Hyosung GV650

The revolution has been spoken of for many years, but now it's upon us. Twenty years ago, the products of car manufacturers from the Asian land mass were viewed as low-cost lightweights in the automotive arena, but today, Proton, Kia and especially Hyundai are regarded as key players that are fully competitive with Japanese and European rivals in terms of price, design and, increasingly, quality. Maybe it's no coincidence that two out of those three companies are Korean, same as Samsung, LG Group and the several other manufacturers that have helped convince the world that Korea today no longer stands for a cheaper version of Japan. Now it's time for Korea's premier motorcycle manufacturer to stride onto the world stage, aiming at similar approval for its range of V-twin motorcycles powered by its own engines. Welcome to the Hyundai of two wheels: Hyosung.

First revealed in prototype form at the 2003 Milan Show, and now in production, the GV650 is powered by a softer version of the Comet's 647cc watercooled 90-degree V-twin eight-valve engine with chain-driven dohc, retuned mainly via different intake and exhaust formats, as well as ignition timing, to deliver a much wider spread of power and torque, says Hyosung chief engineer N.C. Heo. Measuring 81.5 x 62mm, it's still fitted with 39mm Mikuni carbs, but while producing a lower claimed 70.2 bhp at 9000 rpm as well as reduced maximum torque of 61.6 Nm (45.4 ft.-lbs.) at 7500 rpm (against the Comet's 68 Nm (50.1 ft.-lbs.) at 7200 rpm), does so with a broader delivery of each. "This reflects our fitting a five-speed gearbox with belt final drive, rather than the chain-drive Comet's six-speed transmission," explains Heo. "Second and third gears on the GV650 are higher, and fifth gear is still an overdrive."

My Korean visit provided the chance to spend a 300 km day riding one of the very first production GV650 off the Changwon production line, in company with Mr. Heo. Our road took in the inevitable stop-and-go street racing of Changwon's industrial sprawl, but once clear of the city we found faster freeways running down to Korea's scenic southern coastline. There, we stopped for a cooling drink in the 93-degree heat (and 93 percent humidity!) at the so-called Naples of the Orient, the fishing port of Tongyeong from which a bridge leads across the East China Sea to Korea's second-largest island of Geojedo, a rugged and mountainous place that apparently bears the full brunt of the summer typhoons. One of those was raging during our ride, but fortunately some hundreds of kilometers south of us, off the coast of Taipei. All was serene, if inevitably very sultry, as we cruised the island's great, lightly trafficked, switchback roads en route to a late fish lunch at the main port of Jangseungpo, before heading back to Hyosung HQ in the gathering twilight. My Korean kruise set a serious exam for the new GV650-one that seems to confirm the initial impressions I'd formed after seeing it in the metal for the first time at Milan, that here was a potent new product for the customer dollar that could put Hyosung, and Korea, on the motorcycling map. Here's why:

The GV650's rakish, laid-back styling is all Hyosung's own work, and proved so much on the money that, after its Milan debut, the company claims to have received a letter of complaint from Harley-Davidson, accusing them of ripping off the V-Rod's looks. "This was very strange, because in fact we were afraid that the GV650 styling was too Oriental!" says Heo. "It was quite a nice compliment to be told by Harley-Davidson that we got it right!" I reckon it would be Yamaha who might have most grounds for complaint, judging by the GV650's more glittery neo-Warrior appearance, but the resulting K-Rod looks a lot of bike for the money-around $6200 in the American market-with a generally excellent build quality featuring copious chrome that is deep and lustrous, and improved paint compared to previous Hyosung models. The well-padded seat-which resembles a reclining damsel when viewed from certain angles!-is actually pretty comfortable by cruiser standards, delivering a chilled-out stance with the footrests not too far forward, matched to the pulled-back handlebar whose angle is just right. Riders less tall than I should find it equally comfortable, thanks to the adjustable footrests which can be rotated around a 50mm axis to cope with shorter legs, and the seat has an incorporated bum pad that gives extra support. Coupled with the laid-back stance which prevents you exerting too much pressure on the base of your spine, this resulted in a riding position that didn't become tiring during a long day's ride, over Korean road surfaces of what may politely be termed variable quality. The relaxed riding stance goes well with a rather naval view from the bridge, with the long handlebar ending just ahead of the chromed headlamp, which might benefit from a more shapely motif around its chrome housing, just to set it off. But it feels you're riding a more substantial bike than a mere middleweight-and that's an impression seconded by the GV650's performance, which is distinctly on the sporting side.

The Hyosung motor starts instantly and silently via the electric leg, and has zero vibration even when revved hard-it feels really well balanced, with just enough of a throb to remind you what you're riding, as well as a fruity note from the 2-into-1 exhaust's rather Warrior-esque substantial single silencer. The digital dash located in the vee of the handlebar is very hard to read in sunlight, even on maximum brightness of the three available levels, and the turn-signal indicators and neutral N incorporated in it were impossible to see, even riding with my sun visor open and no sunglasses. It doesn't have a tach (you get speed, mileage, twin trip, water temp and a rather pessimistic fuel gauge without any warning light-it told me I did more than 50 km on flat empty!), but I know from riding a GT650R test bike the next day, fitted with the same motor, that there's a soft-action 11,000 rpm rev limiter. In GV650 guise the engine pulls strong and smooth on part-throttle from little more than idle, aided by the very light-action, smooth clutch pickup which helps make riding the bike in town a pleasure-it feels very well balanced at little more than walking pace, and low-speed maneuverability is excellent.

However, although the GV650 has a linear build of power, plus a pretty flat torque curve giving reasonable flexibility for a 650 V-twin, it isn't as flexible lower down as its three Japanese middleweight cruiser rivals which, fitted as they are with shaft drive, are more custom tourers than sport cruisers. So you can't lug along at 60 kph in top gear on the Hyosung-running in traffic at anything less than 70 kph, you'll need to drop down a gear to fourth to avoid any trace of transmission snatch. But when you spot a gap in the oncoming line of traffic and floor the throttle, you're rewarded with impressive pickup all the way to the 123 mph top speed I saw on the dash, when running the GV650 wide open on a freeway sitting normally on the bike (which became 126 mph just by tucking my helmet down a little!). This is a true middleweight performance custom-a sport-cruising streetfighter, not a slow-revving slugger, which asks you to use the smooth-shifting gearbox a little more than you might expect to have to. Neutral is reasonably easy to find, even at rest, and the responsiveness of the V-twin motor is so good you'd never guess it wasn't fuel injected -the GV650 is ideally carburated and picks up fast yet precisely from a closed throttle. Full marks to Hyosung for setup-but Heo says they're already working on electronic fuel injection in preparation for the arrival of Euro 3 in 2007. "We have established four different EFI suppliers for our separate product ranges," he says. "We have one EFI supplier in Korea, and one each in Japan, China and Taiwan. This way, we can avoid hold-ups caused by the fact that all EFI suppliers are so busy at the moment, mainly because of Euro 3."

In spite of the more kicked-out rake angle on the Korean-made 41mm upside-down forks compared to the Comet, there's a good sense of control aboard the GV650, thanks to the light, precise steering, as well as excellent leverage from the well-shaped handlebar. Even with twin shocks which are adjustable only for preload, ride quality was much higher than I expected, with the GV650 coping well with bumps and ridges in the pavement-better than many bikes from more established cruiser manufacturers, if truth be told. The Bridgestone tires gave excellent grip, enough to explore the limits of ground clearance on either side, though it's not the footrests that scrape. First to touch down on the right is the exhaust flange, which soon loosened the chrome heatshield outside it, while on the left it was inevitably the sidestand that grounded, which in proper use was well positioned and easy to find. The rear tire would frequently give a chirp when I stepped on the brake pedal to come to rest, and the front twin-disc brakes had the same rather wooden feel as on the various Comet models, requiring a hard squeeze on the non-adjustable lever to persuade what look like way-cool four-piston calipers (but which are in fact rather low-rent two-piston items) to grip the twin 300mm Daesung stainless steel discs hard enough to stop the bike from speed. But that's not such an issue, because you'd use the 260mm rear (disc) brake more on a bike like this, and it worked well. Really, the GV650 handled pretty good within the range of expectations, and it's obvious Hyosung is learning fast about dialing in suspension, at least. Wet-weather braking would be my only reservation, because this was pretty dire when I tested it on the Comet GT650 18 months ago, but thankfully didn't have a chance to do so yet on the GV650.

But you would catch me riding a Hyosung GV650 again, because this is a good bike that confirms the Korean company's coming of age as a world-class manufacturer. Hyosung can indeed expect to put itself on the map with this well-designed, well-engineered and seemingly well-made model, which Western customers should take a hard look at, as a good product with its own distinct personality, at an affordable price. Just like a Samsung mobile phone or a Hyundai car, in fact, Korea Inc. has come of age, and manufacturers in other countries had better get used to it. The GV650 is no cheapskate Chinese ripoff of someone else's product, but a well-made, well-engineered Korean-built model in its own right, which bodes well for Hyosung's future on the world stage. And if the 1000cc version the Koreans are currently working on is as good as this, it's going to be fun riding it.

Hyosung GV650
Suggested base price: $6199
Engine type: Liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 4 intake, 4 exhaust
Displacement, bore x stroke: 647cc, 81.5 x 62mm
Compression ratio: 11.6:1
Fuel system: 2 39mm Mikuni carbs
Transmission: Wet clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Belt
Wheels: Cast, 18 x 3.5 in. front; 17 x 5.5 in. rear
Front tire: 120/70ZR-18 Bridgestone
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Bridgestone
Front brake:
2, 2-piston calipers, 11.8-in. disc
Rear brake:
1, 10.6-in. disc
Front suspension:
Inverted 41mm stanchions, 5.12 in. travel
Rear suspension:
2 dampers, preload-adjustable, 2.64 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.