Going by the sales figures, new supersport 600s today are about as appealing as an ‘internal inspection’ at Terminal 5 – a far, far cry from the sales topping stats of bikes like the CBR600F in the 1990s.
The quest for track and race success has resulted, so the theory goes, in bikes which are too extreme as road bikes for modern, maturing tastes.
Which is where bikes like Kawasaki’s ER-6f come in. We already knew the funky 650 twin was practical, easy to ride and versatile. But with an updated version for 2012 on top of its recent success in the lightweight class at the TT its image has improved, too.
TT-winner Ryan Farquhar managed a 115mph lap average aboard his, albeit heavily modified, version, going through the speed trap at 150mph, which is impressive by any measure. While at the preceding North West 200 ex-GP god Jeremy McWilliams hit 154mph aboard a similar machine.
So, to find out how much fun, but also how versatile and affordable bikes like the new ER, Honda’s new NC700S and Suzuki’s steadfast SV650S really are, we decided to put all three to the test.
A few months ago I was chasing MCN road tester Bruce Dunn around the North West 200 in the new lightweight class, Bruce aboard his JHS Suzuki SV650, I on my race Kawasaki ER-6.
Today reminds me very much of that race. This time Bruce is on a standard SV, I’m on a stock, new ER-6f, and we’re having a ball dicing down a familiar B-road.
No, they may not have the outright power of a traditional, four-cylinder Supersport machine – or even match that of our race bikes. But they’re still fun and very equally matched,
Meantimes, co-tester Justin is somewhere in the background on the Honda. And when I say somewhere I mean a different county. The Honda clearly isn’t designed for speed…
The Kawasaki has the edge in term of outright speed – but only just. There’s very little between the parallel twin housed in the Kawasaki and the more conventional V-twin in the Suzuki. But when it comes to the corners there’s only one winner.
The Suzuki may feel sportier than the Kawasaki, thanks to its lower, dropped bars and higher pegs, but the ER-6f out handles the SV every time.
One of the reasons for this was the SV’s poor standard rubber. The Suzuki’s Dunlop D220 hoops were harder than an Irish bare knuckle champion and refused to warm up – even the Honda could achieve lean angles the SV could only dream about.
In fact the little Honda surprised both Bruce and I. Yes the NC700S is not the quickest and it’s lack of revs takes some getting used to, but once you are it’s not half bad. You have to ride the long stroke Honda like you’re short-shifting on a larger bike.
The handling, meanwhile, is typical Honda and a doddle to ride fast or slow: it’s relatively light and flickable, just keep the throttle pinned and as soon as is starts to deck out you know you’re near the limit.
In short: the chassis and brakes way out-perform the NC700S’s engine.
Do you think 600cc sports bikes have had their day? Let us know below.
To read the full test, including insight from Ryan Farquhar, pick up a copy of this week's MCN.