IT’S not every day you get the chance to ride two new British motorcycles for the first time. And when they’re bikes like this, it’s an even more novel experience.
The latest models from Lancashire-based CCM aren’t exactly ordinary-looking machines. The 640 Supermoto is pretty odd, while the 640RS is downright weird.
But that’s only because we’re used to dividing bikes into traditional categories. If it’s not obviously a superbike, a trailie, a tourer or a cruiser, we’re confused.
But try looking at things in a different way. Instead of thinking what type of bike you want, identify the kind of things you want your bike to do.
You buy a bike to go around corners, right? So it has to have super-sticky race tyres and suspension that can make even our pockmarked roads feel like Silverstone on a sunny day.
You also want it to inspire confidence. The weather here changes more often than Labour’s transport policies, so it has to give you plenty of warning and let you have your Sunday fun even if the roads are a bit wet.
Speed is, of course, important. But that doesn’t have to mean 175mph performance, unless you’re after the quickest route to the magistrates court. So we’ll settle for manic acceleration up to 100mph.
And let’s not forget that crucial pose factor. We want stand-out looks plus big-name components like Brembo, WP, Remus and Renthal that will have people standing around with barely disguised envy, saying: " So it came with that as standard? "
In fact, while we’re dreaming of the perfect bike, let’s go the whole hog and say it has to be cheap to insure and run. Oh, and before we forget, it must have a unique noise that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Finished that little mental exercise? Good, because the rest of Europe – and CCM – did years ago. And what they came up with was the supermoto.
We haven’t really cottoned on to them yet because we’re too obsessed with our Blades and R1s – bikes that aren’t so popular on the continent thanks to 100bhp limits.
So CCM has tried to coax us into buying these weird and wonderful machines by adding some road-style bodywork. At first glance, the 640RS’s beak-like fairing and triangular styling are a bit off-putting, but it grows on you.
The other strange thing about the RS is its size. It looks quite meaty when you’re standing next to it, but as soon as you sit down, it disappears. I’m reminded of my wafer-thin, L-plated 125 and as I pull away from the CCM factory, it feels like the slightest breeze would blow this tiny machine away.
But as I get rolling, it starts to make more sense. The bike is so light you feel as if you could just stick your foot out to kick yourself upright again if things go pear-shaped. The result is that these slimy roads hardly seem intimidating at all. I don’t even tense up as I tackle the first island, and the CCM repays my trust by whizzing around as if it’s sunny and dry.
The last single I owned was a wheezy, noisy, 125cc learner bike. Everything I’d ever heard about big singles was just as negative. I was expecting no power, too much noise and more vibes than a brick in a tumble-dryer. What I got was very tasty acceleration, with enough oomph to lift the front in the first two gears.
But as the road straightens out, I discover what seems to be a fatal flaw when an asthmatic Ford Focus welds itself to my tailpiece at 90mph. So I grab a handful to open up a gap. But it takes forever to crawl past 110, and the Focus is almost grinning in my mirror as it realises it’s found some two-wheeled prey. Luckily for me, a set of 60mph S-bends gives me breathing space.
My immediate reaction is: " How slow? " But then, having already faced a ban and an enormous fine for straying into 100mph-plus territory, I start to have second thoughts.
The choice is yours, but think about it. Do you need 120mph? And how long, in our current anti-speed culture, do you think you’ll keep your licence if you do?
The CCMs do everything so well under a ton, they seriously re-tune your riding style. Can’t hit 120mph like that R6? Well, leave off the brakes at the next corner. If you ride a sports bike, you won’t believe the cornering abilities of bikes like these.
The upside-down WP forks and shock have a huge amount of travel, which takes some getting used to. As you brake, the forks sink what feels like feet rather than inches. The moment you hit the gas hard, the rear shock squats and you can feel it soaking up every little wheel-spin and bump, while the forks bounce out again.
It’s annoying at first, then a complete giggle as you realise that while you were bobbing up and down like a rowing boat you’ve gone around the corner much quicker than everything else. Pro supermoto riders hang the back end right out, but I’m not quite up to that challenge today…
The RS’s little fairing might make the bike look civilised, but don’t think for a minute it provides any weather protection. It just makes you feel like you’ve bought a more sensible bike than you really have.
The Supermoto, on the other hand, doesn’t look sensible at all. It wears cheaper-looking coloured plastic rather than proper, painted bodywork and also has a seemingly crash-proof plastic tank plus a simple enduro headlight.
Somehow this makes me feel even more of a nutter, to the extent that I find myself playing up for the crowds at a bus stop. I’m sure that pensioner with her shopping basket was impressed by my wheelie…
Apart from cosmetics, the main differences between the Supermoto and the RS are greater suspension travel and a longer swingarm, plus the option of fitting trail wheels. The downside is that the ride is even choppier. Hard braking or accelerating makes you feel you’re in a dinghy in a force 10 gale.
I also learnt at an early stage that motorways are not an option. Wind protection is non-existent and at 75mph-plus your upper body acts like some sort of eccentric sail, catching crosswinds and causing buffeting you’d never notice on any other bike. You’d better make sure your bulbs are screwed in tight, too, because high-speed vibes loosen all sorts of bits and bobs.
The Supermoto feels so raw and unrefined, there’s no way I should like it – but I do. Pick any gear on either of these bikes and the engine pulls cleanly and quickly regardless of revs – which is just as well as neither has a rev counter. The shorter-geared Supermoto seems to scream its way up to 90mph almost instantly – though if you go any faster it feels like the piston is about to rocket out of the engine like a Polaris missile and hit you where it hurts.
The noise of the standard Remus exhaust is unlike any other bike on the road. If it’s pottering through town it’ll never attract the attention of the law, but when you wind it on the combined roar of the intake and exhaust make you crack it open further.
OK, so both these bikes are a bit impractical – especially the Supermoto – and they haven’t even got the top-end pull of a 250 race rep. But their cornering ability and forgiving nature offer a great way to have more fun at less speed.
In fact, the slower you ride, the more you act the fool. Instead of doing 100mph down the straights, you start pulling childish skids and wheelies. Slides and wheelspins stop being pant-wetting experiences and become par for the course.
You may have to watch out for any bike over 400cc on the straights, because as soon as you get to 90mph you’ll run out of revs and they’ll leave you standing. But if you never go farther than 100 miles and prefer real bends to motorways, there isn’t a bike that offers more grins per mile.
As one of the CCM bosses said to me: " When I was a kid I loved the roundabouts and the slides. I still do. "