If your motorcycling career has started on a 125cc bike adorned with L-plates, then moving up to something bigger, heavier and faster can seem like a big step, but the latest crop of twin-cylinder naked bikes from the likes of Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki could make that step up much more manageable.
The bikes in question are the feisty Yamaha MT-07, the veteran Suzuki SV650 and the new-for-2017 Kawasaki Z650. Despite weighing a lot more and producing much more power than a 125, all three of the bikes are incredibly friendly and popular with new and experienced riders alike, here's why:
At 6'1" both the Yamaha and Kawasaki feel slightly on the smaller side for me, making them well suited to smaller or less confident riders. The Kawasaki feels especially narrow, which will help those with shorter legs get their feet on the floor. Despite both the Kawasaki and Yamaha feeling smaller, neither of them are uncomfortable and I could easily spend all day in the saddle.
By comparison the Suzuki feels much larger and longer. The bars are wider and slightly further away and it's the heaviest bike of the three at 197kg. The Kawasaki weighs 187kg and the Yamaha 179kg. For somebody of my size the extra weight isn't a problem and on bumpy roads it helps keep the Suzuki slightly more stable, but it's noticeable at low speeds where the Yamaha and Kawasaki feel much more manageable.
All three bikes make pretty similar power. The Suzuki is the most powerful with 75bhp, the MT-09 slightly behind with 74bhp and the Kawasaki the least powerful with 68bhp. This sounds like a huge jump compared to the 14.6bhp of most 125s, but in the real world they offer just enough power for more experienced riders to have fun, without giving newer riders so much that they'll be terrified every time they open the throttle.
The way this power is delivered makes a huge difference as well. Since all three bikes are twins (the Suzuki is a V-twin while the other two are parallel twins), the power is spread evenly throughout the rev range without any surprises. The chunk of the power is produced in the low to mid range so town riding and overtakes are both a doddle.
When moving up to a larger bike, most people only consider the hike in power, but there's also a huge difference in stopping power. The first time I rode a 600cc bike having previously ridden just 125s the brakes were the thing that surprised me the most. It felt as though I only had to stroke the lever with my finger to bring the bike to a stop.
Things are slightly different with these three bikes, and the brakes are much more progressive. They're still strong brakes capable of standing all three on their noses, but the initial pull of the lever doesn't result in a sudden lurch forward. This is great for slightly more accurate braking and especially good with thick and slightly clumsy winter gloves at this time of year.
The brakes on the Kawasaki however offer much more bite initially than the other two, which caught me out a couple of times and could result in a jerky ride if you're slightly clumsy or used to softer brakes.
Ease of use
Ease of use is the bread and butter of these three machines. All three are exceptionally easy to ride straight away, making them perfect for those stepping up from smaller machines. From the way they handle, to the way they produce their power, everything on these bikes is set up to make riding easy.
The Kawasaki has a particularly light clutch, resulting in easy riding through town and the narrowness of the seat and bars make it perfect for smaller riders. The Yamaha's engine is what makes it so easy to ride. It's incredibly smooth and combined with the light weight it makes riding incredibly easy. There's no one aspect of the SV which stands out as making it easy to use, rather the Suzuki is just a very well thought out motorcycle that does everything well.
One of the main reasons these bikes sell so well is because they're just as much fun as they are manageable. They're not just bikes for new riders, they're bikes that riders of all levels can ride and have fun on. MCN Senior Road Tester Michael Neeves, who races a BMW S1000RR making around 200bhp reckons the MT-07 is more fun than it has any right to be and would be great value if it was £1000 more expensive.
Older generations of the Kawasaki and Suzuki have been successful when it comes to road and track racing, with the Kawasaki Er-6n (the precursor to the Z650) dominating at the Isle of Man TT.
So which one's the best?
There's not a bad motorcycle here - they're all exceptionally good, which makes picking a winner difficult but the MT-07 just edges it ahead of the Suzuki and the Kawasaki for me.
The Yamaha is the easiest to ride of the bunch but also the most fun. It's remained unchanged since it was launched in 2014, but it's still excellent. If you want something lightweight that you won't get bored of once your confidence increases, go for the Yamaha.
I have a soft spot for the SV650 having owned one when I first passed my test. The SV just misses out to the Yamaha, mostly because it's just an SV. SV650s are brilliant bikes and will do whatever you ask of them, but they're a little forgettable and the latest model just lacks a bit of excitement compared to the MT. If you're a slightly larger rider and find the other two a little cramped, go for the SV.
Kawasaki's new kid on the block isn't a bad bike, it just doesn't do enough for me to beat the other two. The bars feel a little narrow for me and the engine is ever so slightly lacking compared to the other two. At motorway speeds there are noticeable vibrations through the bars, seat and pegs too. If you're short, the Kawasaki would be a great option.
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