|Confidence Builder: 2010 Kawasaki ER-6n, Popular Mechanics, March, 2010|
Newcomers to motorcycling are faced with a paradox of possibilities. On one hand, newbies are naturally attracted to edgy sportbikes. On the other hand, most supersport motorcycles that look track-ready actually are, posing a real threat to riders who aren't prepared for two-wheeled machines with power-to-weight ratios approaching that of a fighter jet.
Offering a more advanced alternative to the beginner-friendly Ninja 250R, Kawasaki's ER-6n is an angular naked bike whose styling suggests speed, but underpinnings are milder and more forgiving. We took a ride on this approachable middleweight to see how this smartly styled standard bike stacks up.
The Kawasaki ER-6n is priced at $6,699 for 2010 and comes with a one year, unlimited mileage warranty. Essentially a naked version of the fully-faired Ninja 650R, the ER-6n is cradled by a steel frame and weighs in at 441 pounds, and its fuel-injected 649cc parallel-twin engine is tuned for broad torque. The same unit also found in Kawasaki's dual-purpose Versys, this DOHC powerplant features an auto-fast idle system for cold starts, and a compact, cassette style 6-speed transmission. An underslung exhaust is incorporated for mass centralization, and the rubber-mounted engine utilizes a balancer shaft that drives the water pump. Vibration is also controlled through a rubber-mounted handlebar and footpegs.
The seventeen-inch front wheel meets a 41mm hydraulic fork with 4.7 inches of travel, while the rear is hooked up with a laydown shock that can be spring preload adjusted and offers 4.9 inches of travel. Dual 300 mm petal discs are clinched by 2-piston calipers up front, while a single 220 mm petal disc is paired with a single caliper at the rear. Fuel capacity is 4.1 gallons, and the dual seat is situated 29.7 inches above ground—low enough for many inseam-challenged riders. Aluminum grab rails wrap around the rear lower portion of the saddle, and the rider gets a backlit LCD screen with a digital tachometer, above which rests an analog speedometer.
Don't believe the visual message conveyed by the ER-6n's neo-industrial styling: though its parallel-twin engine starts up with a snarl, the relatively low saddle and upright posture make this bike feel welcoming and familiar.
Likewise, the powerplant's mild vibrational characteristics convey a pulse that feels somewhat muted; the feedback is just distinct enough to warrant an impression of character, not annoyance. Accelerate off the line, and the ER-6n responds with reasonable low end and strong midrange pull, redlining at an indicated 11,000 rpm. But a majority of usable torque can be found in the middle register, where the 649cc twin hits its sweet spot.
Though the seating position is comfortable enough for short and medium length jaunts, extended time in the saddle draws attention to the pushed-against-the-tank position. Further time on the road reveals a pressure point created by the bike's diminutive seat height. While generous clearance allows for large lean angles, the footpegs sometimes felt a bit too high for this 5-foot, 11-inch rider. Such is the all-too-common compromise made for beginner-friendly setups, trading some seat comfort for a reduction in altitude and the ability to press both heels firmly against tarmac at a standstill.
When the road surface twists, the ER-6n complies with quick turn-in and nimble direction changes, though some harshness gets transmitted from bumpy surfaces. Traversing canyon roads yields the most riding satisfaction (especially since it involves less time spent on the center of the saddle), and those conditions allow the bike's strongest asset to shine through: its effortless handling. Though the digital/analog instrumentation setup isn't the easiest to read at a glance and a digital gear indicator would be handy (as found in the Suzuki Gladius), the ER-6n's able chassis is a strong asset that will be appreciated by more aggressive riders; ditto the engine thrust.
The Bottom Line
The Kawasaki ER-6n may not match the performance of purebred sportbikes and lack the comfort demanded by long distance riders, but its modern styling and everyday usability make it an attractive choice for those at an early point in their riding careers. The Er-6n offers predictable power, intuitive handling, and more than enough performance to grow into—in fact, its tractable and progressive powerplant is potent enough to safely push the bike well beyond the ŇbeginnerÓ category.
Drawbacks aside, this Kawasaki merges approachability and personality in a tidy, good looking package that comes across as neither neutered nor compromised. Especially considering its sub-$7,000 price tag, the ER-6n's mean looks and friendly performance should fit the bill for both entry level and more seasoned riders who don't necessarily need razor's edge performance.