Five middleweights and a bunch of lightweights head off for the perfect pint of real ale in the UK's best pub.
SIT DOWN, THIS next sentence may come as a bit of a shock: the traditional British pub is facing extinction. Sorry to break the news, but it's a reality. No more pork scratchings, no more real ale, no more open fires and no more landlords who greet you by name (even if it's the wrong one).
According to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) the traditional British boozer is dying out at a rate of 26 pubs a month. In the countryside, out of the 7000 locals, a terrifying six are closing every week. For the first time since the Norman conquest more than half the villages in England are now dry.
So, keen to make the most of things while the traditional pub still exists, an intrepid band from TWO set out in the watery sun on five middleweights to lay hops at the altar of the great beer god and visit the best pub in Britain: the Fat Cat in Norwich.
Rather than endure an encroaching winter's worst on outright nakeds we opted for semi-faired or token fly-screened options, so that gave us Yamaha's FZ6 Fazer, Honda's Hornet, a Suzuki SV650 S and two new Kawasakis -the ER-6n and Z750S.
Our test route kicked off with a bracing 100 motorway miles before we cut across the rump of Norfolk and the Fens by back road, followed by a run into Norwich Central. In other words, exactly what these bikes should be capable of. So with full tanks we set off, braving the elements in search of a decent pint or seven, some nibbles and a roaring fire.
It's funny, but with this style of bike you can usually predict to within a few miles when the fuel light will come on. Having never ridden an ER-6n before, I guessed at 110 miles before the yellow fuel light would glow in its slightly cheap-looking dash. As it turned out, the trip counter was showing '106' when the light came on. Close enough, and not before time. Although the little Kwak was impressive on the motorway, easily holding 80-90mph with that strange half-fairing providing a fair amount of wind protection, the effects of over an hour in the icy wind were taking hold. And, judging by the group shivering and calls for coffee at the services, I wasn't alone.
"The Hornet is remarkably civilised on the motorway," reckoned Wozza. "Having ridden a ZRX1200 all year I may just be getting used to not having a fairing, but the small clock cover is surprisingly effective."
SV-mounted Stuart professed to prefering a more upright riding position for covering distance, "but the Suzuki wasn't uncomfortable," he said. "The fairing works well and the motor's punchy. Which was useful because my more 'measured' approach to overtaking, as opposed to the borderline suicidal undertakes the rest of you were doing, meant I was playing catch-up a lot."
But Yamaha's Fazer got the nod for motorway mile munching. "The seat and riding position is comfortable and the screen works," said Steve. "I've got over a quarter of a tank of fuel l eft and my bad back is fine."
Right at that moment Bertie arrived on the Z750S, diverting our attention away from analysis of Steve's crumbling skeleton.
"It's cold but I really enjoyed that ride," he said. "It's a good bike that 750S - up to a point. The mirrors are well-positioned but they buzz, so you can't see anything in them over 80mph, and the seating position pushes on your nuts. Nice engine, but what's going on with the clocks? Even the ER-6n has a digital speedo."
That's a bit hard on the Z50S. These are all budget bikes, built to a price. You don't get frills such as multi-adjustable suspension, the Z750S only has analogue clocks and the ER and SV are lacking fuel gauges. But all of these bikes have practical features such as pillion grab rails and bungee hooks, as well as stylish-to-funky looks fitted as standard. As the newest of the lot, the ER-6n drew the most comments for its unique appearance, admittedly not all of them flattering. Bertie likened it to a 1980s two-tone Toyota Corolla, while Stuart thought it looked like, "an ER-5 that's been given a make-over by Colin and Justin." But its looks do grow on you, and after riding the bike you can't help but be drawn to it.
Click here for page two of the middleweight naked review.
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