With a £5000 budget we delve into the second-hand market to test four of the best used bargains around.
The sportsbike market is a battleground between manufacturers all trying to prise the cash from your hands. Every year the one-upmanship takes on new heights as every new model tries to better the current market leader by grabbing the headlines with a huge power figure, new piece of techno wizardry or some mad styling cue.
So where does this leave the previous years' models? Can last year's cutting edge machine really turn that bad overnight when its successor is unveiled? Of course not.
The problem is that the Japanese manufacturers are stuck in a four-year cycle when it comes to bikes. A new bike is launched, the next year it gets a new paint scheme, the year after a slight tweak, usually consisting of an engine mod and some chassis refinement, the fourth year is another paint change then in the fifth year a whole new model is launched.
Don't believe me? Look at the current headline grabber, Suzuki's GSX-R1000. In 2001 it was launched and wasn't changed in 2002 bar some graphics. In 2003 it got a new pointy fairing, radial brakes and an adjusted chassis with the engine slightly tuned. Last year nothing happened and this year? Well, look at it. In the space of just four years there are now two models that are out of date.
And these soon end up in dealers as second-hand bikes, with price tags that are far more accessible to most of us than when they were new. Good news for the second-hand customers, not such good news for the fashion-conscious buyer who takes the hit.
Setting a £5000 budget for the bikes in this test I was amazed at the gems we uncovered. A call to D&K Motorcycles, one of the largest second-hand dealers in the UK, soon provided an absolutely mint 2002-model Aprilia RSV, a very tidy 2001 Honda FireBlade with a few miles on the clock, an excellent 2001 Suzuki GSX-R750 and, the biggest surprise for me, a 2000 Ducati 748 (although to be fair it was a bit tatty).
A fine selection of bikes, all of which have fallen foul of simply growing old and being updated. In 2002 the Blade saw its engine capacity upped, then the completely new bike with the underseat pipe hit the shops in 2004. Aprilia unveiled the new-style RSV-R in 2003, Suzuki re-launched their GSX-R750 in 2004 and Ducati's 749, with its controversial re-styling, replaced the beautiful 748 in 2002.
So with the UK covered in snow Daryll was dispatched through the drifts of northern Europe in the TWO van to Montpellier in the sunny south of France, while Niall, James and myself took the easy route of a cheap flight. Worth the £80 just to avoid listening to Daryll's music and karaoke singing.
Unloading the bikes at the hotel in Beziers there are three topics of conversation. The first is the rudeness of the French hotel staff, the second the temperature, which is just above two degrees, and the third the bikes."That Blade looks like its been owned by some bloke with a sticker fetish," reckons James, "although he hasn't worked out how to put them on. He's stood down wind, let go of them and left them where they landed."
Niall is equally bemused by the GSX-R: "Check it out. Why do people put blue screens on blue and white GSX-Rs? And look at the FireBlade's wheels. What the hell is that? It looks like the kind of tape we used to put on Mark III Cortinas."
Daryll has discovered some of the RSV's more subtle delights. "We've got pink anodised bolts on this one!" he says as he unloads if from the van. And we all reckon it's been owned by either a bird or a very fat bloke as it says 'Big Jugs' on the bottom of the number plate. Daryll also notices that none of the Ducati's fairing panels appear to be the same colour.
So here we have the first problem with second-hand bikes: owners often 'customise' them, and generally for the worse in the eyes of everyone but them. Anodised bolts are easily changed, stickers peel off and crap logoed plates replaced at little cost, but the GSX-R's tinted screen and rearsets would involve sourcing original ones, and that would add up to a few quid. On top of that, the Ducati has obviously been crashed. There's a lot of things to look out for when buying a second-hand bike.
With the bikes unloaded James looks them over. "Well that's it then," he says. "The GSX-R750 wins this easily, it's mint. Let's go home." Which is a sweeping statement to say the least, seeing as we haven't ridden any of the bikes.
"Those GSX-R's are great bikes," agrees Niall. "I don't remember that Blade being a good one, I don't really get on with 748s and while the new model RSV-R is good, I don't remember that model being as good."I've got to admit I'm thinking along the same lines. Like Niall and James I've ridden all of these bikes when they first came out, and you can't help but form an impression about which will be the best. But there's a problem with this. We've ridden all these bikes when they were brand new. Now they are a few years old, and most of them have at least 10,000 miles and an owner or two under their belts, will they still feel the same? The Ducati does.
"That is probably the most uncomfortable bike I have ever ridden," reckons James after a blast on the 748. "They must have some kind of diamond-tipped cutting device to form the seat foam because it's as hard as stone. All your weight is shoved forwards on your wrists and it's a right ball-ache turning it in the road. But having said that I'm impressed. It handles really good and the engine is strong, but have you seen the finish? It's falling apart. Everything that can rust has and you'd never get it back to original. It rides like a good one and feels like a new bike, but it looks like a knacker."
Meanwhile, Niall has been won over by the FireBlade. "It feels and looks like a new bike," he reckons. "How old is it? Three years? I wouldn't have though it. Quality of stickers aside, it feels great. The front end is excellent, it's really balanced in corners and, although it turns quick, it never feels unsettled. The suspension still works perfectly and it's comfortable but the engine is mega. It's got so much bottom end, I had forgotten how good this motor is. It's smooth and delivers instant and really strong power."
Continue the Used Test - 2/2
Posted: 14/05/2010 at 11:37
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