ever a bike could be considered a victim of its own success,
the 600 Bandit is probably it. When it arrived on the scene it
was a revelation. There was, quite simply, nothing like it. You
could buy proper sports 600s, of course, you could buy sports
touring 600s and you could buy incredibly dull commuter 600s.
But the Bandit was something else entirely. A sensible looking
hooligan bike. A psycho in a suit. Call it what you will, the
Bandit gave a combination of spot on handling, eager engine and
styling that couldn't offend even the most puritanical, and delivered
it all for a price that made the opposition really sit up and
take notice. Within weeks you couldn't move for Bandits, especially
around the urban environment where they were the ideal commuter
with spirit that people had been looking for.
But competition is fierce, and as soon as a brand new niche is
created, if it looks like a seller then everyone else will get
on the bandwagon as well. Which is bad news if your market leader
happens to be based on an engine that's years out of date and
is built as well as it can be for the price. Especially when the
opposition have better raw materials and a larger market share.
And so it came to pass that the Bandit gradually fell from favour,
especially among that most fickle of things, the motorcycle press,
replaced by newer, shinier, slicker bikes from other manufacturers.
And that is really unfair.
The 600 Bandit, especially in the faired 'S' version, is a very
good motorbike. It handles well, it's supremely comfortable, it
goes well enough and it's easy to ride. It doesn't, it's fair
to say, reach out and grab you in the way that some more charismatic
machines do, but it's very easy to live with and does everything
asked of it perfectly well. And I think that it doesn't look bad
either, although I
accept that this is a very subjective opinion.
I hopped on it to do my standard 80 mile test circuit. It cheerfully
handled everything I threw at it, clearly had plenty in reserve
and was a lot more fun to ride than I expected. If I'm going to
be completely ruthless about it, I would have to say that the
engine is showing its age a little in that it is both a little
rough at high revs and a little flat further down. It feels very
much like a second generation sportsbike engine - something like
an early GSX-R - for the simple reason that it is exactly that.
It still has carbs, but they are well set up and perform faultlessly.
It has a sportsbike gearbox - smooth and precise and just crying
out for clutchless changes - and in fairness what some would call
rough and maybe a little primitive others would call characterful.
I was lucky in that the extended summer weather continued during
this test, but riding the 1200 earlier in the year in pretty grotty
weather I can vouch for the effectiveness of the fairing. A brief
stint in the dark showed that the headlights, while perhaps not
the most attractive ever to grace the front of a motorbike, do
exactly what is required of them and illuminate the road very
nicely indeed. Mirrors, a particular bugbear of mine, are clear,
wide, blur free and show a pleasantly empty road behind me.
Riding the Bandit is as involving or uninvolving as you choose
to make it. Riding back from a very boring meeting, tired and
with my mind working on other things, the Bandit was a comfortable
companion, easy to get along with and happy to just take the road
as it came. Attacking a favourite set of bends, the Bandit became
taut, alive and as keen to play as I was. It isn't a super focused
sportsbike, but that doesn't mean it can't boogie when asked.
We owe a lot to the Bandit. We owe the proliferation
of entertaining middleweight multi-purpose bikes to the Bandit.
We owe the current, ultra competitive pricing policy relating
to those same bikes to the Bandit. And probably a lot of you owe
the fact that you are now capable motorcyclists to the 600 Bandit
you got after passing your test. There's little to say about it
that hasn't been said before, but I will endeavour to summarise
what I think about the 600 Bandit in a few words.
It's fast enough to be fun. And slow enough to be fun as well.
It handles well. It's comfortable. It's (dare i say it) practical.
And finally it's astonishingly good value for money.
In short, if you are looking for a middleweight that does all
of these things and is versatile enough to fill most roles expected
of a road bike, you could do a heck
of a lot worse than a 600 Bandit.