by Staff

Recently, MO had a chance to sample seven "Middleweight Standards" of various weights, displacements and cost. The available bikes were the: BMW F 650CS, Harley Davidson Sportster 1200R, Honda 599, Kawasaki Ninja 500, Suzuki DL 650 V-Strom, Triumph Speed Four, and Yamaha FZ-6.

This class has garnered precious little attention, until the recent introductions of the Triumph Speed Four, Yamaha FZ-6 and Honda 599. Suddenly the world is full of middleweights without racer fairings, tourer saddlebags, or cruiser foreward foot controls. You buy these bikes; when you aren't trying to impress the Jones' or pretend you are Billy Bad Ass Biker Bully.

"Middleweight Standards are motorcycles for those who want capable and practical real-world transportation, without sacrificing the ability to travel long distances or tear-up the occasional back road."

motorcycle com, The latest line up
The latest line-up...

To a bike, they are capable of going faster through racer road, than 95% of riders are capable of taking them. They also do a fine job of running to the corner market or shuttling your non-pretentious behind to and from work. Yes indeed, these motorcycles are the ones you teach a friend to ride on, the ones your mom would almost approve of, the bikes KPaul really ought to ride, if he didn't so love to tell the world that he rode a ZX-6R.

Since MO does not have a full-time staff of seven riders, we enlisted the assistance of four "Guest Testers" to take turns riding each bike around town, on the freeways and in the canyons. These guests vary in riding skill from one year of experience to over twenty five years on two-wheels. Two of these guests are Martin Hackworth (sportbike_pilot) and Arthur "Buzz" Waloch (Buzglyd). Martin and Buzz are regular MO readers and frequent message board participants. They are also experienced and responsible motorcyclists with the expertise to make astute observations about the motorcycles they ride.

Our test loop consisted of 50+ miles of LA Freeways, 25+ miles of surface streets and 100+ miles of secondary and canyon roads. At the beginning of the day, I pleaded for caution from the riders and asked that they keep an open mind to each bike, so they could give me their honest impressions of each at the end of the day. After they finished laughing at me, we donned our helmets and made for the hills....

7th Place: BMW F 650CS

motorcycle com, I ll trade you for a new R 1200GS please
I'll trade you for a new R 1200GS, please?

Sean -- After watching an F 650 mounted stunter last year, I was excited when BMW said "Yes" to my request for an F 650CS for this test. I had visions of a pumped-up XR-650 Motard dancing in my head, but boy was I wrong. I expected the BMW to excel in tight/rough canyons and around town in stop-and-go traffic. I also expected it to be horrible on the freeway. Wrong Again. As it turns out, the F 650 is heavy and tall geared, making it sluggish off the line and fairly cumbersome around town. In the canyons, I could maintain a reasonable pace on the F 650, but I was also able to detect a fair amount of chassis flex.

This sapped my confidence and negated the excellent leverage from the handlebars. On the freeway, where one would think a single would suffer, the BMW comfortably cruised along at 80MPH with very little vibration or buffeting. Its low seat height, good wind protection and comfortable cockpit made it one of the best bikes in the test for sustained straight-line cruising. Its freeway prowess aside, the BMW was a big disappointment for me. I have almost gotten used to BMW's funky separate turn-signal switches (which are quite intuitive to use, once you adjust to them) but on the F 650 BMW uses a left bar mounted turn signal switch that is like a "normal" motorcycle, except for the fact that it sticks way out from the bar and takes a huge thumb to operate. Another annoyance was the clutch lever that had decent feel, but also had nearly 15mm of free play in the VERTICAL plane...sloppy, very sloppy. After the FZ-6, I think the F 650 is the bike that I'd most like to see get a thorough update.

Buzz --- The F 650CS is a do-it-all type bike similar to the Suzuki, but with less motor and a much higher price. It does have ABS which is great. The suspension is really supple which makes barnstorming through rough corners an easy task. I really was able to hustle this bike through corners quickly with the leverage offered by the wide handlebar. During our bike change and photo stops I could wander over in the dirt and do burnouts and such and stir up a big dust cloud. The seat was about as good as the Suzuki's which means it was pretty bad. I typically avoid price comparisons because if you have to have a BMW then a Japanese bike won't do it for you no matter how much cheaper it is.

motorcycle com, Surprisingly the F 650 single is right at home on the freeway
Surprisingly, the F 650 single is right-at-home on the freeway.

"The Beemer is a well-composed thumper that reminds me of an XR600R that wasn't raised in a barn."

EBass -- Why BMW, why do you insist on making everything so damn funky?! When you build upscale yet aggressive looking bikes like the K1200 RS or GT or the Boxer Replika, you do such a great job of capturing the stylistic essence of what makes your cars so prized. But then there are the abominable R1200's, the Rockster, and this acid induced thang with its fuel cap in the tail section and a storage bin with hand rails where the gas tank is supposed to go. Maybe Bavarian art school grads get off on debating whether the rear disc brake centered inside the wheel's circumference is a metaphor for Nietsche's theory of the Ubermensche or a tribute to Bauhaus architectural design, but if you ask me, it's just plain weird. That's a shame too because truth be told, this bike is pretty fun to ride. Not much in the juice department but smooth and stable at all times. The seat was the best of the bunch and cupped you perfectly with nary a pressure point. The wide bars gave plenty of leverage in the turns. I actually liked the F650! I just wouldn't be caught dead riding one.

Martin -- The Beemer is a well-composed thumper that reminds me of an XR600R that wasn't raised in a barn. It is my fifth choice. I spent the most time on the BMW lane splitting on the freeway. I was terrified that I was going to clip the mirrors on every pair of SUV's I rode between (I am convinced that there are more SUV's in LA per capita than there are in Idaho -- what's up with that?) but the friendly CS with it's nimble handling, good brakes, compliant suspension, great visibility and friendly motor got me all the way across LA at the height of rush hour without incident - so I have a soft spot in my heart for it. The only complaint I have about the BMW is that the V-Strom does pretty much everything it does much better for a lot less money. Nonetheless, BMW aficionados will no doubt appreciate the opulent Teutonic styling and will happily pay the difference for the Beemer.

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6th Place: Harley Davidson Sportster 1200R

motorcycle com, Guilty Pleasure It seems like Sportsters were made for dirt tracking
Guilty Pleasure. It seems like Sportsters were made for dirt-tracking.

Sean -- Yeee Haw! I do like this here XR-750, when I'm playing tag with the rice rockets in Latigo Canyon. She sure is a ball to hustle sideways through the gravel too! Oh wait; this is just a pedestrian Sportster 1200R.... Uh kids, lets look at that torque curve. Holy crap... 73LbFt @ 3,550rpm! Not only does the revised 2004 Sportster have better road manners, it also puts out better power and offers better brakes and handling than any Sportster I've ever ridden.

A couple of our testers were a little spooked by the Harley's extra weight compared to the other bikes in this test, but once they rode it, they saw that it was actually a pretty good match for the other bikes. (Of course the fact that I spanked their asses up Angeles Crest on it, probably helped it in the respect category)

That doesn't mean it's the performance champ in this crowd, but it does mean that this bike is now a perfectly serviceable "standard" motorcycle that is willing and ready to be ridden any way you want to twist it. That is high praise indeed.... for a Harley.

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Buzz -- I was prepared to be disappointed because the Sportster was in some pretty fast company here. However, this bike is so much better than the old Sporty. It has lots of low-end torque and with the new rubber mounting you can rev the engine right to its redline without a big vibration penalty (unlike the Yamaha which apparently has taken the title of "worst vibration.") Then if you choose, you can slow down, rumble around at 2000 RPM, and turn into "biker" guy and just blub, blub, blub through the forest. If Harley could figure out how to make it lighter, it would be even better. If you need to make it more powerful HD's P&A catalog has plenty of go faster kits available. The Sportster used to be the bike you would ditch in six months to get a Dyna, before all your fillings fell out. I liked this motorcycle much better than I expected.

EBass -- Canyon carving on the H-D felt like playing "Crazy Taxi Driver" or one of those other video games where you're taking a fairly pedestrian vehicle way past it's ostensible limits and finding that it keeps hangin' in there. To be honest, I'm far less interested in comparing the '04 Sporty with the rest of this class than with previous year's efforts. The rubber mounting of the engine as well as other performance and ergonomic enhancements have at last made this a "real motorcycle" that someone can love for reasons other than the fact that it gets them into "the Club". Congratulations Harley! I used to adamantly warn new riders away from the Sporty. Now I can actually recommend it. We could go on all day about how the Sporty doesn't hold up to the rest of this bunch in terms of performance, but the fact is that we all flogged the bejeezus out of this bike way harder than 99% of Harley riders are ever going to and it was fully capable of hanging with the pack. I was giggling like a schoolgirl, hanging off the side and reveling in the Sporty's torquey exit to the turns. Giggling like a very masculine, manly, butt ugly schoolgirl that is...ahem.

Martin -- The Harley is what it is; a large, heavy, low-tech, ill-handling, boat anchor that'll scare up all of the fish you can shoot because it shakes so darned much. However, lots of people on the sidewalk will give nods of approval and the 1200 Sportster engine does produce some prodigious torque so it's not all bad. Even if it's not my cup of tea, I can see how cruiser types would like this bike. Just watch out for the brakes (I thought they weren't working until Sean explained to me that that's how they always work) and the insane foot pegs.

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5th Place: Yamaha FZ-6

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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.

motorcycle com, Fonzie is getting pretty good at catching perfect lighting
Fonzie is getting pretty good at catching perfect lighting.

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.

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)

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4th Place: Kawasaki Ninja 500R

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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.

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

3rd Place: Triumph Speed Four

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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.

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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.

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2nd Place: Suzuki DL 650 V-Strom

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

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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!

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The Winner! Honda 599 (Hornet)

motorcycle com, Like the Ducati 999 pictures just don t do the 599 justice In person this bike is just neat
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.

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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)
SeanEBassFonzieMartinBuzzTotal Points
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"The Kawasaki Ninja 500 is the bike for you. If you can deal with not having the latest greatest crotch rocket, you might be surprised at how far you can grow and how much fun you can have with the inexpensive Ninja."

As you can see, the voting varied a bit from tester to tester. However, after talking to everyone involved, the final score accurately reflects the overall sentiment of the participants. There is no doubt that the 599 was a clear victor. However, the Speed Four and 650 V-Strom are in a virtual dead-heat, with Eric's low vote causing the Suzuki to be fall behind the Triumph, until we throw out each bikes lowest vote.

With the low votes x'd out, (or with Eric wearing platform shoes) the V Strom beats the Triumph. Sound confusing? Good, join the club. Know this: The score is irrelevant, because the V Strom and Speed Four are aimed at slightly different targets. If you happen to want a sportbike, wrapped in "standard" clothes, by all means, choose the Triumph. If on the other hand, you want a go anywhere, do anything bike that is supremely comfortable to commute on and you happen to have a decent inseam, the Suzuki is the clear choice.

Considering its price and un-deniable potential, I wish the FZ 6 had done better, but honestly, I can't put it any higher than 5th. Fonzie spend a lot of time using the Yamaha as his personal commuter / camera platform and he seemed to love it. The rest of us (I mean all seven others) voted it no higher than 5th.

Perhaps it vibed him just the right way? The new Sportster held-up quite well in this crowd and if you are the "Harley Type" I suspect it is the only bike you would consider in this test. The good news is that you no longer have to make such a great sacrifice in refinement and operation, just because you picked the Harley. Want to learn to ride, but don't want a "dirtbike"?

The Kawasaki Ninja 500 is the bike for you. If you can deal with not having the latest greatest crotch rocket, you might be surprised at how far you can grow and how much fun you can have with the inexpensive Ninja. What's left? That would be the BMW, if you have to have a BMW and you want a low seat height in an easy to ride bike, the F 650CS isn't a bad choice. Me, I'll be the guy on the reliable, well built, good looking, quick, bright yellow 599. At least until next month, when we swap our seven Middleweight Standards" for seven 1000cc Superbikes and do the whole test all-over-again with a side trip to the racetrack thrown-in for good measure. --Sean

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Harley Davidson
Sportster 1200R



Engine73.20 inch Evolution® V-twin652cc Liquid-cooled single-cylinder645cc, four-stroke, liquid cooled, 90 degree V-twin, DOHC, 8-valvesHorsepower 61.44 48.69 66.07Torque 73.03 41.96 43.75MSRP Vivid black $8,495; Pearl $8,675 $8,690 $6,599
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Yamaha FZ6

Honda 599

Suzuki DL650

Engine600cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, inline 4-cylinder, 16 valves599cc liquid-cooled inline four-cylinder599c Liquid-cooled, DOHC, in-line 4-cylinderHorsepower 91.8 86.4 88.04Torque 43.7 43.9 41.01MSRP $6,599 $7,099 $6,499
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Kawasaki Ninja 500

Engine600cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, inline 4-cylinder, 16 valvesHorsepower91.8Torque43.7MSRP$6,599
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