Top 10 cheap first big bikes

Don’t want to spend a fortune on your first big bike? Never fear; the used market is brimming with bargains

REGARDLESS of your financial situation it’s arguably always been a good idea to shop secondhand when you’re new to riding. Even the best of us has suffered the embarrassment of dropping a bike and somehow the sound of crunching plastic is less painful when you know it wasn’t brand new in the first place.

These days, riders stepping up to a full-on ‘A’ licence, with access to full power machines for the first time, are already going to have had experience on smaller bikes, but even so the added weight and bulk of a big bike can still catch you out. Throw in the fact that it’s worthwhile making steady steps up the performance ladder rather than leaping straight onto a superbike – meaning you might be trading bikes fairly regularly – and the used market makes way more sense than buying new. With around seven used bikes changing hands for every new one sold, it’s clear that most riders already prefer to let others soak up the initial depreciation.

But if you’re venturing into the classifieds to get your first big bike, what sort of thing should you be looking for? We’d suggest that as well as a good combination of performance and handling – without going too mad on the former until you’ve gained more experience – it’s worth considering things like reliability, parts availability and ease of maintenance as well as whether or not the bike in question has life-saving technology like ABS.

10. Honda VFR400R NC30: Around £2,000

They’re getting very long in the tooth now and things like the fuel reserve tap and manual choke might well be totally alien to many new riders, but despite all that, the VFR400R remains a hot favourite as a first time big (ish) sports bike. With around 60bhp when new – and a few might have gone astray in the 20-plus years since the bike was made – the performance isn’t a big leap from the 47bhp A2 class bike that a new rider is likely to have been riding beforehand, but they feel like proper sportsbikes (at least providing the suspension hasn’t been too badly neglected over the years). The jewel-like and reliable V4 engine (with proper, gear-driven cams) makes all the right noises and the bike’s compact size and weight means it’s easy to handle even for the short-of-stature. Downsides include no ABS or modern electronic toys, the dubious joys of regular carb-balancing and the fact that age alone means that parts aren’t as easy to get as they once were. But while other 80s/early-90s-era 400cc fours have largely disappeared, the VFRs are still plentiful, reflecting their popularity and reliability.

9. BMW F650GS (800cc twin version): From £3,500

We can’t ignore the fact that many riders are desperate for the look and image of a BMW GS, and of all the versions on offer the pick of the bunch has to be the twin-cylinder F650GS made from 2008-2012. A bit lower and less tough-looking than the F800, they still get the 800cc parallel twin engine despite the ‘650’ name, and with ABS as standard they’re a proper modern bike with all the tech you’d expect to find. Because most get properly used, there are high mileage bikes out there, explaining why you can pick one up for £3,500. It’s also worth looking at the F800S and F800ST if you prefer something with a fairing and a lower seat – both can dip below the £3,000 mark and most have useful stuff like ABS.

8. Ducati Monster 620ie: Around £3,000

It’s all very well to suggest practical, sensible bikes as first machines, but the truth is that many people get into motorcycling because they want an particular bike or style, and ‘I’ve got a Ducati’ has a ring to it that ‘I’ve got a Honda’ just can’t match. Small-capacity Monsters are both the most accessible and the most sensible options as a first big bike. There’s virtually no bodywork to damage, the performance isn’t terrifying and the style is the definitive naked bike. While scrappy M600s hover around the £1,000 mark, they’re definitely going to be past their glory years. In comparison, the mid-2000s 620ie is a more civilised, easy-to-ride machine while retaining the classic looks of the original, and prices are far lower than later models.

7. Aprilia Mana 850: From £2,500

The oddball of the list, the Mana never flew out of showrooms when it was new, but as a used choice the far lower price makes it an intriguing option. It’s defining feature is the fact it has the same 850cc V-twin and CVT transmission as the current SRV850 scooter, but all wrapped in a chassis and bodywork that makes it look like a ‘proper’ bike. The transmission means it can be ridden as a twist-and-go or in seven-speed faux-manual mode with pushbutton operation. All have modern, fuel-injected ease of use and some even have ABS. There aren’t many about, and they’re not an obvious used bike choice, but that’s keeping prices depressed to the point where they’re fast falling into the ‘absolute bargain’ territory and worth reassessing, particularly since the majority on sale appear to have covered minimal mileage.

6. Suzuki Bandit 650: From £2,000

From the oddball to the obvious, you couldn’t get more different to a weirdo like the Aprilia Mana than the ubiquitous Suzuki Bandit. While there are plenty of versions out there, the water-cooled, ABS-equipped 650cc versions from 2007-onwards would be our pick. The styling isn’t going to get your heart racing but the Bandit’s simplicity and straightforward competence were always what made it attractive. These things were under £5k new, so even though they’re cheap now they actually have held their value pretty well, which isn’t surprising given how many people want them.

5. Yamaha Fazer 600 and FZ6: from £2,500

Like the Bandit, the Yamaha Fazer 600 became a staple of the middleweight all-rounder class, and like the Bandit you can’t buy a new one anymore, since the bigger 800cc model replaced it. Unlike most of its rivals, the Fazer/FZ6 generation we’re focussing on – the 2004-on version – had an aluminium frame and swingarm, putting it ahead in the battle of specifications. The R6-derived engine makes a whisker under 100bhp and many from 2008 onwards got ABS, which is worth hunting out from a safety perspective if you’re a new rider.

4. Honda CBF600: From £2,000

Honda’s response to the Bandit was the CBF600, in both naked and half-faired ‘S’ versions, and just like the Suzuki it makes an eminently sensible used buy. That engine has old CBR600F roots, most have ABS brakes and a quick Ebay search turned one leggy but smart-looking 2006 example up for under £1,500. At that level, it would be a perfect ‘throwaway’ bike, while the more normal ones, at about £2,500, are likely to provide you with thousands of experience-gaining miles before you sell them on, probably without suffering any significant depreciation.

3. Honda Hornet 600 (2007-on): From £3,000

If there’s a problem with Honda’s CBF600 it’s that, well, it’s a bit boring. Sensible? Yes. Reliable? Sure. Exciting? Hmmm. Not so much. That’s where the Hornet comes in. The 07-on version got an engine derived from the CBR600RR instead of the old CBR600F-based four, but detuned to make just over 100bhp. Plenty for a first big bike. The USD forks and unusual cast alloy spine frame also made for agile handling and many came with the optional ABS brakes fitted – definitely an extra worth searching out.

2. Honda CBR600F (2001-2006 model): From £2,000

One of the oldest bikes on our list, it’s also the fastest. The last of the CBR600Fs (other than the recent, Hornet-derived machine that relaunched that name) was also the best example of a machine that virtually defined an entire era of motorcycling. Although upstaged by the racier CBR600RR in 2003, that bike’s more focussed design means it never managed to fill the spacious shoes of the old CBR600F – a bike that defines ‘all-rounder’ better than any other. To be honest, any CBR600F is a decent first big bike, but the last of them was the first to get fuel injection and an aluminium frame, giving it a more modern feel while retaining that rounded ability that was always key to the bike’s appeal. There are loads of them out there, they’ll happily take you touring, thrill you on track days or simply transport you to work. The looks might be a little frumpy but while the suspension looks basic the handling was always hard to fault. If you hanker for a  superbike once you’ve gained a bit more experience, the CBR600F is ideal for getting a few thousand educational miles under your belt before you make the step up.

1. Suzuki SV650: From about £1,000

What can we say about the Suzuki SV650? It’s been a mainstay first ‘proper’ bike for over a decade and that long production run means there is a simply massive choice on the used market, helping keep prices right down. We’d pick a later model, with the post-2003 chassis design and the ‘S’ half fairing, although sadly the ABS-equipped version built from 2008-onwards is virtually unknown in the UK – it would be ideal if you could get one. But regardless of year, that 71bhp V-twin and sweet handling chassis will help teach you everything you need to know before you step onto a higher-performance bike, and prices are low enough to make any damage the bike sustains as you pick up experience that much easier to bear.

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