No need for 33bhp rules here. You are the lucky ones and can go straight onto anything you fancy. But let’s be realistic here. Until now you’ve been riding a 12bhp 125cc bike, or, at best, a 50bhp, 500cc twin under the supervision of an instructor. Buying a 160mph, 110bhp sports 600 is plainly a bit daft. Here are our recommendations.
Yamaha XJ6 Diversion
Launched in 2009, the XJ6 is one of motorcycling’s best-kept secrets. It uses a retuned version of a previous generation YZF-R6 engine (the R6 is Yamaha’s supersport 600) designed to be more user friendly and flexible. It’s a wonderful engine; brisk, but flexible and easy to use, with a broad spread of power across a vast rev range that makes it easy for less-experienced riders to get used to and a whole load of fun for those with a bit more time behind (handle) bars.
The Yamaha’s other strong point is its chassis. Easy to handle, with predictable steering and suspension that offers stability in corners and comfort over bumps. The XJ6 also has a riding position that remains comfy over long stints in the saddle and offers a good view over traffic in town, despite having a seat that’s low enough and welcoming enough for almost anyone.
Launched in 2004 and largely ignored until word started spreading of just how good this bike is. The CBF600 is a simple, old-school motorbike. Comfy and easy to ride. Fast enough to be fun and nimble enough to get through the corners neatly too. Like the Yamaha XJ6, the CBF uses a retuned version of an engine from a sports bike, in this case, Honda’s CBR600.
The early ones (2004-2008) used an engine based on the 1994 CBR with carburettors instead of fuel injection while the later ones (08-on) use an engine based on the 2005 CBR600R which is fuel injected. The later bikes also replaced the early CBF’s steel frame with an aluminium item (which saves a couple of kg weight)
Whichever version you get, they feel identical to ride. A broad spread of power and stable, predictable handling. Like the Yamaha XJ6 there are two versions – one with a fairing and one without. The faired bike offers better weather protection and comfort at motorway speeds, while the unfaired one feels faster to ride.
Confusingly, the latest F650GS is actually an 800cc motorcycle (no, we don’t know why either) using a retuned version of the twin cylinder engine found in the FBOOGS. BMW’s twin has a clever counterbalance system that reduces vibration and some even cleverer fuel injection that gives around 10mpg more than any other big bike around. 75mpg is easily achievable with a steady throttle hand, which is superb for a bike that’s still capable of doing A to Bas quickly as just about anything else out there.
Once you get past the quirky half-on and half-off road styling you’ll come to appreciate the comfort and ease of use and be surprised how much bike can be bought for such little money. Except that no one leaves a BMW showroom without signing up for at least £500 worth of options so you’ll probably have heated handlebar grips (very good), a funky looking trip computer (not really worth the money) and some hard luggage (BMW’s is very good) and a £1000 hole in your savings account.
A fully-faired, sports bike that’s also comfy to ride and easy to own. Cheap to buy, reliable and with design cues taken from Suzuki’s GSX-R range, the GSX-F has a riding position that’s a little more upright, an engine that’s a little more flexible and handling that isn’t quite as nervous as a GSX-R. Which all adds up to a quick, but confident package that’ll do commuting and touring but still give your adrenal glands a squeeze on a Sunday morning blast through the twisty bits.
The GSX is based heavily on Suzuki’s Bandit which means it’s well-proven, reliable and spares are cheap too. It looks and feels like a big bike too and if money’s a bit tight, there are plenty of used examples around from less than £4000.
Kawasaki ER-6 /Versys
Some might say that the Kawasaki’s twin-cylinder engine offers the perfect compromise between the punchiness of a single and the smooth-but-bland delivery of a four-cylinder machine. And they might be right too. The ER-6 is a belter of a bike. Quick enough to be fun, nimble enough to feel like a sports bike, but easy to ride too with a great engine that has oomph at low revs but a kick at the top end too. Not quite as economical as the BMW, but you’ll still see 60-65mpg however you ride it and will still be surprised just how fast a 650cc twin can go.
Kawasaki makes a faired and unfaired version and there’s also the Versys, which shares its engine and chassis with the ER-6, but has a riding position and styling that is closer to an adventure bike, which gives it a very different feel on the road.
Ask any eight-year-old to draw a motorbike and chances are it would look like this. Harleys are different. They are physically big and heavy, but all have low seats too which makes them easy to manoeuvre. Their engines are big in capacity, but slow revving and lazy, making more torque than power. Which means they feel strong but not that fast.
But you don’t buy Harleys to go fast. The point here is to get noticed. Make some noise, split some traffic and enjoy the freedom of being on a bike. The Sportster is Harley’s simplest, lightest, most pure motorcycle. Available as an 883cc or 1200cc bike, they look impossibly cool, are relatively easy to ride and cheap too.
The only downside is the two gal Ion fuel tank that needs filling every 90 miles. But the Harley ethos encourages personalising from the phonebook sized H-D catalogue. You can buy half a dozen different fuel tanks for your Sportster as well as everything else.
That lovely little 500cc Kawasaki that you probably did your training on might be easily dismissed as a learner bike, but consider this. Ridden in anger an ER-5 will do 0-60mph in a little over four seconds. To buy a car that would beat it away from the lights, you’d need to spend somewhere around £150,000. Still, think you need something faster?
The ER-5 is a little belter. Quick enough to be fun, easy enough to be unintimidating and cheap to run too. There are loads around, but finding a good one can be tricky because many lead a hard life. Take your time and you’ll get one though and prices are very reasonable.
Similar to Kawasaki’s ER-5 in that it’s a 500cc twin-cylinder engine in a simple chassis. But the Honda is a better bike in every respect. Slightly quicker, better handling and much better built. But they are also more expensive and are harder to find because the CB is a favourite of the London couriers. But if you can track down a good one, then buy it. You won’t regret it.
Suzuki Bandit 600
Probably the most plentiful used bike in this category. Suzuki launched the original Bandit 600 in 1995. It built a great bike and priced it £1000 under the nearest rival. Not surprisingly it sold thousands.
The Bandit sells on big-bike looks and feel, with reasonable power and good handling. There are loads around and prices start at under £1000 for a tidy, early example. Later bikes (2005-on) gained an extra 50cc to make up for power lost meeting the exhaust emissions regulations. A new version was launched in 2007 with a completely different engine and fuel injection.
Surprisingly, the best bargains are probably the nearly new ones. Pricing has always been keen and up till 2009, you could buy a new unfaired Bandit for a little over £4000. Now that those owners are coming to sell, you can pick up a tidy, three-year-old example for under £3000.
First seen in 1989 and almost unchanged in 15 years of production, the GS500 is a simple machine that rides well when new, but needs regular attention to stop it getting saggy. Comes in unfaired or faired versions and always cheap to buy. A good bike for your first summer and winterbuy cheap, hone your skills and sell for the same price you bought it for in 12 months’ time.
Suzuki DL650 V-Strom
Styled like an adventure bike, designed to go touring and surprisingly good at cutting through the traffic and a few Sunday morning twisty corners, the V-Strom can do it all. Powered by a V-twin engine shared with the sporty SV650, but retuned to deliver gentle pulses of power while it sips fuel at 60mpg. The DL650 has a decent fairing which keeps the worst of the weather off, a comfy seat and soft suspension to absorb the potholes.
Plenty were sold, so used prices are very reasonable. It’s a bike that gets used for everything and many owners fit hard luggage and sensible options like heated handlebar grips to make life more comfortable. The V-Strom is an excellent used buy. The only thing to watch out for is width of the seat if your legs are a little short.
Yamaha Fazer 600
Another bargain, even more so because the early bikes (1998- 2002) are the best of the bunch. Like the Hondas, Yamaha’s Fazer uses an ex-sport bike engine, retuned and planked into an upright, comfortable, easy handling chassis.
Those early bikes can be a little tired by now, but the basics are strong and if you get one that’s had the tyres, chain and suspension sorted in the last few months, it’ll be a good buy for less than £1500.
Honda Hornet 600
Similar in many ways to the CBF600, but longer running (it was launched in 1998) and therefore cheaper. The engine is the same as in the early CBF600s but with slightly more power at the top end. Thankfully, it’s just as flexible lower down and so still easy to ride. The unfaired bikes look the best, but the halffaired Hornets (made from 2000-2004) are the most practical and comfortable over distance. Bikes made from 2000-onwards also have a 17-inch front wheel (older bikes are 16-inch) which makes the steering slightly less snappy.
Funky looking off-road styled machine that uses a singlecylinder engine which gives a little more punch at low revs. The downside is that the singlecylinder motor doesn’t have the rev range or flexibility of the fourcylinder engines, which means you’ll be changing gear more often to keep it in the power. But it does offer a bit more personality than the four cylinders and will be more economical too, averaging around 55-60mpg.
BMW offers a wide range of options on its bikes and many customers go for heated handlebar grips and luggage, which cost a lot new but add little to the used price so you’ll be getting a bargain. BMW also offers a 33bhp restricted F650GS through its dealers and tracking one down shouldn’t be too hard.