6-Cylinder Motorcycle Shootout
By Doug Mitchel
There’s noise, and then there’s music. And then there’s the sound of a trio of 6-cylinder motorcycles running at once. The melody that pours from these three bikes is music to a motorcyclist’s soul.
Although manufacturers have played with the 6-cylinder motorcycle since at least the 1920s, the era of big 6-cylinder motorcycles was short lived. Honda was the first to introduce a 6-cylinder motorcycle in 1966, the RC166, but it displaced a scant 249cc and was designed for racing. Italy’s Benelli introduced the world’s first production 6-cylinder motorcycle in 1972, the Benelli Sei 750, but it took two more years for it to hit production. Once it did, it was followed five years later by the Honda CBX 1000 and the Kawasaki KZ1300. The Sei 750 was then upgraded and became the Benelii Sei 900. Although the Benelli was in production the longest — some 11 years — none had real staying power, but they’re all collectible today.
Which to ride?
We had three riders from different backgrounds take a quick ride on each of the 6-cylinder motorcycles mentioned and give us their feedback. Location restrictions wiped out any chance for a long day in the saddle, but our riders got enough time for a basic appreciation of each machine.
• Joe Bortz: Joe owns all three of our sixes, along with many more bikes in his ever-expanding collection. This includes the pair of Turbo bikes we’ve previously covered (Turbo Wars: Kawasaki ZX750E1 vs. Yamaha XJ650LJ).
Joe is drawn to the Benelli Sei 900, which he finds to be agile and very maneuverable. Regardless of its six cylinders, he sees the Sei 900 as more of a sport bike and less a tourer than the other two, with the Benelli the six that can really slice through the turns, thanks to its lighter weight and smaller overall dimensions.
Already one of his favorite touring bikes, the Honda CBX 1000 impresses him as “extremely powerful and beautifully finished,” although after riding all three it’s not the six he’d run to first. That would be the Benelli.
The Kawasaki KZ1300 is probably his least favorite, if just because of its sheer bulk. Although he thinks it has more low-end grunt than the other two sixes and produces thrust “like a turbine engine, with so much power in any gear it’s hard to tell what gear you’re in,” he still finds it hard to really warm up to. In the end, it’s just not the bike he’d pick.
• Michael Murphy: Michael is neither a collector nor a restorer, but he owns and rides a trio of 2-stroke models, each no bigger than 250cc. For him, the bikes in our test are in an entirely different league from what he’s used to.
Of the three, he likes the Honda CBX 1000 best, and he remembers how enormous they seemed on the street when they were first introduced. No question, they’re big.
He sees the Benelli Sei 900 as a unique and interesting piece of Italian history, but really not much else. And while rumors have persisted for years that parts can be traded between the Sei and Honda 500 Fours, Michael’s mechanical experience has proven that part swapping between the two is not an option. Even so, it’s still pretty obvious that Benelli used the Honda motor design, but with an extra two lungs.
When it comes to the Kawasaki, the mass of the Kawasaki KZ1300 is enough to put him off, even if its prodigious power places it at the top of our three-bike food chain. It’s simply too much, regardless of its abilities.
• Ken Rottmann: A British bike specialist, Ken is the proprietor of Ken’s British Classics, a specialty shop catering to the repair and restoration of classic motorcycles. Compared to the Honda CBX 1000 and Kawasaki KZ1300, Ken likes the decidedly European flavor and typically good European handling of the Benelli Sei 900. And while — or maybe because — the Benelli is the smallest of the trio, Ken admires its smooth power band and lightweight feel. Given his taste for European bikes, it’s no surprise he prefers the Benelli’s flowing bodywork compared to the somewhat square styling of its Japanese competition.
That didn’t keep him from enjoying the CBX 1000, which despite its size and 6-cylinder engine he thinks is “a bike anyone could ride.” For his money, it’s surprisingly nimble with nice controls. “User friendly” and “plenty fast” were terms Ken frequently lobbed at the Honda, a bike he clearly enjoyed more, the more he rode it.
Ken finds the extra power on the Kawasaki KZ1300 makes it much stronger than the mighty CBX 1000 in a straight line. And while he doesn’t think the KZ1300 handles as well as the Sei 900 or the Honda CBX 1000, he feels it would “definitely spank” the CBX in a drag race. He was also impressed by its handlebar controls, which he considers easier to use than either the Benelli or the Honda.
At the end of the day …
Overall, the Benelli Sei 900 impresses most from a general rideability perspective, followed by the Honda CBX 1000 for combined rideability and touring capacity, leaving the Kawasaki KZ1300 last, a victim of its own more-is-better (and much, much heavier) approach. Yet 30 years ago, they stacked up almost exactly reversed, with the Benelli the least sought after of the three, and the CBX revered by many riders.
While our three sixes share few details aside from engine configuration, they were all rebels in their day, standing out for being the biggest, baddest and fastest bikes you could buy anywhere. In today’s world a 600cc inline-four cranks out way more power and weighs far less, but still the cruiser market seems to spawn a bigger, more powerful bike each year.
As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. MC
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