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Road Test: FZ6 v Z750S v SV650S v ER-6N v Hornet

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 left 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.

"It's a revelation," said Bertie, after we left the motorway and took the back roads to Norwich. "It's got a really willing motor that can top out at 120mph. I managed 112 going uphill, which isn't bad considering I'm not aerodynamic. What a fantastic first bike and an excellent successor to the ER-5, which I thought was a cracking little tool. A bit like mine, although the wife will argue that."

Everyone who rode the ER-6n was similarly taken. There's nothing about it that stands out as being particularly excellent, it's just a well-balanced package. The motor is smooth and has enough grunt to handle fast motorway speeds or gear-swapping back roads and the suspension is set to deliver a soft ride while still handling sportily. Hit a bump hard though, and the budget shock will catapault you out of the seat, but for most of the time it's fine, especially so considering the bike's target market - the newer or female rider and those who will appreciate a low seat, friendly motor, cool looks and ease of use. If this leaves some of your boxes unticked - like more power and better weather protection - then Kawasaki also has the Z750.

Middleweights tend to be bought by practical riders who want to buy and run the bike on a budget but use it a lot. The Z750's size means it's more expensive to buy as well as being in a higher insurance category. Early Z750 sales were slow relative to the SV650, Hornet and Fazer until Kawasaki started offering sweeteners such as finance deals. That's a shame, because out of the five bikes here the Z750S offers the best in the way of practical day-to-day potential.

Apart from the shape of the seat, which slopes too steeply forward and thrusts your groin into the tank no matter how you contort yourself, the 750S offers everything a commuter could need. The engine has a good spread of power along with a light clutch for town work, the fairing is effective, the mirrors okay (below 80mph) and it even has a decent steering lock. But, if these things bother you, you might find it lacking in character and the fairing looks rather staid. Although he couldn't fault it, Wozza spent much of the day complaining that the Z750S didn't flick his switches - an accusation often levelled at bikes such as Honda's VFR800 or the BMW GSs that are actually very practical.

You could never say the SV650S lacks character. There's something very appealing about this, the bike that likes to pretend it's really rather sensible. The motor doesn't feel that fast or intimidating, but it can still hold the rest of the 600s in sight with ease. The chassis doesn't feel hugely sporty, but push on a bit and the SV just gets better and better and, although the riding position errs towards the race-rep side of things, it's still comfortable. If you want the SV650 to be a gentle, relaxed starter bike it will be; if you want to play, it's happy to oblige.

"People say these are long in the tooth but I disagree," said Bertie. "The motor still impresses, this year's black frame and swingarm make it joint 'top looker' with the Hornet, and in this company it feels like a sportsbike." Speaking of which, what's Yamaha been playing at with the Fazer? I'm not a huge fan of the new (a couple of years ago) style Fazer, but I kept my opinions to myself to see what the others made of it. My main issue is with the engine which, with all its power shoved towards the top end of the rev range, simply doesn't suit this style of bike. The ride can be a bit harsh too, but it handles well and is comfortable at motorway speeds. It also looks better than the old Fazer. Emissions laws forced Yamaha to drop the old carb-fed Thundercat engine when it redesigned the bike for 2004, but the R6-derived motor in place now needs to be well into the upper echelons of its rev range before it delivers.

"The Fazer comes as a real disappointment," said Bertie, who used to own one of the older models. "It looks good and is moderately practical, but it's less than the sum of its parts. The motor is buzzy, uninspiring and a little lacklustre. The old model had better brakes, a more flexible motor and was more of a do-it-all bike." But it was also a touch heavier and didn't handle as well. For its shortcomings the Fazer remains stylish, good at covering the miles, has a healthy 160-plus mile range and is nimble around town.

But the general consensus? Nice bike, wrong motor. Yet Honda uses a former sportsbike motor in its Hornet (from the last of the line of CV-carbed CBR600s), and there it feels good.

"I've never been a fan of the Hornet," said Bertie, "but I'm impressed with this one. The engine feels almost as strong as the Z750's."

Stuart agreed there was a definite sense of occasion when cracking the throttle. "It's more exciting than the Fazer, and compared with my own '02 Hornet it feels free revving and more refined. It's not a massive difference, but enough to make it a nicer ride."

'Nice' is a word loaded with the damnations of faint praise, but it applies to the Hornet in the most positive way. It fits nearly everyone like a well-worn shoe from the moment you sit in the saddle, and is instantly immensely usable. Sensible, sporty, easy to ride and supremely well put together, too. In the Hornet Honda has given an old CBR engine new character and a new lease of life, and thrown in enough in the way of trick bits to make it stand out. I'd even go so far as to say Honda has hit the nail on the head while Yamaha is nursing a bruised thumb.

In order of preference then, if not a definitive conclusion, it went something like this: Fazer bottom of the list - right bike, wrong motor - with the Z750 next, if only for its nasty sloping seat. Next the impressive ER-6n, and finally the slick Hornet vying with the unchanged but still effective SV650 for top honours.

By five o'clock it was time to stash the bikes at our hotel and seek warmth and solace in the Fat Cat where we started working through the compendious selection of booze. Bertie had a thirst like Keith Floyd while Wozza, after a brief foray into a 12% proof Belgian brew, stuck to bottled lager like the precious media tart he is. Stuart ordered a poncey-looking £4-a-pint weissbier.

A professional might have brought a notebook to record our thoughts. Sadly, I didn't, so I leave you with Boozyy Bob's words of wisdom:

"Come on lads, let's get pissed!"

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.

Verdict

"It's a revelation," said Bertie, after we left the motorway and took the back roads to Norwich. "It's got a really willing motor that can top out at 120mph. I managed 112 going uphill, which isn't bad considering I'm not aerodynamic. What a fantastic first bike and an excellent successor to the ER-5, which I thought was a cracking little tool. A bit like mine, although the wife will argue that."

Everyone who rode the ER-6n was similarly taken. There's nothing about it that stands out as being particularly excellent, it's just a well-balanced package. The motor is smooth and has enough grunt to handle fast motorway speeds or gear-swapping back roads and the suspension is set to deliver a soft ride while still handling sportily. Hit a bump hard though, and the budget shock will catapault you out of the seat, but for most of the time it's fine, especially so considering the bike's target market - the newer or female rider and those who will appreciate a low seat, friendly motor, cool looks and ease of use. If this leaves some of your boxes unticked - like more power and better weather protection - then Kawasaki also has the Z750.

Middleweights tend to be bought by practical riders who want to buy and run the bike on a budget but use it a lot. The Z750's size means it's more expensive to buy as well as being in a higher insurance category. Early Z750 sales were slow relative to the SV650, Hornet and Fazer until Kawasaki started offering sweeteners such as finance deals. That's a shame, because out of the five bikes here the Z750S offers the best in the way of practical day-to-day potential.

Apart from the shape of the seat, which slopes too steeply forward and thrusts your groin into the tank no matter how you contort yourself, the 750S offers everything a commuter could need. The engine has a good spread of power along with a light clutch for town work, the fairing is effective, the mirrors okay (below 80mph) and it even has a decent steering lock. But, if these things bother you, you might find it lacking in character and the fairing looks rather staid. Although he couldn't fault it, Wozza spent much of the day

complaining that the Z750S didn't flick his switches - an accusation often levelled at bikes such as Honda's VFR800 or the BMW GSs that are actually very practical.

You could never say the SV650S lacks character. There's something very appealing about this, the bike that likes to pretend it's really rather sensible. The motor doesn't feel that fast or intimidating, but it can still hold the rest of the 600s in sight with ease. The chassis doesn't feel hugely sporty, but push on a bit and the SV just gets better and better and, although the riding position errs towards the race-rep side of things, it's still comfortable. If you want the SV650 to be a gentle, relaxed starter bike it will be; if you want to play, it's happy to oblige.

"People say these are long in the tooth but I disagree," said Bertie. "The motor still impresses, this year's black frame and swingarm make it joint 'top looker' with the Hornet, and in this company it feels like a sportsbike."

 Speaking of which, what's Yamaha been playing at with the Fazer? I'm not a huge fan of the new (a couple of years ago) style Fazer, but I kept my opinions to myself to see what the others made of it. My main issue is with the engine which, with all its power shoved towards the top end of the rev range, simply doesn't suit this style of bike. The ride can be a bit harsh too, but it handles well and is comfortable at motorway speeds. It also looks better than the old Fazer. Emissions laws forced Yamaha to drop the old carb-fed Thundercat engine when it redesigned the bike for 2004, but the R6-derived motor in place now needs to be well into the upper echelons of its rev range before it delivers.

"The Fazer comes as a real disappointment," said Bertie, who used to own one of the older models. "It looks good and is moderately practical, but it's less than the sum of its parts. The motor is buzzy, uninspiring and a little lacklustre. The old model had better brakes, a more flexible motor and was more of a do-it-all bike." But it was also a touch heavier and didn't handle as well. For its shortcomings the Fazer remains stylish, good at covering the miles, has a healthy 160-plus mile range and is nimble around town.

But the general consensus? Nice bike, wrong motor. Yet Honda uses a former sportsbike motor in its Hornet (from the last of the line of CV-carbed CBR600s), and there it feels good.

"I've never been a fan of the Hornet," said Bertie, "but I'm impressed with this one. The engine feels almost as strong as the Z750's."

Stuart agreed there was a definite sense of occasion when cracking the throttle. "It's more exciting than the Fazer, and compared with my own '02 Hornet it feels free revving and more refined. It's not a massive difference, but enough to make it a nicer ride."

'Nice' is a word loaded with the damnations of faint praise, but it applies to the Hornet in the most positive way. It fits nearly everyone like a well-worn shoe from the moment you sit in the saddle, and is instantly immensely usable. Sensible, sporty, easy to ride and supremely well put together, too. In the Hornet Honda has given an old CBR engine new character and a new lease of life, and thrown in enough in the way of trick bits to make it stand out. I'd even go so far as to say Honda has hit the nail on the head while Yamaha is nursing a bruised thumb.

In order of preference then, if not a definitive conclusion, it went something like this: Fazer bottom of the list - right bike, wrong motor - with the Z750 next, if only for its nasty sloping seat. Next the impressive ER-6n, and finally the slick Hornet vying with the unchanged but still effective SV650 for top honours.

By five o'clock it was time to stash the bikes at our hotel and seek warmth and solace in the Fat Cat where we started working through the compendious selection of booze. Bertie had a thirst like Keith Floyd while Wozza, after a brief foray into a 12% proof Belgian brew, stuck to bottled lager like the precious media tart he is. Stuart ordered a poncey-looking £4-a-pint weissbier.

A professional might have brought a notebook to record our thoughts. Sadly, I didn't, so I leave you with Boozyy Bob's words of wisdom: "Come on lads, let's get pissed!"