2015 Seven big-bore LAMS review

Date 30.6.2015

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader

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BIG-BORE LAMS TEST:

THE CONTENDERS:

Ducati Monster 659
Triumph Street Triple 660
CFMoto 650NKS
Suzuki Gladius 650
Benelli BN600S
Kawasaki ER-6nL
Yamaha MT-07

Previously, the popular wisdom was that learners should be restricted in what they could ride so they could develop road skills rather than concentrate on performance. Various governments tackled it in different ways. The Brits introduced a limit of 12.5 horsepower. The Japanese manufacturers immediately released 125cc two-strokes under that power limit but with the maximum power achieved at 12,000rpm and with a powerband so narrow that if you rode below 10,500rpm in any gear, it felt like you’d broken the engine.

Arguably, the 12.5hp two-strokes were the worst learner bikes ever produced but they met the letter of the law. In the southern hemisphere, we moved towards a 250cc limit rather than a horsepower one. That was fine while learners selected bikes like Honda’s CB250, Suzuki’s GSX250, Yamaha’s slug-like XS250 or Kawasaki’s Z250. The trouble began when the Japanese manufacturers started producing race-replica two-strokes which were, in everyday use, almost as hard to ride as the 125s in Britain.

In their own way, the Kawasaki KR250, Yamaha’s TZR250, Honda’s NSR 250 and Suzuki’s RGV250 (not leaving out the Aprilia RS250 which used the Suzuki engine) were among the best rides of their time.

The problem was you had to be very experienced to start with, preferably in production racing, before you could get the most out of them. Learner friendly they weren’t.

The push for a better way of determining suitable bikes for learners started in Australia in the late 1980s when authorities became aware that 250s which developed more than 26kW (20hp) were over-represented in road crashes among learners. A move towards a learner motorcycle scheme was recommended in a Victorian parliamentary enquiry into motorcycle safety in 1991. In fact, insurance companies had already introduced a de-facto LAMS by increasing premiums for hot 250s.

LAMS IN AUSTRALIA

LAMS has Motorcycle Trader’s complete support as we believe it’s a safer, more sensible option and it also provides a tremendous amount of choice for new riders. Here we’re testing seven large-capacity LAMS bikes but there are plenty of worthwhile learners’ bikes in the 250-660cc range which will not only provide satisfaction but may be kept long after the learner period has finished.

When it became clear to importers that LAMS was for real, it seemed the easiest way to get involved was to modify existing models to suit the restrictions. Hyosung, for example, initially put throttle restrictors on its 650 model so that not enough encouragement was available to access the engine’s power.

The result was still a good bike but owners lived with the weak part of the bike’s power curve.

It seemed unlikely that, given the relatively small size of the Australian market, any manufacturer would go to the trouble of engineering a bike specifically to make the most of the LAMS restrictions. Well, some have bothered and the result is now a range of 600-660cc bikes which focus on torque and are so user-friendly that dealers have told MT that as many as half their sales of the big-bore LAMS bikes are going to buyers who have full licences.

Triumph’s 660 is a Australia/NZ-only model brought about by the distributors lobbying the factory. Similarly, the Ducati 659 featured here is just for the Australasian market.

Yamaha’s MT-07 is a ground-up build to make the best of the 150kW-per-tonne limit (and it works) and both Suzuki and Kawasaki have gone to considerable lengths to adapt existing models to emphasise the virtue of torque over power for learners.

ANTI-LOCK BRAKES (ABS)

The biggest advance in motorcycle safety in recent years has been anti-lock brakes (ABS), and, featured on the Triumph, Kawasaki and Ducati, elevate these three from the pack. Not because you can brake harder but because it removes the fear in learners of locking the front wheel in an emergency braking situation. As it says on page 34 of the CFMoto owner’s manual, “Never lock the brakes or it will cause the tyres to skid.” ABS removes this possibility and it won’t surprise MT at all if it eventually becomes mandatory.

Yes, ABS adds to the cost of bikes but the systems are constantly being developed and, as they become cheaper to fit, they’ll appear on more-and-more bikes. It’s such a benefit for learners that it would be irresponsible of us to recommend any learner bike that doesn’t have it. Three in this group have it and one of them is under $10,000. The reality is that only learner bikes with ABS can end up being long-term winners.

DIFFERENCES OF OPINION

The MT test crew consists of some very experienced riders and it was suggested that we might have had more realistic results if we’d had learners actually involved.

My view is that inexperienced riders would have been blinded by the performance and bling of these bikes. Cynical riders with years of experience could get at the truth faster and any structural deficiencies would be obvious from the beginning.

We’d already determined there wouldn’t be a conventional ‘winner’ in this category as, to the benefit of new riders, there’s much subtlety in what’s available and there’s probably a bike in this class to perfectly suit your circumstances. It needn’t be determined simply by the old parameters of speed and power.

THE VERDICT

In this evaluation, we’ve picked (almost) all the large-capacity LAMS bikes and put them through a gruelling, 1500km round trip over three days. Despite all the bikes complying with LAMS requirements, they have distinct personalities and, rather than go down the crass path of ‘best bike’, we’ve attempted to give you an idea of how to match the bikes reviewed to your specific needs.

These four bikes couldn’t have been more different: a V-twin, a parallel twin, an inline triple and a four. We had the least expensive bike (CFMoto 650NKS) and one of the more expensive (Triumph Street Triple 660).

While you had to work a little harder with the Triumph, Benelli and Yamaha with their 180/55 rear tyres, all three loved the tight stuff. The Triumph and the MT-07 had great punch out of corners and although anyone on the Benelli had to work the gearbox hard to keep up, keep up it did. It was the bike that rewarded you most for your effort and the racer shriek from the exhaust was a fitting soundtrack.

What really matters about the performance of these bikes is, at normal road speeds, they all have plenty in reserve for overtaking and it makes them safer in that they can do it quickly and with composure.

Those in the group which champion low engine-speed torque (Yamaha, Triumph, Suzuki and Kawasaki) feel vibrant around town and never seem in the wrong gear. All this is a blessing for learners.

All the bikes delivered excellent stopping performance as the brake systems were originally designed for bikes that developed substantially more power.

READ MORE ON EACH OF THE CONTENDERS:

Ducati Monster 659
Triumph Street Triple 660
CFMoto 650NKS
Suzuki Gladius 650
Benelli BN600S
Kawasaki ER-6nL
Yamaha MT-07


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