The middle way – Telegraph

24 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on The middle way – Telegraph
Sachs Roadster 650

Sachs’s latest middleweight is a rarity – and almost lives up to expectations, says Kevin Ash

12:00AM BST 15 Sep 2001

Suzuki has been quietly establishing itself as a sort of modern Villiers over the past few years, supplying engines to a host of smaller manufacturers. Aprilia, Bimota, Cagiva and Laverda have all used the Japanese company’s power at some time, while Piaggio-owned Gilera will shortly announce a supersport 600 with a Suzuki engine. But it’s not just the Italians who are partial to the Far Eastern motor-maker – the German Sachs concern is another recent customer.

Sachs is a claimant to the disputed title of oldest existing motorcycle manufacturer. The company was founded in 1894, but didn’t produce its first motorcycle until 1904, a year after Harley-Davidson made its first bike. And if you still want to argue in favour of Sachs, note that Yamaha’s Fukin organ works was founded in 1887

Ironically, as Fichtel and Sachs, the company was once a proprietary engine manufacturer, which in 1966 took over the bike-maker Zweirad Union – this had been formed in 1957, when DKW joined forces with Victoria and Express. DKW was responsible for the single-cylinder,

two-stroke RT125, the most copied motorcycle of the last century, which was the template for the BSA Bantam and many more, including Suzuki’s Colleda, its first real motorcycle.

Meanwhile, after the Second World War, the MZ factory was established in the old DKW premises at Zschopau in Saxony, where the brilliant engineer Walter Kaaden led the world in two-stroke technology. Until, that is, MZ’s grand prix rider and technician Ernst Degner defected to the West, taking MZ’s two-stroke technology to Suzuki. This transformed Suzuki and set it on the path to becoming one of Japan’s big four manufacturers.

In 1974 Sachs introduced the first Wankel-engined motorcycle, the Hercules or DKW-badged W-2000, but in recent times it has been best known in the UK as a manufacturer of suspension components. Sachs restarted production of small two-strokes in 1997, and is now expanding into the larger capacities.

The latest addition is the Roadster 800, which borrows its 805cc, 45-degree, V-twin engine from the Suzuki Intruder custom bike. This handsome machine has none of the gawkiness of the single-cylinder Roadster 650, and since it’s a very rare, unfaired middleweight twin with shaft final drive, there are some riders who will look no further.

Assuming they’re not after rip-roaring Ducati-style performance, they’ll be reasonably happy with the Sachs. The engine is gentle and forgiving, rather than thrilling – revving it to the red line is unsatisfactory aurally or in terms of thrust. But the mid-range is strong enough and reasonably smooth, so the 58bhp output is sufficient for motorways or country lanes.

At low revs the bike lacks the grunt you might be hoping for, while the odd intake noise at tickover and as you blip the throttle is more reminiscent of a gobbling turkey than a bellowing beast. But overall it’s willing and easy to use.

The chassis, too, is mostly benign, its long wheelbase and relaxed steering geometry endowing the Roadster with more stability than sharpness. Up to medium pace it’s very secure, but push it harder and the suspension’s limits show. Ironically, the bike features Italian Paioli forks and Bitubo twin rear shocks, not Sachs’ equipment – apparently, none of its products were suitable.

There’s no adjustability in the suspension, another indicator of its budget status, but both front and rear are under-damped for enthusiastic riding. The ride quality suffers, too, especially with the extra weight of the shaft final drive. Improving the suspension would give the bike a far better feel overall, as the rest of the machine is satisfactory.

The brakes are powerful enough, certainly, if a little lacking in sensory return, and, in an encouraging victory of good taste, the nasty bright red colour of the Grimeca front calipers will be substituted for a more sober silver next year. The tacky, chrome-plated dash is also being toned down, to improve the looks and to stop reflections irritating the rider.

Sachs Roadster 650

Comfort is good, despite the slightly too-wide handlebars, enough to take the bike on a decent tour as well as the occasional leisure journeys for which it will be mostly used. The centre stand is difficult to use; otherwise, this is an easy bike to get on with – only a few details and that suspension suggest it’s pitched at the budget end of the market.

But there’s the rub: at £5,695 it’s only £500 less than the more sophisticated and better built BMW R850R (as a shaft-driven German twin, perhaps its closest rival), or you can stay with Suzuki and buy one of the excellent SV650 V-twins – just as fast, with better handling and a superior engine – for almost £800 less.

The Sachs looks good and it’s different enough to pull a small crowd, which with its unique specification will ensure reasonable sales. Buyers should be happy, as long as their expectations aren’t too high – it’s a nice bike, but much of the competition is more than that.

Sachs Roadster 800

Price/availability: £5,695 on the road. On sale now.

Engine/transmission: 805cc, V-twin four-stroke with eight valves and liquid cooling; 58bhp at 6,000rpm, 52lb ft of torque at 5,500rpm. Five-speed gearbox, shaft final drive.

Performance: top speed 115mph, average fuel economy n/a.

Worth considering: BMW R850R Classic, £6,235. Suzuki SV650, £4,789. Ducati M750 Monster, £5,890. Honda Transalp, £5,495. Moto Guzzi California Jackal, £5,939.

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