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2009 Kawasaki ER-6n: MD Ride Review – “Not the Nice Shoes”

Remember when your mom took you to buy a pair of shoes? Back then, there were no cross-trainers, trail runners, urban sandals, “athleisure” shoes (whatever those are) or ice climbers. You got Nice Shoes, or you got sneakers. God help you if you wore the Nice Shoes to school.

So now you’re all grown up and you walk into a dealership to buy a new motorcycle. But there are no motorcycles in the showroom. Instead, there are only cruisers, sportbikes, dual-sports, sport-tourers, supermotos, sport-cruisers, and even “naked” sportbikes. There aren’t a lot of standards, though; basic transportation with simple styling, a comfortable riding position and adequate (at least) handling, brakes and power. Such bikes are just a tiny part of the U.S. motorcycle market, and it’s a chicken-or-egg situation: consumers complain there’s a lack of such bikes, and OEMs complain there isn’t a market big enough to justify bringing in new models.

It’s different in Europe, where these machines make up a far greater portion of the market. One bike that’s done well there is Kawasaki’s ER-6n, where it’s been sold for a few years. You may know its twin brother, which arrived in the U.S. market a few years ago as the Ninja 650R. With a full fairing and sportbike-y looks, the micro-Ninja has been a success with new riders, and with the loss of Honda’s 599, is just about the only middleweight standard game in town (along with Suzuki’s new Gladius 650 Twin, which replaces the nekkid SV650) if what you want is a bargain-priced twin. So why not strip the fairing and give consumers one more choice with a Kawasaki logo on the tank?

After all, both bikes are fundamentally the same, as we all are under our thin skins. And that’s where you’ll find Kawi’s great 649cc liquid-cooled parallel twin with zesty (11.3:1) compression in its spinny eight-valve, twin-cam head. 83mm bore and 60mm stroke hints at a short-stroke, revvy good time. Fuel is sprayed all up in there via dual 38mm injectors, and a six-speed gearbox gets power out to an O-ring chain. Changes to the motor for 2009 include a bigger radiator and airbox, along with the FI settings to take advantage of these increased capacities.

The chassis is also modded. It’s still a semi-double cradle tube-steel item, but gets a new, more-rigid swingarm and rubber mounting for the motor, footpegs and handlebar to damp vibrations. The preload-adjustable rear shock is a laydown unit, bolted directly to the swingarm, sans linkage. The fork, which lacks damping, preload or rebound adjustments, uses beefy-for-1990-but-meh-for-2009 41mm tubes. No matter; the bike weighs in at a claimed 441 pounds fueled up, so the relatively skinny tubes are adequate for the intended mission. To fit the ER’s lighter weight and to be more appealing to newer riders, it has a sharper steering-head angle than the Ninja 650R and shorter fork, lowering the center of gravity and the seat, which is at a tidy 29.7 inches, .4 inches lower than the Ninja’s. Brakes are stylish petal-style rotors, but the budget pricing means two-piston sliding-pin calipers in front. At least the master cylinder is revised (with a new pivot for more leverage, along with Kawasaki’s “Ball-Joint Actuation”) for better feel. Tires are radial and sporty, a 120/70-17 front and 160/70-17 out back, which helps provide quicker turn in.

The ER-6n’s styling is…distinctive. It’s a naked, but it’s still clad in minimalist bodywork shrouding the radiator, headlights and instruments. Aluminum passenger grabrails – optional on the 650 Ninja – come standard.

Blah, blah, blah…it’s a motorcycle, we get it. What’s it like to ride? If you’re looking for grandpa’s 650cc parallel-Twin, go look under the tarp behind the barn, because you won’t find it here. The ER’s motor, thanks to careful design and rubber-mounting, is as smooth as a 90-degree V-Twin, except with a nice Inline-Four-ish punch on top. Power should be right up there with the competition, about 70 hp at the wheel. Beginners are happy working this motor all day long at 4-5000 rpm, where it’s forgiving of a wrong gear or missed shift. Even 2-3000 rpm will chug you out of a turn. Expert riders will have a good time playing at the top end of the rpm range, where there’s enough power for a good rider to keep entertained at a track day.

Handling is everything you’d expect from a budget-priced middleweight Twin. It’s light and easy to ride, with the low, narrow seat giving newbies confidence (and long-distance riders a PITA). The bike feels slightly heavier to steer than a V-Twin might, but the high, wide handlebar means it’s hardly a chore. High-speed turns are stable, despite the steeper rake and short, 55.3 inch wheelbase. The suspension feels budget, and can transmit a slight wiggle from the rubber-mounted bar, but the Dunlop RoadSmart radials offer excellent grip and confidence.

The ER-6n is practical and easy to live with. It offers good fuel-injection tuning, a smooth clutch and gearbox, and it’s easy to find neutral at a stop. There’s room for a U-lock under the seat, where you will find two cable helmet loops (and not much else). Passenger accommodations are decent, and the steel tank (good for magnetic tankbags) holds a claimed 4.1 gallons; good for around 150 miles of spirited freeway riding.

The instrument cluster may be filled with interesting information, but it’s all crammed into a small space and requires some study to read quickly. Kawasaki must have freed the guy who designed the Z1000′s tachometer from the dungeon, because the ER-6n’s unit is the same eye-blurring radial bar-graph thing. And the speedometer’s digital readout uses small digits . . . tough to read in a hurry. Still, kudos for the fuel gauge, dual tripmeters, clock, and bright, clear backlighting.

There are better choices than an ER-6n for a brand-new rider (as in even smaller, less powerful bikes), but it’s much more manageable and forgiving than a supersport 600. Returning riders or those looking for a good commuter that’s fun to play with on weekends will like it too; it’s fast enough to be interesting, has predictable handling, decent suspension and brakes and has a saucy Euro-stylishness that doesn’t say “budget.”

At $6399 it’s tough to beat, and like a pair of sneakers, the ER-6n is comfortable, affordable, practical and fun to get dirty on. It may not be the bike that empties the Starbucks and sends drooling spectators out into the street when you pull up for your Sunday latte, but that’s okay: it takes the pressure off and lets you go ride and have a good time. And you don’t have to worry about your mom hollering at you when you scuff up your nice shoes.

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MD Readers Respond:

  • Wish there were more Japanese P-Twins. I’d go for a little bigger one like 800cc[+] and shaft drive with the look of a 81 CB750F or KZ750. Gotta have the big chrome light! Quick question…. Where was the last picture taken that I attached. I’m moving there…seriously! Thanks and keep up the great work! Rob
  • Why would Kawasaki go out of its way to make such an ugly bike? Have our tastes really degenerated to this low? Yes, of course! We like sluts and gang bangers as our entertainers. We love to trash everywhere we go. We love cheap food and ugly clothes. Parents don’t parent and our children are oppressive. What we call art belongs in the latrine – which brings us back to this piece of matter that Kawasaki has produced. It’s a very appropriate design for the times. I expect it to get some sort of award. We love it. We ARE supposed to love it, right? I’ll check with my neighbors and other sites to make sure. By the way, did you catch that “in” emperor guy with those hot new clothes? Austin