COMFY SPORTSBIKES TEST TAKING THE SOF
Tired of being battered into submission by an uncompromising race replica? Maybe it’s time you considered a more real-world sportsbike
MCN guest tester Age 39 Height 6ft 2in CV 14 years of road testing and a used bike expert
Guest road tester Age 35 Height 5ft 8in CV Former R6 Cup racer and regular MCN guest tester
Freelance photographer Age 37 Height 5ft 9in CV Motogp snapper, and KTM rider
for the second time). There are already several softer sportsbikes currently available in UK dealers, each one offering a slice of sporting fun, all wrapped up in a far more relaxed package that’s targeted at road riders rather than trackday fanatics or racers.
We’ve grabbed three of the best – the Honda CBR650F, Kawasaki Z1000SX and Suzuki GSX-S1000FA – and pointed them all at the Isle of Wight to test their real-world sporting potential.
In many ways the original CBR600F was the pioneer for the real-world sportsbike. Up until the launch of the full-on RR version, Honda had always managed to blend sports and performance into its supersport offering. But then Honda dropped the F-model from the range, only to realise the error of their ways and hastily reintroduce it as a new model in 2011. But this new 650 generation is a very different beast.
The CBR650F is no World Supersport contender, it is a budget naked (the CB650F) that has been dressed up to look sporty. Where once the CBR genuinely could win a race on Sunday and be used to pop to the shops on Monday, this latest version is all about road riding and not even a flashy red frame or urban camo paintscheme can hide that fact. But is that a bad thing? The Kawasaki Z1000SX and Suzuki GSX-S1000FA can also trace their roots back to naked bikes rather than sportsbikes, so maybe this is the way forward and explains why Ducati are basing their Supersport around the Monster family, while it takes its styling cues from the Panigale. But there are pitfalls to be wary of when treading this path…
The first leg of our journey to the Isle of Wight involved a mundane motorway slog to Portsmouth, including the horror of the M25. This (slowly) moving car park of a road meant mile upon mile of filtering through traffic, something that would be torturous on a cramped sportsbike with clip-ons, but which should have been a breeze on a real-world bike such as the ones we were riding. Annoyingly, this wasn’t the case for all of these machines.
Suzuki initially developed the GSX-S as a naked bike before adding a fairing and terming the FA a ‘real-world sportsbike’. Presumably in Suzuki’s real world there are no traffic jams as the GSX-S is absolutely terrible at low-speed work. Naked bikes are often designed with a bit of aggression in them, as this suits their ethos, but Suzuki haven’t removed this in the FA model and it ruins the low-speed ride quality. The initial throttle response is so brutal you’re in danger of giving yourself whiplash while the fuelling is so bad it stutters and persistently hunts at small and steady throttle openings. Trying to make gentle progress through lines of stationary traffic is a nightmare and no amount of gear dancing man- ages to overcome the issue. The rest of the bike has the potential to impress on motorway journeys as the riding position is comfortable in a typical naked bike way and the fairing is effective (a taller screen is an optional extra), but then after a few miles the vibrations start to annoy, which was a common
‘A slice of sporting fun, all wrapped up in a far more relaxed package’
complaint amongst all three bikes here.
Unlike the Suzuki, both the Honda and Kawasaki come with fuel injection systems that, although a bit feisty in the case of the SX, are far more controlled. Yet both suffer also from vibration issues. Inline-fours generally aren’t that vibey, but both the Kawasaki and Suzuki, and to a lesser degree the Honda, made all of our testers’ fingers start to go numb at constant motorways speeds. As all three of these bikes have the potential to cover over 160 miles between fill-ups, and with their relaxed riding positions you can certainly achieve this, but quite quickly the vi- brations mean you are shaking numb hands back into life. On bikes that are designed to be used day-to-day, or in the case of the Z1000SX even taken touring, that’s not very good. But that wasn’t the only surprise, as we found out at the first fuel stop.
At constant motorways speed and a fair few miles of filtering, you would have expected the smaller-engined CBR’S fuel economy to suffer. But it didn’t. In fact, during the whole test the CBR averaged 20-30% better economy than the bigger bikes. Quite how it achieved this I’m not sure, but fair play to Honda, when they build a practical bike they certainly know how to get the basics right. It may feel a bit like an inflated 125 to ride as you sit perched up on the CBR and it is physically fairly small, but thanks to a light clutch, slick gearbox and oddly comfortable riding position, when it comes to churning out commuting miles it was more than a match for the bigger capacity machines both in town and on the motorways. But could it keep up when the traffic jams gave way to open corners?
Out and about
Real-world sportsbike riding doesn’t involve beautiful clear roads with smooth tarmac, it involves overtaking traffic and dealing with uneven surfaces, and that’s where the CBR’S limits start to show. The smallercapacity engine and gearbox needs to be thrashed to keep up with the bigger bore SX and FA, especially when it comes to making overtakes, while the Honda’s fairly budget suspension is obviously more aimed at comfort than sporting prowess.
It may feel the lightest of the bunch in terms of turning agility, but with no real suspension adjustment and soft settings, the CBR is the least sporty here and doesn’t do its race ancestry any justice at all. But with a price tag that is £3000 less than the other two, compromises have to be expected. So what is the £9999 GSX-S’S excuse?
The front end of the Suzuki, which is fully adjustable, is fairly good, but introduce a set of bumps to the rear shock and it all gets horribly harsh, jolting the rider out of the seat and ruining the ride quality. By comparison the Kawasaki’s suspension feels significantly plusher as the damping actually does its job of reducing the jolts while still keeping the chassis feeling nice and composed. If you didn’t know its heritage you would guess the SX was based around a sportsbike’s chassis as it feels very good in bends and isn’t actually that much of a compromise in terms of agility. True, when the roads smooth out the GSX-S1000FA can run it close, but once again the Suzuki’s engine does its best to ruin the party.
The FA’S motor may be based around the K5 GSX-R, but it has a totally different feel. When on the power it is actually a bit of a surprise just how fast it is and how strongly it pulls, easily keeping up with the Kawasaki, but the problems arise when you transition on and off the power due to the poor throttle connection. Where you can happily roll the power on and off on the Z1000SX, try this on the Suzuki and it chimes in too abruptly and quickly starts to aggravate, as it won’t let you relax or ride it smoothly. Again, this trait may suit the naked version of the bike, but it certainly doesn’t suit the half-faired’s supposed relaxed outlook on life. Add to this brakes that are muted in both their feel and power
‘If you didn’t know its heritage you would guess the SX was based around a sportsbike chassis’