Practically everybody who rode the Hyosung GT650 Comet when it was released said the same thing: given better brakes, lower handlebars and a fairing it would make a great middleweight sports bike.
In fact, given better brakes, the original naked version would be a superb all-rounder.
The Korean scootermaker's first "serious" motorcycle had a few rough edges but its only design fault was the weedy 1970s-style front brakes, lacking in both bite and feedback - and disturbingly unpredictable in the wet.
Hyosung prides itself on listening to customer feedback - for 2005 it has come up three versions of the same basic bike:
- The naked GT650 Comet street bike
- The GT650S, a remarkably pretty sports-tourer with clip-ons and a half-fairing.
- The fully-faired GT650R sportster.
The S and R versions have digital instrumentation, adjustable rear-set footpegs and the prettiest stacked headlights I've ever seen but somewhere along the line the factory dropped the ball; the brakes are still exactly the same.
That's going to be the yardstick by which these otherwise impressive machines will be measured, although at R47 000 for the range-topping R that hasn't stopped them selling well.
Importer KMSA has so far not released a faired model as a demo - all those being uncrated are spoken for - but the proud owner of a brand new R, Jackie Austin of Bellville, Cape Town, invited motoring.co.za to ride hers
Each of the three models is mechanically identical with the same 647cc, 58.5kW, L-twin motor as the original version and unchanged running gear but the fit-and-finish on the R is a distinct improvement on the previous version.
The body panels line up well and the shut lines are as clean and even as anything from Japan - with the exception of the centre join on the tailpiece which is just as untidy as on the original.
The fairing, however, is as crisp and tautly styled as the latest European tackle, with round, projector-style high and low-beam headlights stacked behind a clear polycarbonate cover and two neatly grilled air intakes.
The inside of the fairing is lined and houses a unique instrument pod with an analogue rev-counter on the left (no surprise there) and a digital panel on the right showing speed, coolant temperature, fuel gauge, odometer, tripmeter and the time - but using light emitting diodes rather than the ubiquitous liquid crystal display.
The display is bright green, like the first pocket calculators, sharp-edged and easily legible even in direct sunlight. The temperature and fuel gauges are in the form of bar charts and much easier to read at a glance than grey-on-grey, liquid crystal equivalents.
LEDs went out of fashion for calculators because they chew batteries but on the more robust electrical system of a motorcycle this is not an issue - all credit to Hyosung for recognising an idea whose time has come again.
The upper triple clamp is flat and plainly finished aside from a neat model badge, as are the clip-on handlebars immediately below it and the switchgear - which is lifted directly from the naked model.
The footpegs have been moved upwards and to the rear by simply interposing an adaptor plate with several sets of threaded holes between the frame and the footpeg hangers, allowing for three different mounting positions and, hopefully, a comfortable seating position for everybody.
The bike came from the factory with the pegs mounted on the lowest holes, which I found very comfortable during my short test ride, although Ms Austin, who is considerably more petite than me, may wish to move them one notch up in the long term.
She said she was at ease on the bike at cruising speeds but her wrists took strain and her neck became stiff in heavy traffic - a familiar comment from sports bike riders.
Her new pride and joy wasn't fully run in so we didn't try a top speed run but the engine ran just the same as the earlier version, pulling strongly from 5 000rpm and becoming distinctly vibratious above the torque peak at 7 500rpm - which is about as far as I was prepared to push the bike, in deference to its youth.
As before, the 39mm CV carbs were jerky at small throttle openings, requiring considerable right-hand finesse to achieve smooth progress in traffic, but out on the roller-coaster twists and turns of our "ride and handling" test track (of course we went there first - where else on this Ducati clone?) their response was crisp and linear - most important on a sports bike.
The gearbox was notchy with an odd shift action; its lever movement was much longer on downshifts than when changing up. It was clean enough, however, for seamless shifts without the clutch in both directions; in fact the shifts were better without the left hand.
The rear monoshock was set on the third of its six preload positions and was oversprung even for my 106kg. Austin (a dainty 62kg) complained of being "bounced around all over the place" on bumpy roads - a pungent description of what must be intimidating rear-wheel patter.
The front was more compliant but distinctly underdamped, with considerable nose-dive even with this bike's underpowered brakes. The combination of the two quickened the steering to the point where the 650R went into corners like a GP machine.
No matter how late I left it, I always found I had turned in too soon and a few times I had to pick the bike up and change my line.
Once I'd learned to aim a little wide of the apex and turn in "just so" the steering became almost insanely accurate. Set up as it is "stinkbug fashion" with its nose down and its tail in the air, the GT650R is not a bike for ham-fisted yo-yos but repays accurate riding with precision handling and superbly predictable roadholding - on a good surface.
This thing was set up for the track, not the street, silly though that sounds for a Korean budget bike with no pedigree to speak of. With its rear preload set on minimum and a little more of both preload and damping on the front it should smooth out into a wonderfully responsive backroads sports bike.
Austin says she uses both brakes all the time - on this bike it's essential. The front brakes are wooden at best and just plain weak when they start to fade under pressure. The Cape Town Hyosung agent says this can be remedied by careful choice of aftermarket brake pads.
It should not, however, be necessary.
In July 2004 I said this could be "a kick-ass little sports bike". Thirteen months later it very nearly is. With a more balanced suspension and better brakes (both achievable by the owner) it will be - at two-thirds the cost of the Japanese competition.
It's a better bike than its price would suggest, with a lot of unexplored potential.
- Test bike courtesy of Jackie Austin