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As some of you may remember I managed to blow up the engine of my beloved Harley Sportster in the early part of last year. Luckily at the time I was working for a Harley dealership so was loaned a replacement bike while mine was being rebuilt. Not so luckily I got sick of my job and quit while the bike was still in pieces. Understandably my ex-employers wanted their loan bike back so the hunt was on for a cheap (sub £1000) run-around until I got the Sportster back.
I had always fancied an off-road/trial bike that I could paint matt-black and live out all my Mad Max fantasies (yes really!) but trying to find a decent off road bike for this sort of money proved near-impossible, so I realised I had to give up on my Mad Max dream… at least, for the meantime! Whilst viewing a prospective purchase at a dealership in Southend (turned out to be an over-priced old wreck) I noticed a scruffy little Kawasaki stuffed into the part-ex corner looking pretty sorry for itself. I casually asked the salesman how much they were asking for it. I was pleasantly surprised when told it was advertised at £895.
Upon further examination, the bike did look to be a bit of a state. The chain and sprockets were well knackered, one indicator wasn't working, the handlebar grips were torn and loose, one fork seal was leaking and the bodywork was in pretty poor condition with scuffs and cracks all over. Pointing all this out to the salesman, I offered £750 for it, and after he had a brief chat with his manager, I was handed the key to my new bike under the strict understanding that I would not be riding the bike away as it had no MOT or tax! 1-0 to me!
As I got kitted up and prepared to ride off, I gave the salesman a cheery wave, which he duly ignored. First impressions as I rode the bike home were not so good. The bike was so different to my Harley. The seat was much higher, the pegs further back and the riding position so radically different to what I was used to. I felt like I was leaning forward over the handlebars in a racers crouch! In reality, the ER has a very conventional riding position. It has a low seat height, making it very popular with new riders, shorties and women. The low weight, neutral handling and low insurance group all combine to make this an ideal first bike. None of this could be further from my mind on that first ride though, as I revved the hell out of the 500cc parallel twin motor to find out if the thing was still running - the engine and exhaust are practically silent compared to my Harley - and tried to get used to the alien riding position. About halfway home, as I was starting to get used to the bikes power and exploring the handling, the engine started spluttering and coughing and lost a lot of power. Pulling in the clutch and giving a generous portion of throttle may not have been the wisest course of action to take….but it worked! The bike started running on both cylinders again and I continued on my merry way home. This happened a couple more times o the journey home and I was starting to worry that I'd bought a lemon, so it was with a sigh of relief when I pulled into my garage without further mishap.
As I had now committed myself to owning this bike, I though it wise to arrange some sort of insurance cover (!) and after much ringing round I got a quote from MCE (who also insure my Harley) for £380 Third Party Fire & Theft, beating my best quote by over £600! 2-0 to me! Looking over the bike the next morning, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a valid MOT certificate under the seat, with 6 months left to run. So my ride home the previous day wasn't as illegal as I thought! 3-0 to me!
Turning my attention to the condition of the bike, I found that the indicator was totally knackered, so a pair of universal mini-indicators were acquired, for around £20.00. The fork seal set me back around £8 for a pattern (non-genuine) part. I have since found out genuine seals are cheaper at around £5. Chain and sprockets were changed at a cost of around £80.00 and a service kit (Oil, Filter, Air Filter and Spark Plugs) cost around £50. The old air filter and spark plugs were in very poor condition and the engine ran much better after changing these, as a quick spin round the block proved.
The next day my insurance certificate arrived, so it was off to the Post Office to buy the dreaded Road Fund (tax disc) but once again I was pleasantly surprised, the 500cc engine falls into a lower taxation bracket and as a result only costs £45 for a full 12 months. 4-0 to me!
Now everything was nice and legal, it was time to press my new bike into service. I fitted a small fly screen and a pair of saddlebags that I had laying around, to add a bit of weather protection and carrying ability. Filling up with petrol cost around £10 and that lasts me 130 miles on average, using the bike back and forward to work. Long distance work sees this rise to around 150/160 if careful with the throttle.
As I got used to the "strange" riding position, I started to explore the handling of the bike a little more. The light weight compared to the Harley makes cornering a much more pleasurable experience. This bike is by no means a sports bike but the handling is so neutral, and the bike so chuckable that you find yourself looking forward to the corners and trying to get leant over just that little bit more.
The 500cc liquid cooled parallel twin engine is no monster, producing just 46bhp, but if you give it a decent amount of throttle, not many cars will beat you off the line, although the 110mph top speed means most modern cars will have no problems overtaking you on the motorway. But top speed is really not what this bike is about. The sweet handling, low running costs and gentle power delivery mean this bike is perfect for what I, and most owners use it for - bimbling around town and commuting to and from work. It's no coincidence that the ER is used by so many training schools, it really must be one of the easiest bikes to ride, run and work on. I have now had the bike over a year and in that time I have had no problems other than a leaking rocker cover gasket - easily changed with the petrol tank removed and a recent coolant leak, which I believe to be caused by a perished water seal on the coolant housing, another easy fix.
Not long after buying the bike I decided to tackle the tatty bodywork, stripped the bike down and…sprayed it matt black, with a fluorescent orange stripe! The result is, well different to say the least! I have also purchased a hugger (rear mudguard) for £80 and bellypan (front spoiler) for £45 to protect the vulnerable suspension and engine from corrosion. The result is a cheap, eye-catching, sweet handling, fuss-free, reliable bike that I can use all year round. Harley, what Harley?! 5-0 to me!