Got your full licence and looking to grade-up? Step this way


SO you’ve got your full, unrestricted ‘A’ motorcycle licence. Where next? Straight for a 200hp superbike. Or perhaps something a little more sane but still loads of fun, that’s more likely to let you hold onto that licence for a while?

Step this way, into a rundown of our top 10 first big bikes.

10. Honda NC750: ‘S’ £6,149, ‘X’ £6,649

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. The NC750X in particular is a solid, practical all-rounder that will hold its value. 

9. BMW F800GS/F700GS: £8,850/£7,815

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 75hp the performance jump from an A2-class bike is noticeable, too.

8. KTM Duke 690: £7,699

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 148.5kg (dry). That’s nearly 50kg lighter than some of machines in this list. A big single also means much more aggressive (and fun) torque delivery than a multi-cylinder machine producing around the same peak power, of 73hp.

7. Triumph Bonneville T120, £9,600

Okay it’s not cheap but we could hardly ignore the new range of a modern British classic. There’s always the 55hp Street Twin, at £7,300, but we’d rather find the extra couple of grand for the 80hp T120, not least because it looks more like the original Bonnie of old, with its wire-spoked wheels. It’s torquey, easy-going, beautiful and guaranteed to put you in a good mood.

6. Kawasaki ER-6f/n: £6,049/£5,799

While Kawasaki pushes its 95hp Z800e as the perfect stepping-stone from an ‘A2’ to ‘A’ licence, 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 72hp ER-6 is that machine. Fast enough 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. The adventure-styled Versys 650, with the same engine and starting from £6,849, is an excellent, fun all-rounder too.

5. Ducati Scrambler, from £7,250

Forget about the ‘Land of Joy’ marketing spiel and focus on the facts, which are these: The Scrambler is that rare thing, a bike with genuine retro appeal but some modern performance. It’s got a decent chassis and suspension, a punchy 75hp, 803cc V-twin engine, excellent brakes and looks that will not offend beardy new-wave custom hipsters. It’s even comfortable. If you just want retro looks, you might prefer the Guzzi V7 or Triumph Street Twin. If you just want performance and don’t mind styling that slightly misses the retro brief, there’s Yamaha’s XSR700. Only the Scrambler does both.

Read our Yamaha XSR700 v Ducati Scrambler v Bonneville Street Twin v Guzzi V7 II group test

4. Honda CB650F £6,499

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 CB650F (and the faired CBR650F which shares all its underpinnings) is definitely the Hornet’s spiritual successor, even if it sounds like it’s been named after a dishwasher. With 87hp delivered in typical four-cylinder revvy style, its performance is in the ‘plenty’ league for any rider new to big bikes, while the styling is fresh and sporty. It’s easy to overlook the CB650F, but it’s a mistake to dismiss it.

3. Triumph Street Triple: £7,499

With over 100hp 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 £1,000 more than a CB650F, but 105hp and that warbling three-cylinder motor make a convincing argument. The Street Triple is a living legend if ever there was one.

2. Suzuki SV650: £4,975

For many a year, nothing has offered as much performance at as low a price as Suzuki’s SV650, and that remains true of the new-for-2016 naked model, which is actually a cheeky update of the SFV650 Gladius. If you just want the cheapest proper big bike you can get, this is it. Don’t dismiss it as just a budget bike though – it’s fun too, with a claimed 75hp putting it up there with anything in its class performance-wise. If we were buying one right now, we’d also take a good long look at the old one while stocks last, with faring but no ABS, for £4,999.

Read our SV650 old v new comparison

1. Yamaha MT-07 ABS: £5,749

The SV650 might be amazing value but for not much more you can have the more contemporary looking and feeling MT-07. 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 74hp motor is enough to thrill a new rider, and to entertain anyone. 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 one up before the firm changes its mind, and wheelie it out of the forecourt. Well, don’t actually do that – you might crash your brand-new bike – but you get the general idea.

Read our SV650 vs MT-07 back-to-back test.

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