At a modest Mexican restaurant outside of Corvallis, Oregon, a small crowd has gathered around a red motorcycle. “I’ve read about the bike before but for the price I expected pressed sheet metal,” explains gawker Paul Harmen. “It looks surprisingly like a Kawasaki or Suzuki.” Paul’s observation attacks the jugular of an image problem many of the non-major motorcycle companies have: what is their niche and how do they set themselves apart? Hyosung (Hi-oh-sung) has made a reputation selling small displacement motorcycles in Southeast Asia but has only been importing motorcycles into the United States since 2005. I had an opportunity to test ride their flagship model, the Comet GT 650 R.
The 650 class was a logical market for Hyosung to enter as the South Korean company has been sharing research and development information with Suzuki since 1979, and there are striking similarities between the GT 650 and the SV 650, including similar engine configurations, bore and stroke measurements, frame design, and geometry. The 650 class sells well with newer riders looking to get a lot of bike for their buck, and that is who Hyosung is marketing it to. Although scooters have been the basis for Hyosung sales, the company is diversifying and planning on releasing a 1200 cc sport bike and a 450cc dual sport in 2008.
The GT 650 R is an entry-level sport bike that aims to be a more affordable alternative to Suzuki’s SVS650 and Kawasaki’s 650R. Unlike those bikes, the GT 650 relies on carburetors instead of open loop, fuel injection; one of the ways the bike is able to sell at a lower price point. The GT 650 also uses steel instead of lighter, and pricier, aluminum. The bike was tested on a variety of pavement ranging from super slab to fresh paved asphalt to un-maintained logging roads. The bike was judged on aesthetics, ergonomics, brakes, handling, chassis and power.
The full fairing motorcycle is painted in candy apple red, and the Comet GT 650 R looks loud with the ignition off. Illumination comes thanks to dual, one on top of the other Ducati-esque, styled headlights. Whether it was an attractive runner who stopped to chat in Seattle’s Green Lake Park, or a three-year-old on a big wheel with a flowered helmet who said “Cool bike, dude,” the GT 650 gets attention and her beauty was more than veneer deep.
A stock GT 650 comes with amenities that an equivalent Suzuki and Kawasaki lack: compression and rebound adjustments on the front forks, adjustable rear sets, upside down forks, a coolant temperature sensor and a gas gauge (opposed to a flashing gas light). The display features an analog tachometer with a digital speedometer and both were visible even in coastal grade sunlight. A clock is provided on the dash, although I never could set the time.
The first leg of the journey required some super slab riding, which provided an opportunity to examine the bike's ergonomics. The GT 650 comes equipped with clip-on bars that were surprisingly easy and comfortable to use. The tank has arm indents built in, providing a racey look and allows wrists and elbows to rest at a comfortable angle. The full fairing provided ample coverage from buffeting winds and promoted an ergonomic riding posture, essential when settling in for the long haul. Engine vibration was minimal, which made the bike less tiring and noisy to ride. Fuel injection motorcycles tend to have loud fuel pumps, especially when droning along on the highway.
The GT 650’s carburetors make for a pleasant, non-lulling super-slab riding experience. Stopping for gas, I topped off the 4.49 gallon tank and some quick math revealed an average of 39.3 mpg. Turning around, I noticed the GT 650 hits its turning locks a bit soon, making for wide, cumbersome u-turns.
The first time the bike needed to stop quickly, the brake lever nearly reached the grips, not a good sign. I was not sure whether or not the brakes needed to be bled (the bike only had 109 miles on it) because I could never get the bike to stop quickly. Statically, the lever almost pinched my ring and pinky finger, and forced the use of more rear brake, which also felt wooden. After riding another GT 650, I realized the brakes did need to be bled but neither provide much feedback. Sintered pads and braided lines would certainly help.
At excessive speeds, the mirrors would fold inward, allowing for elbow inspection. Arriving at some sporting curves, I dip my candy red comrade into a turn and the ridged chassis responded to commands, albeit a bit slow. Owed, no doubt, to a 5mm longer wheelbase and 69 extra pounds than the SV 650. I suspect much of that weight can be found in the wheels, making for greater rotating mass and slower steering. Since the weight is un-sprung, the wheel’s ability to trace along uneven pavement is hindered, although the stock Bridgestone Battlax BT56 tires provided amazing grip even in low traction conditions.
The transmission worked flawlessly, cleanly shifting up and downshifts without hesitation or backtalk. During clutch-less upshifts, the bike would hardly drop any RPMs and continued pulling. An odd aspect to the GT 650 is its rather linear torque curve, so much so that it is hard to pinpoint the power band. Grabbing the throttle would move the bike, but there was not a feeling of heavy torque, despite Hyosung claiming three more horsepower over the SV. Moto International owner Dave Richardson credits the GT 650’s use of roller bearings versus the SV’s plain bearings as “the reason for the couple of extra horsepower.” The clutch did require a bit of muscle to engage, which might have been the result of heavier clutch springs or a clutch cable that could have used more lubricant. I suspect the latter.
The electronics were a bit iffy, and the gas gauge kept resetting itself after each stop, only to rise after a few miles. The bike sporadically would not start and I assumed it needed the kickstand up (the bike was in neutral), but then the bike would start with the kickstand down. Huh? There were two more instances where the bike would not start and so I tried the usual: flicking the ignition switch, double checking the kickstand is up, and a few other superstitious things before she would finally come alive. Apparently, Hyosung has had some issue with faulty clutch sensors and the problem has been addressed.
In these EPA times, all motorcycles must meet emissions criteria, and motorcycles are frequently jetted on the lean side to make the exhaust a bit friendlier to the environment. Oxygen-rich exhaust is more likely to produce carbon dioxides than carbon monoxides and makes the catalytic converter's job easier. When closing the throttle, the bike would emit a popping sound like duck hunters shooting nearby, no doubt suffering from lean jetting. A re-jetting would likely cure this acoustic annoyance and help define the power band.
When the performance of the Hyosung Comet GT 650R catches up with its looks, this is going to be a potent bike. With the money saved, a few brake upgrades and a jet kit, this will be a superior bike in the hands of the right rider. While the bike does have some kinks that need to be worked out, there is much to be excited about and certainly Hyosung is a company worth keeping an eye on.
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By the numbers:
Hyosung GT 650 RPluses: Ergonomics, Transmission, and Styling.
Minuses: Brakes, Electronics, Weight.
- MSRP: $5899
- Length: 2060 mm
- Width: 655 mm
- Height: 1125 mm
- Ground Clearance: 130 mm
- Wheel Base: 1435 mm
- Seat Height: 780 mm
- Dry Mass: 220 kg (441 lbs)
- Engine: Water Cooled, Four Stroke, 90-Degree V-twin
- Valves: Four Per Head
- Displacement: 647 cc
- Carburetion: Carburetors
- Clutch: Wet, Multi-Plate Type
- Gearbox- Six Speed
- Front Tire: 120/60-ZR 17 55W
- Rear Tire: 160/60-ZR 17 69W
- Suspension Front: Telescopic
- Suspension Rear: Swing Arm
- Front Brake: Double Discs, Hydraulic
- Rear Brake: Single Disc, Hydraulic
- Fuel Tank: 17 Liters (4.49 Gallons)