Gabe Ets-Hokin: You Could do a Lot Worse
At the end of the day, a culture is judged by its artifacts, as that’s often all that’s left. Paleo-archeologists turned up their noses at the poor Neanderthals’ crude pottery and swoon over intricately painted Greek amphorae. We here at MD love the shapely curves from Italian moto-factories and admire the practical, yet elegant engineering solutions devised by the Japanese. We even nod appreciatively at the efforts of American chopper builders. But sadly, we’ve never given much thought to Korean industrial designers. Future archeologists will find the carcass of Hyosung motorcycles and say something charitable like, “well, this culture certainly did believe in getting the job done, didn’t it?”
The 2013 Hyosung GT650 won’t inspire much in the way of passion or future PhD theses, but unlike prior offerings out of the Hyosung factory, it’s a practical, dependable and fun-to-ride machine that isn’t short on value. In fact, I was impressed, even if I primed myself with low expectations.
It’s been a long time since I rode a GT650. When I did, I noted awful brakes, clunky transmission, crude build quality and a zillion other flaws—but had to acknowledge the value of a sub $5000 ticket price. That was a long time ago, and adjusting for inflation, the $5799 2013 model is actually about $200 less—and you get some real improvements that make the GT dangerously close to being a decent motorcycle.
The GT650 still isn’t high tech, despite the changes. The frame is still the same double-truss perimeter thing that’s about as sexy as the Richmond Bridge, but it does sport an upside-down fork—adjustable for rebound and compression damping—radial tires (120/60-17 front and 160/60-17 rear), a preload-adjustable linkage-equipped monoshock and, hallelujah, dual four-piston brake calipers with semi-floating 300mm discs.
The motor is the same design Hyosung’s had in its 650cc motorcycle for years. No, it’s not a license-built Suzuki SV650/SFV650 motor, although I’m sure the guys who designed it knew the guys who designed the Japanese V-Twin. The architecture is similar, but the details—placement of ancillaries, bore and stroke numbers, the layout of the cams, followers and other drivetrain stuff is different. Still, it’s good for a claimed 70 horsepower, is fuel-injected, and does the job just fine.
The package is finished more nicely than before. The tank is the same, but the frame and exhaust can is now black-finished, there’s a cool street-fighter headlamp, better instruments and a stylish tail section with integrated grab handles. Hyosung is also making accessories like race exhausts, frame sliders (our test unit was equipped with a pair, and they were very nice quality) and adjustable rearsets. Still, the tangled mess of hoses, brackets and cables look industrial and haphazardly crammed in there, and though the bike is nicely put together, the cheap feel and clunky finish on many components will probably have you parking away from the streetlight at bike nights.
The GT650 is built for riding—not posing. And it’s a pretty nice riding experience overall, as long as you damp your expectations just a little. Mounting the bike, I noticed a very nice seating position, comfortably upright but still sporty. The controls and instruments worked perfectly well, with nice feel and feedback. I found the seat to be just low enough for my 30-inch inseam, but the pegs were well-placed: no knee cramps for me, and spider-legged Lucien didn’t complain either. Not a lot of wind protection, but it is a naked, so we expected that—the R version, with clip-ons and a full fairing is just $600 more.
If only it were a license-built SV motor—it would be a dream if I couldn’t stop comparing it to Suzuki and Kawasaki’s smoother and more powerful 650cc Twins. Still, it gets ‘er done, with good throttle response, no fueling glitches and terrific bottom and mid-range power (see Lucien’s mile-high wheelie photos and note his fingers are off the clutch lever). The transmission is clunky, but still positive and easy to use. It’s just a lot more buzzy than other Twins this size, and it’s also hampered by having to lug around the 460-ish pounds of Pohang’s finest steel (to be fair, that’s just 15 pounds heavier than the SFV650 and tied with the Ninja 650), so it doesn’t feel as quick as my 2000 SV650, even if top speeds are probably about the same.
Handling is the other department where you won’t mistake it for an SV, although it’s not bad. It feels slower-steering than the SV, which shouldn’t surprise you if you read our GT250R review, but it also felt twitchier at high speeds, and the aforementioned lard doesn’t help. Good news is the brakes, which while they don’t feel as nice as Tokico or Nissin calipers would, are a massive improvement over the old setup, which reminded me of the handbrake on my Big Wheel, c. 1974. Still, the suspension works well, soaking up bumps and keeping the wheels on the ground, and the package works on a twisty road—I had a good time playing hooky from work on a weekday, enjoying the twisty roads on the Marin coastline.
As far as economy goes, the Hyosung is about average. Fuel consumption was in the mid to high 40s, about what my SV returns (a more sedate commuting pace would probably push the numbers into the 50s). That’ll drag over 150 miles from the big 4.5-gallon tank. Servicing could prove spendy—valve-check intervals are 6000 miles, reflecting the intended use of Hyosung products in developing countries, but Hyosung USA has been considering extending that to 12,000. That could add another few hours to your major service, but if Ducati owners can tolerate it, so can you.
At $5799, the Hyosung is a very good value, offering a new-bike warranty (two years parts and labor, in fact) and performance at a used-bike price. There are more service centers than you’d think, as Hyosung models have been sold under the ATK, UM and other brands, and Hyosungs have been on the marketplace long enough to collect a following, with dedicated Internet fora. Looking for a cheap, dependable and fun commuter? You could do a lot worse at this price point. A future archeologist may not be impressed by the quality of the welds or shape of the tank, but if he rides one, he’ll know the Koreans could build a decent motorcycle.
Lucien Lewis: U.K.M (Universal Korean Motorcycle)
Sometimes I am just wrong. When I got this assignment, I wasn’t exactly bubbling over with glee, but in this business, if you want to ride the occasional hunk of uber-hyper-moto-porn-exotica, you have to put in your time on blander machinery. I accepted the call with a sigh. I felt my reasoning was sound. Hyosung has been bringing yawners into the U.S. for several years now, so I was expecting more of the same. They were decent bikes, okay-to-ride bikes, but certainly nothing you wanted to jump up and down about (or have your friends see you on, for that matter). So, admittedly, I was a bit jaded going in. Luckily, I was wrong.
The new Hyosung GT650 is not all that different from the previous-generation bike, but the differences are transformative, taking the bike that used to be something of a chore to ride and turning it into a very fun little corner carver.
The biggest upgrades are in the suspension and braking department. With a couple of nice changes there, a bike that was once under-sprung, under-damped, and kind of scary to ride fast has become capable, competent, and confidence inspiring. Another nice move was the addition of Delphi fuel injection, which, though it burbled and popped a wee bit at low speeds when cold, was otherwise well mapped and quite predictable. A modernly styled headlight tops off the remodel.
Looking closely, you can see the casting marks on some of the metal parts, small wavy imperfections in the side panels, and minor details here and there that reveal that this is not a Japanese or Euro bike. Superb fit and finish costs money. Rather than perfection in that arena, Hyosung targeted building an econo-bike that is a blast to ride. It hit the mark.
Out on the road, I was pleasantly surprised by how small and nimble the bike felt underneath me. This little bike loves the twisties, and is very easy to throw from turn to turn. Slower-moving vehicles are picked off one by one and two by two, quickly shrinking and disappearing in the mirrors. Progressing to the higher-velocity sweepers, the Hyosung felt solid and stable well into triple digit speeds. Around town it is fun as well, jumping from light to light, and splitting lanes was fairly effortless. Freeway rides transmit some suspension harshness to the rider if the tarmac is less than perfect, and, by design, wind protection is non-existent. Not a machine that I would want to commute distances on, but just fine for shorter jaunts or back-road blasts. Power is not mind-blowing, but the bike has usable power down low, and pulls respectably hard once the needle is north of 7000 rpm.
In the complaint department, rear end abuse tops the list. Apparently someone at Hyosung got a great deal on gigantic pencil erasers, carved them into large ‘U’ shapes, covered them with vinyl, then bolted them to the subframe. Hard. Seat. The only other noticed issues were an unnecessarily wide turning radius, and suspension harshness on bumps. These were minor irritants, but may bother some owners.
The aesthetics are appealing, and over the course of the testing period, the bike got several complements from passers-by and curious observers, including a pair of leering elderly ladies who said that the bike looked ‘Really hot’ (Honestly, I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not).
So I was wrong about this bike, and I can’t remember having been glad to be wrong. The new GT650 is actually a well executed and very enjoyable bike to ride that can be had for relatively small money. Retailing at $5699, The GT650 is a full $2300 less that Suzuki’s Gladius-SV thingy, and a whopping $4300 less than Triumph’s Street Triple R. This is certainly not the polished and refined sport bike that the Triumph is, but at a fraction of the cost, it is a good bargain ride that will give you great bang for the buck and plenty of smiles per mile.
Gabe Ets-Hokin is the Editor of City Bike Magazine, and a frequent contributor to MotorcycleDaily.com