Sep 23 2009 Harriet Ridley
Kawasaki offers simplicity
THE simple things in life are often the best. Take the ER-6. Kawasaki first launched this budget all-rounder in 2005 and its popularity surprised even the manufacturer. It sold a huge 22,000 models in Europe.
The ER-6 is Kawasaki's version of the much-loved SV650, a novice friendly machine with a strong V-twin engine and cool street-bike looks. Like the SV, Kawasaki's ER-6 gets two versions - the faired ER-6F and the naked ER-6N. But although the Kawasaki's engine also gets two cylinders, the layout is parallel rather than V.
The fun performance, good styling and low price tag make these models an instant hit. Novices love to learn on them: the low seat gives confidence especially at low speeds, the engine chugs along at near-idle speeds without threatening to stall, and a wide turning circle makes easy work of the dreaded U-turn.
Yet they still have plenty to offer the more experienced rider: the various MiniTwins championships where these bikes are run are the UK's most popular club race series.
Economic woes are also helping these bikes - at times like these people want budget all-rounders that don't skimp on style and ride quality. And that's the definition of Kawasaki's ER-6.
The ER-6 waited four years for an update, which it only really needed to retain its sparkle against the all-new Gladius - Suzuki's replacement model for the naked SV650. However, both versions of the ER-6 got the updates, so the faired ER-6F got an easy ride in 2009 competing against the faired SV650, which everyone knows is about to get replaced by a faired Gladius.
The 2009 ER-6's upgrade comprised only a few tweaks, but they're clever ones that address the old bike's shortcomings and keep it sharp. The bike's styling is more aggressive thanks to more defined edges for a more youthful appeal. The look is of muscles and brawn with those unmistakably-Kawasaki headlamps, and neat front indicators integrated into the lean mean bodywork.
Other small details such as the aluminium pillion grabrails that replace the old bike's plastic ones give the ER-6 a more sophisticated edge. The bike's popularity makes it a money-maker after all, so Kawasaki can afford to splash out on better quality parts.
For many, the appeal of these machines lies in their punchy twin-cylinder engines. However, the ER-6 used to suffer from vibrations at certain speeds often associated to lumpy twins, but not anymore. Kawasaki has dampened them out by adding rubber mounting between the engine and frame, as well as the handlebars, and fitting rubber pads on the footrests. The ride feels noticeably more comfortable.
The engine also feels creamier, with a smoother pick-up. And while there's plenty of power and torque low down, there's also an eagerness to rev higher up the rev range for some swifter fun.
The latest ER-6 also benefits from improved suspension. Components are firmer so the bike holds a better line without wallowing in and out of turns. Yet it's still plush enough to soak up the potholes.
The ER-6 is not as light as a sportsbike so isn't as eager to turn in and switch direction, not that it's too noticeable on what is still a very agile machine. However the extra weight does make the ER-6 more stable and sure-footed through corners, with the naked and thus lighter ER-6N being slightly more flighty.
The brakes remain untouched and are perfect for the bike; progressive yet firm, with ABS available as an optional extra. The light controls are at easy reach and the gearbox is slick, although the decent low-down grunt from the twin cylinders means you can be lazy with your left limbs - a bonus through traffic and on winding roads.
If you're in two minds whether to get the N or the F, it's a simple choice. If your commute involves decent stretches of fast roads opt for the faired bike that offers good shelter from driving winds and rain. Anything beyond 70mph on the naked version becomes hard work on those neck muscles.
But if it's mostly town work you're doing, then the naked ER-6N looks ever so cool, and so does its price tag. It costs £4,699, compared to £5,075 for the faired version. Add £400 on either for ABS.
Price: £4,699 - ER-6N, £5,075 - ER-6F.
Engine: 71bhp, 649cc electronic fuel injected parallel twin, 38mm throttle bodies, 8-valves, dohc, liquid-cooled
Max speed: 115mph
Fuel economy: 50mpg
Transmission: Six gear wet multiplate, chain final drive
Chassis: Steel tube diamond type
Suspension: (F) 41mm inverted telescopic forks, not adjustable (R) Offset cantilever monoshock, adjustable preload. Steel swingarm
Tyres: (F) 120/70 x 17 (R) 160/60 x 17
Brakes: (F) 2 x 2-piston floating callipers, 300mm petal discs (R) Single-piston floating calliper, 220mm petal disc
Seat height: 785mm