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.

2011 Triumph Sprint GT: Four Views. All “meh”.

Motorcycle Daily got four different riders/writers to asses the 2011 Triumph Sprint GT, the longer, fatter, heavier American version of the Sprint ST–which is still available in Europe–and write down their impressions.

Essentially, the four different motojournalists seemed to say, “Nice, but too heavy with too long a wheelbase.” Which is pretty much what I thought when the initial specs came out.

I guess we’re just in the middle of a trend to larger and heavier motorcycles right now.  Unless you buy a crotch rocket, and can live with the scrunched up riding position.  Cruisers are sporting 1800cc mills now, the sport tourers are up to 13oocc+, all with heavier engines, frames, etc.

It’s beginning to look every bike will soon be a Gold Wing.

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.

GT650R, Waiting

Speaking of ATK, Frank White informed me this evening that a shiny red GT650R sportbike is waiting for me to pick up at Orange County Harley-Davidson.

I actually had a fantastic idea, which was to see if I could get hold of a Suzuki SV650RS to test alongside the GT. After all, Hysosung, the original manufacturer of the GT650R, have had a long-standing and close relationship with Suzuki. Even though the GT is not a Suzuki design, but rather a natively-created Hyposung bike, I thought a comparison between the products of these sister companies would be quite interesting to experience, and write about. Sadly, Suzuki’s PR guys in Brea told me that, since the SV is not a current model, they don’t have access to one to loan me.

But, all may not be lost. First, I asked Suzuki if they had a GSX1250FA sitting around. I’d really like to write up a test of what seems, on paper, to be a lighter and torquier (torque-ier? Torqier?) alternative to the big sport-tourers.  We’ll see how that goes. Second, Hell For Leather’s Wes Siler has indicated he might be able to scrape up an SV from somewhere. Again, we’ll see how that goes.

In any event, I’ll be heading up to Orange County Harley-Davidson sometime this week to pick up the test bike. And then, I guess we’ll see how that goes, too.

My own (temporary) ATK GT650R (Updated)

ATK CEO Frank White informs me that he is setting aside one of these for me to pick up on Saturday:

ATK GT650R
ATK GT650R

Except mine is red, i.e., the fast one. It looks like I’ll be driving up to Orange County first thing on Saturday to pick it up.  I’ll be keeping it for at least a week, so I’ll be able to give a fairly detailed review of it.

I suspect riding this V-Twin supersport will be…slightly different from my FJR1300.

UPDATE: Not so fast.  There’s been a delay on getting the bike to the dealership, so it looks like another couple of weeks before this will happen.

Another Diavel ride report

Motorcycle Daily has weighed in with their first impression of the Ducati Diavel. Unlike some other reviews, they seem impressed by the handling–even at low speeds.

But perhaps the best impress in comes from one of the article’s commenters, who quips that it looks like somebody finally made a V-Rod that works.

First Review: BMW K1600GT/GTL

UK Motorcycle journalist Kevin Ash has posted what I believe is the first ride review of the new 6-cylinder BMW K1600GT/GTL motorcycles.  This torque-monster of a motorcycle (129lb.ft) has been highly awaited as BMW has trickled out all sorts of press releases about the technology.  Is it worth the wait? Well, maybe…

What you’ll be hoping for then is a bike laden with well thought through gadgets, a super smooth engine and real muscle from idle upwards. You get most of that, but not quite all…

The big complaint about the bike seems to be the way it performs at the lower end of the rev range.

The motor is a little disappointing at lower revs, especially in the 2,000-3,000rpm zone where you find yourself a lot, as the gearing is tall and the engine so smooth it will trickle down to idle even in the high gears without complaint. Given the fat torque curve you’d hope to be able to snick the smooth-changing transmission into top and leave it there until you switch off at the end of the day, but in practice typical 50-70mph (80-110kph) overtakes demand a couple of downchanges if you’re going to despatch with slower traffic rapidly. And that’s solo, with a passenger, full luggage and steep mountain roads to negotiate (which is the point of a bike like this) you’ll be using the gearbox a fair bit more than you might have expected.

Other than that, Ash lauds the smoothness of the engine, the low weight (relative to the various accouterments, the handling, and, happily, the banshee scream of the inline-6 when you push it into the higher rev ranges.  One surprise to me, having ridden the K and R series bikes, is that he’s not all that impressed with the performance of the suspension when set to the harder “Sport” mode.

In Sport the ride gets harsh and choppy and the lack of compliance means you’re not only more comfortable staying in Normal even when going for it, the bike feels happier too. I’d even go for the plushness of the Comfort setting in preference to Sport when riding fast, as stability doesn’t suffer too much and aside from some floatiness over undulating bumps, the wheel control remains good.

Maybe the K1600-series is different, but on the R and earlier K bikes, I prefer the Sport mode for hard riding.  Maybe this is one of those subjective assessments that can only be confirmed–or denied–through personal testing…which I intend to accomplish, and relate to you, as soon as these bikes make it to Southern California, and are available for testing.

At any rate, Ash’s ride review make for interesting reading, and make me lick my chops for a chance to unleash that I-6, myself.

“Really, DCT is awesome”

Wes Siler, of Hell For Leather, has already been pretty vocal about his unpleasant experience on the new Honda VFR1200F, so it’s a bit of a surprise to see him not only back one one, but liking it. What he likes, specifically, is the one thing I’ve been leery about, which is the new Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT).  Owning an AE-model FJR with the electronic clutch, I’ve found it convenient in city traffic, but a bit scary in parking lots, as I’ve mentioned many times before.

This new DCT, however, seems to be a different beast.

The thing that makes this transmission so brilliant is that it actually, honestly, really improves control over the bike at low speed. Yes, some hydraulic pumps, two clutches and an electronic brain are better than my left hand at smoothly, predictably modulating power. Tight u-turns become a cinch, barely requiring your concentration. Pulling away at a crawl is as easy as twisting your right wrist. Coming to a halt, you just stop, the transmission simply cuts the power unobtrusively and instantly.

And that is precisely the bit of information I wanted to know about. The FJR AE has a problem with slow speeds.  Once that tach drops below 2500RPM in first, the clutch engages and you lose all power.  This mainly happens inevitably when you’re leaned over a bit pulling into a parking space, making the FJR AE want to flop over on it’s side.  The key is to give it some throttle, and stomp on the rear brake to slow down.  This requires a fair amount of hand-foot-eye coordination. That seems to be completely unnecessary with the Honda.

Of course, it also comes at a steep price, bringing a DTC-equipped VFR to a sticker price of $17,499. That’s perilously close to BMW territory when it comes to pricing.  But, without the BMW’s large-capacity bags, heated seat, grips, ESA, traction control, and usably large fuel tank.

With gas mileage in the 30s, and a 4-gallon tank, the VFR is hardly the best equipped “touring” model of the sports-touring category, unless “touring” to you means stopping every ton for gas. And the available luggage for the VFR is pretty small compared to the rest of the bikes in the sport-touring class.

It seems like a great, powerful bike with some great technology, but the high price and assorted drawbacks don’t impress–at least, not in a good way.

The rumor, of course, is that Honda already has a sport-tourer version of this bike in pre-release (as well as an adventure version). Perhaps they’ll rectify some of the current range and luggage issues with that bike.  I suspect, however, that the drawback of high sticker price won’t be solved.

2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 Test Rides

Well, this isn’t something you see every day. Motorcycle USA, Motorcycle.Com and Motorcycle Daily all have the same featured top story.  Each of them have test ride reports for the new Kawasaki Ninja 1000. And they all seem to like it.

2011 Hawasaki Ninja 1000
2011 Hawasaki Ninja 1000

I’m curious to see how this bike will do in the US. The Z1000 on which the Ninja is based probably won’t sell well, because Americans really don’t like naked standards.

But the fully-faired Ninja is different. The power and performance of the Ninja 1000 slots it between the ZX-6 and the ZX10.  So it has at least supersport performance.  What is doesn’t have are the tortuous ergonomics.  Kawasaki seems to have made it comfortable enough for touring, withut neutering the performance.

In recent years, sport bike ergnomics have gotten increasingly tortuous.  The handlebars are low, requiring the rider to lay across the tank.  The footpegs are high, to allow for extreme lean angles, but that means the riders knees are pulled up to massage the ribs.  Nice for a track day or 20-lap sprint, but not so nice for a daily commute.  and touring, of course, is right out.

What Kawasaki has done is created a motorcycle with the full-on performance of a sportbike, but a more upright, comfortable perch.  Street performance can never really match track performance, so the race-inspired ergos aren’t really necessary. In most categories in which the Ninja 1000 competes against the ZX-10 in terms of street performance, the Ninja seems to be the equal, if not the superior bike, though the ZX-10 would undoubtedly stomp it on the track.

Kawasaki also has touring in mind for the Ninja 1000, offering full sets of color-matched hard luggage. It’s hard to imagine doing any serious touring on any of the ZX line.  At least, not with an on-call masseuse and unlimited supplies of Tylenol.

It seems to have more than reasonable performance for the street–indeed, more performance than most riders can even use. At the time time, it’ll have comfort and touring capability that no pure race-bred sport bike can possibly offer. So, the question is, will American motorcyclists buy it? Or will they stick with the high-revving, pain inducing ZX line?