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2006 Kawasaki ER-6n: First Ride

Antoni’s report on the ER-6n intro follows. Be sure to see our earlier reports on this new Kawasaki here and here. Now, Antoni’s report:

On Kawasaki’s invitation, we arrived in Austria to see and ride the recently announced ER-6n — a bike designed by Kawasaki to appeal to virtually every rider skill level, male and female.

Entering the hotel in Salzburg, we see the somewhat radically-styled ER-6n in the flesh for the first time, and it is pleasing to look at. It would be the next morning before we could decide whether it was just as pleasing to ride.

In the meantime, our gracious hosts showed us some of the sights of Salzburg, and then made a presentation to us about their new product, the ER-6n. After the presentation, Kawasaki representatives undoubtedly had nightmares about the weather, as it was expected to rain. Fortunately, the following morning the sun appeared and gave us a great day to ride the ER-6n.

What Kawasaki was after with the ER-6n was the essence of riding (“ER”). A bike that would offer both pleasure and function to virtually every skill level of motorcyclist. In other words, a bike that the experienced rider could appreciate and enjoy, but which could also bring a new rider into the Kawasaki family of high performance motorcycles. It should be noted that this goal has been proven achievable by a similarly-sized machine offered by Suzuki (the SV650).

Kawasaki assured us that we would appreciate this Essential Riding experience during our test.

The all-new, 649cc engine was designed to work with a light and nimble chassis (a claimed 382 pounds dry) by offering smooth, broad and ample power controllable by a novice, but offering performance to please an experienced rider. The motor did not disappoint during our testing. Indeed, it surprised us with good power from 5,000 rpm all the way through 10,500 rpm. Given the twin-cylinder 649cc design, we did not expect this level of performance nor the amount of torque coupled with a strong rush of power at higher rpm levels. Very impressive.

This motor is entirely new. A parallel twin featuring double overhead cams, eight valves and electronic fuel injection is said to develop 72 horsepower. A healthy figure for an engine of this displacement and configuration, but one we do not doubt after testing the machine. Despite the generous power output, the ER-6n was designed to meet strict Euro III emissions standards.

This new engine is also small and light. Indeed, it is smaller than the 500cc parallel twin Kawasaki has used for years, both in Europe and in the United States (featured in the Ninja 500 here in the United States). This is not a “budget motor” — it is a modern, high performance, fuel injected design that is extremely narrow (“shrink wrapped” like a modern 600cc sport bike engine, for instance). The transmission is also “stacked” like some sport bikes, which makes the engine shorter from front-to-back, as well. The ER-6n is impressively narrow when you sit on it. It reminded us of a bicycle.

The physical design of the ER-6n impressed us. Although the front of the bike may be somewhat controversial, we liked it, and the rest of the bike has a clean, minimalist look about it. The wavy disc brakes have a high-end, performance look, as well.

If looking at the ER-6n impressed us, riding it impressed us even more. The bike immediately instills confidence in the rider, who feels totally in control and at one with the machine. Handling and comfort was surprisingly good given the simple suspension (only the rear shock is adjustable for spring preload). The ER-6n handles road irregularities quite well, and maintains its line through bumpy corners. Initiating turns requires little effort.

Indeed, at first the ER-6n appeared to turn in too quickly. This sensation was undoubtedly a product of the low center of gravity (the muffler is below the frame, for instance), the light weight (as stated, 383 pounds dry), the light and small crankshaft of the compact engine, and the short wheelbase. After a short while, this sensation was replaced by a feeling of confidence and responsiveness that made the ER-6n simply fun to ride — flickable, but stable.

The journalists enjoyed riding the ER-6n so much that we were really pushing hard through the twisty roads, playing and laughing in our helmets. The bike is very capable in this environment, but it did highlight the fact that the ER-6n does not have the braking power of a modern sport bike. The brakes are only adequate, and a hard core canyon carver might need to beef up the brakes (such as with different pads, brake lines, etc.).

The bottom line is that the ER-6n astonished us. Expecting a simple, budget commuter, designed for the urban environment, we encountered a bike that did everything we asked of it quite well, including high-speed antics on the open highway. No, the ER-6n does not offer the outright power of a modern 600cc sport bike, but the engine offers more than adequate power for your real world needs, and plenty of power to have fun with. This bike really does offer the essence of motorcycle riding . . . both function and fun in a package that performs beyond the expectations created by its budget price. The naked bike ergonomics of the ER-6n allow you to experience all of this in comfort, as well. Let’s hope Kawasaki finds a way to bring this bike to the United States . . . soon!