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Style Counsel: F800S, 883R, ER-6N, Mulhacen and MT-03

In a fashion conscious market what does it take to stand out from the crowd and attract a new breed of rider?

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Somewhere out there is a new breed of rider. Let's call him Justin. Justin wants a bike. Well, he (or she, this is an adrogynous, sexually non-specific Justin) thinks he does anyway. Now here is the catch. Justin isn't a young rider right off a 125cc bike, he hasn't spent his formative years yearning for a Fireblade or GSX-R and the chances are he hasn't spent any time learning the ropes on a scooter. No, Justin just wants some form of two-wheeled transport that will help him get to his place of work faster than a car. And not a scooter. Justin is very important to the motorcycle industry because he represents the future of two wheels. He is a new breed of biker, someone who, with the right bike, could become a loyal customer. Which is the problem. How does a bike manufacturer tempt someone with no brand loyalty or preconceptions towards what they can offer? Make it look good. To this end bike manufacturers are building a new type of bike that relies as much on style and image as it does performance. Arguably more so. This new breed offers cheap, reliable motorcycling in a non-threatening package with something to make it stand out from the crowd. So what's on offer for Justin?

Meet 'Justin' Michael Brook, 30, is our 'Justin'. He's a technology journalist, which means he gets paid to play with gadgets. Having passed his test six months ago Mike is a typical new-wave buyer - style and image are as important to him as price and performance. So what do you reckon, Mike?

BMW F800S

BMW has a bit of an image problem with established bikers. Talk to your average Japanese bike rider and they simply won't entertain the idea of owning a BMW motorcycle. Offer them a BMW car, however, and it's a completely different matter... Among the two-wheeled fraternity BMW's bikes are seen as being for pipe and slippers types. But many new riders don't have this preconception. They know the BMW name, see the stylish showrooms and take the bike on face value. Which is the key to the F800S, because you get a lot of bike for your money and a lot of simple, well thought-out, new-rider specific features.

Initially the £5995 price tag may seem a bit steep, but look at what you get. The parallel twin is more powerful than the competition, has a maintenance-free belt drive, a fuel gauge and gear indicator (for an extra £130), pillion grab rails, heated grips and overall the bike feels and looks classy. Well finished, in a typically BMW way.

That's a feeling that is also conveyed in the way the bike rides. The F800S doesn't feel like a learner bike, it feels like a proper bike. It makes a pleasingly deep sound, unlike, say, the SV650, which has more than the hint of the hairdryer. Once moving the BMW continues to surprise. It's actually quite quick, but it doesn't deliver its power in any great rush, more a gentle build up of revs that's deceptively fast. For new riders there's plenty of drive low down, and once they get a bit braver the far end of the rev range is there to explore. And with a top speed of nearly 140mph there's plenty to find.

As you would expect from a bike aimed at newer riders the BMW doesn't have razor sharp handling, but that's not to say it's a slouch in the corners. The BMW has a sporty side that it is more than happy to let the rider explore, but also a more relaxed side that won't intimidate, although the handling does go top heavy when it has a full tank of fuel.But that's something you easily get used to, and for the newer rider the BMW's comfortable riding position, low seat height and sporty handling will certainly help to build confidence and lead to the inevitable long-way-home trips on a sunny day.

But it's not all plain sailing. The gearbox on the F800S is horrible. Not only does the clutch have the slight pause then thud when it engages (something usually associated with shaft drives - which makes you think... ) but it's stiff too. Riding it for just half an hour through town is enough to strip skin from toes, biker boots or no.With the BMW you don't get the feeling you're limited to one type of riding. The F800S can happily tour, commute, be ridden through town and even venture out on track. The gearbox is an irritation, but this is a solidly built bike that will satisfy new riders for a number of years, opening the door to a world of two-wheeled adventures.

MIKEY'S SECOND OPINION - BMW

Having passed my test at BMW's excellent rider training facility in Wales, I'm now genetically predisposed to ogle BMWs at every opportunity. In fact, it was the F800S I'd set my heart on as my first bike. Thankfully, TWO came to the rescue with a smorgasbord of bikes for me to bugger about on and I quickly changed my mind.It's not that the BMW isn't a good bike. It is. Ask the world's motorcycle press and they'll tell you it's a fine beginner's tool. It just has a number of things that don't quite add up to the £6000 price tag (£7000 fully-loaded).Firstly, it's billed as a semi-sportsbike but makes the kind of buzz that evokes a wasp with a bit of a cold. Secondly, the fuel tank's position - just below the seat - makes the bike feel like it's riding with a pillion when full. Thirdly, for a £6k bike, the gearbox is desperately notchy and often a nightmare to slot into first after you've been sat in neutral at a set of lights, leaving you fumbling with the clutch before you finally bang it in. By which time you've been engulfed in a sea of half-blind, idiot car drivers.

Yamaha MT-03

Yamaha didn't design the MT-03 for long distances, it was designed for short hops on busy city roads and twisty country lanes. And it shows.If you're looking for a bike that will take you to Scotland and back then don't even consider the MT-03, but if you want a bike for short exciting hops then put a deposit down. Now. The MT-03 is, surprisingly, a bike you can easily fall in love with. It's not the fastest, but it handles fantastically well and is, quite simply, a really good laugh.

For the new rider the MT-03 ticks all the user-friendly boxes. The seat height is low and it gives the feeling of being sat quite deep in the bike, rather than perched on top of it. Which is good for confidence as the ground feels closer to nervous feet.Although the clocks are fairly basic, and have a hint of the cheap about them, they are functional enough with the rev counter taking pride of place over the fractionally too small speedo. The speedo's size isn't a massive issue though, for while the motor is strong it isn't super fast. At a push the MT-03 will hit 90mph but at this point the vibrations and windblast mean the rider isn't having a good time of things. But this isn't what the MT-03 is designed for.

Nonetheless, the 660cc single does thump out power, and more importantly torque, from as soon as the tacho needle gets off the stop. No matter where the revs are the little Yamaha leaps forward, which is simply perfect for town riding where the 'point and squirt' approach is the preferred technique.

Which is where the handling also comes into its own. The MT-03 weighs 191kg, but it feels much lighter. Yamaha has pushed much of the MT-03's weight forward, making it feel quite front-endy to ride. This isn't a bad thing, as it does make the bike turn really rapidly. But it does have the potential to catch a few newer riders out.And beware, the MT-03's distinct forward weight bias does mean that if you change down too many gears too soon it's relatively easy to get the rear wheel to lock up . Experienced riders will exploit this for fun, and it's quite amusing to skid into roundabouts, but for a nervous new rider who has accidentally down-shifted three instead of two gears it could be unnerving. Not a huge problem, but worth bearing in mind.

The MT-03 is a cracking little town bike that is fantastic fun on twisty roads. For a first big bike it offers a lot, as long as potential owners are honest about what they will use it for. For short hops, town riding and winding country roads then look no further.

And did we say it was fun?

MIKEY'S SECOND OPINION - YAMAHA

Same motor as the Derbi but used in a far more proficient way. It suffers for a lack of top-end power though, and it feels like it's trying to shake the bike to pieces when you catch yourself in the wrong gear, but it does feel like its got a touch more grunt than the Mulhacen.

Styling is, in a word, awesome. It's the sort of bike you'd beg, borrow and steal to own, if only the engine had longer legs. Yet there's still a bag of fun to be had by cranking open the throttle, releasing it abruptly and hearing the phut-phut of unburnt fuel as it explodes noisily. Not one for quiet suburban neighbourhoods, then.

The riding position is a dream for new riders - you're perched right up by the bars. Believe me; it's more natural than it sounds.Sure, there's plenty of mid-range power but with just 45bhp on tap and a price tag just short of £5000, you begin to wonder whether your money might be better spent elsewhere. As a second bike - an antidote to the cramped, tank-hugging riding position of a potent sportsbike - it's nigh-on perfect, but as your only ride? Probably not.

HARLEY-DAVIDSON 883R

For just £5695 you can own a Harley-Davidson. Yep, just under six grand buys you a bike, a dream and your first steps into the world of the most famous motorcycling brand ever. If you are turning towards two wheels as a way to boost your image, make people look at you differently or just impress some bird at work, what could be better?Face facts. People who don't know much about bikes know the name Harley-Davidson. Mention you ride a bike to a non-biker and invariaibly the reply is 'oh, is it a Harley?'

So what's the first step on the road to Harley-dom like? The first thing to remember is that Harleys are meant to be big, thumping, imposing machines with mountains of chrome and huge, visible engines. The 883R isn't a big bike. It's actually quite a small bike with a very low seat height, which is why many female riders choose this model. But despite this is still ticks all the H-D boxes. It has a large V-twin motor and plenty of chrome, and the US flat track inspired look is certainly cool, especially in Harley's racing orange. Unfortunately this bike is in the less attractive black, but you can imagine what the orange looks like.Once on the go you have to remember what Harleys are designed for. They aren't for thrashing around back roads, racing other road users or playing silly sods on. Harleys are designed to cruise along at a gentle pace, looking and feeling good. So, with this in mind, the poor brakes, lack of ground clearance and slightly wobbly chassis can be overlooked, because these only really show up when the bike is being pushed beyond what it is designed to do. Get into Harley mode and the 883R can be a real joy. Prod the heavy gearbox so it clunks into first, sit back and cruise.

For 2007 Harley has been forced to fuel-inject the 883 motor due to emissions laws. Although it has taken away the ability to backfire the 883, which is a real shame, the injection is just about spot-on and doesn't have any throttle snatch at all. Almost as good as carbs, in fact.Once cruising the 883 engine is fairly strong, it pulls cleanly enough but overtakes, at least fast ones, do require a quick downshift or two.

For the new rider the mega low seat height and low centre of gravity mean that getting both feet solidly planted on the ground isn't an issue, and really short riders can always opt for the 883 Low, which has a seat virtually on the ground. But the footpegs may cause a few issues. Slightly longer-legged riders can catch shins on these when coming to a halt, which can lead to a moment of panic as your foot is momentarily stopped from reaching the ground.The thing with any Harley is that you have to want one. If you like the Harley image, lifestyle and way of riding then the 883 offers a great - and more importantly cheap - entry into this world. Can you really complain about that?

MIKEY'S SECOND OPINION - HARLEY-DAVIDSON

Personally, a Harley wouldn't be my first choice of beginner bike. And having ridden the 883R, that still stands. Unless you've learnt to ride on one, it'll feel odd. The riding and footpeg positions are an instant turn-off. The first time you pull up, I defy anyone not to have a bit of a wobble and catch the pegs getting their feet down. You get used to it fairly quickly but it's a confidence-killer from the off.

And the 883R has far and away the worst brakes of any bike I've ridden, including 125s. You pull the lever, nothing happens. When you want to stop the Harley, it's no matter of subtle controlled squeezing, it's a full-on stomp and yank to get it to reduce speed in any sort of a hurry, but then again this is a bike built for cruising. It also makes the Harley a dire London commuter bike. Steering is an experience, too. Where a bit of a lean and a push on the bars gets you round a bend easily enough on most machines, the Harley actually demands you steer it like a car until you're well up to speed. Not the most intuitive or manoeuvrable tool for the beginner.

KAWASAKI ER-6N

Personally, a Harley wouldn't be my first choice of beginner bike. And having ridden the 883R, that still stands. Unless you've learnt to ride on one, it'll feel odd. The riding and footpeg positions are an instant turn-off. The first time you pull up, I defy anyone not to have a bit of a wobble and catch the pegs getting their feet down. You get used to it fairly quickly but it's a confidence-killer from the off.

And the 883R has far and away the worst brakes of any bike I've ridden, including 125s. You pull the lever, nothing happens. When you want to stop the Harley, it's no matter of subtle controlled squeezing, it's a full-on stomp and yank to get it to reduce speed in any sort of a hurry, but then again this is a bike built for cruising. It also makes the Harley a dire London commuter bike.

Steering is an experience, too. Where a bit of a lean and a push on the bars gets you round a bend easily enough on most machines, the Harley actually demands you steer it like a car until you're well up to speed. Not the most intuitive or manoeuvrable tool for the beginner.

MIKEY'S SECOND OPINION - KAWASAKI

This is easily the best beginner's bike here. Its low seat height is perfect for pygmies like me and it feels so firmly planted to the road that I found myself chucking it into bends, hanging off the seat and scraping the footpegs like Vale himself, almost.

Still, the parallel twin motor is a cracker, with plenty of power to blast away from four-wheeled assassins at the lights. And with the speedo mounted in its own console on top of the nose cone, you barely have to take your eyes off the road to check your pace - very important for novices.Styling is quirky to say the least. Personally, I like it, although the yellow bike we had is a little tart for my tastes. I'd suggest the more sedate silveror black models.

Since this is actually a touch cheaper than both the Mulhacen and MT-03, it's a no-brainer. A sorted, lightweight chassis and plenty of grunt make this a fine novice mount. One thing, though: the low seat height means the pegs feel a little high, which will likely make long-distance comfort an issue. Otherwise, it's near-perfect.

DERBI MULHACEN

The Mulhacen is a tough bike to either recommend or dissuade anyone from buying. It has a lot of plus points, but also a few really niggly detractions that are almost enough to put anyone off ownership.To start with, and to keep things positive, we'll begin with the way it looks. How cool is the Mulhacen? Retro is the way forward nowadays and the Derbi looks stunning. It certainly looks more than its price tag suggests. As a city poser the Mulhacen turns as many heads as the Harley thanks to its whopping flat track style exhaust, funky plastics and fat tyres.

Then there are the little things. The LCD dash is brilliant, not just because of its cool digital rev counter, but because it has a fantastic white-lit background. It's hard to describe but being a fan of gadgets the dash made me smile every time I turned the bike on.

Then there's the engine. In order to keep costs down Derbi has bought a job lot of XT660 engines from Yamaha, so the Mulhacen has exactly the same motor as the MT-03. Which, as you may gather from the review a few pages back, is a great little round-town power plant. But with the Derbi you get the added bonus of a few pops on the overrun thanks to the exhaust and different fueling. Little touches like this really add to a bike's character.But, and here come the downers, the Derbi lacks the features that make the Yamaha such a good bike. For a start, where the MT-03 is such a great town bike due to its manoeuvrability the Mulhacen isn't so good. Yes, the engine is the same but the Derbi has nothing of the Yamaha's steering lock, meaning you can't get in and out of tight gaps. And the chassis is nowhere near as balanced. The Yamaha can be flung from side to side with no effort at all and in total confidence thanks to sorted suspension and tyres. The Derbi can't. Despite looking good the big balloon tyres don't offer as much feel as 'normal' bike tyres and make the bike slightly unnerving in corners. The actual level of grip is good, it's just that the near-knobbly tyres, combined with less compliant suspension aren't a patch on the sweet steering Yamaha.

Then there are the brakes. The radial caliper looks good, but the braided line gives a very direct response to any brake input and it just doesn't have the feel and control of a rubber brake line set up. The power certainly is there, but it is a very on/off lever action, which isn't so good for new riders.

Finally, the seat is uncomfortable for some. And the exhaust will get hot on the thigh for some too. But it depends on the shape of the rider.So is it worth buying the Derbi over the MT-03? That's debatable. The MT-03 is a fraction cheaper, looks great and does everything the Mulhacen can. And does it better. But if you are in love with the look and individuality then yes, the Derbi would make a good town bike. It's fun to ride and has a certain uniquecoolness about it. You just have to live with the compromises.

MIKEY'S SECOND OPINION - DERBI

The first thing you notice about the Derbi is the build quality. In places it looks unfinished, with plumbing and parts hanging bare off the engine. So it feels cheaply put together and, despite sharing Yamaha's bulletproof single cylinder engine with the MT-03, underpowered. The one detail that does reek of quality is the LCD readout: it looks like a sticker, which is actually a compliment, believe it or not.

Seat height is refreshingly low, so shorties will have no problem with the Mulhacen, although once sat astride the beast you'll notice the exhaust actually runs past your right leg and, after about 10 minutes of riding, slowly starts to cook your thigh.Get things wrong gears-wise in town and the Derbi begins to feel like a ride-on jackhammer, vibrating, stuttering and generally doing all it can to shed every nut and bolt in sight. But you could say that of the MT-03 too.

With a price tag that more or less matches the MT-03, for me there can only be one choice. If it's style and modest-powered town riding you're into, the Yamaha is by far the better bet.

In a fashion conscious market what does it take to stand out from the crowd and attract a new breed of rider? Say hello to the new wave in motorcycle design

Somewhere out there is a new breed of rider. Let's call him Justin. Justin wants a bike. Well, he (or she, this is an adrogynous, sexually non-specific Justin) thinks he does anyway. Now here is the catch. Justin isn't a young rider right off a 125cc bike, he hasn't spent his formative years yearning for a Fireblade or GSX-R and the chances are he hasn't spent any time learning the ropes on a scooter. No, Justin just wants some form of two-wheeled transport that will help him get to his place of work faster than a car.

And not a scooter. Justin is very important to the motorcycle industry because he represents the future of two wheels. He is a new breed of biker, someone who, with the right bike, could become a loyal customer. Which is the problem. How does a bike manufacturer tempt someone with no brand loyalty or preconceptions towards what they can offer?

Make it look good. To this end bike manufacturers are building a new type of bike that relies as much on style and image as it does performance. Arguably more so. This new breed offers cheap, reliable motorcycling in a non-threatening package with something to make it stand out from the crowd. So what's on offer for Justin?

Meet 'Justin' Michael Brook, 30, is our 'Justin'. He's a technology journalist, which means he gets paid to play with gadgets. Having passed his test six months ago Mike is a typical new-wave buyer - style and image are as important to him as price and performance. So what do you reckon, Mike?

BMW F800S

BMW has a bit of an image problem with established bikers. Talk to your average Japanese bike rider and they simply won't entertain the idea of owning a BMW motorcycle. Offer them a BMW car, however, and it's a completely different matter...

Among the two-wheeled fraternity BMW's bikes are seen as being for pipe and slippers types. But many new riders don't have this preconception. They know the BMW name, see the stylish showrooms and take the bike on face value. Which is the key to the F800S, because you get a lot of bike for your money and a lot of simple, well thought-out, new-rider specific features.

Initially the £5995 price tag may seem a bit steep, but look at what you get. The parallel twin is more
powerful than the competition, has a maintenance-free belt drive, a fuel gauge and gear indicator (for an extra £130), pillion grab rails, heated grips and overall the bike feels and looks classy. Well finished, in a typically BMW way.

That's a feeling that is also conveyed in the way the bike rides. The F800S doesn't feel like a learner bike, it feels like a proper bike. It makes a pleasingly deep sound, unlike, say, the SV650, which has more than the hint of the hairdryer.

Once moving the BMW continues to surprise. It's actually quite quick, but it doesn't deliver its power in any great rush, more a gentle build up of revs that's deceptively fast. For new riders there's plenty of drive low down, and once they get a bit braver the far end of the rev range is there to explore. And with a top speed of nearly 140mph there's plenty to find.

As you would expect from a bike aimed at newer riders the BMW doesn't have razor sharp handling, but that's not to say it's a slouch in the corners. The BMW has a sporty side that it is more than happy to let the rider explore, but also a more relaxed side that won't intimidate, although the handling does go top heavy when it has a full tank of fuel. But that's something you easily get used to, and for the newer rider the BMW's comfortable riding position, low seat height and sporty handling will certainly help to build confidence and lead to the inevitable long-way-home trips on a sunny day.

But it's not all plain sailing. The gearbox on the F800S is horrible. Not only does the clutch have the slight pause then thud when it engages (something usually associated with shaft drives - which makes you think... ) but it's stiff  too. Riding it for just half an hour through town is enough to strip skin from toes, biker boots or no.

With the BMW you don't get the feeling you're limited to one type of riding. The F800S can happily tour, commute, be ridden through town and even venture out on track. The gearbox is an irritation, but this is a solidly built bike that will satisfy new riders for a number of years, opening the door to a world of two-wheeled adventures.

MIKEY'S SECOND OPINION - BMW

Having passed my test at BMW's excellent rider training facility in Wales, I'm now genetically predisposed to ogle BMWs at every opportunity. In fact, it was the F800S I'd set my heart on as my first bike. Thankfully, Visordown came to the rescue with a smorgasbord of bikes for me to bugger about on and I quickly changed my mind.

It's not that the BMW isn't a good bike. It is. Ask the world's motorcycle press and they'll tell you it's a fine beginner's tool. It just has a number of things that don't quite add up to the £6000 price tag (£7000 fully-loaded).

Firstly, it's billed as a semi-sportsbike but makes the kind of buzz that evokes a wasp with a bit of a cold. Secondly, the fuel tank's position - just below the seat - makes the bike feel like it's riding with a pillion when full. Thirdly, for a £6k bike, the gearbox is desperately notchy and often a nightmare to slot into first after you've been sat in neutral at a set of lights, leaving you fumbling with the clutch before you finally bang it in. By which time you've been engulfed in a sea of half-blind, idiot car drivers.

BMW F800S Specs

SPECS - BMW
TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £5995
ENGINE CAPACITY - 798cc
POWER - 85.1bhp@8100rpm
TORQUE - 62.2lb.ft@5700rpm   
WEIGHT - 209kg (WET)
SEAT HEIGHT - 820mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 16L   
TOP SPEED - 139.1mph   
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A

Yamaha MT-03

Yamaha MT-03

Yamaha didn't design the MT-03 for long distances, it was designed for short hops on busy city roads and twisty country lanes. And it shows.

If you're looking for a bike that will take you to Scotland and back then don't even consider the MT-03, but if you want a bike for short exciting hops then put a deposit down. Now. The MT-03 is, surprisingly, a bike you can easily fall in love with. It's not the fastest, but it handles fantastically well and is, quite simply, a really good laugh.

For the new rider the MT-03 ticks all the user-friendly boxes. The seat height is low and it gives the feeling of being sat quite deep in the bike, rather than perched on top of it. Which is good for confidence as the ground feels closer to nervous feet.

Although the clocks are fairly basic, and have a hint of the cheap about them, they are functional enough with the rev counter taking pride of place over the fractionally too small speedo.

The speedo's size isn't a massive issue though, for while the motor is strong it isn't super fast. At a push the MT-03 will hit 90mph but at this point the vibrations and windblast mean the rider isn't having a good time of things. But this isn't what the MT-03 is designed for.

Nonetheless, the 660cc single does thump out power, and more importantly torque, from as soon as the tacho needle gets off the stop. No matter where the revs are the little Yamaha leaps forward, which is simply perfect for town riding where the 'point and squirt' approach is the preferred technique.

Which is where the handling also comes into its own. The MT-03 weighs 191kg, but it feels much lighter. Yamaha has pushed much of the MT-03's weight forward, making it feel quite front-endy to ride. This isn't a bad thing, as it does make the bike turn really rapidly. But it does have the potential to catch a few newer riders out.

And beware, the MT-03's distinct forward weight bias does mean that if you change down too many gears too soon it's relatively easy to get the rear wheel to lock up . Experienced riders will exploit this for fun, and it's quite amusing to skid into roundabouts, but for a nervous new rider who has accidentally down-shifted three instead of two gears it could be unnerving. Not a huge problem, but worth bearing in mind.

The MT-03 is a cracking little town bike that is fantastic fun on twisty roads. For a first big bike it offers a lot, as long as potential owners are honest about what they will use it for. For short hops, town riding and winding country roads then look no further. And did we say it was fun?

MIKEY'S SECOND OPINION - YAMAHA

Same motor as the Derbi but used in a far more proficient way. It suffers for a lack of top-end power though, and it feels like it's trying to shake the bike to pieces when you catch yourself in the wrong gear, but it does feel like its got a touch more grunt than the Mulhacen.

Styling is, in a word, awesome. It's the sort of bike you'd beg, borrow and steal to own, if only the engine had longer legs. Yet there's still a bag of fun to be had by cranking open the throttle, releasing it abruptly and hearing the phut-phut of unburnt fuel as it explodes noisily. Not one for quiet suburban neighbourhoods, then.

The riding position is a dream for new riders - you're perched right up by the bars. Believe me; it's more natural than it sounds.

Sure, there's plenty of mid-range power but with just 45bhp on tap and a price tag just short of £5000, you begin to wonder whether your money might be better spent elsewhere. As a second bike - an antidote to the cramped, tank-hugging riding position of a potent sportsbike - it's nigh-on perfect, but as your only ride? Probably not.

Yamaha MT-03 Specs

SPECS - YAMAHA
TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £4899
ENGINE CAPACITY - 660cc
POWER - 45bhp@5800rpm
TORQUE - 42.6lb.ft@4900rpm   
WEIGHT - 191kg (WET)
SEAT HEIGHT - 805mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 15L   
TOP SPEED - 102.9mph   
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A

Harley-Davidson 883R

HARLEY-DAVIDSON 883R

For just £5695 you can own a Harley-Davidson. Yep, just under six grand buys you a bike, a dream and your first steps into the world of the most famous motorcycling brand ever. If you are turning towards two wheels as a way to boost your image, make people look at you differently or just impress some bird at work, what could be better?

Face facts. People who don't know much about bikes know the name Harley-Davidson. Mention you ride a bike to a non-biker and invariaibly the reply is 'oh, is it a Harley?'

So what's the first step on the road to Harley-dom like? The first thing to remember is that Harleys are meant to be big, thumping, imposing machines with mountains of chrome and huge, visible engines. The 883R isn't a big bike. It's actually quite a small bike with a very low seat height, which is why many female riders choose this model. But despite this is still ticks all the H-D boxes. It has a large V-twin motor and plenty of chrome, and the US flat track inspired look is certainly cool, especially in Harley's racing orange. Unfortunately this bike is in the less attractive black, but you can imagine what the orange looks like.

Once on the go you have to remember what Harleys are designed for. They aren't for thrashing around back roads, racing other road users or playing silly sods on. Harleys are designed to cruise along at a gentle pace, looking and feeling good. So, with this in mind, the poor brakes, lack of ground clearance and slightly wobbly chassis can be overlooked, because these only really show up when the bike is being pushed beyond what it is designed to do. Get into Harley mode and the 883R can be a real joy. Prod the heavy gearbox so it clunks into first, sit back and cruise.

For 2007 Harley has been forced to fuel-inject the 883 motor due to emissions laws. Although it has taken away the ability to backfire the 883, which is a real shame, the injection is just about spot-on and doesn't have any throttle snatch at all. Almost as good as carbs, in fact.

Once cruising the 883 engine is fairly strong, it pulls cleanly enough but overtakes, at least fast ones, do require a quick downshift or two.

For the new rider the mega low seat height and low centre of gravity mean that getting both feet solidly planted on the ground isn't an issue, and really short riders can always opt for the 883 Low, which has a seat virtually on the ground. But the footpegs may cause a few issues. Slightly longer-legged riders can catch shins on these when coming to a halt, which can lead to a moment of panic as your foot is momentarily stopped from reaching the ground.

The thing with any Harley is that you have to want one. If you like the Harley image, lifestyle and way of riding then the 883 offers a great - and more importantly cheap - entry into this world. Can you really
complain about that?

MIKEY'S SECOND OPINION - HARLEY-DAVIDSON

Personally, a Harley wouldn't be my first choice of beginner bike. And having ridden the 883R, that still stands. Unless you've learnt to ride on one, it'll feel odd. The riding and footpeg positions are an instant turn-off. The first time you pull up, I defy anyone not to have a bit of a wobble and catch the pegs
getting their feet down. You get used to it fairly quickly but it's a confidence-killer from the off.

And the 883R has far and away the worst brakes of any bike I've ridden, including 125s. You pull the lever, nothing happens. When you want to stop the Harley, it's no matter of subtle controlled squeezing, it's a full-on stomp and yank to get it to reduce speed in any sort of a hurry, but then again this is a bike built for cruising. It also makes the Harley a dire London commuter bike.

Steering is an experience, too. Where a bit of a lean and a push on the bars gets you round a bend easily enough on most machines, the Harley actually demands you steer it like a car until you're well up to speed. Not the most intuitive or manoeuvrable tool for the beginner.

Harley-Davidson 883R Specs

SPECS - HARLEY-DAVIDSON
TYPE - CRUISER
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £5695
ENGINE CAPACITY - 883cc
POWER - 47.4bhp@5800rpm
TORQUE - 47lb.ft@4000rpm   
WEIGHT - 267kg (WET)
SEAT HEIGHT - 714mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 12.5L   
TOP SPEED - 104.3mph   
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A

Kawasaki ER-6N

KAWASAKI ER-6N

Personally, a Harley wouldn't be my first choice of beginner bike. And having ridden the 883R, that still stands. Unless you've learnt to ride on one, it'll feel odd. The riding and footpeg positions are an instant turn-off. The first time you pull up, I defy anyone not to have a bit of a wobble and catch the pegs
getting their feet down. You get used to it fairly quickly but it's a confidence-killer from the off.

And the 883R has far and away the worst brakes of any bike I've ridden, including 125s. You pull the lever, nothing happens. When you want to stop the Harley, it's no matter of subtle controlled squeezing, it's a full-on stomp and yank to get it to reduce speed in any sort of a hurry, but then again this is a bike built for cruising. It also makes the Harley a dire London commuter bike.

Steering is an experience, too. Where a bit of a lean and a push on the bars gets you round a bend easily enough on most machines, the Harley actually demands you steer it like a car until you're well up to speed. Not the most intuitive or manoeuvrable tool for the beginner.

MIKEY'S SECOND OPINION - KAWASAKI

This is easily the best beginner's bike here. Its low seat height is perfect for pygmies like me and it feels so firmly planted to the road that I found myself chucking it into bends, hanging off the seat and scraping the footpegs like Vale himself, almost.

Still, the parallel twin motor is a cracker, with plenty of power to blast away from four-wheeled assassins at the lights. And with the speedo mounted in its own console on top of the nose cone, you barely have to take your eyes off the road to check your pace - very important for novices.

Styling is quirky to say the least. Personally, I like it, although the yellow bike we had is a little tart for my tastes. I'd suggest the more sedate silver or black models.

Since this is actually a touch cheaper than both the Mulhacen and MT-03, it's a no-brainer. A sorted, lightweight chassis and plenty of grunt make this a fine novice mount. One thing, though: the low seat height means the pegs feel a little high, which will likely make long-distance comfort an issue. Otherwise, it's near-perfect.

Kawasaki ER-6N Specs

SPECS - KAWASAKI
TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £4595 / £4895 WITH ABS
ENGINE CAPACITY - 649cc
POWER - 65.4bhp@8500rpm
TORQUE - 50lb.ft@7000rpm   
WEIGHT - 200kg (WET)
SEAT HEIGHT - 785mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 15.5L   
TOP SPEED - 126.2mph   
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A

Derbi Mulhacen

DERBI MULHACEN

The Mulhacen is a tough bike to either recommend or dissuade anyone from buying. It has a lot of plus points, but also a few really niggly detractions that are almost enough to put anyone off ownership.
To start with, and to keep things positive, we'll begin with the way it looks. How cool is the Mulhacen? Retro is the way forward nowadays and the Derbi looks stunning. It certainly looks more than its price tag suggests. As a city poser the Mulhacen turns as many heads as the Harley thanks to its whopping flat track style exhaust, funky plastics and fat tyres.

Then there are the little things. The LCD dash is brilliant, not just because of its cool digital rev
counter, but because it has a fantastic white-lit background. It's hard to describe but being a fan of gadgets the dash made me smile every time I turned the bike on.

Then there's the engine. In order to keep costs down Derbi has bought a job lot of XT660 engines from Yamaha, so the Mulhacen has exactly the same motor as the MT-03. Which, as you may gather from the review a few pages back, is a great little round-town power plant. But with the Derbi you get the added bonus of a few pops on the overrun thanks to the exhaust and different fueling. Little touches like this really add to a bike's character.

But, and here come the downers, the Derbi lacks the features that make the Yamaha such a good bike. For a start, where the MT-03 is such a great town bike due to its manoeuvrability the Mulhacen isn't so good. Yes, the engine is the same but the Derbi has nothing of the Yamaha's steering lock, meaning you can't get in and out of tight gaps. And the chassis is nowhere near as balanced. The Yamaha can be flung from side to side with no effort at all and in total confidence thanks to sorted suspension and tyres. The Derbi can't. Despite looking good the big balloon tyres don't offer as much feel as 'normal' bike tyres and make the bike slightly unnerving in corners. The actual level of grip is good, it's just that the near-knobbly tyres, combined with less compliant suspension aren't a patch on the sweet steering Yamaha.

Then there are the brakes. The radial caliper looks good, but the braided line gives a very direct response to any brake input and it just doesn't have the feel and control of a rubber brake line set up. The power certainly is there, but it is a very on/off lever action, which isn't so good for new riders.
Finally, the seat is uncomfortable for some. And the exhaust will get hot on the thigh for some too. But it depends on the shape of the rider.

So is it worth buying the Derbi over the MT-03? That's debatable. The MT-03 is a fraction cheaper, looks great and does everything the Mulhacen can. And does it better. But if you are in love with the look and individuality then yes, the Derbi would make a good town bike. It's fun to ride and has a certain unique
coolness about it.  You just have to live with the compromises.

MIKEY'S SECOND OPINION - DERBI

The first thing you notice about the Derbi is the build quality. In places it looks unfinished, with plumbing and parts hanging bare off the engine. So it feels cheaply put together and, despite sharing Yamaha's bulletproof single cylinder engine with the MT-03, underpowered. The one detail that does reek of quality is the LCD readout: it looks like a sticker, which is actually a compliment, believe it or not.

Seat height is refreshingly low, so shorties will have no problem with the Mulhacen, although once sat astride the beast you'll notice the exhaust actually runs past your right leg and, after about 10 minutes of riding, slowly starts to cook your thigh.

Get things wrong gears-wise in town and the Derbi begins to feel like a ride-on jackhammer, vibrating, stuttering and generally doing all it can to shed every nut and bolt in sight. But you could say that of the MT-03 too.

With a price tag that more or less matches the MT-03, for me there can only be one choice. If it's style and modest-powered town riding you're into, the Yamaha is by far the better bet.

Derbi Mulhacen Specs

SPECS - DERBI
TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £4999
ENGINE CAPACITY - 659cc
POWER - 43bhp@5800rpm
TORQUE - 39lb.ft@4900rpm   
WEIGHT - 177kg (WET)
SEAT HEIGHT - 800mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 12L   
TOP SPEED - 102.7mph   
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A