Learner

The 5 fastest A2 motorcycles

When power is at a premium, every last bit counts

LET’S start with a disclaimer. With power limited to a maximum of 35kW (47bhp) and power-to-weight limited to no more than 0.2kW-per-kg, the margins between one A2-legal machine and another are going to be tight to the point of insignificance.

Throw aerodynamics, rider weight and riding style – not to mention ability – into the pot and defining the outright ‘fastest’ A2 bike is virtually impossible. And that’s before we even enter the argument over whether it’s acceleration or outright speed that really matters.

The fact that more powerful bikes can be restricted to A2 level (although not if, as standard, they have more than double the 35kW limit) makes the minefield even harder to navigate. But even so, despite the fact that the A2 limits create a level playing field where an increasing number of bikes are equal, some are certain to be more equal than others.

There is an official list of A2-legal bikes on the DFT website (specifically it’s a list of bikes that will be accepted for the practical riding test, which for A2 means between 25kW and 35kW of power and more than 395cc – once you actually have the licence, it’s OK to ride bikes less powerful or lower capacity than that, but you still can’t ride ones that are more than 35kW). You’ll find it here: http://www.dft.gov.uk/motorcycle-test-vehicle-list/

While it’s regularly updated, it’s also not terribly accurate. For instance, the Triumph Street Triple is listed as A2-legal once restricted to 47kW, but the fact that bike makes 105bhp as standard should, theoretically, make it ineligible. So we’re ignoring the Government list and finding machines that have the specs to fit the A2 class.

Our list isn’t definitive or terribly scientific, but it does aim to throw up some ideas that A2-restricted riders might not have instantly considered. Please add your own suggestions too…

Yamaha SZR660

Yamaha SZR660 – up to £2000 used

Going straight in with a controversial one. The SZR660 was unloved when new (and when used, too: http://www.visordown.com/features/general/crusher-yamaha-szr660) but only because its Tenere-derived 660cc single-cylinder engine – which is bang on the 35kW/47bhp limit – wasn’t powerful enough to satisfy the very capable, all-aluminium chassis and then-exotic upside-down forks (it was launched in 1996, remember). The other problem is the weight. Remember that the A2 class limits bikes to 0.2kW-per-kg, which means if you’ve got 35kW, like the SZR, the bike needs to weigh at least 175kg. A scan of the specs reveals the SZR comes in at 159kg.

Bugger.

But remember, back in the 1990s the trend was to quote oh-so-unrealistic ‘dry’ weights – no water, no oil, no fuel – where the A2 minimum is based on a real, ‘unladen’ weight. Without sticking one on the scales it’s hard to be certain, bus since the difference between the ‘dry’ and ‘kerb’ weights of the similarly-engined Tenere 660  is some 19kg, it’s probably safe to say that if you ever got into the situation where you had to prove the bike met the power-to-weight limit, then either sticking it on a dyno to show its rear-wheel power is a little below the quoted 35kW figure or getting a set of scales and actually weighing the thing should prove that in reality it’s a valid A2 proposition.

Of course, you’ll have to find one, and since it was unloved when new there aren’t that many around. If you do, you should be able to get a low-mileage minter for under £2k. Of course, once hoards of new A2 licence holders find out about it, those prices could start to rocket…

Honda CBR500R

Honda CBR500R - £4950

Back to something less outlandish – while other manufacturers are coming up with restrictor kits and quick-fixes to meet the needs of the A2 class you can always rely on Honda to do the job properly, even if it lacks a certain spark.

The CBR500R is spot-on when it comes to power – 47bhp – and although a tad porky at 194kg it’s one of the few fully-faired, sports-style options that A2 riders have when buying brand new. ABS brakes and good things like a warranty, plenty of dealer support and finance options mean that, in the real world, this is likely to be the default choice for the A2 rider who aspires to a sports bike.

Buell XB9R

Buell XB9R – around £2500

One of the key elements to the A2 limits is that bikes can be restricted to meet the 47bhp power limit, provided they don’t have more than double that figure as standard. And while power is limited, there’s nothing to say you can’t have a lot of torque.

That had us looking at large-capacity, lightweight, torquey bikes that don’t make too much power as standard. And when you want a big engine without too much power, you look to America.

The Buell XB9R made 83bhp as standard, so provided you can find a shop prepared to restrict it to 47bhp, it qualifies. And weight-wise it’s looking good, too, at 175kg – right on the minimum for a 47bhp bike.

The important bit is that even way down at the bottom of the rev range the Buell is kicking out a good 50lbft of torque, rising to a peak of 63lbft. Even restricted, the bottom end shouldn’t be affected, and that means you’ll have more twisting force than a full-on 600cc supersports machine’s peak at your disposal, even though it will be a bit like a diesel –running out of revs just before you expect the power to kick in.

While there are plenty of things to criticise on the XB9R, the engine was always the main drawback – and since that’s something every A2 bike will suffer from, we can focus on the good bits, like the awesome handing, instead.

Suzuki GS500F

Suzuki GS500F – around £2500 for a late one

There aren’t many ‘fastest’ lists that would include the Suzuki GS500F. Maybe a list of fastest-depreciating bikes would. Or perhaps fastest-corroding.

But, despite the fact it quietly shuffled out of production a couple of years ago, the GS500F could finally be coming into its own under the A2 licence conditions. Its power, at 47bhp, is perfect for the class, and the 180kg weight means its power-to-weight ratio is close to the 0.2kW-per-kg limit.

In its day, even age-old competitors like Kawasaki’s GPZ500 and Honda’s old CB500 kicked the Suzuki into touch, performance wise, but they’re too powerful for the A2 class – after restriction, the margin wouldn’t be anything like as clear.

OK, so the handling is nothing special and build quality is notable only for how poor it is, but in faired form the GS500F isn’t too bad to look at. If buying, late bikes with low mileage are the best bet, and make sure they’re derestricted – a lot have been limited to 33bhp to accommodate the last set of weird, power-limited laws that were forced on new riders.

Yamaha XT660X

Yamaha XT660X - £6599

If the SZR is the ideal A2 bike used, then the closest thing you can get to it brand new is the XT660X. The engine is descended from the SZR’s, and makes the same 47bhp to put it right on the A2 limit. And in terms of weight it’s close to the wire too – its quoted 186kg includes a full tank of fuel.

Unlike some of our other suggestions, it’s also already on the DFT’s list of A2 bikes, so there’s no need to restrict it and you’re unlikely to ever have any trouble proving you’re legal – and being on the DFT list means you can actually take your test on it, too.

Yes, it’s pricy, but it’s also been around for years so there’s plenty of used-market choice from around £2k if you can’t stretch to a new one.

Of course, the supermoto style of the XT means it won’t be a top-speed machine, but that means it can be geared low for loads of acceleration, while the wide bars and 17-inch rubber lend themselves to back-road agility.

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