Two wheels are bloody awesome, full stop. We all like riding something because it makes us happy, but the question is, what type of bike offers the biggest smiles per hour?
Fun – the dictionary tells me that it means ‘enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure’. But in reality, it’s all subjective, isn’t it? I mean, some people like to spend their time scraping knees on sportsbikes, while others, who are probably slightly cuckoo, are happy to cruise along on Harleys wearing those bloody ‘polite’ jackets. Hell, other people, like our very own Aatish Mishra, like to spend their time sitting around and swiping on Tinder and contemplating a new bike purchase – but who are we to judge if it makes you smile? Actually, a bit of variety is the spice of life, and it got us thinking about what type of bike is the most fun. Yeah, bikes can be practical, but like the old cliché goes, ‘Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul’. They make us smile, laugh, and sometimes cry, and we love ‘em for it. But the question is, what type of bike is the most fun?
Think about it; it’s a hard question to answer. Ask any supermoto nut, and they’ll say that their breed of MX-style road bikes are the most fun, with their upright riding position, ease of stunts and bonkers personality. But then again, naked bikes are absolutely spanking supermotos sales wise, and they’re just as good at popping some wheelies, but with some additional cornering prowess thrown in for good measure. And then we have the full-blooded sportsbike. Capable of doing everything, and everything pretty damn well, a good sports bike offers serious performance… but does it offer the same amount of laughs? Well, like all good ideas, after a few beers it got us wondering. With so much variety on the market, we wanted to know which offered the biggest grins. So, we rounded up three of the very best (and reasonably priced) bikes in the segment.
First up, representing the proper hooligan side of things, we have KTM’s 690 SMC R – well, we know that it’ll never make it to India but is a proxy for the Ducati Hypermotard 950. On the other side of the spectrum, Kawasaki’s repping the sportsbike scene with their ZX-6R. which is a bloody good package for the cash. And sitting smack bang in the middle of the two we have the Yamaha MT-09 SP taking control for all you naked fans out there. Their stickers are far apart, but these three hooligans couldn’t be further apart when it comes to hoonery. But which one would have us grinning like a celeb who’s just been laced botox? Which of the three are worth you lot splashing your cash on?
Well, to find out the answer, we dragged ourselves out the office, and caused loads of mischief…
It would almost be rude not to start with, well, the rudest offering of the lot. And I say the rudest in the best possible way. When KTM set out to remake (or reintroduce) this naughty little number back into their range, they didn’t ease up on the spice. Oh no, KTM kicked the 690 SMC R up a notch with an extra 7bhp, 4Nm of torque, some new engine internals for a smoother ride, and have even doused it in electronic gadgetry among a few other bits – in fact, it’s the only bike out of the three that comes equipped with a blipper as standard, rather than just a shifter. Add into account some switchable ABS, newly sprung suspension and a slightly bigger fuel tank, and it looks like KTM have given the most anti-social bike in the range a bit of a practical and maturing kick up the ass.
Mind you, at first glance there is everything but practicality on the menu. The dash is so small it looks like it’s been taken from a remote control car, and the info it provides is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. There’s no rev counter, fuel gauge or even a general indication on anything besides speed. The bars and buttons are about as minimalistic as a serial killer’s conscience, with just a few small buttons for the usual commands like the indicators, alongside an MX-style traction control and TCS button – although getting them into the right mode seemed like a right pain in the ass. For two buttons, it actually felt more complicated than a full-blown superbike.
Surprisingly, it didn’t feel particularly big either. I can just about touch the floor on a minimoto, let alone an MX-styled supermoto, so I was pleasantly surprised at the (relatively) low seat height, although the long-travel suspension did still feel slightly gangly and soft at a standstill. Mind you, from the first spark of the engine, that throaty single-cylinder growl felt everything but soft and gangly. The clutch was, as expected, deliciously light, and at slow speeds the supermoto geometry offers more agility than almost any other machine on the market. From the first tug on the throttle, I could not believe the eagerness to pull some serious wheelies – it’s almost impossible not to when dropping the clutch with urgency. KTM have a little secret here though, as not only is the fuel tank bigger, but is also positioned further back in the sub-frame; oh yes, as if the SMC R needed some inspiration to get on the back wheel, it had it – I couldn’t help but popping one for as long as possible, setting it down, slowing up, and repeating, until I could find a corner to get the back wheel airborne, or get my slide on. This meant that from the very off the KTM made its intentions clear; it just wanted to be hammered, and within just a few miles I’d almost stretched my cheek pads from how much I was laughing. Isn’t that what riding’s all about?
Well yes, and no. The first part of the ride was through some incredibly twisty and tight lanes so I could get away with it, and the cornering prowess of the 690 SMC R was sublime; it’s thirst for eating up tight, bumpy and disgustingly twisty lanes was unbelievable, and for the first few miles it left the Yam and the Kwak eating its dust as they thumbled over the dodgy Tarmac. It was here where the KTM was at its best; the blipper-shifter was sublime, throttle response was crisp, brakes were sharp and it had some serious pull in the first three gears – though a lack of a tacho meant hitting that brick wall of a limiter happened often. Aside from that though, nothing I’ve ever ridden falls into corners and builds up confidence for chucking that front end in quite like the KTM did, and in fact, I’m sure at one point I could hear it asking me to take it to a kart track. Alas, that was not on the cards and as we found bigger, open roads, the KTM did start to find its limitations.
Even though the power’s been upped from the previous model, it doesn’t take long to find the end of 74bhp, and against both the MT-09SP and the ZX-6R, the 690 SMC R felt viciously outgunned on the open roads. The engine felt like it was geared to be peaky and fun, but above about 105kmph it does start to tail off slightly, which is worth noting if you fancied taking one for a ride out against bigger capacity bikes. The same happiness and plushness disappears in the corners as well; it feels somewhere in between a leg down and a knee down machine through fast sweepers, and though it’s ridiculously nimble, it struggles to maintain the same stable cornering prowess that a bigger, more planted and stiffer-sprung machine can hack, which does tend to hold it back slightly. On the subject of which, it’s not the most comfortable of machines, and it’s about as happy sitting on a motorway as a four-year-old hopped up with sugar – it’s just as excitable, and uncomfortable. But then again, comfort wasn’t the aim of the game. Achieving smiles was, and the KTM obliged, massively.
So yeah, the 690 SMC R wasn’t practical, nor was it brutally fast or even especially comfortable, but if you want a lean, mean, grin-inducing wheelie-making machine for hooning around tight roads at low(ish) speeds, KTM have built an absolute beaut. The question is, could I still have this much fun on something that’s a bit more of a rounded package?
Well, there’s only one way to find out.
When we think about all-rounded packages, an 847cc naked knocking on the door of the hyper class doesn’t really spring to mind – but believe me, it should! Utilising that glorious CP3 engine that’s become such a staple base in their range, Yamaha souped-up the standard MT-09 last year by giving it an extra couple of letters on the name – oh, and they also threw in some better suspension and a snazzy colour scheme for good measure. But how does it measure up on the fun scale?
At a first glance, and indeed a first sit, the SP oozed more class than even the poshest supermoto could ever dream off – even though it was pretty damn simplistic by today’s space-age standards. It looked like a stunt bike with its high bars and miniscule tail piece, and it was a nice surprise to be greeted by the feeling of a proper bike underneath me when I jumped on, with a big tank, a useful dash and a weighty feel. Setting off, the riding position was fairly comfortable from the outset, if not slightly big for my li’l arms’ reach, although it did lack some aggression when you take into consideration its Decepticon-style looks (you know, the big angry evil Transformers); it should be a bit more savage in my opinion.
Alas, the aggression it lacked in riding position was more than made up for in throttle response, and not in a good way. The MT-09 SP must have one of the most viciously mapped wrist-to-engine connections of all time, with the initial touch of the throttle punching through with the ferocity of a right-hander from Mike Tyson. I shit you not, I’ve ridden full-blooded race bikes that feel like a puppy compared to the MT, but with three different levels of D-MODE (or engine characteristics for us regular folks) available to change on the fly, all wasn’t lost; number 3 was a bit soft, but in the middle, ‘STD’ was just about spot on. With the throttle connection dialled in, it was time to get jiggy with it, and from the very outset on some very standard B-roads, the 09 offered a beautiful mixture of punch and thrash-ability.
Unlike the SMC-R, the MT’s extra power and capacity not only meant a bigger capacity to whip up awesome wheelies at the higher echelon of the speedo, but also made a marked change into the tone of the ride; the pace was faster, and the 09 obliged, with its blinged-up suspension offering an improved level of cornering prowess. So much so, in fact, that when the pace was upped it didn’t take long to find the hero blobs on the pegs, and although the brakes were absolutely incredible, the ABS did tend to disrupt the play a little, which meant that if riding the ragged edge on a trackday is your poison, the MT probably wouldn’t be the ideal tonic for you. And that was the exact problem. Though the MT cornered and went well, it just didn’t feel exuberant – almost as if it’s slightly shy, when it should be all shouty and angry. Don’t get me wrong, the engine is beautifully peaky, it just wasn’t quite as frisky in terms of fun. Say, for example, a Supermoto is a little Swiss Army knife, the MT felt more like a bread knife, being just that bit safer, easier and more gentle.
Mind you, for offering what isn’t far from bordering on supermoto levels of fun, with real big-bike performance and enough cornering chops to keep up with almost anything this side of a sports bike, that’s not to be sniffed at, especially for a sub-`11 lakh bike, considering the regular variant sold in India costs a hefty `10.55 lakh. Don’t forget, you’re getting a lot of bike for your cash, and a lot of fun for your bike. The MT wheelies like an absolute trooper and has some serious cornering abilities, for an upright naked anyway. It feels more like a real bike rather than a toy, and although it’s not quite as lively as a supermoto, it’s a bloody good machine for turning a frown upside down. But then the Hyper 950 costs a hefty `11.99 lakh. A better compromise than a full-blooded sports bike?
Well that is the age-old question, isn’t it? And in a world of a dying (or actually, gradually recuperating) supersport market, all seemed lost – but it’s not. Gone are the days of sports bikes being lumpy, uncomfortable and impractical machines useful only for going fast, as we’ve been seriously blessed with a whole host of machines that offer speed, practicality, and indeed fun in equal measure… but does the fun factor rival that of a naked or a supermoto?
India is home to only the ZX-6R when it comes to a supersport and that’s why this was the only machine we could think of. I’ve spanked thousands of miles on these puppies over the course of the year and it’s continuously surprised me how well rounded it can be; from long journeys to track days it delivers, and on the day, it definitely oozes a solid element of class compared to the other two, with a dashingly bright colour scheme over its full fairing, superior clocks and a pretty snug cockpit, with, funnily enough, the Kawasaki being the only bike among the three on test to actually offer any sort of wind protection.
We aren’t here to bugger about with practicality though, as the real aim of the game was finding out how much fun could be had. And you know what? From the very first time I opened up the throttle and unleashed those 636cee cees, I smiled so hard I think I stretched my cheek pads even further.
Nothing spells fun like going fast, and the ZX-6R pulls eloquently from the bottom of the rev range all the way till the redline, and with every poke on the shifter just keeps dishing out more with utter ease, leaving the other two machines in the dust. With great power comes great irresponsibility, and it was in the kmph-chasing game I found myself having the most fun. Yet on the other side of the spectrum, the ZX-6R will happily pop a wheelie with surprisingly little effort, as long as the TCS is switched off.
Okay, it’s not quite as easy to keep upright for as great a length of time as the other two, but even so it still more than obliges to be naughty, and I found more joy in blasting away from the other two than I did trying to get into top gear on one wheel – just. There’s a reason we go on track days, and race, rather than spend our days pulling monos on empty airfields after all, and that’s because going faster is like heroin to an adrenaline addict.
And although the ZX-6R is fun on the straights, it’s the cornering prowess that really made me smile; being able to slam late on those sublime brakes, hang off like Marquez (or at least we all think we do), scrape the knee and fire it out of corners like it’s the last lap of a race, is undeniably satisfying as the little Kwak just begs to be ragged. Unlike the other two, it has no qualms in tackling difficult turns, its sticky rubber and plush suspension offering all the feedback needed for an all-out assault, and a chassis that just inspires the best from the rider.
I may have done thousands of miles this year alone on various ZX-6Rs, but it never fails to impress… and the fact they deliver so much in the fun department? That’s priceless, at a price that’s easy to swallow.
I was dubious at first; as far as fun goes, I didn’t think there was a hope in hell that a sports bike could offer anywhere near as many laughs as a naked or a supermoto, but how wrong I was. Okay, it doesn’t want to do skids like a supermoto, nor scrape pegs like the naked, but the tantalising efficiency of the engine, the sharp and precise cornering tekkers and it’s want to still perform naughtily with very little hesitation showed to me that the ZX-6R is more than just a supersport bike – a proper grinning machine.
You know what’s strange? All three of these machines are incredibly diverse in nearly every aspect; from the engine configurations to the riding position, they were all so varied, yet each offered their own little avenue of entertainment, dishing out smiles for as long as the tank ranges would last. As far as fun goes, though? Well, the 690 SMC R is the comedian of the group, undoubtedly offering up the most laughs thanks to its utterly bonkers nature. It wants to be ragged, wheelied, stoppied and just about everything in between. For a weekend blaster, or as a second or third bike, I couldn’t name a better machine, yet it just lacked that all-roundedness necessary to keep up with the MT-09 SP. The naked was almost just as eager to be naughty on demand, but did so with a touch of class, some added speed, and the feel of a proper machine rather than a toy.
And then there’s the ZX-6R. Whoever said that supersport machines are dying is a fool in my eyes; the Kwaker feels like an extra step up in terms of all that it’s offering. It’s comfier, faster and a shed load of fun, albeit delivered through the insatiable thirst for speed, thanks to the easy knee skids and hammering that happily revving motor.
Each of these bikes will offer you a route to happiness, but it’s up to you choose. You can be an edgy stuntman, an all-rounded brute or a supersport racer. In an ideal world, I’d take all three, but for the whole single package, I’m still on the supersport hype.