Milking Cowes - Hornet 600, Z750, Fazer 600, Street Triple R

Middleweight streetbikes get hammered round a lap of the Isle of Wight, the island made famous by the Regatta and Level 42

“Isle of Wight? Pile of Shite more like.” For a caustic response to an idea by one member of the Visordown staff, this one was not only surprisingly eloquent, it was also direct and to the point. When I mentioned the idea of spending a day on the island famous for, err, dinosaurs and Level 42 the reaction was lukewarm to say the very least.

“The Isle of Wight is where people went in the 1970s before Majorca and cheap flights were invented,” features editor Hogan continued, before being backed up by another member of staff who claimed to have flown over the island in his aeroplane and seen nothing of any interest whatsoever, apart from a lighthouse that looked a bit tatty and a bunch of hippies at a festival.

Things were getting desperate, and faced with the choice of either a slog up the motorway to Liverpool to explore the ‘city of culture’ (is it a coincidence that the word ‘culture’ is also used to describe a petri dish containing a germ population?) or a ferry ride and a day out in Cowes, I knew I had to pull out my trump card.

“There is loads of cool stuff on the island,” I said, desperately trying to come up with one of them, “it has the UK’s best fish and chip shop and a garlic farm.” Okay, I admit at this point I was clutching at straws, as the laughter in the room confirmed, but you know when your mouth says something before your brain has actually had time to catch up...

The truth of the matter was, however, that just two weekends before I had spent a miserable two days in a caravan (don’t ask) on the island during which time it had only stopped raining for a brief period, just long enough for me to empty a container of dirty water and pour half of it over my already soggy foot. But despite all the wetness the island showed glimpses of fun and I was sure we would have a good time. It also, from what I could see through the water on my car’s windscreen and the dense mist, had some beautiful scenery and fairly decent, if more than a little bumpy, roads.

For our trip we rounded up the three best streetbike middleweights, and one of the very first Triumph Street Triple Rs to leave the factory gates. nothing has changed on Yamaha’s Fazer 600, Kawasaki’s Z750 or Honda’s Hornet 600 for 2009, but Triumph has capitalised on the success of the Street Triple and created the R version for next year. To all intents and purposes it is the same as the stocker, but for £500 extra you get the fully adjustable suspension from the Daytona 675, radial brakes, a funky two-tone seat and a set of chunkier bars. Oh, and a slightly odd feeling matt paint scheme in either orange or grey. We had grey, because Triumph hasn’t yet made a run of orange ones. Beggars can’t be choosers.

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Our first port of call was the famous needles, and seeing as how the Isle of Wight appears to basically have one road that loops around the island we followed it towards the far west. at this point we had all had a bit of a swap around on the bikes and there was one that was causing the most conversation, for a number of reasons. From the moment we parked the Fazer 600 next to the competition it looked dated.

The argument on looks continued to rage throughout the day as to whether the Z750 is all plasticky or cool and the Hornet ugly or funky, but the two things there were unanimously agreed on was that the Triumph looked great, and the Fazer horrible. To be fair to the Yamaha it does fill a slightly different remit to the other bikes here, the naked FZ6 is slightly more akin to the Triumph, but the Hornet and Z750 have attempts at mini-fairings and are targeted at commuters as well. But on looks alone it soon became the bike whose keys remained on the table while the others were greedily snapped up.

The problem with the Fazer was that you had to get in to the right mindset to reap its full benefits. Where on the Hornet, Z and Triumph you can simply hop on and have fun, the Fazer is different. Initially the horrible clutch and clunky gearbox put you off, then the lack of bottom end is annoying at low revs as the engine feels strangled. “It’s like sucking on a fag with a hole in it,” said John Hogan, while sucking on a fag. But put yourself in the mind of a commuter and the Fazer starts to make sense.

Compared to all the rest the Fazer is totally un-intimidating. You simply couldn’t accidentally scare yourself on a Fazer, well unless you happened to catch an unsuspected glance of it in a shop’s window. For a new rider or commuter this makes for a very easy ride. If you simply want to get from a to B every day of the week with minimal fuss the Fazer does it best. as standard it has a centre stand to assist with chain lubing, excellent mirrors, pillion grab rails, a very relaxed and comfortable riding position and a tank range in excess of 160 miles. all very commendable features, but ones that initially make the bike feel ‘worthy’ rather than exciting like the rest, it’s only when you get the engine spinning that the Fazer comes alive. and this takes some work.

Nail the Yamaha through the gears and it’s fast, it’s just a shame all the power is at the top end, not exactly the ideal spot for a commuter bike. Get it singing and start attacking a few corners and the very compliant chassis starts to show its head. This bike can handle, despite what it looks like. The chassis is stiff, suspension fairly sorted considering its budget price and brakes very strong. What a shame yamaha didn’t manage to get the engine tune right when they wedged the old R6 engine in this chassis, a better bottom end and they would have an excellent commuter. Hang on a second, isn’t that just what they have done with the new Diversion.

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The thing is, with these bikes it’s all about the engine. Small capacity machines highlight a motor’s drawbacks, but by the same token they also accentuate its plus-points. Which is where the Hornet shines. Despite its 600cc capacity the Honda doesn’t feel like it’s losing out too much to the bigger Z750 or 675 Triumph. Where the Fazer feels breathless low down the Hornet pulls strongly from the very bottom of the rev-range. a trait of the modern Honda engines is an almost turbine-like smoothness.

It’s very apparent in the CB1000R and new Fireblade but the Hornet also has a feeling of it, just in a smaller measure. On the fairly heavily policed and speed restricted roads that lead from newport to yarmouth the Hornet didn’t require a flurry of gear changing all the time, instead it delivered a smooth and refined ride with none of the old Hornet tingle of vibrations from the bars. The peanut petrol tank, however, remains and only a paltry 110 miles until reserve can be achieved.

Once clear of the towns the Hornet once again delivers on the open roads. Despite the rough roads it refuses to get upset and produces a very neutral handling ride that is certainly sportier than it would first appear. Even the ABS proved itself to be fairly unobtrusive, and certainly not a bad point, which isn’t a comment I often make on ABS systems.

Much of my memories of the Isle of Wight involve childhood holidays there with my parents, and as such the amusement park at the needles was a place of wonder, full of flashing lights and noisy arcade machines. Unfortunately it looks like time has stood still and now the halls are filled with what can only be described as an elephant’s graveyard for old machines. “It looks like arcade machines from all over the UK have dragged themselves here to die,” said Hogan. So we dragged him off to fill a plastic elephant for his kids full of alum Bay sand. If you don’t know, or care, this area is known for a variety of different coloured sands, which the locals collect and stick in containers making up pretty patterns. all very good fun if you are five, and quite entertaining if you are nearer 30.

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Sand stature completed we headed down the coast, through Freshwater and on towards Ventnor. This section is basically the only part of the Isle of Wight you can ride on and have a proper laugh. It’s open, not under a 50mph limit, and the road surface seems to have escaped whatever series of bombs hit the rest of the island. In a fortuitous move I managed to bag the Street Triple-R for this part and was loving it.

I know John Cantlie accuses me of being on Triumph’s pay role because I’m always going on about how good the Street Triple is, but the simple fact is that’s because it’s brilliant. yes it has a shit steering lock, yes it’s missing a fuel gauge but is there really anything else to pick faults with on this bike? I can’t find them. Handling-wise the R is, if you excuse the pun, streets ahead of the rest. It feels like a sportsbike, because with its new suspension and brakes matched to the chassis, which has already been stolen from the 675 sportsbike, it is now one.

The R takes the already superbly agile Street Triple and adds another dimension of feel, security and feedback from a set of suspension that is excellently set-up for road use. Some might find the new brakes a bit of an over-kill, but this is a bike aimed at people who have had their fill of sports 600 and want a bike that handles, stops, can go on a trackday and still commute everyday in total comfort. Can it do all the above? I reckon so. Check out my race story on page 60 for confirmation of its track ability and having completed over 8,000 miles on mine I can vouch for its everyday usability.

Obviously the Fazer 600 with its fairing is far better for motorway miles, but you can still stick at a happy 80mph on the Triumph with the addition of a small fly screen. What’s the key to the Triumph’s charm? I reckon it’s the engine. The triple delivers smooth torque as well as top end power with out the need to up the capacity. It is as hassle free to use as the Honda, while has the mid-range drive of the Kawasaki, making it the ideal compromise.

Having reached the halfway point we decided to pop quickly into the Dinosaur Farm before stopping at Shanklin for a quick pasty. apparently the Isle of Wight is a hotspot for archaeologists due to the fact that at some point in its history its climate was hot and sunny. If you like old bones then this is the place to be. But our band wasn’t that keen on old relics, we had Jim to poke at for that, so we carried on.

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Unfortunately at this point I got distracted by a large plastic dinosaur and returned to the bikes to find I had been left with the Z750s key. not a great drama, I thought, although I was slightly surprised to find out it wasn’t the Fazer. Well, until I approached the first corner. There is something very wrong with the Z’s handling. It feels as though it is about a foot too low at the back, making the front end vague and slow to turn. you have to force it into corners, and keep pressure on the bars to make it hold a line. The riding position feels like you are thrown forward and should be putting loads of weight on the front wheel, but the handing suggests otherwise. It’s almost as if it had a flat front tyre (it didn’t) and was disappointing, especially as the rest of the bike is so good.

Jim loved the styling of the Z, declaring it far prettier than the Hornet, while we all loved its engine. Cheating it may be, but who cares? The 750cc motor is lovely to ride, and if, as used to be the case, the Z falls into the same insurance category as the rest of the 600s does it matter? With the extra 150cc capacity the Kawasaki has real mid-range punch and a screaming top end. This does bring its own drawbacks, the Z750 feels heavier than the rest of the bikes, which may put off new riders, but the more experienced will enjoy the extra power available. What they won’t like, however, is the seat, which is hard and unforgiving, especially compared to the plush Honda and Fazer.

Heading out of Sandown we cut left towards newport for the real reason we came to the island: the garlic farm and fish and chips. Having received more than my fair share of ribbing over my infatuation with the garlic farm I was more than please to see Jim devouring more samples than is decent and leaving the shop with his arms full of ‘Vampire’s revenge’ chutney and the like. Personally I restrained myself to one jar of organic garlic mayo while Hogan confessed a hatred of garlic and Barry claimed he had a date that night and didn’t want to partake. a weak excuse, I mean, what kind of a girl wouldn’t take a shine to a man stinking of garlic?

Keen to keep my mayo chilled we hastened to newport and parked up in a square opposite Oggies fish and chips. With a large order secured we pulled up a table in the early evening sun and watched the local’s startled reaction to our bikes. I’m not sure if they were expecting knights complete with jousting sticks to appear but they certainly treated our metal steeds with caution and a degree of suspicion and fear. Some braved a few photos, but the rest were simply content staring and mumbling about the devil.

As with Triumph I’m not on Oggies pay role, but their fish and chips are the best I’ve ever eaten and would recommend a trip over to the island to sample them, especially when combined with garlic mayo. The staff might be a bit odd, but they sure as hell can batter a decent cod and fry a mean chip.

With the evening drawing in we schlepped onwards. We had completed most of a lap of the island, but really needed to head to Ryde to complete our mission. Despite pointing out that if we hung about for another few hours the speedway would start at Ryde, there was mutiny in the ranks. I was outnumbered and out-gunned, so we headed back to the ferry port and the sanctuary of the mainland. Or “abroad” as the locals call it.

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Keen to avoid a backlash like the time I mentioned Spain smelt of dirty baby nappies I would like to point out that we all had a great day out on the Isle of Wight. no, really it is. The dinosaur museum wasn’t up to much, it’s true, but the rest (especially Cowes) is pretty good. as for the bikes, the somewhat obvious winner is the Triumph. The R takes the superb Street Triple and improves on it. It’s not faultless, but when you get on the bike is doesn’t fail to deliver. It’s a charming, characterful, machine that is a total gem.

The Fazer is almost a good bike. One of our number commented on the Fazer “if you haven’t ridden any other bike you will think the Yamaha is the best bike in the world.” For a commuter who wants non-intimidating transport the Fazer is good, but he will probably shit himself the one, and only, time he opens the throttle and hits that rapid top end.

Honda’s Hornet does what you would expect, hits the nail on the head but does it in a very refined fashion. Hornets can be made to fly, the handling is all there, and this latest generation has a beautifully smooth motor to back it up. If you don’t want to buy British, then it’s the Hornet every time.

When the Z750 was first launched it was the one to beat, but this second generation has let it slip. The looks are subjective, the handling isn’t. It can be fixed, but it will take fiddling. The engine is still a beauty, but there is more to a bike than a big motor. It’s hard to argue with the amount of bike you get for your money, but it seems odd that the move to u/d forks has actually made it a little worse than before.


Honda Hornet 600

Price: £5,453 (ABS £5,803)
Engine: 599cc, lIquId-cooled, 16-valve inline four
Power: 89bhp @ 12,300rpm.
Torque: 39 lb.ft @ 10,600rpm
Front suspension: 41mm non-adj
Rear suspension: monoshock, preload adj
Front brake: 296mm discs, four-piston calipers          
Rear brake: 240mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 173kg (claimed)
Seat height: 800mm
Fuel capacity: 19 litres
Top speed: 145mph
Colours: Black, Silver, Gold, Blue
Visordown rating: 4/5

Kawasaki Z750

Price: £5,445 (ABS £5,795)
Engine: 748cc, liquid-cooled, 16-valve inline four
Power: 90bhp @ 9,900rpm.
Torque: 52 lb.ft @ 8,000rpm
Front suspension: 41mm adj preload
Rear suspension: monoshock, preload and rebound adjustable
Front brake: 300mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 250mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 203kg (claimed)
Seat height: 815mm
Fuel capacity: 18.5 litres
Top speed: 153mph          
Colours: Green, Black
Visordown rating: 3/5

Yamaha Fazer 600

Price: £5,299 (ABS £5,599)
Engine: 599cc, liquId-cooled, 16-valve inline four
Power: 86bhp @ 11,700rpm.
Torque: 42 lb.ft @ 9,700rpm
Front suspension: 41mm non-adj
Rear suspension: monoshock, preload adjustable
Front brake: 298mm discs, four-piston calipers          
Rear brake: 245mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 180kg (claimed)
Seat height: 820mm
Fuel capacity: 19 litres
Top speed: 140mph
Colours: Black, Blue, Silver
Visordown rating: 2/5

Triumph Street Triiple R

Price: £6,099
Engine: 675cc, liquid-cooled, 12-valve inline triple
Power: 107bhp @ 11,700rpm.
Torque: 51 lb.ft @ 9,100rpm
Front suspension: USD 41mm fully-adjustable
Rear suspension: monoshock fully-adjustable
Front brake: 308mm discs, four-piston calipers          
Rear brake: 220mm disc, one-piston caliper
Dry weight: 167kg (claimed)
Seat height: 805mm
Fuel capacity: 17.4 litres
Top speed: 139mph
Colours: Matt Orange, Matt Grey
Visordown rating: 5/5