Taking pride of place on one stand at the NEC Motorcycle and Scooter Show this week is a 30th anniversary model that few riders will give a second glance. The black and red Hyosung GV650 is a special edition of a machine that sells in shedloads abroad, but we Brits can be snobbish about such things.
Try this experiment. Call three motorcycling friends and tell them you are thinking about buying a Hyosung. I did. Friend one said: "Don't be daft. " Friend two told me: "You'd be better off with a 10-year-old Honda." The third said: "Chinese technology is still light years behind what you are used to."
For a rider seeking pure sports performance, such scepticism is justified. The rest is pure prejudice, underpinned by the delusion that these machines are manufactured in Communist China. In fact, they are made in South Korea, home of those increasingly popular car brands Hyundai and Kia.
I must declare an interest. Five years ago, in urgent need of a people-carrier to convey our four children, Mrs Luckhurst and I crossed our fingers and bought a Hyundai Trajet. In 50,000 trouble-free miles of mainly motorway driving, we have not regretted it.
This experience colours my approach to Hyosung motorcycles, built in Changwon City by S&T Group. There is no compelling reason why the South Korean philosophy of building rugged, reliable machinery at mass-market prices should not extend to motorcycles.
Hyosungs are no more cutting edge than my Hyundai is a Mercedes, but they are practical. The latest cruiser-style GV650 Aquila model is powered by a fuel-injected V-twin that develops a lusty 80bhp and 67Nm of torque. Power is transmitted to the rear wheel via a five-speed gearbox and a belt-drive system of the type that has proved so durable on BMWs, Buells and Harleys.
Hyosung began making Suzukis under licence, and its 650cc twin is derived from one of the Japanese giant's most reliable engines. In-house engine development began in 1987, followed by research into brake, drive-train and suspension technology. The result is a family of 16 motorcycles that extends from 50cc mopeds and 125cc learner machines to 650cc cruisers and commuters. Hyosung is in the final stages of developing a 1,000cc engine. All models have two-year warranties and one year's free roadside assistance.
With prices ranging from £1,949 to £5,049, the company is a major player in Australia and Spain. Not so here in Britain, where the importer, EP Barrus, was appointed to distribute Hyosung motorcycles in 2006. There are 88 dealerships and an online sales facility (www.hyosung.co.uk).
Matthew Gilder of EP Barrus says: "Hyosung has 30 years of motorcycle design and manufacturing experience in Korea, and it is an increasingly serious make." The company points to a UK sales rise of 212 per cent between 2006 and 2007, and is proud to sell more bikes to British riders than iconic brands such as Moto Guzzi, Benelli and Buell.
But it is fighting decades of prejudice. The juvenile tone of many British motorcycling magazines combines with the marketing strategies of major manufacturers to depict bikes as exotic toys for rich men.
And for a fair number of wealthy, born-again bikers, motorcycling is just a hobby. But there is another breed of motorcyclist, who uses a bike to cut through congestion and save on fuel and parking. As oil prices soar, such people will become more common.
Traditional guidance for budget motorcyclists has rarely extended beyond advice to buy a Honda, Suzuki or Yamaha, which make bullet-proof, bargain motorcycles as well as premium ones. But Hyosung can give them a run for their money.
I'll soon test bikes from their 2008 range. Until then, I urge riders for whom knee-sliders are not daily attire to cast aside costly preconceptions. Hyosung bikes are not at the leading edge of innovation, but do promise peace of mind. If that sounds dull, consider. Competition at the low end of the market need not be restricted to brands with limited dealer support. If Hyosung can do for two-wheelers what Hyundai has for cars, pragmatic riders have much to gain. The folk from Changwon offer an attractive alternative – and you won't be subsidising the Chinese experiment in authoritarian capitalism.
The author is professor of journalism at the University of KentReuse content