bumps the servicing time to 4.5 hours. If you figure about $30 for parts at each service and our fictional Motorcycle.com service rate of $90 an hour, you'll spend about $1,680 your first 30,000 miles on a DR650, not counting tires, brake pads chains and other variable wear items. The EX500, while doubtlessly having different servicing needs, gets about the same schedule, according to John, so you'll spend about the same.
"Any $5,000 motorcycle is going to have a laundry list of imperfections, and that's the fun part of owning your first new motorcycle. The fixes the Comet needs are all fixable by a novice shade-tree mechanic for not much money."
The Hyosung is more of an unknown quantity. Although the rumors hold that the 90-degree V-twin is a Suzuki SV650 clone, it is different and has a different set of maintenance requirements. Most notable is the factory's recommendation of a valve inspection or adjustment at 600 miles and every 6,000 miles after that (the owner's manual gives intervals of every 6,000 kilometers, but Hyosung USA says that should be 6,000 miles). Should this keep you from buying one?
We spoke to Chris at Fresno Motorsports in Fresno, CA. He told me it takes about 2.5 hours to do a service, including checking valve clearance and torqueing the head bolts -- which unfortunately requires removing camshafts to do -- but that he has yet to see a valve out of spec. We shot an email over to Hyosung, and they told us that their engineers are "considering changing the valve clearance inspection intervals to 12,000 miles", which should make service costs even lower. We're guessing servicing costs should run between $1,500 and $2,000 for your first 30,000 miles, depending on how the service recommendations sort themselves out. On a twisty road, Pete was surprised at how well the Comet handled, but Gabe wasn't. Our small, hairy Editor had ridden a GT650R with the clip-ons on a tight twisty road and knew it was solid, stable and well-suspended enough to get the job done, but was heavy-steering with the low, stubby clip ons. The GT650, with its big handlebar, is much easier to toss around, while still maintaining the solid feel imparted by that heavy but rigid chassis. We also thought the spring rates were OK -- luckily, as the front spring preload is non-adjustable -- and the damping in the front and rear shocks was just fine. "A cartridge fork is impressive at this price point," said Gabe.
The limiting factors are poor throttle response and wooden, weak brakes that probably just need a bleeding and some more break-in miles (or maybe better pads) to feel better. Gabe also noticed the old-school BT56 tires felt twitchy, hunting on rain grooves and turning in almost too fast, although they do offer lots of grip. More modern tires would be welcome when the Bridgestones wear out.
Are we damming with faint praise here? Not at all. This bike has plenty of flaws -- we could go on and on, in fact -- but at this price point it's very impressive. Any $5,000 motorcycle is going to have a laundry list of imperfections, and that's the fun part of owning your first new motorcycle. The fixes the Comet needs -- like carb tuning, insensitive brakes and unsightly cosmetic touches -- are all fixable by a novice shade-tree mechanic for not much money.
It's a real motorcycle at a really good price. Should you spend the extra $1,000 on an SV650 instead? If you can, that would certainly be safe. But you won't get the cartridge front end or the two-year warranty, and Hyosung dealers are often new and eager for your business; we can only hint at what that means. We've picked this bike as the one Motorcycle.com would purchase if we were spending our own money, but don't take our word for it; go check with your Motorcycle Health Professional to see if a Hyosung Comet is right for you.
"The bottom of the motorcycle food chain is always going to involve compromises."
For some, $5,000 isn't a lot of money. For others -- most of us, I think -- $5,000 represents a large chunk of discretionary cash, and spending it all at once on a motorcycle is a big deal. After our week of riding these bikes, we tallied our votes, and at the end of it, the Comet is the bike we liked best overall.
It's a really good value, with handling, power and big-bike looks for $1,000 less than the nearest competitor. They also make a version with a full fairing and clip-on handlebars for $5,899, and a half-faired version for $5,399. It's not perfect, true, but in this price category it's the most technologically-advanced machine, and it works as intended.
Nits and Notes
The Hyosung has some pretty luxurious touches for a bike in this price range, including bosses on the swingarm for stand spools, an analog fuel gauge, a big passenger grabrail, Bridgestone BT56 tires and an amusingly-translated owner's manual that should provide hours of amusement for you and your friends. Here's a tidbit from the Hyosung website: "Motility and elasticity were satisfied by employing upside-down method." Al thinks he might have dated Motility when he was in college. "I had a headache for weeks," he says, "but it was worth it." A Hyosung dealer can set you up with the cool adapter plates and longer shift linkage rods the GT650R model uses to adjust the rearsets up and back.
A very nice feature. An odd feature on the Hyosung (we thought) was the light that comes on when the tank is half-empty (or half-full, depending on how you look at the world).
The DR650 was our second-place winner. It's a pretty good choice too, especially if you desire to get off road occasionally. It should prove to be economical and fun to ride, as well. The Ninja 500R is a great bike, but to call it long in the tooth is almost an understatement. At 20 years old, a sportbike barely has teeth. Still, the 500R is the same great bike it's always been, and if you want a bargain sportster that has two decades of aftermarket support and club-racing development behind it, this is the one to get.
The bottom of the motorcycle food chain is always going to involve compromises. But no matter which of these three bikes you spend your money on, you'll get your money's worth and ride away happily
What I'd Buy
Pete Brissette, Senior Editor
Budget bikes; I was weaned on 'em. My first motorcycle was a 1978 Honda CB400T. It was a budget bike when it was new and even more so at the price of $400 I paid for it over 13 years ago. A few bikes came and went until I landed my first, used EX500. I loved those things. They were easy to work on for a relative newbie, were comfortable, had a surprising amount of power if you did a stage-one jet kit with a two-into-one exhaust, and got good mileage.
Boy, how times -- or should I say, my expectations -- have changed. Climbing on the 2006 Ninja 500 brought back some memories, but it also demonstrated how much I've come to expect from a modern bike, or maybe just how spoiled I've become. Certainly we have to consider where this thing is in the scope of motorcycledom, but if Kawi doesn't make some serious changes to upgrade and update this bike soon, it's going to be hard to justify not buying another bike. The seat, although roomy was just too soft, the ergos feel very late 1980s and it's just too underpowered in the bottom and mid-range. Though, I'll admit it is fun to wring its neck to get to the power. Sadly, for the bike that won my heart so many years ago -- I even created an email address based upon my love for them-- I'm painfully aware that there are better bikes and/or better values to be had these days.
"But it's a 35 horsepower single! Who needs brakes?"
I was really impressed with the Hyosung (Yo Sung!). Not so much for any one outstanding trait or quality it has, but for how well (relatively) this new player in the US market offered a competent and competitive motorcycle so soon after jumping in the game. It's a bargain in many ways too, but it isn't without its problems. Like the horrible off-idle stumble it has -- it's in serious need of a jet kit.
The fueling is about as flat off the bottom as a Florida highway, though once over that hump the power comes on long and linear. In general the overall build quality is unimpressive. For example, the plumbing for the evaporative fumes system is carelessly wound about the front portion of the frame where it feeds into the charcoal canister, an item that was plopped on in plain sight with all the care that goes into assembling a floor-model barbecue grill. There are other styling and functional notes that are a little rough as well. If I were considering this bike I'd find a good, used SV650 and get the refined, real McCoy.
So that leaves me with the esteemed DR650. It's obvious that you don't get as much motorcycle for your money as with the other two, at least in terms of tech and/or plastic real estate. Comparatively it's quite simple. But in my opinion you get more than one bike in the DR. On one hand you have an economical commuter that has good freeway manners and plenty of passing power, even over 80 mph. I'd be remiss if I didn't comment on the "dial-a-dive" experience you get when hard on the front brakes. At times the sensation is one that has you feeling like you're not really stopping, when in reality it's the amount of front-end dive that only seems to magnify the less-than-ample stopping power of the brakes.
But it's a 35 horsepower single! Who needs brakes? And in the canyons it was quite capable of staying right behind the other two. On the other hand, when the pavement ends, you and the DR get to keep on riding. It certainly isn't going to compete with the latest four-stroke 450, but it will get the job done in most moderate off-road environs. Considering that it has been in production for about an eon, there is an army of DR owners out there with enough tips, tricks and know-how to improve the stock state of your DR and keep it running for years to come.
Take my comments for what you will, but let Nurse Pete refer you to a DR for your bad case of budgetitis.
Gabe Ets-Hyokin, Senior Editor
What would I do with $5,000? Well, it would pay for my lavish lifestyle for about 35 days, or I could buy a 10 year-old Honda Civic with it. I could also buy a clapped-out two-season old sportbike from a nervous, pale guy with bad teeth, or find a pretty nice mid-to-large sized Metric cruiser. But I'm a fan of the do-it-all machine, something that's equal parts fun on a race track, on a twisty road riding with my homies, or lane-splitting behind resident nut-job Brissette. If I wanted new, what would I spend the money on?
I'm not a dirt-bike guy, not enough to own one, at least, and when I want to ride in the dirt -- which isn't frequently -- I borrow a friend's. For the 99.9 percent of my riding that is on pavement, the limitations of a dirt bike -- like the tall, uncomfortable seat, lack of wind protection, skinny knobby tires and see-saw suspension -- outweigh the fun of tossing a lightweight thumper around a twisty canyon road. And as dirt bikes go, the DR is awfully heavy and clunky for a novice dirt rider like me.
The EX500 is in desperate need of an overhaul. It needs a better chassis, better brakes, more modern wheels and tires, new styling and about 10 or 15 more horsepower. Oh, wait; Kawasaki did upgrade it; it's called the Ninja 650R and it's one of the best middleweight standard motorcycles I've ever ridden, especially for the price. Unfortunately, that's a price that is way too high for this test. For what it is, the 500 Ninja is still an amazing bike and a great choice for new street riders, but I'd rather spend $5,000 on a used bike.
And so we come to Mr. Yo-sung, who is the first Korean-built motorcycle in history to win a Motorcycle.com shootout. Although I picked it as my first choice, it is as far from perfect as any comparison winner can be. Fit, finish, and a weird maintenance schedule are big issues here, issues that could be solved with some hard work and careful attention to the US motorcycle market. When they sort these problems -- and they will -- this company will become a major player, dwarfing the European brands and perhaps even eclipsing one or more of the Japanese ones over time. That will turn the tables on a lot of folks -- many of whom mistakenly think Hyosungs are made in mainland China -- who say disparaging things about this established manufacturer. Ironic, no? That owners and industry insiders who swear by the Japanese brands -- brands who were once laughed at by now-extinct companies -- are laughing at the new kid on the block.
"It's the stripper-model Ford F-150 of motorcycling..."
It's imperfect but impressive. For $4,999 you get a lot of performance, handling and even a sensible-shoe kind of style that grows on you. It's the stripper-model Ford F-150 of motorcycling, and it offers the same feeling of durable, sensible value and performance. If you're a tinkerer and appreciate simple, solid engineering, this Hyosung might be right for you. If I had $5,000 to buy a motorcycle and a package of Kraft Macaroni 'n' Cheez with, this would be the one. Does that go well with Kim Chee?