Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Kawasaki ER500: ER Ward

Here's a death-race scenario for you. You're aboard a Kawasaki ER500 doing a reasonable 75mph on a two lane highway. Dodge over to the other side of the road, roar pass the big Ford. A brief blast to 85mph, no problem for the nicely whirring watercooled vertical twin, then cut in front of the cage. Only Mr Cager has taken that moment to exert his 200hp and the tarmac is now occupied by a grinning idiot! Enough distraction for the oncoming lorry to come as a very nasty shock.

Diaper time. The Ford has decided to match my speed, braking and accelerating in a rare exhibition of cager competence. Beyond 85mph the ER's power kind of fades out, although on a good day in favourable conditions it will put 110mph on the clock. The front disc and rear drum combo is as far from leading edge as you can get on a modern motorcycle and no match for the cage's retardation. By now the lorry is braking and flashing his lights and death seems imminent.

Give the ER its due, given a desperate body twitch it scuttled across the front of the lorry and zoomed along the far edge of the road as if it hadn't a concern in the world. There was a moment when I thought the fishtailing rear end of the lorry was going to knock us off the road, if not out of this world, but the driver took his foot off the brake and the thing straightened out, leaving about half an inch difference between maximum pain and a big grin.

Does this make machines like the ER inherently dangerous? Possibly. Arguably, if it had R1 type power it would have hustled past the cage so rapidly that he wouldn't have had a chance to get me. Even midrange cars have enough outright open road grunt to cause problems for small motorcycles such as this - and I would definitely say the ER is the absolute bare minimum that you would want to employ outside of town.

Motorway cruising, the bike could be wound up to 90mph but felt a bit happier at 80-85mph, as did my shoulders - not complaining as it is a naked bike! Below those speeds, though, the ER was a very comfortable machine that caused no problems for my average sized body. Thanks to its gear driven balancer and 180 degree crank throw, vertical twin vibes were thankfully absent though the mill never felt entirely bland like, say, a GS500. I just kept wishing it were a 650cc twin with all the extra grunt that would doubtless result.

Build quality a mixed bag. Cycle part paint was still nice and rosy but engine alloy (not to mention the screws) suffered from winter corrosion whilst the exhaust and wheels needed an extraordinary amount of effort to keep the shine up to a reasonable standard.

Suspension damping, at both ends, does degenerate but with 21000 miles on the clock it is still a way off pogo-stick status and country road handling is still generally fine - only a series of heavy bumps and pot-holes can throw the chassis into a bit of a wobble. Never really nasty, though, it has never degenerated into a speed wobble, even when loaded with pillion and luggage - such excess does have the engine gasping at the top end!

One worrying aspect, winter riding in town, when the engine isn't given much stick, the oil level window clouds up with white crud! Can't actually see the level any more. Fortunately, changing the oil clears the whiteness out but this can be a 500 mile chore if the bike isn't used hard to clean out its innards.

Annoyingly, when used hard on the motorway, the oil can disappear at quite a rapid rate but the normally slick gearchange goes clunky as a warning sign, so difficult to run the mill dry! Similarly, battery acid level can do a disappearing act if not given a twice monthly top-up and I once warped one battery by running it dry! Lights and horn only tolerable if you'd graduated from a smaller machine and know no better.

Fuel has always been a bit disappointing, around the 50mpg mark even when used mildly. Possibly, a retune of the carbs and a freer flowing exhaust might help but it's too much hassle for me to get into. In fact, I have added no extras nor done any mod's to the bike - it isn't the kind of machine to inspire such fancies.

Cheap and generally cheerful, not particularly economical, very usable but a bit lost if you regularly break the speed limits, it nevertheless has a touch of vertical twin character. I have my eye on a TDM900 next!

Martin B.

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