In the motorcycling equivalent of variations on a theme, manufacturers take a bike engine and chassis, modify the suspension, riding position and bodywork and, , a ?new? model for a slightly different market segment is born.
BMW has four models based on its excellent 800cc twin-cylinder mill; Suzuki has numerous variations of its 650 V-twin and now, Kawasaki is exploiting its 649cc parallel twin to the max with the $8,699 Versys, the $8,299 Ninja 650R and the $7,899 ER6-n.
Kawasaki has apparently scraped the bottom of the barrel in naming the ER6-n. The machine sounds more like a randomly generated debit card password than an exciting motorcycle.
How would you phonetically sound that out? ?Ursine? as in bearlike? Ersixen? Erskine?
I?ll just call it the ER.
For power, you?ll find the same, willing 649cc liquid-cooled parallel twin-powerplant that?s in the 650 Ninja and Versys. It?s a free-spinning unit with a torque-curve that provides great low-end grunt and a 71 horsepower hit up top if you?re willing to spin it.
The six-speed box felt a little stiff and notchy but my press unit was almost brand new and shifting was much better after I racked up a few hundred klicks. All controls are light and progressive and the fuel-injection is responsive, immediate and glitch-free.
This year?s ER looks similar to the one before, but it?s virtually a complete do-over. The new steel frame incorporates a twin-tube design that?s carried over to the swingarm. And as it is in the previous model, the single rear shock is mounted into the line of the frame on the right side.
Front forks are nonadjustable 41-mm units with 125 mm of travel, while the shock is adjustable for preload and has a generous 130 mm of travel. This extra 10-mm travel over the old model allowed Kawasaki to soften the suspension a bit, so bumps don?t upset the chassis and the rider enjoys a plusher ride.
Around town, the upright seating position, short wheelbase and light, neutral steering make threading through traffic on this bike a breeze. Point the ER towards the twisty parts of the road and it?s pretty good up to the point where you start to overwhelm the suspension. Keep to a moderate pace and you?ll be fine.
My press unit was done up in ?nuclear sunburst yellow,? which was incredibly bright and eventually grew on me. Anything to make yourself more visible to the cagers is fine with me and in traffic, the yellow ER6 stands out like a rat on a cheesecake.
The ER has what I call ?Sandra Bullock? looks. It?s not drop-dead gorgeous, but after a while it starts looking very attractive.
The bike?s protruding proboscis may be odd-looking, but it provides a surprising amount of wind-deflection on the highway. This is not as good as a flyscreen but it?s better than nothing. The huge radiator shrouds deflect some of the wind away from your legs.
As for the niceties, the ER has five-position, adjustable brake and clutch levers as well as Kawasaki?s neutral finder. When at a full stop at a light or stop sign, just lift up on the lever and bingo, you?re in neutral.
Good news is the dash has been completely revised. The new ER has a large, analogue tachometer with a digital speedo that?s much easier to live with than the detestable sweeping, LCD tach and Klingon graphics of the previous model. There?s also an ?ECO? icon that shows whether you?re saving the rain forest when accelerating. I?d swap it in a minute for a gear position indicator.
As the 650 Versys and the baby Ninja are, the ER is very frugal in the way it sips the byproduct of dead dinosaurs (fossil fuels). My average fuel consumption was in the range of 4.4L/100 km to 4.6L/100 km.
The previous 650 twins had an odd, yet somehow stylish ?Thermos bottle? muffler slung under the engine. The new design is still tight under the motor but it?s larger and has a different resonator for more efficiency. But the location still prevents any mounting of a centrestand. This is a shame, because it makes simple tasks such as lubing the chain ? a must-do chore when touring ? difficult, if not impossible to do by yourself.
Front brakes are dual 300-mm ?petal?-style rotors squeezed by two piston calipers. The initial bite is fairly soft (good for new riders), and although braking power improves with a firmer squeeze, feel and feedback was average.
I think the ER6-n is a nice addition to the middleweight party. It?s got plenty of power, comfy ergonomics and handles relatively well.
At $7,899, it?s also a bargain-and-a-half.
2012 Kawasaki ER6-n
ENGINE: 649cc parallel twin
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 4.4 L/100 km-4.6 L/100 km
POWER/TORQUE: 71 hp/47 lbs.-ft.
COMPETITION: Suzuki SV650 and Gladius, Honda CBF600 & NC700
WHAT?S BEST: Willing motor, fuel economy, easy to ride
WHAT?S WORST: Bit buzzy, no centrestand possible
WHAT?S INTERESTING: Side-mounted, laydown rear shock