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Cheap Thrills: 2003 Bargain Middleweights

She's clean, discrete, cheap, semi naked or starkers, it's up to you. She'll go all the way and is a great ride. Just call...

rgo's picture
By Jon Urry on Thu, 3 Jul 2003 - 04:07

Slightly less fun, but equally as important, five grand would also get you a secondhand, run of the mill car with a few miles on the clock. Thinking on the practical side £5000 is a year's rent for a single bedroom flat in a dodgy area of London, the average amount most of us spend on beer and food in a year and enough fuel to ride around the world twice at a steady 45mpg.

But best of all £5000 is also enough to get you any one of these five bikes. Which is real value for money in anyone's books. Although buying the wife a new set of gravity-defying comedy jugs runs a very close second...

Stand next to a set of traffic lights in any city and you are virtually guaranteed to see either a Fazer, Hornet, SV or Bandit pull up within a matter of minutes as not only couriers but also commuters beat the rush hour traffic chaos. Scooters may be great for short distance runs but if your ride involves motorways then it's the middleweight 600s that riders are turning to.

They really are the Jacks-of-all-trades combining the sporty handling of race reps with the lightweight and nimbleness of scooters and all with a comfortable riding position, protective screen and budget price tag thrown in for good measure. What more can you ask for?

Not a lot it seems if you look at the sales figures. Every year the top ten contains at least two of these models, often more. A testament to the old adage "give the public what they want and they will buy it."

It all started in 1995 when someone at Suzuki came up with the idea of making a no thrills, cheap commuter bike with a bit of character and reasonable handling. The GSX600F Bandit was launched and a year later followed by its half-faired brother the 'S' version. Learners, commuters, couriers and just about anyone who was looking for a cheap form of two-wheeled transport snapped up the bikes and it wasn't long until the other Japanese factories followed suit with Honda launching the Hornet and Yamaha the Fazer in 1998.

But by then Suzuki had another trick up its sleeve, the SV650. With the Bandit already stealing the jump on the other Japanese factories and now gathering a cult following Suzuki, obviously encouraged by its success, launched its killer blow. In 1999 the SV650 was unveiled and the rest as they say is history. Europe's best selling bike last year, over 17,000 sold the year before the SV has become firmly established as a top commuter tool and the perfect first 'big' bike.

And then there's the Ducati. The 620 Sport was launched this year as an alternative to the Monster 620ie for the rider who wants a bit more weather protection than the naked Monster offers as well as a slightly sportier edge. But what many riders will find appealing is that for the same price as the Japanese competition you can own a Ducati.

As these bikes are aimed at being all-rounders we decided to test them on a fairly comprehensive commuter route taking in central London congestion, dual carriageway miles and finally open country roads to test their handling. After all, this is the kind of route thousands of these bikes are doing everyday.

After only five minutes of riding I knew I had picked the wrong bike to start with. As the third speed-bump slapped the rock solid Ducati's seat against my well-padded but now becoming rapidly raw bum that I considered mugging one of the other riders at the next set of traffic lights and pinching the keys to another bike off them. If you commute on a 620 Sport then you are a harder man than me, or you just enjoy the slap of hard leather on you arse cheeks. Either way you're not right. The Sport is truly horrible to take anywhere near traffic. The suspension is set incredibly firm and every pothole and bump in the road is transmitted with what feels like no damping at all straight to you bum and wrists. And speaking of wrists, the riding position feels exactly the same as a 999 superbike with the very low-set clip-ons feeling as though they are aimed at a 45-degree angle downwards. It's about as suited to comfort as cinema seats.

In comparison the Bandit feels like a sofa. Its seat is easily the comfiest of the five bikes with its high bars putting you in a very relaxed upright riding position with a good view over the top of cars ahead. It's similar with the Fazer, but the distance between the Yamaha's bars and your body mean that you aren't quite as relaxed as you are on the Bandit. The SV also suffers a slight touch of the Ducati when riding through town, but its suspension makes for a far easier ride. Suzuki has given riders a choice with the SV so if you want a slightly less racier and cramped riding position there is the naked version with its flatter bars but then you have the problem of wind-protection on the motorway. The 'S' isn't that bad through town, it's just that the Bandit, Fazer and Hornet with their upright riding positions are better.

Continue the Bargain Middleweight Test

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