LAUNCHED in 2005, the ER-6f and its naked sibling were set to take on the world of budget middleweights and, to a large extent, they succeeded. But the early models had a tendency to feel just that – budget. Seven years on, and the ER6 bikes are much more sophisticated.
The latest faired “f” version benefits from revised bodywork which looks smart and, along with the new windscreen, offers greater rider comfort. The screen is adjustable through three settings with a range of 60mm, which is handy but not the easiest thing to change. The “double pipe” frame and 20mm slimmer fuel tank helps achieve a slim, lightweight look as the bike’s shape tapers towards the rear.
The 6f is a smart-looking bike, and details like the two-piece seat give the Kawasaki a sportier edge. The stylised mirrors aren’t very practical but they do look good, and touches like integrated indicators make the Kawasaki stand out from the crowd.
But the ER-6f doesn’t have to rely on its good looks, it’s far more than just a pretty face – and the only bike among its immediate Japanese rivals with an adjustable windscreen. The seat height is a comfortable 805mm, but the sportily-positioned high footpegs can give the bike quite a cramped riding stance if you’re much over six feet tall.
Among its competitors the Kawasaki is one of the most time-consuming to adjust to. The handlebars feel quite wide, and in the saddle I often find myself grabbing the grips as close to their inside edges as possible. It creates a slightly less natural riding position than some others, but all is forgotten when the bends start coming thick and fast.
The parallel twin engine is as practical as ever. Kawasaki has concentrated on delivering the ER’s power where it’s most useful, so its 71bhp and 47lb/ft of torque arrives at 7,000 rpm and 8,500 rpm respectively. That’s lower than a four-cylinder alternative and makes the ER better for scratching around town, where a flatter torque curve is the order of the day.
The ER-6f may be a rider-friendly middleweight, but that engine gives it a mature air. It comfortably handles slow-paced urban crawling, although the bike’s engine feels very mechanical and almost lumpy compared to the smoothness of its four-cylinder rivals. It also has less power but offers more torque lower in the rev range, so punching out of corners or past traffic is a joy.
As for the handling, it’s one of the best in class. The suspension is firmer than one or two other bikes and therefore rides with a sportier purpose. Potholes can be jarring as the suspension absorbs less, so in turn you feel more, but the upside is that the ER is a responsive sporty middleweight that’s keen to be thrown around and doesn’t wallow when the pace quickens. Slow speeds and U-turns are a doddle, but despite the fairing it’s not the most protective at higher speeds. It’s still comfortable enough for medium-haul rides, though.
The ER-6f’s stopping power is its weak spot – on the test bike at least. It’s the only thing that really lets it down performance-wise. The brakes aren’t bad, but you can find yourself catching a deeper breath than expected as your fingers dive for a second squeeze of the lever.
The Kawasaki is light, nimble, quick-steering and it has a lively engine. But if you’re fortunate enough to be able to jump from one of its close competitors right onto the ER, you’ll notice the negative shift in its ergonomics. The riding position combines a fairly normal seat height, too little leg room and high bars tilted at a strange angle. The gearbox and clutch are fine, if slightly notchy, and combined with the extra vibrations produced by the twin cylinders it actually has less quality feel than a four-cylinder option from the same class.
But the 6f just manages to trump its rivals. Visually it has the most current styling and it looks the business, but more importantly it can rise to the challenge and ride as nicely as it sits at a roadside cafe. The engine configuration instantly sets it apart from four-pot choices, and its torquey rider-friendly characteristics coupled with a light and easy handling give it an edge.
MODEL Kawasaki ER-6f
ENGINE 649cc parallel twin
POWER 71bhp @ 8,500rpm
TORQUE 42lb.ft @ 7,000rpm
KERB WEIGHT 211kg