Kawasaki ER-6f

Kawasaki_ER6f_04By Kevin Ash

Pictures: Kawasaki Press

I really like the new ER-6n – you can read the test here. The 09 model represents the first facelift of a bike that turned out a fair bit more popular than Kawasaki was expecting, the original parallel twin ER-6n which started rolling out of showrooms towards the end of 2005. The revised version is smoother, fuels better, is sharper handling with better suspension and reduced vibration, something of an issue with the older one.

 Kawasaki_ER6f_01Click on image for galleryThe new ER-6f, like the old ER-6f, is identical to the 6n aside from its obvious additional bodywork and front suspension tweaked to cope with the extra weight of the fairing... so I ought to like that just as much. It’s a shame then that a couple of things conspire to spoil it, although not fatally. The first might seem relatively trivial, but when you live with a bike it will take on greater importance and start to irritate more. The problem is the mirrors, which are quite the worst I’ve used on a larger Japanese bike for many years. Not only are they set too narrow so you can only see behind if you swing an arm out of the way, they suffer badly from the bike’s second irritation, a buzzing vibration, and on top of that the mirror glass used is cheap and distorts badly towards its edges.

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There’s tacit admission from Kawasaki that these aren’t right when you look at the accessories list, which includes mirror extensions and even alternative aluminium-stemmed mirrors – when did you last see either of those outside a Harley or Ducati accessory catalogue? It’s especially poor form when you consider the bike aims to attract riders moving up to their first big bike, inexperienced people who need as much help as they can get from their machine, not obstructiveness.

With that out of the way things get a lot better, but before we get onto the good stuff, the second main annoyance is the vibration. This is a surprise because it’s worse than on the new ER-6n yet ought to be the same, so either this is down to individual machine differences or possibly because attaching the fairing changes how different components resonate and transmit the vibes. These are felt through the bars and footrests mostly, although after a longer trip I did find the buzzing faded into the background – either I was getting used to them or the bike really was smoothing out as the miles accumulated, quite possible as it only had 250 (400km) racked up when I collected it. It’s worth noting too that I didn’t get any numbness or real discomfort, so I’ve relegated this below the mirrors on the irritation chart.

Okay, as the 6f shares the 6n’s new frame, swingarm and suspension, it does steer extremely well. There are minor geometry changes - a half-a-degree more raked out head angle, 5mm less trail, 5mm more wheelbase, entirely due to the front end sitting a little higher on the suspension, and at speed it’s more stable as you’d expect due to these, the extra 10lb (4kg) overall weight and the smoother airflow, and while agility is slightly reduced this is still a fun bike to sling through a series of corners. The suspension in fact feels quite firm which helps the bike’s sports ability, but note the ABS version has stiffer fork springs and damping to maintain control when the anti-lock is in operation. The brakes work well too, from gentle slowing to full-on white knuckle stops, being progressive with plenty of power when you need it, while the ABS doesn’t upset the bike’s balance too badly.

If there’s little difference from the 6n in corners the 6f is far superior on motorways and at high speeds generally, which is no great surprise. Three figure cruising is painless (160kph-plus if you’re metric) and clever aerodynamics mean the turbulence from the screen is minimal, and even though shorter riders just about catch it on their helmets it won’t bother them. Economy is better than the 6n too: in mixed riding I was being rewarded with 53mpg (18.8km/l, 5.33l/100km, 44mpg US), the low fuel warning blinking unmissably after 130 miles at this rate with 2.5 gallons (11.5 litres, 3 gallons US) of the 3.4 gallon (15.5 litres, 4.2 gallons US) tank consumed.

Gentler riders will improve on this even, which is impressive as the engine also happens to be a lot of fun, pulling eagerly at low revs, punching strongly in its mid-range then revving willingly when you ask for more. The last 1,500rpm to the 11,200rpm rev limiter are laborious but this doesn’t matter as the rev range is plenty wide enough anyway, and the motor also sounds snarlingly good when the throttle’s open wide. The fuelling doesn’t intrude either, being smooth and predictable at all revs and in particular with very small throttle openings at low speeds, when you need it most.

New riders (and the rest of us) might not like the mirrors but the low seat helps confidence, especially for shorter ones. It’s been narrowed at the front too compared with the old ER-6 which helps again, although leggier types will find their knees being cramped with longer periods aboard – this is a compact machine, and that does show in the seat to footrest relationship, although the reach to the bars is reasonable. Between your hands is a rather gloomy dash, lots of black plastic with an odd, packing case finish and a curved all-LCD display allegedly inspired by MotoGP bikes – well they don’t need it to look pretty, do they? It’s clear enough though.

The bodywork’s styling was designed to ape Kawasaki’s Ninja sports bikes, and it does this effectively, looking good without being too aggressive and it should help attract the younger riders Kawasaki is after without alienating the oldies. Colours available are the inevitable lime green as well as a rich blue and black.

One useful advantage the ER-6f has is that Suzuki has chosen to launch the faired version of the Gladius next year, so while the ER-6n has to battle with the excellent Suzuki the 6f is on its own at the moment, which must help sales. But I think it’ll still hold its head up even in 12 months time, though it’d do better with improved mirrors and reduced vibration.

Price: £5,075 (ABS version: £5,425)
Available: March 2009
Contact: Kawasaki Motors UK, 01628 856600, www.kawasaki.co.uk

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* Semi-dry sump lubrication