First Ride: 2009 Kawasaki ER-6n

Tim Cummings fires back his first report on Kawasaki's funky new ER6



It’s the best unfaired budget middleweight, says Cummings

THE original ER-6n which appeared in 2005 wasn’t that different to this updated for ’09 version. The design team have made a significant number of changes which might appear fairly small but they’re well chosen, focussed effective and the result is bike’s significantly better.

TWO spoke to owners of the outgoing ER-6n. They had three main gripes about their bikes. First was vibration from the parallel twin engine. Second was the poor finish and lastly the chain adjusters which scratched the swing arm when used. Annoying stuff. Kawasaki have addressed and solved all these issues.

From an engineering point of view, cutting vibration was the biggest challenge. It’s a characteristic of a parallel twin engine and difficult to eliminate. The solution is simple but effective – rubber mounting. The frame (which has been completely redesigned) incorporates rubber mounts between itself and the engine, the bars are also rubber mounted and the footpegs have rubber inserts.
It works. There’s still a hint of thrum coming through the seat and tank area when you rev the bike fairly hard – about 7,000rpm upwards. It’s enough to let you know it’s a living, breathing engine but it’s not intrusive or problematic. Rubber mounting can make a bike feel more remote but that’s not the case here and the rider still has very immediate contact with the machine.

The weak finish has been addressed by using better quality paint and making the frame welds neater – simple and we hope effective. And new chain adjusters have been designed which shouldn’t scratch the (new) swing arm when used.

Engine wise there’s almost no changes between this and the outgoing model. The engine itself is completely unchanged. The exhaust is new as is the fuel injection mapping and ignition timing. The Kawasaki guys claim this helps reduce vibration slightly and midrange power is boosted slightly. They say they didn’t want more peak power as the current amount was enough and worked well with the chassis. To be fair, all that seems true. Some people will dismiss the ER-6n as a learner bike or a girl’s machine. That’s unfair. It’s just as quick as something like a BMW R1150GS and while it’s no track day rocket ship it’s got plenty of power for the road and handling and brakes to make the best of it.

The bike handles precisely and predictably, dropping smartly into turns and pinging swiftly out of them too. The engine’s really flexible considering it’s a mid capacity twin. It’ll even pull 30mph in top but give it some revs and it’s much, much faster. Pulling way from a stand still there’s that definite twin thrum and a healthy dollop of low rev torque to get you moving briskly with no effort. You kind of expect the power to wither and die after that but there’s a decent, useable if slightly anonymous midrange. Then there’s a zappy bust of teeth and claws when you take it from 7,000rpm to the 11,000 red line. When revved hard like that the exhaust note changes and the bike shows it’s got enough go to be an exciting ride for anyone, even those who’ve been riding for decades.
The only slight criticism is that it steers a little too fast and this robs it of some mid corner stability. It probably wouldn’t be an issue once you’re used to it but at first you notice it’s always slightly nervous feeling when leant over in a long, steady corner, unlike something heaftier with more conservative geometry like a 650 Bandit. But broadly speaking the ER-6n’s a little flier on tight twisty back roads. Brakes are progressive which keep it learner friendly and easy in the wet but squeeze harder and there’s plenty of power – more than enough to lift the back wheel if required. The gearbox is sweet and snickety-boo too.

Would we buy one? If we wanted a machine like this, yes. It’s the best unfaired budget middleweight road going twin by some margin. The biggest competitors at this price point come from Kawasaki’s own range. The 2009 ER-6f is about to be released. It’s almost identical to this ‘n’ model but it’s got a useful and foxy looking full fairing. Then there’s Kawasaki’s hybrid styled Versys which uses the same engine and gives a bigger bike feel for only a few hundred quid more. But the ER-6n is still a very strong contender. It’s designed to be learner friendly and it does a superb job of that. It’s hard to think of a better first big bike for a recent test graduate. The real bonus is it’s a machine they can grow with and keep for a while as, in the right circumstances, it’s more than capable of satisfying an expert palette too.

Specification

Price £4,499 (est) +£300 for ABS

Engine liquid cooled, 8 valve, parallel twin, 649cc

Power 71bhp @ 8,500rpm

Torque 49ftlb @ 7,000rpm

Front suspension 41mm telescopic fork

Rear suspension offset laydown single shock, preload adjustable

Front brake dual semi floating 300mm petal discs with twin piston calipers

Rear brake single 220mm petal disc, single piston caliper

Dry weight 177kg (est)

Seat height 785mm

Fuel capacity 15.5 litres

Top speed 130mph

Colours black, orange, white (all metallic)

Insurance group 10 (est)

TWO rating 4/5