Used Bike

Used 600s: Kawasaki ZX-636R, Honda CBR600FS, Yamaha R6, Suzuki GSX-R600

Yesterday's supersports screamers are still duking it out on the used battlefield. Under cover of sunshine, Bertie advances on middle England with a bunch of war veterans to find out who still cuts the mustard gas

I'm struck with the senselessness of it all. All this human waste and complete devastation. No, I'm not queuing in the gents' bogs at Brands Hatch after a World Superbike race; I'm standing by a commemorative obelisk in the drizzling rain and reading about the battle of Naesby in 1645.

It says on the plaque that around 8000 Royalist troops took on Parliament's New Model Army, which were some 13,500 strong. Little wonder it didn't go well for the Royalists. In the aftermath of the battle they were pursued and slaughtered all along the road to Leicester. At least 100 female camp followers were murdered or mutilated by battle-crazed Roundheads. Yuck.

There's a lot of emotion and pent up energy around old battlegrounds. And I'm adding to it as I'm now panting, sweating and swearing at world famous photographer John Noble, who's making me push a bike up a hill so we can take the opening shot you see on the previous page.

As a fat and un-fit me heaves 200-odd kilos of fully-fuelled supersports 600 up a small, damp hillock in Leicestershire to sit with its peers, my mouth is dry. It's dry because as I pull back, I do a double take at the realisation that these bikes - hot ships back in 2001-2002 - are now the old soldiers, seasoned campaigners who are still slugging it out in the busiest battlefield in biking: the used 600 market.

So they're not the latest tackle, but let's face it, these machines are the bikes that so many of us want, most of us can afford and thousands of us buy. They're (mostly) tame and useable enough to ride straight after your test and yet still crazy enough to downsize to if the wife/hubby runs off with the milkman/ paperboy and you have to sell your latest sports 1000. So while we can harp on about new bikes all we like, the reality for many of us is that the commitment of actually buying a brand-new machine is a bit too much for our pockets.

We start at Naesby, in Leicestershire, where, the locals insist, the ghosts of that fateful day on 14 June 1645 still remain locked in ethereal combat on each and every anniversary of that turning point in English history. As we wheel the bikes down the slippery mound and thumb the starter buttons, we realise that these old campaigners aren't ghosts, they're still very much alive and ready for battle.

Well, almost. The Suzuki and Kawasaki are fitted with alarms and immobilisers, and their batteries are dead. Thank God for Daryll, the spannering Dwaff. He's smaller than a newborn Hobbit and easier to bump-start than Elton John's pacemaker with a copy of Euro-Boy.

Away we go into the broadening sunshine. Sod the rain; we're chasing the sun.

I'm going to steal the keys to the Honda, I think. It's a pleasure to get on this bike as the overall shape of the FS looks so good with its double headlights and twin rear light cluster, and this one has been so damn well looked after. It's standard too, which makes the bike feel like it's hardly been used. There's a lovely black satin finish to the frame, which subtly butches up the looks of the bike as well as proving to be very hard wearing - with a bit of TLC these things can do huge mileages without looking tired.

But as we leave Naesby behind, you soon find that the riding experience isn't so impressive. The engine itself feels perhaps the worst of the four machines here. It hasn't the rawness or personality of the GSX-R or R6, and it's also the one, which needs most prodding of the gear lever to keep up with the boys ahead. Hmm... surely the CBR, in this, its sporty FS guise at least, should be more exciting? This, after all, is the version tweaked for more excitement. Damn it all, my rose-tinted memory is telling me that the standard F with plusher seat, centre-stand, slightly less poke and a few different engine internals felt better than this a few years ago. I know the rev-limiter kicked in at around 14,000rpm, as did a shift light, because together they woke me up. Okay, I'm joking, but welcome to CBR ownership: this bike doesn't shout about its talents. And that's the way it should be seen, because taken in isolation CBR600 is a corker and it will do anything you ask of it. This thing is an honest tool and, while it never feels completely involving or stimulating, it's still doing the job. And when we speed tested the bikes a day later we soon saw that there was a man of steel hidden under this mild-mannered exterior as the CBR wasn't the slowest bike out there.

I should have known better. You write off the CBR at your peril.

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