Top 10 first ‘big’ bikes

Finally jumped all the hurdles to get a full A licence? Now you’ve got to decide which 48bhp-plus bike you’re going to buy…

THE route to a bike licence is more complex, longwinded and expensive than ever before but there are still plenty of new riders finally tearing up their restricted A1 an A2 licences and revelling in the glory of a full A.

But, with the full gamut of motorcycling finally open to you, what is the best first ‘big’ bike to get?

It’s a tricky question. The temptation, as it always has been, is to jump straight onto the machine of your dreams, be it a BMW GS, a Ducati Panigale or whatever. But while the complex stepped route to an A licence means today’s new riders tend to have more experience on low-powered machines than their predecessors, it’s still worth bearing in mind that the leap from a 47bhp ‘A2’ machine to a 150bhp-plus bike is still going to be something of an eye-opener.

So maybe it’s worth taking it steady and building up a bit more experience on something slightly steadier. Even an 80bhp machine is still going to feel unbelievably quick to a rider who’s never handled one before, and with a bit of extra experience on something sensible the chances of crashing your dream machine when you finally get it become that much lower.

So here’s our top ten of showroom-fresh mid-rangers that are perfect for new licence holders

10. Honda NC750: ‘S’ £5,899, ‘X’ £6,299

Whether it’s the naked NC750S or the ‘adventure’ style NC750X, Honda’s introduction to big bikes isn’t a machine to get the pulse of an experienced rider raised. But while wheelie-tastic, knee-grinding road testers might dismiss it as overweight and underpowered, the real-world practicalities and easy-going nature mean it’s got a certain appeal, even if it’s a machine that directs that appeal at your head rather than your heart. On the downside, its peak of 54bhp is a bit too close for comfort to the maximum 47bhp that former A2 licence holders will have been making do with for a couple of years by the time they get their full licence.

9. BMW F800GS: £7,680

Like it or not, the desire to ride a BMW GS is still hugely strong among both new and experienced riders – as evidenced by the 1200GS’s continued domination of the sales charts. But while the big boxer is perhaps a bit hefty (and definitely a bit pricy) as a first big bike, you can still have a new BMW GS for reasonable money. We’d opt for the F700GS. A grand cheaper than an F800GS and, confusingly, still 800cc despite the ‘700’ name, it’s got a lot going for it as an all-rounder. Commuting, touring, whatever, it’s happy doing it. And with 75bhp the performance jump from an A2-class bike is noticeable, too.

8. KTM Duke 690: £6,999

KTMs might be seen as ‘lunatic’ bikes thanks to their supermoto heritage and some intentionally crazy marketing videos but one element of the firm’s machines that makes them endearing to new riders is the weight. Or, more accurately, the lack of it. A Duke 690 is the case in point here, tipping the scales at 149.5kg. That’s around 50kg less than most machines in this list. There’s also the bonus that KTM is intentionally targeting the A2 market, offering power-limiting engine maps to make the Duke 690 A2-legal. So you can buy one while still limited, get used to it with around 40bhp (to meet the A2 licence 0.2kW-per-kg power to weight restrictions) and then derestrict to the full 67bhp when you get an A licence. The extra 27bhp will make a big enough difference to keep you entertained for quite a while…

7. Yamaha XJ6: £6,099

For years one of the default first bike choices for any new rider was the Yamaha Fazer 600. That bike was dropped a while back, but the XJ6 fills its slot quite neatly. The fact it’s based on a four-cylinder motor is the attraction here. Most riders who’ve taken the A1 and A2 route to their licence might be a bit bored of singles and twins, and while inline fours are sometimes criticised for being soulless, there’s still something special about the screaming revs of your first four-cylinder bike. The 76bhp motor is probably going to feel quite strong enough for most new-to-big-bike riders while avoiding the sort of mind-warping performance of more powerful fours. And of course it can be restricted to A2 power levels (47bhp) if needed.

6. Kawasaki ER-6: ‘n’ £5,399/£5,799 with ABS, ‘f’ £5,649/£6,049 with ABS

While Kawasaki pushes its Z800e as the ideal bike for the crossover between A2 and A1 licences, the twin-cylinder ER6 – whether naked ‘n’ or faired ‘f’ version – is the one we’d opt for. If ever you needed a bike to remind you that you don’t need endless electronics and a gazillion horsepower to have a bit of fun, the ER-6 is that machine. Restrictable for A2 purposes and yet fast enough when derestricted to see off most £100,000 supercars between the lights, the ER6 is, and always has been, a cheap, good-looking bike that surpasses its ‘budget’ status; it’s just a good thing to ride, whatever your yardstick.

5. Honda CB650FA £6,399

It’s a bit odd that Honda has dropped the ‘Hornet’ name from its line up, as along with Yamaha’s old Fazer 600 the Hornet used to be a default first-bike choice. But the new-for-2014 CB650FA is definitely the Hornet’s spiritual successor, even if it sounds like it’s been named after a dishwasher. As such, you probably already know pretty much everything you need to know about it (and the faired CBR650FA which shares all its underpinnings). With 87bhp and plenty of torque it’s performance is in the ‘plenty’ league for any rider new to big bikes, while the styling is sportier than the Yamaha XJ6. It’s easy to overlook the CB650F, but it’s a mistake to dismiss it.

4. Triumph Street Triple: £7,349

With over 100bhp you might argue the Street Triple is a bit much as a first big bike. But the Triumph’s combination of performance, handling and a bargain price makes it hard to ignore. Yes, it’s £1000 more than a CB650F, but 105bhp and that warbling three-cylinder motor make a convincing argument.

3. Yamaha MT-09: £6,949

Those arguments about how the Triumph Street Triple is a bargain, given its performance and appeal? Well they go double for the Yamaha MT-09, which is cheaper still and even more powerful thanks to an 850cc triple. It’s been lauded by the press for a reason, as this marked Yamaha’s return to form after a few years of rather underwhelming new models. There aren’t many other ways to get 115bhp for under £7k, and the fact that the Yamaha makes that power via an ‘interesting’ three-cylinder engine is all the better.

2. Suzuki SV650: £4,975

If we’d been writing this list 15 years ago the Suzuki SV650 would have been right up there, and despite minimal changes over the intervening years the essential elements that make it such a brilliant first big bike remain unsullied – 73bhp, sharp handling and decent looks are hard to make an argument against. The fact it’s under £5k is a bonus, of course, although really you’d be just as well off spending a fraction of that and buying a secondhand one – after all, it’s not like they’ve changed much, particularly since the 2003 model, which gained the redesigned frame that remains to this day.

1. Yamaha MT-07: £5,199

The SV650 might be an all-time great but the reason we’d point you at a used one is because for around the same money as a new SV you can have an MT-07. Which is, well, newer. By rather a lot. If Yamaha came back to form with the MT-09 it sealed that performance and proved it wasn’t a one-off with the MT-07. Low priced without being cheap-feeling, it’s also characterful, good-looking and well equipped. The 74bhp motor is enough to thrill a new rider, and to entertain anyone, and as with many on this list it’s easily restricted to ‘A2’ form if needs be. Given that Yamaha used to have a reputation for charging like a wounded rhino for bikes that weren’t really any better than cheaper alternatives, both the MT-09 and MT-07 show an incredible turn around. Snap them up before the firm changes its mind…

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