Korea's most prolific car makers, Hyundai and Kia, have successfully blazed a trail from the bargain basement to the motoring mainstream, but can bike brand Hyosung follow it?
That's the question asked by South Korea's most expensive motorcycle, the $16,995 Hyosung ST7 Deluxe, for it lands in New Zealand in a pricing territory occupied by entry-level Harley-Davidsons, some refined Japanese-branded cruisers and the two interstate-inspired Triumph Bonneville variants, the Speedmaster and the America.
The Deluxe is definitely better-equipped than its price position competition, but it has a huge hurdle to climb in terms of brand cachet, since Hyosung is mostly known here as a provider of cheap and cheerful disposable bikes for commuters.
Hyosung's strategy for overcoming badge snobbery is to hide its brand. Instead of displaying the bike maker's name, the fuel tank has a huge ST7 graphic reminiscent of the album-cover art for an acid rock band in the 1970s. Hyosung obviously hopes to win by stealth the widespread acceptance that Hyundai and Kia achieved mainly through buying large chunks of advertising muscle.
This potentially self-defeating policy will hopefully place enough brave souls on the plush seat of the ST7 for its virtues to begin to spread by word of mouth.
This isn't a bad bike as budget-minded cruisers go, especially when bought in a simpler $12,995 base-model form, which deletes the $4000 worth of questionable accessories in the Deluxe edition.
The $4000 buys floorboards for the rider instead of footpegs, top-hinged panniers, pillion accommodation in the form of a sissy bar with backrest and footrests, chromed engine guards, a handlebar-mounted windscreen, and a heel-toe gearshifter.
If the Deluxe was my bike and I had no need of the pillion capacity, I would probably bin the lot. The windscreen causes turbulence around the rider's helmet, the heel-toe shifter requires waving your left foot around to operate successfully, and the floorboards vibrate enough to cause prolonged pins-and-needles sensations.
Worst of all, the panniers require a separate key, open from the front, offer little in the way of realistic stowage capacity, and have fiddly catches that you need to double-check to ensure load security. If one of those catches comes loose, the wind quickly opens the pannier by blowing the lid backwards.
It would have made more sense for Hyosung to have mounted the panniers the other way around, so that the breeze would keep them closed if a catch fails.
Hence, it's far better to start with the base ST7 model and add the accessories you want, rather than the additions Hyosung thinks you want. Or better still, start with any unsold $10,995 Aquila GV650 cruiser that the New Zealand Hyosung dealer might still have on the showroom floor, for the now-deleted 650 is arguably a better-looking cruiser and the $2000-lower price gives even more potential for personal customisation.
With its more muscular inverted front forks and cut-down fenders, the Aquila looks like the Korean impression of a Harley-Davidson V-Rod in comparison with the ST7's heavier, more classical look.
The ST7's 682cc 90-degree V-twin engine is essentially the Aquila 650's fuel-injected unit given slightly larger diameter pistons. It runs a relatively high 11.5:1 compression ratio that requires a diet of premium-grade fuel, and results in surprisingly good performance for a cruiser-oriented engine of modest capacity.
The ST7 develops 62bhp at 8000rpm and 64 newton metres at 7500rpm, more than enough to embarrass Honda's similar-sized VT750 Shadow V-twin and its paltry 36bhp and 54Nm peak outputs.
However, where the Honda V-twin hands its torque on to one of the most refined five-speed powertrains in the biking universe, the Hyosung passes on its extra grunt to one of the worst.
The five-speed gearbox has the shift quality of an ancient Massey-Fergusson, and the high-compression engine exaggerates the transmission lash in on-off throttle transitions.
The real bright spot on the Hyosung's horizon is the fact that it is one of the most enjoyable cruiser motorcycles.
It definitely pays to select a cruiser from a country with lots of mountainous terrain. The ST7 offers more cornering clearance than most, to the point where it takes genuine commitment to lean it over until the floorboards come into contact with the road.
The suspension quality and braking performance aren't bad either, and anyone defending their choice of a Hyosung as a cruiser can definitely point with pride to the chassis.
The build quality isn't an issue either, although all the shiny bits might require plenty of attention at weekends to keep them up to scratch. It will be the ongoing pride displayed by this bike's initial adopters that will determine whether Hyosung can become an aspirational brand here, given that the Korean bike maker's marketing resources are relatively scarce in comparison with its automotive compatriots.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 682cc liquid-cooled DOHC 8-valve 90-degree V-twin, stoked by electronic fuel injection to develop 46kW (62bhp) at 8000rpm and 64Nm at 7500rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed sequential gearbox, belt final drive.
Frame: Steel-tube double-cradle frame and box-section steel rear swingarm; 41mm unadjustable front forks, twin rear shocks adjustable for spring preload.
Price: $16,995 (base model: $12,995).
Hot: One of the best cruiser-style motorcycles to pilot down a winding New Zealand road thanks to generous ground clearance and reasonable suspension quality.
Not: A contentious accessory package places the ST7 Deluxe in dangerous pricing territory: would you choose this bike over a $17,150 Harley-Davidson XL1200 Custom?
- © Fairfax NZ News