The Four Horsemen - Kawasaki Z750, Suzuki Gladius, Honda Hornet, Yamaha XJ6

Small, light and available in a variety of colours and flavours, never before has the congested middleweight street bike market been so fruity

Dark times call for cost-conscious thrills, but are the new Yamaha XJ6 and Suzuki Gladius good enough to trouble the street bike establishment?

In fact, this test could have been a monster – all four Japanese manufacturers offer at least two in their line-up, while the European manufacturers delight in the popularity of this class with ranges to meet the needs of most riders’ tastes and budgets.

Triumph has the class-leading Street Triple R in its 2009 line up, but at £6,229 it's priced out of this test. Similarly the standard Street Triple and Ducati’s delectable 696 Monster take us over our £5,500 budget so they’re out too.

We very nearly included Kawasaki's recently revamped ER6-n as a natural competitor to the new Gladius. Priced to sell at just £4,409 it was tempting, but not nearly as tempting as the brutishly handsome Z750, a bike that promises huge performance at a small premium.

For a benchmark, we opted for the evergreen Honda CB600F Hornet, a bike that over the last couple of years has been transformed from something of a plain Jane into a proper little goer with the looks to match.

This year both Yamaha and Suzuki have launched new bikes, styled as keenly as they are priced and highly likely to upset the applecart, undercutting both the Kawasaki and the Honda by over £800.

The XJ6 sits alongside the very similar FZ6 in Yamaha’s range while the long awaited replacement for the popular SV650 has arrived in the boldly painted shape and form of the SFV650 Gladius.

With each of these new bikes priced within a pound of each other, we wanted to find out a few things. Like which is best, obviously, but also whether a category-within-a-category really exists. And finally, do we actually need budget versions of budget bikes?

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Kawasaki Z750

Handsome and fast - what's not to like?

There’s no replacement for displacement, a wise man once said. It's perhaps unsurprising then that in this kind of company, when it comes to out-and-out performance, with an extra 150 cubic centimetres up its Nikasil-plated sleeves, the Kawasaki Z750 feels absolutely ballistic.

For the first few miles on my short ride west to meet up with hired gun Bertie, I was convinced that this bike was going be so much better than all the others, that it was hardly worth bothering with the much longer ride on to Plymouth.

Within twenty minutes I'd pulled a half decent wheelie, jumped a humpback bridge and narrowly avoided certain death when a chap flat of cap and heavy of right boot in a Range Rover decided that he had the right of way and, that if I didn’t want to become his next bonnet ornament, then I’d best bally well find some grip in the hedgerow. The Zed instantly morphed into a large motocross bike and I survived with just a muddy boot to show for it. As twenty-minute rides go, a lot had happened and the Kawasaki had dealt with everything I’d thrown at it, or rather thrown it at.

But then Plymouth isn't 20 minutes from my house. By the time we’d reached Fleet services to meet up with features editor Hogan and ad man Andy, after lengthy stints on three motorways, my aching arms, stiff neck and numb arse were all thankful for the break and for the chance to pull rank and hand the keys over to someone else.

The riding position seems spot-on initially and, to be fair, for short rides on twisty roads it works quite well. The problem is the seat pad is far too much like a sportsbike's and with less weight on your wrists and more on your backside, you soon begin to feel it.

Like so many earlier Kawasakis it's not just the seat that’s hard; the rear shock is firm too. Once we'd escaped the mundane mix of dual carriageway and motorway and reached the undulating B-roads between Exeter and Plymouth via Dartmoor, the capacity advantage had all but disappeared as handling became an issue.

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It’s not that the Kawasaki handles particularly badly, and on smooth roads the firm suspension isn't a problem. But get a bit giddy on bumpier back roads and the Zed's lack of front-end feel along with a tendency for the rear to kick off the bumps is no match for the softer-sprung Honda or Suzuki, both of which simply let you get on with giggling into your neck-warmer with the throttle wide open as the suspension does what it's supposed to. Sure the Kawasaki's chassis has more to cope with thanks to a turbine smooth motor that belts out almost 100bhp, but when it comes to feel and stability, things could be a whole lot better – a real shame.

It’s not all bad news though. The motor, while slightly lacking in midrange, fuels sweetly and has a searing top end with a beautiful exhaust note to match. The gearbox is slick enough, the finish has been improved and no longer does the Z750 look like a cheaper alternative to the Z1000 – it's now very much a model in its own right.

It's the fastest bike here, arguably the best looking and costs no more than the Hornet. It kept me alive and even managed to keep Andy out of Axminster A&E when he decided not to 'wait here when red light shows' preferring instead to clatter straight through the impertinent metal sign before parking up incredibly neatly on the grass verge absolutely unscathed.

It would seem that the brutishly handsome Z750 is invincible. And yet still we all felt a little short-changed.


All prices include VAT


Front indicator assembly £28.46
Headlamp assembly £249.84
Radiator £425.45
Fuel tank £557.53
Front brake pads £78.15
Front footpeg £26.03
Front brake lever £32.21


First service, 500 miles £40
Interim service, 4000 miles £95
Major service, 8000 miles £225


Average MPG 34.84
Fuel cost per 6000 miles £1,486


Thirsty at just 35mpg, the big Z750 punishes you for having the most power. Over 6000 miles the Kawasaki will cost over £300 more than the others.

Similar Option

Kawasaki ER-6N: The cheeky twin

If you're after something a little less edgy, easier to ride and cheaper to run, then the ER-6N could be just the Kawasaki for you. A direct competitor to the Suzuki Gladius on paper, the recently revamped ER-6N has a character all of its own, feeling far less twin-like than the Suzuki and more like half an across-the-frame four which, to be fair, is exactly what is. If you  don’t need 100bhp or the low down grunt of a twin, then make sure the ER is on your list of bikes to try.

Hogan's Second Opinion


When I first rode the Z750 I didn't like it at all. I've ridden one a few times since and each time it just gets better and better. Granted if I owned one I would feel the need to soften the suspension off, but the point is I would own one, and very happily. The new paint is classy and draws attention, I love the way it generates power and I love the way that even a wheelie-dunce like me can hoik one up. The Kawasaki has real strengths and just needs time for them to surface. A quick test ride doesn’t do this bike any justice; take the plunge, buy one and you won’t regret it.

Suzuki SFV650 Gladius

New look, new name, same market-changing V-twin genius

Having been the lucky one to have been kicked out of the office and packed off to Fuerteventura last month for the launch of the Gladius, I was mindful that away from the sunshine, luxury hotel and billiard smooth mountain roads, the little Suzuki might not be as good as I remembered it, particularly in this kind of company.

Parked up next to the butch Z750, or even the stocky Hornet for that matter, the effeminate, svelte curves of the Gladius hide a full-bodied riding experience that can’t help but make you smile.

The riding position puts you right into the low scalloped seat, sitting you in the bike rather than perching you on it. This not only makes it very comfortable, it gives a low centre of gravity and the shorter rider (like me) the opportunity to get both feet firmly on the floor – like the XJ6, the Gladius should prove to be ideal for those lacking in experience, confidence or an impressive inside leg measurement.

If you’re biking on a budget then you’ll be pleased to know that the Suzuki is easily the most economical bike on test, though it's a fact masked by a tiny fuel tank and huge reserve range (4 litres or about 35 miles) that saw the fuel light come on after as few as 85 miles, so while you’ll use less fuel than your mates, you’ll be stopping a lot more.

Being a V-twin, it’s fair to expect a strong midrange and bottom end, and that’s exactly what you get, with a smooth delivery that's easy to master and utterly vibration-free. The new twin-spark heads and modifications to the cams and crankshaft have really worked to give the old SV motor a modern feel, smoothing out the power pulses without losing anything in the way of character.

What none of us expected however, was that despite giving away 28bhp to the Z750 and 23bhp to the Hornet, the Suzuki would have no problem stretching its legs and keeping up.

Somewhat surprisingly, Andy and John weren’t too keen on the Suzuki's handling. Bertie and I couldn’t really work out why until Andy told us that he felt as though the front wheel was 'edging round every imperfection on the road' while John just reckoned he felt a bit disconnected from what's going on. Personally, I love the way the Gladius steers, holds a line and changes direction.

The only thing I can put John and Andy's distrust down to is the sharpness of the front end – much of the bike was designed by the same guy that’s spent a lifetime working on the GSX-R range so perhaps unsurprisingly, the Gladius' handling errs on the side of sporty with a very direct front end compared to the more neutral and laid back feel of the other three. For my fairly aggressive riding style it's a match made in heaven, and the extra frontend feel simply made me want to ride faster as I felt I knew exactly what the front tyre was up to.

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The Suzuki is a well-balanced bike but there are elements that highlight the fact this is a bike that’s been built to a budget. The brakes are the worst on test, being only marginally bettered by the XJ6.

There's plenty of feel there but very little overall stopping power. If you're planning on riding the Suzuki quickly (trust me, you won’t be able to help yourself) then either get used to squeezing hard with all four fingers or budget for a brake upgrade.

But it still represents unbelievable value and if you’ve got four and a half grand to spend on a bike and can live with the metrosexual colour options, then I can’t think of any reason not to buy a Gladius. The SV was a huge sales success – its replacement should do the same.



All prices include VAT


Front indicator assembly £48.93
Headlamp assembly £231.15
Radiator £417.25
Fuel tank (plastic cover) £86.94
Fuel tank £460.44
Front brake pads £82.55
Footpeg assembly £18.50
Front brake lever £42.50


First service, 500 miles £69
Interim service, 4000 miles £130
Major service, 8000 miles £180


Average MPG 44.15
Fuel cost per 6000 miles £1,117


Economical in its miserly fuel consumption and low purchase price, the Gladius is ballpark on its servicing costs too.

Similar Option

Suzuki SV650S:

The faired favourite

With no faired version of the Gladius on offer (yet), Suzuki are to continue production of the deservedly popular SV650S. For just £500 more than the Gladius you get a slightly lower-spec motor offset by a full fairing – which has to be said, isn’t exactly attractive thanks to the additional fairings added last year. The half-faired originals are a much sharper looking option. Secondhand machines are plentiful. With £2500 you can take your pick.

Hogan's Second Opinion


I loved the SV650 and wanted to love the Gladius, but failed to gel with it. It's the handling that I didn't like, even though everyone else on the test did. The tyres felt great, but everything else felt wobbly and cheap. The brakes aren’t in keeping with the power either; a two-fingered squeeze turned into panic stricken handfuls on more than one occasion when playfully buzzing across the moors. I can't deny the little Suzuki made me smile, it’s a feelgood bike for sure, but I never jumped off it and thought, "Yeah, I’d have one of those", which was precisely the SV's strength. Regardless of your level of experience, the SV rocked.

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Honda CB600F

CBR600 powered Honda chassis genius for just £5300

Steve Davis had a lot to deal with in his heyday. Being very good at something, becoming almost machine-like in your consistency after a lifetime spent honing your skills, isn't always well received by the masses. Especially if those years of dedication mean there’s no charismatic, cheeky chappy to interview when the fat lady has sung and the crowd has long since departed. It’s all too easy to get tagged as boring.

Like Davis, Honda’s CB600F Hornet has become much more interesting with age. Where the old Hornet could have once been accused of being a little bland, even a touch sterile, now there’s an air of flamboyance, from the sexy sideswept downpipes through to the sharply styled headlamp cowl and seat unit. Just like our deadpan, carrot-topped friend, there’s a whole new sense of fun with the Hornet.

The CBR600-derived engine has evolved over the years into a bulletproof motor with few faults, but until just recently, not a great deal of character. Happily, since the 2007 revamp, it’s had a bit of personality injected into it, with an angry, terrier-like growl from the stubby exhaust and a wicked little kick to the power once the tacho needle hits 9,000rpm. There’s plenty of excitement in the higher reaches of the rev-range but, unlike the XJ6, there’s midrange too.

While the Hornet isn’t quite as quick as the Z750 in a straight line, the broad spread of power combined with near-perfect gearing makes the Hornet more than a match for the Kawasaki.

There’s a general ease-ofuse that comes built into the Honda as standard, from the thoughtful ergonomics of the switchgear through to a riding position that’s forgettable for all the right reasons – the fact that no one mentioned a Honda negative during the test speaks volumes. At the many fuel stops, there would invariably be someone bemoaning the Kawasaki's hard seat, scrabbling for earplugs to escape the din from the constantly screaming Yamaha or frantically gesticulating to the rest of the group to stop to fill the Suzuki's tiny fuel tank.

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But never a peep out of whoever was riding the Hornet. Everything about the Honda simply works. The handling is neutral and even though the latest breed of Dunlops fitted to the other three test bikes are without doubt the better tyre, the feel and feedback through the Honda’s chassis is hard to fault.

The powerful Nissin brakes have a real feeling of quality and the once universally hated Combined Braking System (CBS) works beautifully, especially in the wet where a light dab of rear brake can be used to settle the bike without upsetting the bike’s balance. Even the ABS was hard to notice until it mattered and it’s this Honda rightness and attention to every tiny detail that makes the Hornet such a complete motorcycle. It's a well-rounded package that should appeal to every kind of rider.



All prices include VAT


Front indicator assembly £34.71
Headlamp assembly £85.65
Radiator £365.34
Fuel tank £435.96
Front brake pads £42.92
Footpeg assembly £49.39
Front brake lever £29.81


First service, 600 miles £104
Interim service, 4000 miles £112.50
Major service, 8000 miles £135


Average MPG 41.54
Fuel cost per 6000 miles £1,184


Steep on the first service, the Hornet makes sense thereafter with good fuel economy, comparable parts prices and similar insurance premiums.

Similar Option

Honda CBF600: The budget option

Launched in 2004 as a budget alternative to the Hornet, the CBF600N is a no-nonsense, no frills machine. Over the last few years it’s proved extremely popular with despatch riders and for city types simply looking for a cheap and reliable means of transport. It is fairly well screwed together and serves a purpose, but as a weekend plaything it has all the charm and  personality of a Toyota Corolla. A safe choice for the new rider but ultimately a little dull and uninspiring.

Hogan's Second Opinion

CB600F Hornet

On the motorway it was comfortable, sipped fuel and happily chased the traffic at way over 100mph. On A-roads it was rock steady and punchy enough to make rapid progress and on battered B-roads it’s quite simply a brilliant bike, with a composure to its chassis that’s in a class of its own. It does everything so well that it’s tough to pinpoint exactly what makes it so good and equally hard to identify any weak points. I started to wonder if a loud pipe wouldn't spice the Honda up a little, but I think that would be missing the Honda's point completely. The only thing you need to add to this bike to make it great is unleaded.

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Yamaha XJ6

When is an FZ6 not an FZ6? When it's this...

The launch of this bike came as something as a surprise time. Of course, I can understand manufacturers wanting to appeal to new riders and I’ve even more empathy when it comes to providing the masses with cheap-but-capable bikes. But why supply us with two that are so similar?

When the FZ6 was launched in 2003 to replace the ageing FZS600 Fazer, there was an air of disappointment that the torquey Thundercat motor had been dropped in favour of the peaky, but ultimately cleaner, R6 engine. I was quite excited by the arrival of the XJ6, thinking here was Yamaha’s chance to put things right and to make a bike completely different to the peaky FZ6, to sacrifice a bit of top-end and throw in a bit of useful midrange.

But it seems that it’s a chance they haven’t taken. Bertie actually took some convincing it wasn't a 400 while I felt fairly sure some joker on his last shift at the Yamaha factory had fitted three extra head gaskets.

We both agreed that it was more than a bit 'all mouth and no action', with a motor that shouts and screams for attention without really doing a great deal other than making a lot of noise. That's not to say that it hasn't got any go in it, far from it, it's just that for a bike that’s supposed to be laid back and easy going, it only truly comes alive once it’s been thoroughly wound up.

It is an involving little bike though and while an active left foot and a keen right hand are absolutely vital to keep any of the other three bikes in sight, the XJ6 does work pretty well once it's singing, or rather, wailing like a banshee. The riding position is arguably the most comfortable (though the Gladius runs it very close) and for long stints in the saddle, it's pretty hard to fault.

Like the FZ6, the steering is light and the bike feels nimble making it an excellent choice if you’re seldom likely to leave the confines of town. In traffic it's one of the most maneuverable bikes out there with a super-tight turning circle and a low seat height on a par with the skinny Suzuki. For town riders and newbies, it's fair to say that Yamaha have succeeded in ticking off at least a couple of boxes in the XJ's list of must haves.

It’s softly sprung, too, so winding it on down the kind of roads that has the Kawasaki shaking its head and smacking your arse is another area where the XJ6 scores back a few points, though it has to be said, with such an asthmatic motor doing all the pedaling, Yamaha have been able to get away with making the suspension equally forgiving – a few more horses and the budget brakes and suspension would doubtless reach their limits.

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The XJ6 isn't a bad bike, and in isolation I’ve no doubt it'll make its owners very happy. The trouble is, for every weak point in the XJ6 lies a strength elsewhere. The Suzuki looks like good value where the Yamaha looks cheap, the Hornet has the kind of midrange the XJ can only dream about and the Z750 offers the raw excitement the Yamaha promises but quite simply fails to deliver.

Bertie summed up the FZ6 and its mild fug of disappointment best: "Funnily enough, the whole bike is a bit like me really. It looks good from a distance but get up close and you'll see it's pretty cheaply put together. And most disappointingly it show's lots of initial promise, but then simply makes a lot of noise and doesn't move very fast... uncanny." Bertie, we couldn't have put it better ourselves, mate.


All prices include VAT


Front indicator assembly £15.99
Headlamp assembly £171.98
Radiator £406.38
Fuel tank £618.82
Front brake pads £41.99
Footpeg assembly £27.83
Front brake lever £44.47


First service, 600 miles £75.00
Interim service, 4000miles £130
Major service, 8000 miles £180


Average MPG 39.39

Fuel cost per 6000 miles £1,248


Least powerful bike inexplicably not the most fuel efficient, and the parts prices are steep – £620 for a replacement fuel tank anyone?

Similar Option

Yamaha FZ6: The same difference?

If you can afford £4,499 for an XJ6, then you could probably find an extra £500 for an FZ6, which is essentially a faster, less plasticky version of the same. And even if you can’t, having been on the market since 2003, clean, low mileage examples are plentiful, ranging from around £2,600 for a    bike with 10,000 miles showing, up to around £3750 for a bike that’s barely run in with less than 2,000 miles on the clock. With numbers like these, an FZ6 is pretty tempting.

Hogan's Second Opinion


The little XJ handles really well, providing a confidence inspiring platform for the beginner or a buzzing underdog for the more experienced rider. It burbles and revs like a 750, handles like a 250 but unfortunately pulls like a 400 scooter – the lack of power really is noticeable, like you’ve left the handbrake on. That said, once wound up it kept pace with the faster bikes on this test easily thanks to a chassis that craves bendy bits. A couple of things let the XJ6 down for me. The brakes, though functional, were feeble. It's not that they lack feel, they’re just not very strong. The swingarm and forks looks cheap and it’s just a bit anonymous.

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The big question originally was whether or not a £4500 naked street bike is better value than a £5400 naked street bike. Fiercely contested by the manufacturers, and with the Europeans all crazy for small street bikes, there’s undoubtedly demand in this somewhat crowded sector.

You’ve no doubt heard the saying: "you get what you pay for", and having ridden the bikes over two days and well over 500 miles, I’d have to concede that there’s a certain truth in that.

The Kawasaki while fast and visually stunning, fails to deliver on a few fronts – there's a crudeness to it that’s almost endearing but it’s ultimately a flawed motorcycle which will, because of its extra capacity, cost more to insure than any of the other three. That said if you're 45, live in Spalding and only ride on smooth roads, then it might make you as happy as John Hogan. Personally, these are three things in life I’d rather not risk.

The Yamaha is almost a great bike. If it had just a bit more… no, actually, a lot more midrange power, then I could grow to love it. It looks cool, it handles okay and it's comfortable. But for me it’s all fur coat and no knickers and far too similar to the (much better) FZ6 to be worth a look in.

Which just leaves the Suzuki and the Honda. Pound for pound there's really very little in it. The little Gladius does everything well. It's easy to ride, it’s got a decent amount of midrange, it’s comfortable and though time will tell, it does seem to be pretty well screwed together. The small fuel tank is a bit of a let down though and the budget brakes feel weak.

And so we have our somewhat confusing answer. The £4500 Gladius represents outstanding value, but to my mind the excellent Hornet is worth every penny of the extra £800 asking price. For the role it's been given, it’s practically perfect. The riding position is spot-on, it handles, it goes and it stops. So is there a place for budget versions of budget bikes? Seems so.


Price: £5,341 (£5,684 with ABS)
Engine: 748cc, liquid-cooled, 16-valve inline four
Power: 96bhp @ 10,200rpm
Torque: 53lb.ft @ 8300rpm
Front suspension: USD, adjustable rebound and preload
Rear suspension: MONOSHOCK, 7-way adjustable preload only
Front brake: 300mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear bake: 250mm disc, single-piston caliper
Wet weight: 226kg (claimed)
Seat height: 815mm
Fuel capacity: 18.5 litres
Top speed: 135mph (est)
Colours: Green/Black, Black, Blue

Visordown rating: 3/5

Price: £4,500
Engine: 645cc, liquid-cooled, 8-valve V-twin
Power: 69bhp @ 8700rpm
Torque: @ 6500rpm
Front suspension: Telescopic forks, unadjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, adjustable for preload only
Front brake:  290m discs, twin-piston calipers
Rear brake: 240mm disc, single-piston caliper
Wet weight: 202kg (claimed)
Seat height: 785mm
Fuel capacity: 14.5 litres
Top speed: 130mph (est)
Colours: White/Pink, White/Blue, Black/Green

Visordown rating: 4/5

Price: £5339 (£5681 WITH ABS)
Engine: 599cc, liquid-cooled, 16-valve inline four
Power: 92bhp @ 12,200rpm
Torque: @ 8100rpm
Front suspension: USD, non-adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, 7-way adjustable preload only
Front brake: 296mm discs, three-piston calipers
Rear brake: 240mm disc, single-piston caliper
Dry weight: 177kg (claimed)
Seat height: 800mm
Fuel capacity: 19 litres
Top speed: 135mph (est)
Colours: White, Black, Silver, Blue, Gold

Visordown rating: 4/5

Price: £4499 (£5249 with ABS)
Engine: 600cc, liquid-cooled, 16-valve inline four
Power: 69bhp @ 8700rpm
Torque: 41lb.ft @ 8200rpm
Front suspension: RWU, non-adjustable
Rear suspension:  Monoshock, adjustable preload only
Front brake: 298mm discs, twin-piston calipers
Rear brake: 245mm disc, single-piston caliper
Wet weight: 205kg (claimed)
Seat height: 785mm
Fuel capacity: 17.3 litres
Top speed: 125mph (est)
Colours: Black, White, Yellow

Visordown rating: 2/5