Welcome to a world of high tea, cucumber sandwiches, and screaming petrol engines as the naked middleweights tear into...
There's something wonderfully British about the Goodwood Estate. It's the kind of haven of eccentricity that can only ever exist within the glorious boundaries of the British Isles. Within its 12,000 acres it boast two golf courses, a horse race track, a flying club, farm and most importantly, a racetrack.
This estate really is every schoolboy's dream, and luckily Lord March, who manages it, is a right petrol head. Goodwood hosts one of the most unique motor racing events on the calendar. Forget MotoGP, forget WSB, if you want a truly unique day out with a dazzling array of four and two wheeled machinery head to 'Glorious Goodwood' and its Festival of Speed.
For those new to this event, check out the preview after this test but for those who are a bit impatient let me explain. Basically loads of amazing cars and bikes charge up Lord March's drive in front of around 150,000 spectators in a celebration of all things based on the wonder of the internal combustion engine.
It's not a race, it's a demonstration, but everyone still gives it the berries from the off, usually in virtually priceless classic racing vehicles. How quintessentially British.
So what were we doing there?
Well, the hill climb course offers a great mini-track to test the latest generation of naked middleweights while the roads around the Sussex Downs are fantastic for a group ride out. Also, and let's be truthful here, when a Lord of the realm invites you to thrash a few bikes up and down his drive you can't really say no, can you? Exactly.
So Niall, John Hogan, Evil Jim - fingers freshly glued back together after a ZX-10R incident (see the 1000s group test) - and myself rolled into the Goodwood Estate on the latest mid-sized fairing-free tools to see what they were made of.As soon as we arrived it became apparent that both these bikes and our coloured leather jackets were out of place in the tranquil green surroundings of Goodwood.
Not only had Niall forgotten to wear his cravat but also the modern styling of the bikes clashed against the historic surroundings. Goodwood is used to seeing classic race fairings, not the quirky lines of the Z750.But lines are what these bikes are all about.
The Japanese are always prepared to push out the styling boat when it comes to naked middleweights because the target audience are young, vibrant trendsetters who like to create an impact. Also with each so evenly matched on price, styling can be the deciding factor when it comes to a sale.
Which explains why Kawasaki has gone even more over the top with the '07 Z750, Honda has looked for Italian flair with its new Hornet, Yamaha has made the FZ6 more aggressive with funky graphics and wheel tape and Suzuki, well the GSR is unchanged for 2007, but it still looks new and fresh.
But as well as styling there's also another trend with the naked middleweights - using a re-tuned sports bike engine. These bikes, with the exception of the Z750, can all trace their engine roots back to a supersports 600s, which is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because the 600cc sports bike market is so fiercely contended the engines are at the very cutting-edge of design, a curse because they are usually rev-happy frenzied monsters.
However this year Honda bucked the trend with its CBR600RR. The latest generation has a very impressive mid-range, something we discovered to our surprise in last months 600s group test, and this trait has been passed on to the new Hornet. Unlike Hornets of old this one won't vibrate your eyeballs out at 70mph and while it still has a slight tingle, just to remind you it's a Hornet, it's nowhere near as intrusive. There's a surprising amount of bottom end power too.
Last year the Z750 was head and shoulders above the competition when it came to low and mid-range power thanks to its larger motor. The extra 150cc it offered over the dated old Hornet's engine and FZ6's re-tuned racer motor was clearly noticeable and made the Kawasaki a much better day-to-day machine. Now, despite keeping the same capacity, Honda's actually made its Hornet feel almost as powerful.
It's most noticeable in the higher gears. Overtaking a car at 70-odd mph on the Hornet no longer requires dropping a few gears to get the revs up, now it simply involves opening the throttle and letting the bike do the work. Like the CBR600 the power delivery is very linear and doesn't have any point in the revs where it decides to take off, building steadily to max power instead, which is why it feels like the Z750.
The beauty of a 750 compared to a 600 one is the extra torque that comes with the capacity hike. As these bikes are generally used on a daily basis the extra practicality and ease of riding that comes with a strong mid-range is vital. There's no fun having to continually change up and down gears as you overtake the rush hour traffic, it's unnecessary extra hassle. Kawasaki, by bucking the 600cc trend of middleweights, negated this whole problem.
Even compared to the new Hornet the restyled Z is still the middleweight king when it comes to engines. Although Kawasaki has meddled slightly with the engine it still keeps its strong and smooth power throughout the range with a good, non-jerky, throttle response. Because the Hornet has closed the gap so much between the engines though, it's easy to think the Kawasaki has lost a bit of bottom end, but hop on the Yamaha and you instantly realise it hasn't, it's just the competition has caught up.
I admit I'm not a huge fan of the new-style Fazers. I've always found them too revvy, harsh and generally hard work to ride, so I was interested to see if the updated FZ6 would be any better.
Well, the Yam doesn't get off to a good start. I know this is a small thing but it really wound me up. The clutch cable runs right over the ignition lock, which means to get the key in and out you have to push the cable out of the way. If I owned an FZ6 this would drive me bananas and I can't believe Yamaha has let a bike out with such a stupid design fault. Rant over, onto the rest of the bike.
For me the FZ6 has always been the better of the two Fazers because its aggressive styling suited the character of the engine and chassis. Fazers of old were gentle, smooth and softly sprung bikes, which is why they won so many commuting fans. The new style of Fazer isn't like this. Tightening EU emissions laws forced Yamaha to stop using the old Thundercat engine and to re-tune the R6 motor instead for the new underseat piped Fazers. Which, in my opinion, is where most of the FZ6's problem come from.
Continue the 750cc naked test - 2/2
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