Bonda puts a leg over Kawasaki’s bargain ER-6n and finds the odd-looking and weirdly named machine to be one of the best bargains of the year.
Middleweight standards are making a comeback. Maybe it’s because they’re lighter, less intimidating and easier to handle than big, lardy cruisers, and more versatile and comfortable than the latest supersports. Perhaps it’s because they’re less expensive to buy, maintain and insure. Or maybe customers are beginning to appreciate the appeal of machines that are less specialized and exhibit more of a “do-it-all” nature.
Whatever the reason, I couldn’t be happier.
Kawasaki already has a couple of pretty good bikes on the outskirts of this category with the Ninja 650 and the Versys. But where the Ninja is fully faired and the Versys has a rudimentary upper fairing, the ER-6n is virtually nekkid, with only a bikini headlight fairing, radiator side pods and a discreet belly pan hiding its private parts.
It looks like we’ve finally scraped the bottom of the motorcycle nomenclature barrel, and the bike’s moniker looks like a randomly generated password for a bank debit card. Kawasaki even assures 4-bit encryption by incorporating a hyphen and upper and lowercase letters – ER-6n. And how do you pronounce it phonetically? Ersixen? Earsexin? From here on in, I’ll just refer to it as the ER.
PIN-friendly name aside, Kawasaki would have hit a hit a home run on pricing alone with the ER, which retails at a very reasonable $7,949. Suzuki’s Gladius would appear to be the natural competition as a 650 naked twin but it lists for $9,199.
The ER easily undercuts Yamaha’s four-cylinder FZ6R, priced at $8,799, and will likely beat out Honda’s yet-to-be-priced CBF600. Even among the Kawasaki family, the ER is a bargain when compared to the $8,649 Versys and $8,349 baby Ninja.
CHEAP AND CHEARFUL
Under the gas tank, you’ll find the same great 649 cc liquid-cooled parallel twin found in the 650 Ninja and Versys. It’s a free-spinning mill that claims 71 horsepower and has a torque curve that gives it great low-end grunt and a pretty good hit up top if you’re willing to wind it up.
My press unit, unfortunately, had a bit of a flat spot right off idle, which required a bit more clutch slip than I’d like to get underway, but once in motion, the EFI was flawless.
I say ‘unfortunate’ because a motorcycle like this will attract new riders and this slight glitch makes it a bit more difficult to get the motorcycle underway after a stop – undoubtedly one of the more difficult tasks for a newbie to master.
The steel frame ties everything together well and the ER displays the same lay-down shock design found on the 650 Ninja and Versys. A non-adjustable 41 mm telescopic fork has fairly soft springs and cushy damping, providing a smooth ride over the pockmarked cowpaths we call roads, but it lacks preciseness when you turn up the sport-o-meter.
Ditto for the rear. You can crank up the rear preload to assist handling but then the limited damping gives a harsh ride over bumps. With a bargain basement price, some compromises must be made.
No doubt, some experienced riders will find the ER to their liking but the motorcycle is undoubtedly aimed more towards beginners. To that end, the seat height is a reasonable 785 mm (30.9 inches) and the wasp-waisted frame allows the seat to be fairly narrow as well, providing a shorter reach to the ground.
The seating position is neutral and upright, controls are light to operate and both brake and clutch levers are adjustable. Sometimes newbies have an awful time fishing around for neutral at a stop and the ER even makes this onerous task easy with its neutral-finder transmission, a useful feature found on all Kawasaki street bikes.
As for the ER’s styling, it’s um … different. It strikes a reasonably attractive profile but I can’t quite figure out those elbow-like rad shrouds – and as for the headlight schnozz … it reminds me of the prominent facial appendage of a certain CMG features editor.
An added bonus of the protruding proboscis is that it provides a surprising amount of wind deflection on the highway, not as good as a flyscreen, but better than nothing. The side-mounted radiator covers, likewise deflect some of the windblast away from your legs.
Like Kawasaki’s other 650 twins, the ER has the same Thermos bottle muffler tucked underneath the frame. It’s attractive in an odd, Sandra Bullock-type way (dude, she’s hot!), it sounds good and I’m sure it’s functional, but the placement of said muffler means that no centerstand is available.
For me, that’s a deal breaker on a middleweight because it makes simple tasks like lubing the chain (a must-do chore when touring) difficult if you’re alone.
Being somewhat of a traditionalist, I absolutely detest the instrument package, which strikes me as a combination of Star Trek meets Pee Wee Herman.
The speedo is an odd shape and difficult to read with Klingon-inspired lettering, and it sits perched above an equally loathsome LCD sweeping bar-graph tachometer. Sigh. Repeat after me, “Round gauges are best, round gauges are best.”
Around town, the upright seating position, short 1,405 mm wheelbase and relatively light 200 kg (440 lb) curb weight, combined with the responsive motor and delightful gearbox make threading through traffic a breeze. Point the ER towards the twisties and it’s okay there as well – up to the point where speed starts to overwhelm the limited suspension. Keep to a moderate pace and you’ll be fine.
Front brakes use Kawasaki’s traditional “petal” style dual 300 mm rotors, squeezed by old-style two piston calipers. I thought the initial bite was fairly soft, which will be good for new riders, and once you squeezed harder, the ultimate braking power was okay but the whole system felt rather numb and without much feedback.
Fit and finish were first-rate and the paint on my press unit was a vividly gorgeous blue with the shock spring painted to match – a clever touch.
Speaking of details, the ER has convenient bungee cord anchors under the tailpiece, making attaching a tailbag or day pack a snap, and a pair of cable straps under the seat provide lockable security for two helmets.
I think the ER-6n will do well for Kawasaki, and new riders will do well with it. It’s got plenty of power, comfy ergos and handles relatively well. The fact that it’s one of the best bargains of the year won’t hurt its chances
|parallel four-stroke dohc twin,|
Power (crank – claimed)
|71 hp @ 8,500 rpm|
|49 ft-lbs @ 7,000 rpm|
|Six speed, chain drive|
|Twin 300 mm discs with dual-piston|
|Single 220 mm disc with single-piston|
|785 mm (29.7″)|
|1,405 mm (55.3″)|
Wet weight (claimed)
|200 kg (441 lbs)|