ATK/Hyosung GT650R Test: Final Report

I just dropped off the GT at Orange County Harley-Davidson, and, while I’m taking the train home, I thought I’d pen my final report on the bike. Before I begin, though, there’s a good comparo of the GT650 model against the Suzuki Gladius at Motorcycle.com.

First off, the GT is a fun little bike. It’s relatively light, and easy to handle in traffic. While it takes some effort to turn in, it feels planted and stable through the corners. The steel twin-spar chassis is firm and not easily unsettled. For the price, it really has a lot of pluses. Just be careful at highway speeds in 3rd or 4th gear, because it will pop right past the 100MPH mark lickety split. And, at 100MPH, it seems like it’s going a lot slower. It’s also got a surprisingly comfy seat.

There are some drawbacks. The sportbike ergos feel punishing after a couple of hours in the saddle. My knees and lower back weren’t happy after that point. But, that’s true with any sportbike. The tranny is clunky. Positive, but clunky. And, after 1 week, I did manage to coax two false neutrals out of it. The OEM BT-56 tires don’t seem like the best choice for this bike, because I think they are the source of the resistance to turn-in.

On the whole, considering the bike’s budget price, you could certainly do worse for a low-cost intruductory sportbike.

Quick Notes

If I was to tell you how packed my schedule has been this week, you’d be so bored you’d want to slit your own throat. So I won’t. But I do have time to take note of a few things.

The ATK/Hyosung GT650R I’ve been evaluating for ATK is doing fine. I’m convinced that, given some ergos more forgiving to my 46 year-old frame, it’d be a fine commuter/city bike. It’s easy to ride, with predictable performance, and has a surprisingly comfy seat.

The Honda CBR1000RR is about the deadliest racing weapon imaginable in the hands of Casey Stoner.

Is the new Kawasaki ZX-10R good enough to beat the BMWS1000RR in a head-on comparo? No. Seems like a close call, though.

I got my FJR back from the shop on Saturday. Embarrasingly, I had managed to hang my good luck bell in the perfect place…to cut the main wiring harness with the edge of the bell in a full-lock left turn. I’m glad I was backing out of a parking space, instead of trying to do a U-Turn, when the engine went dead.

Instead of spending money on a second bike, I’ve begun wondering if I shouldn’t just get an exhaust system, PowerCommander, and K&N Air Filter.

ATK/Hyosung GT650R Test: Observations and Suggestions

After two days of living with the Hyosung GT650R I’ve got some observations, and come up with some improvement suggestions.

Before I begin, I should point out that, starting next year, the ATK version of these bikes will not be the stock Hyosung versions. Most of the components will come from Hyosung, but ATK is planning to make changes to the bikes, to include assembling them with non-Hyosung components as well. Part of what I’m doing with this test of the Hyosung is providing feedback directly to ATK CEO Frank White on suggested improvements to the stock model. So the bikes that ATK produces, while still oriented towards the budget beginning rider, will, hopefully, incorporate some of these changes.

Also, in answer to a commenter, this is not a 2010 EFI model, but an ’09 carbuerated bike. So I’m not going to be giving any advice about EFI mapping. But, I have noticed that, like all carb bikes, it doesn’t like running cold.  Tends to stall out prior to warming up.

The ergos are hard to live with. They’re just overly aggressive.  The only other bike I can think of with this aggressively committed posture is the Aprilia RSV4. Unless you’re going to take this thing to the track every day, it’s just ridiculous to have to live with race ergos on a bike the puts out 60 ponies. So, a good start is to move the pegs forward and down an inch or so. I don’t think, with the placement of the exhaust pipe, that you have room to do much more. For the clip-ons, replace them with a set of Helibars mounted to the top of the triple tree. That’ll move the bars up about four inches, and back about one inch.  You’d still get a fairly aggressive posture for strafing the canyons,  but a far less tortuous one for daily commuting. You’ll need a taller windscreen if you do this though, to reduce helmet buffeting.

The BT-56 Battleax tires probably aren’t the best tire for this bike. The GT has pretty aggressive geometry, and it should turn in better than it does. I’m thinking the profile of the BT-56 just isn’t well suited for this bike. If you’re going to stick with Bridgestone, then I’d try a move to the BT-016, which is the spec OEM tire for the GSXR-600, or maybe the Dunlop D220 used on the SV650.

When you are blasting along in third, then kick it down a gear for some engine braking before entering a turn, too much engine braking causes the rear wheel come loose a bit, and it unsettles the chassis, starting up a bit of side-to-side shimmy. I learned that while strafing canyon roads today. This can be disconcerting. Use caution.

First gear is pretty “meh”. You can launch the bike OK, but it’s not a huge lunge of power. The fun really begins at about 6500RPM in second. You can pretty much do anything in second gear, and you can go through the twisty bits at twice the recommended speed limit. Sixth gear on this bike allows you to sedately cruise down the highway, and it’s almost lugging at 70MPH. It’s as tame as a pussycat in 6th, with very low vibes and perfectly clear rear-view mirrors. You can cruise practically forever this way.

I don’t like the design of the rear views. The mirrors are a single module mounted on a swivel at the end of the stalk. So, when I hang my helmet on the mirror, it moves it out of adjustment. I realize that this is a personal problem, however, as this is a standard mirror design.

It’s kind of odd seeing an old-fashioned gas tank. I mean the big thing in front of the seat really is a gas tank. It’s not a cover for the airbox, with the actual tank hidden below the seat. You open the gas cap, and there’s a big old jug of explosive fluid. Just sloshing around. Right next to your nads.

ATK/Hyosung GT650R Test: Day 1

GT650R, Right Side
GT650R, Right Side

I’ve put about 3 hours on the bike today, mainly in city and highway riding, although I did take a brief spin through some mountain twisties, because I couldn’t end my first ride without a little taste of the curvy stuff. Having done so, I’ve got a couple of initial observations about the bike.

Before I do so, let’s be sure to be clear about what we’re talking about here.  This is not a high-end motorcycle. You can tell that just by the price, which is around $6,199. while that price compares favorably with close analogs like the $7,499 MSRP of the 2009 Suzuki SV650SF (which isn’t actually made any more) or the $7,199 Kawasaki Ninja 600R, the feature set of the bike is also commensurately reduced, as well.

It’s a budget bike, designed for people who don’t want to spend–or don’t have–the extra $1000 or so to buy a more sophisticated alternative. It’s a 90% solution for a V-Twin sportbike, so let’s measure it against that design standard.

Don’t get me wrong, if Suzuki’s press fleet had any more SV650SFs available, I would have tested the two bikes side by side. Maybe that would be unfair, but it’s what I originally wanted to do. Since that’s not gonna happen right now, let’s look at the GT650R for what it is.

GT650R Instrument Cluster
GT650R Instrument Cluster

Visually, it seems like a previous-generation sportbike to me. Simple instrument cluster. Fatter tail section than modern bikes. No LED lights or turn signals. Bulbous fuel tank. The most distinctive visual element is the twin-spar steel frame.

The instrument cluster really looks like a 90s-era set of gauges. There’s an analog tach, and simple LED display that shows a large digital speedometer readout, engine temp, and fuel gauge. There’s a odometer with a trip meter and reset buttons to the right. Above are simple and obvious function lights. No bells and whistles, but they are relatively easy to read.

The overall fit and finish is acceptable, though not completely to the standard of the Japanese marks, while the solid red paint job is functional, rather than exciting.

The riding position is committed, with the clip-on handlebars mounted below the top of the triple tree, and the footpegs set fairly high. After a couple of hours in the saddle, it was getting pretty cramped for my 32″ inseam, and my wrists were a bit sore. Sportbike ergos. They are what they are.

On the other hand, the seat is really decent, being wide enough to support my bum well, and with some room to move back to front a bit.

Starting it up rewards you with a pretty decent V-Twin growl. I mean, it’s immediately obvious what this engine is. It sounds nothing like the hum of the small-displacement I-4s. It was also a bit louder than I expected, and it’s got a rumbly, rather than bubble exhaust note, which I like.

The other thing I liked was that getting it rolling doesn’t require you to pump up the revs like a small I-4. A little twist of the throttle, and it’s ready to pull from the get-go, which is also a pleasant V-Twin characteristic. It has a fairly high redline at 10,000RPM, so the power at 3,00o-5,000 RPM is relatively sedate in 1st gear, but it’s certainly there. Of course, the way they’ve done this is to make 1st a very short gear. It pulls well from a stop, but it gets to the redline fast, requiring a quick shift into second.

GT650R, Front
GT650R, Front

Second and third gears, on the other hand, are very tall, and you can spend a lot of time there. I took a run up and down the mountain from Escondido to Lake Wohlford and back, and kept it in second for the whole run through the twisty bits…but we’ll talk about that in a minute.

The suspension is set fairly stiff, which is good for twisties, but was less good on the bumpy I-5 South, where it transmitted more road feel than I wanted to my butt at 85MPH. Having said that, at street speeds, did a surprisingly good job of absorbing the cracks and small potholes. The 41mm front fork is adjustable for compression and rebound damping, while the mono rear shock has adjustable preload. I was satisfied enough with it not to consider changing it after I got home.

Once the engine gets above 6,000 RPM, the vibrations start to kick in.  It gets pretty vibey under your butt, and the mirrors begin losing clarity pretty fast. On the other hand, the rubber footpegs and the handlebars do a decent job of isolating you from the vibes. Not once did I get any numbness in my hands during a 1.5 hour trip home. The vibration is going to be a point of contention for some, but not for me. I like V-Twins, and some vibration seems to me to be part of the character of that engine. Yes, the Ducati twins are much smoother. They also cost three times as much.

Handling on the GT650R requires a lot of rider input. I think it’s the OEM tires, because the 25° rake and relatively short 56.5″ wheelbase should make the handling a bit sharper than it is. The handling is, in fact, rock solid, it’s just not telepathic.  You have to tell it what to do, and it complies happily, but you really have to tell it what to do. There’s no simple “look & go” like a GSX-R. On the other hand, it’s not twitchy, like the CBR. It just requires that you apply the appropriate amount of countersteer to make the magic happen. It’s been solid and planted at every lean angle I’ve put it through so far, though I’ve had to keep pushing the bars to keep a tight line.  At low speeds, the GT has a much wider turning radius than it should, with a full-lock U-Turn taking up the whole street, as much as my FJR.

The engine’s power is very manageable for street riding, and not intimidating at all, though it can be deceptively fast if you flog it. Again 2nd or 3rd gear is suitable for almost any street riding speed. At highway speed, 6th gear at an indicated 80MPH shows 5,000RPM on the tach, the vibes are very muted, and the rear-view mirrors are surprisingly clear. A kick down to fifth is suitable for quick passing. Air management with the stock shield at highway speeds could be better, and I experienced buffeting around the head while traveling down the I-5 at 85MPH. But, then again, you can say that about a lot more expensive sportbikes, too.

The transmission is solid and dependable, if a bit clunky, but there were no false neutrals. Clutch pull was bit heavy, though, making surface street riding a bit tiring to the left hand. Maybe my AE model FJR has spoiled me.

Braking is OK, with two fingers on the front brake sufficing for most things. The braking is progressive, although it takes an excessive amount of finger travel on the front brake lever. The rear brake has decent feel, far better than the wooden feel of say, the rear brakes on a Buell.

So far, I’ve found a only a couple of things to complain about. There’s a lot of travel in the clutch lever, and it’s hard to find the friction point. It’s just really vague between no clutch and full clutch. While I didn’t have any false neutrals while shifting, once you put it in neutral, it really wants to stay in neutral. I haven’t yet found the magical combination of clutch, throttle, and foot pressing to get reliably out of neutral on the first try. Or the third, for that matter. Also, it’s not super-fast, but, OK, I’m a bit jaded, as I haven’t ridden a bike of less than 1000cc displacement for a couple of years, so we probably need to give it a pass on that. It weighs 474lbs wet, so all the supersport guys are gonna call it a porker, which probably explains why it’s a bit slow. But, again, I ride a 650lb FJR every day, so it seems marvelously light to me.

So, after my first day’s experience, do I like it? Yes, I do like it, considering what it is.

Here’s the thing: once you’ve spent a couple of years poncing about on 145+ HP bikes with $12K+ price tags, you get used to a certain level of power and amenities. So, going back to a basic 650cc intro sportbike–and a twin, at that–is a bit of a disappointment. You have to look beyond that.

The GT650R is a budget bike for beginners.  It doesn’t have any weird spikes in the powerband to surprise you. It doesn’t pull your arms out of their sockets or frighten the bejeezus out of you give it a bit too much throttle. It doesn’t wander about the line in a curve, requiring a high level of finesse and technical skill. It’s got a pretty sedate power curve in town, but decent power for highway riding. It handles lean angles and rider input without complaint, and without going all squirrely on you. It’s not a great bike like a GSX-R, but it’s competent, and probably pretty exciting for a beginning rider.

No, it isn’t as pretty or sophisticated as a CBR or Ninja, but it also costs a bit more half of what a CBR600 costs, and $1,500 less than a base-model V-Strom. It’s a bike designed to give beginning riders a budget alternative to introductory sportbikes, and so far, it seems to me that it does that fairly well.

ATK/Hyosung GT650R Test: First Impressions

GT650R, Packed up and ready to ride

This is what the ATK/Hyosung GT650R looked like this morning as I prepared to ride it away from Orange County Harley-Davidson.

A couple of visual things I noticed as I was getting ready to ride.

  • Instrument cluster is simple, and relatively easy to read, though some might find the analog tach a little small. The large LED speedo is very legible.
  • The tank badge says “ATK”. The top of the triple tree says Hyosung “GT650R Comet”. ATK-produced bikes will no doubt have the Hyosung badges removed.
  • Decent little trunk under the passenger seat.
  • Useful cargo tiedowns on either side of the passenger seat.
  • Extensive chain cover to protect your pants from flying chain oil.

Those were just quick first impressions.

This first year of ATK-badged bikes are actually unsold Hyosungs. For next year, Hyosung will build the components, and ATK will assemble them in their Utah factory.

ATK Signs Deal for Street Bikes

Back in November, I wrote that US dirt-bike maker ATK and Korean conglomerate S&T inked a deal for ATK to assemble ATK-branded street bikes at some select Harley-Davidson dealerships.  It’s a dealer-level deal, and has nothing to do with the Motor Company itself, just some dealers put together by ATK’s CEO Frank White.

This week, we get an update, with ATK and S&T formalizing a deal for 33,000 motorcycles over the next four years.  The models below are the ATK-assembled and badged bikes whose parts will be brought in from Korea:

There will be two 250cc models, a sportbike and cruiser, and two similar 650cc models.

According to Frank White’s statement in the ATK Press release:

White is quick to explain that The Harley- Davidson Motor Company does not endorse or support this joint venture in any way. White states; “Nevertheless, our new products fit the current Harley-Davidson dealer need and move to offer both the dealer, and more importantly, the retail customer, a complete staircase of V-twin based products, which only acts to complement the current Harley-Davidson product line-up.”

“The approach is simple; get new and younger riders to go into the Harley-Davidson dealerships,” explains White. “We want to capture those customers who are initially looking for a smaller displacement motorcycle, at an affordable price, and then over time these new riders will develop the aspiration for a traditional Harley-Davidson.”

HD may not have any part of this deal, but I’ll bet they’re watching it closely.

ATK & S&T Deal: Update

ATK CEO Frank White has sent me the following email in regards to the deal that ATK has made to sell American-assembled motorcycles from S&T:

Buon Giorno from EICMA Italy (Motorcycle Show)

One of our Harley Dealers is a regular to your site and suggested I make some comments to the recent posts to set the record straight. I normally avoid BLOG’s however, what the heck, your site seems quite good and your information is factual.

A comment on ATK taking the place of Buell on some BLOGs.

We are NOT working through the H-D Dealer network under the endorsement or support of the Harley Davidson Motor Company in any way. This is stated on the press release.

We are NOT going to be making products in the same market niche/segment that Erik Buell was making. Erik is a Maverick in innovation and development in his part of the industry and we would be fools to try and step in. Obviously with H-D pulling the plug has created a vacuum of opportunity in the network that want American Branded products.

Some of our Dealers sent me the gut wrenching U Tube link with Erik and I feel for the guy. We’ve been in business basically the same amount of time and this is NOT an easy business.

Our focus is going to be attracting an all new and much younger customer into Harley shops with a diverse quality platform of products. (Like Scion is to Toyota) We also want to get more people in the motorcycle world like the industry did so well in the 70’s… This should be interesting

Feel free to post this.

Ciao

Frank White
ATK Motorcycles

In my previous post, I did append the press release, which does say that this is a deal that Harley knows about, but does not endorse.  I also stated:

It’s a bit of a coup for Harley dealerships, and possibly for Harley-Davidson itself–as well.  They will–or at least selected dealers will–have access to new lines of motorcycles to bring in younger customers.  This is especially true if the ATK dirt bikes can also make an appearance on dealer showrooms.

Let me clarify what I meant here.  To the extent that new, younger riders are drawn into Harley dealerships, The MoCo will, if this deal operates successfully, eventually have access to these new dealership customers when they begin looking for large displacement motorcycles.  I did not intend to imply that this was part of any strategy on the part of Harley-Davidson.  This is something at will operate purely at the dealer level with some select dealers, and any advantages that accrue to the Motor Company will be more or less incidental.

And, of course, implying that HD itself was part of this would imply that HD actually had a strategy.  Which, after the MV Agusta deal and the closing down of Buell, is a pretty questionable implication.

Buon Giorno from EICMA Italy (Motorcycle Show)

One of our Harley Dealers is a regular to your site and suggested I make some comments to the recent posts to set the record straight.  I normally avoid BLOG’s however, what the heck, your site seems quite good and your information is factual.

A comment on ATK taking the place of Buell on some BLOGs..

We are NOT working through the H-D Dealer network under the endorsement or support of the Harley Davidson Motor Company in any way. This is stated on the press release.

We are NOT going to be making products in the same market niche/segment that Erik Buell was making.  Erik is a Maverick in innovation and development in his part of the industry and we would be fools to try and step in.   Obviously with H-D pulling the plug has created a vacuum of opportunity in the network that want American Branded products.

Some of our Dealers sent me the gut wrenching U Tube link with Erik and I feel for the guy.   We’ve been in business basically the same amount of time and this is NOT an easy business.

Our focus is going to be attracting an all new and much younger customer into Harley shops with a diverse quality platform of products.  (Like Scion is to Toyota)  We also want to get more people in the motorcycle world like the industry did so well in the 70’s…  This should be interesting.

Feel free to post this.

Ciao

Frank White

ATK Motorcycles

S&T and ATK Get Inside the Harley Dealer Network

Practically no one saw this coming, or were even in the ballpark of predicting it, and I’m interested to see what the motorcycle press will make of it, since I’m sure that some of them, like me, have been aware of this for at least several weeks now, although the news has been embargoed, so no one could report on it.

As of today, the embargo has been lifted, and we are now free to speak about it.

First, the press release from S&T/ATK, makes the bare bones facts available.  S&T motorcycles, the Korean manufacturer of the Hyosung brand motorcycles will be working directly with ATK motorcycles, the US manufacturer of dirt bikes.  Together they will produce a motorcycle that will be largely produced in Korea by Hyosung and  assembled in the USA by ATK.  These ATK-badged motorcycles will be smaller displacement motorcycles that will be sold in selected Harley-Davidson dealerships.

Sources close to the deal tell me that ATK may also begin selling their off-road motorcycles in some Harley dealerships as well.  It is not yet entirely clear which of the ATK-badged Hyosungs will be made available to the Harley Dealers, although the new 700cc Aquila is a likely candidate.

Sources also tell me that it is possible–although exactly how possible is still unclear–for modified versions of the 250cc and 650cc cruisers and sportbikes, with new bodywork created by ATK, are candidates for those dealers who desire them, to help bring in the younger riders that Harley so desperately needs, as their current rider community is aging rapidly.

This is a coup for both ATK and S&T.  ATK now has a chance to substantially increase their penetration into the Harley-Davidson dealer network.  S&T has a chance to get deeper into the US Market–which has regarded their products with some suspicion due to confusing Hyosung with a Chinese, rather than South Korean company–by having their bikes branded with an American manufacturer’s badge.

It’s a bit of a coup for Harley dealerships, and possibly for Harley-Davidson itself–as well.  They will–or at least selected dealers will–have access to new lines of motorcycles to bring in younger customers.  This is especially true if the ATK dirt bikes can also make an appearance on dealer showrooms.

The hope is that everyone can win by making the dealerships places where a number of different product lines can be found, in order to bring in a wider, and one hopes, younger, group of riders through the door.

The full text of the press release is below the fold.

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