Picture this. I’m 24, it’s January, I’m living in London and after spending a year listening to my housemate talk about the freedom, liberation and sheer excitement of owning a motorbike I have decided to bite the bullet and do my test. After all, why shouldn’t I? My dad passed his test last year and my girlfriend (now fiancée) has always loved bikes.
But here’s the rub. I’m 24, it’s January and I’m living in London. I’m an insurance nightmare.
I figured I’d just do my test and leave it at that until I could afford a bike. What a fool I was. Did I really think that once I’d felt the (icy cold) wind through my visor I could just get back on the tube every day?
And so it was that I found myself idly flicking through MCN bikemart and saw the bike for me. Cheap to insure, good for commuting, big enough for the trip to my home city of Birmingham, enough space for a pillion and easy to ride…the Kawasaki ER5…in blue.
I had considered others, the CB500 and GS500 were other options but the ER5 had better styling: the chrome radiator cover, exhaust and instrument cluster just seem to set off the narrow lines and sleek engine…plus it had better reviews.
That was 18 months ago and I’m still enjoying the ride! The bike surprised me when I first rode it. It took off from the lights faster than I expected and I had to watch the speedo carefully to avoid London’s many GATSO’s. Amazingly, the commute to work became something to look forward to. The bike was quick enough to keep up on the clear roads but really excelled when the traffic came to a standstill. The low seat height means you can flick the bike in and out of the traffic speedway style and the gearbox is so forgiving that when an inexperienced rider, as I was, gets it wrong it doesn’t spit you off like an angry bull. At first I found myself pulling up at the lights next to the city boys on their MV’s and R1’s but as the confidence grew I found them pulling up next to me, they just weren’t able to keep up through the traffic with the ER’s excellent low speed handling and superb manoeuvrability.
The trips back to Brum, however, were a different story. The ER is not a bike for the motorway. Don’t get me wrong, it can go, and has no problem cruising at 80-90mph, but it isn’t comfortable. You find yourself crouching for cover behind the instruments, your bum gets numb after about an hour and there is no protection from the weather. Having said that, the bike wasn’t designed for that, and besides, who wants to ride a bike on the motorway when there are so many great A-roads to play on?
Up until now the bike has been perfect for my needs, but I’m getting to the stage where I want something bigger and faster and with fairing and now I’m living back in the land of Brum I can afford big bike insurance.
I’ve recently had problems too. The finish isn’t great. The bike is just over three years old (outside of warranty) and in the last six months I’ve had to repair the fork seals; get a new chain, sprockets and cush drive; replace the rear wheel bearings; overhaul both brakes (the rear drum brake is appalling) and get new tyres – the bikes second set - and it’s only done 13,000 miles…but for £3500 new what can you expect?
All in all, it’s a fun, easy, cheap and reliable way to travel but it isn’t perfect. It’s a bike built with a specific purpose and price in mind - and for that, it does it’s job brilliantly.