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Top 10 First Big Bikes

Looking for a first big bike or a practical, affordable, yet fun machine? These fit the bill

Middleweights provide the perfect motorcycle for newcomers looking for a bit more power than the bikes they learnt on or anybody looking for some practical and affordable two-wheeled fun.

Here is a countdown of the Top 10 Tidy Middleweights

Hot tips

Wise mods: for practicality’s sake

Heated wraps: They're great but loads of aftermarket ones are badly made, bulky and ruin a bike’s feel at the bars. Oxford Hot Hands are heated wraps which you wire in and wrap round the bars when needed. When not required you can whip them off and stash them in the clock area. They’re cheap too at just £23.99.

Top box: Ok, not the coolest but mighty useful. We reckon Givi Monokey is about the best, taking price into account. Boxes from £119. The Monorack to mount it on costs a slightly salty £78.

Chain oiler: Chain drive isn’t the most practical for every day use. Scottoiler’s the pick of the bunch (£84.99), and work superbly once set up

Customising and tuning

Anything European won’t have quite the reliability of Japanese so main dealer bikes with a full service history are safest.

If you do buy privately, check out the owner. Try and find a monied older gent who’s cosseted his bike.

These bikes stunt easily. Check head bearings for play and wheels for dings. Also check clutches for wear (with a big handful of revs in a high gear).

Loud exhausts are popular but many owners take them off to sell separately and some won’t return the mapping back to standard. Ask what cans or system a bike’s been running on and if the ECU / carburettor jetting has been altered to go with it.

Buying tips

Most of these machines will have only seen gentle road use. But some were campaigned in various race series including Mini Twins so look for the usual suspect signs – bolts drilled for lockwire, chipped rims, mint exhaust and bodywork on a tatty bike, etc. These may be cheap bikes but consumables can still add up. Budget for £100 a tyre if worn and same for the chain and sprocket set. Worn brake discs generally indicate very high miles and they’re £100 each.

The best deals will be had in private sales. Take your time, look the bike over inch-by-inch and trust your instincts. A data check is just £3.95 from mycarcheck.com.

10. Buell XB9S Lightning (2003+)

10. Buell XB9S Lightning (2003+)

Engine: 984cc, 4-valve, injected, v-twin
Power: 92bhp
Torque: 71ft.lb
Weight: 175kg
Top speed: 135mph
Insurance group: 15
Rating: 3/5
Used prices: £5000 - £2600

Okay, it’s the pricer end of affordable and they’re still only £6K new. But they’re they’re light and manageable like a middleweight with a low-tech but torquey and invigorating engine. It’s good in town, great on back lanes and poor on the motorway.

Wheel bearings fail early and the drive belt can give problems if a tensioner’s not fitted. Servicing and insurance can be pricey but fuel economy’s good. Exhausts rust fast. City X version (from 2005) has different finish, airbox cover, hand guards, headlight protector, bars and seat unit. City Black is similar but black. XB12X has 1203cc, more power and weight and comes in various versions.

Click here to read Buell XB9S Lightning owner reviews.

09. Kawasaki KLE500 (2005+)

09. Kawasaki KLE500 (2005+)

Engine: 498cc, 8 valve, carb’d parallel twin
Power: 47bhp
Torque: 32ft.lb
Weight: 181kg
Top speed 105mph
Insurance group: 9
Rating: 1/5
Used prices: £2600 - £1550

Kawasaki’s KLE500 never took off. A cheap, revvy parallel-twin engine and pseudo off-road chassis made it the class dunce of 1991. Deleted from the range in 1998, Kawasaki re-introduced it in 2005 with styling mods, less power and more weight mainly due to tighter emission regulations. Deleted again in 2006 but a few dealers have the odd unused bike on offer round about £3500.

It’s poor off-road and surprisingly thirsty too. It’s cheap, the rev-hungry engine doesn’t suit the bike and it’s got few redeeming features. Makes a passable hack if cheap enough. Problems are rare but most corrode. Pre-1998 models similar and slightly more powerful. Is like sliding a Samurai sword through butter.

Click here to read Kawasaki KLE500 owner reviews.

08. Yamaha MT-03 (2006+)

08. Yamaha MT-03 (2006+)

Engine: 660cc, 4-valve, injected, single
Power: 45bhp
Torque: 41ft.lb
Weight: 175kg
Top speed: 105mph
Insurance group: 11
Rating: 3/5
Used prices: £4500 - £2200

Funky urban soft-motard. It’s a polished machine in town and on back lanes but the single cylinder engine runs out of puff on dual carriageways. It’s the same engine as Yamaha’s XT660X/R and their Tenere, but with none of the snatchy throttle response of early XT models.

Strong, satisfying torque makes the low and midrange fun and it’s deceptively rapid in town where the upright riding position, slim engine and wide bars give excellent control. Its light, manageable and novice-friendly too. Reliability’s good but a few clocks let in water, oil tank paint can look shabby, the TPS can fail and a few machines occasionally cut out mysteriously.

Click here to read Yamaha MT-03 owner reviews.

07. Ducati Monster 620ie (2002-2006)

07. Ducati Monster 620ie (2002-2006)

Engine: 618cc, 4-valve, injected, v-twin
Power: 63bhp
Torque: 41ft.lb
Weight: 168kg
Top speed: 115mph
Insurance group: 11
Rating: 3/5
Used prices: £3500 - £1800

A cheap and practical Ducati for sensible money. Sounds too good to be true? Unfortunately it’s lacking poke on the motorway and servicing costs can be quite high. The mini-Monster is still an intriguing option. It’s good in town – but not great due to lack of steering lock.

But it will return 55-60mpg if not thrashed. Some owners report clutch slave cylinder failure, electrical issues are not rare and riding in the rain can bring them on. Once the engine paint starts flaking they look rough. ‘S’ model gets carbon side panels, more ground clearance and small fairing, ‘Dark’ is black, lower spec and cheaper – especially the single front disc variant.

Click here to read Ducati Monster 620 owner reviews.

06. Honda CBF600S (2005+)

06. Honda CBF600S (2005+)

Engine: 599cc, 16-valve, injected, four
Power: 76bhp
Torque: 44ft.lb
Weight: 222kg
Top speed: 135mph
Insurance group: 12
Rating: 4/5
Used prices: £4400 - £1800

The blurb’s a real turn off: detuned, beginner friendly – it all sounds a bit dull. Okay, the CBF’s not the most exciting bike, but it’s a decent, practical machine that’s still pretty nippy. 135mph motorbikes are not boring. It’s incredibly versatile and comfier than most.

It’s also very unimposing and easy to hop on and ride hard straight away. It’ll never lead the fast group on a track day but it’s not meant to and as a sensibly priced commuter/mini-tourer/all-rounder it’s a tough act to beat. Finish is better than many competitors and reliability’s superb. Unfaired model is worth £300 less, ABS was optional on early bikes – deduct £150 if it’s not fitted.

Click here to read Honda CBF600S owner reviews.

05. Suzuki GSF650S Bandit (2005+)

05. Suzuki GSF650S Bandit (2005+)

Engine: 656cc, 16-valve, injected, four
Power: 84bhp
Torque: 45ft.lb
Weight: 215kg
Top speed: 130mph
Insurance group: 11
Rating: 4/5
Used prices: £3800 - £2100

The original budget bad boy’s gone all middle aged. But that’s no bad thing. The 650cc Bandits are refined, comfortable and fun. They may lose the group tests to fancier rivals but they’re comfy and attractively cheap. Handling’s steady but that helps some newer riders lean further than they would on flightier tackle.

Problems are pretty much non-existent as Suzuki ironed out all the bugs years ago. Look for signs of neglect, corrosion or abuse. The bike got a update for 2007 which included a more powerful, torquey liquid cooled, injected engine. Minor styling updates for 2009. Unfaired model available. ABS a cost option.

Click here to read Suzuki GSF650 owner reviews.

04. Suzuki SV650S (1999+)

04. Suzuki SV650S (1999+)

Engine: 654cc, 8-valve, carb’d v-twin
Power: 69bhp
Torque: 45ft.lb
Weight: 169kg
Top speed: 130mph
Insurance group: 10
Rating 4/5
Used prices: £3500 - £900

A purpose built bike not a parts bin special – a rarity in this budget class. The SV boasts an aluminium trellis frame and a peppy but dependable V-twin engine. Most are durable but coils, camchain tensioners and even gearboxes can cause problems. But they’re very rare and most SVs will run sweetly for aeons.

Finish is budget and can suffer, especially the fork legs. Suspension often benefits from a freshen-up too. The bike got a major update for 2003 with fuel-injection and much more angular frame and plastics. The unfaired ‘N’ model has higher bars, slightly lower gearing, different fork internals and other minor differences.

Click here to read Suzuki SV650 owner reviews.

03. Honda CB600F Hornet (1998-2006)

03. Honda CB600F Hornet (1998-2006)

Engine: 599cc, 16-valve, carb’d, four
Power: 97bhp
Torque: 47ft.lb
Weight: 179kg
Top speed: 140mph
Insurance group: 12
Rating: 4/5
Used prices: £3500 - £1000

Old CBR600 engine, basic steel spine frame and modern traditional fusion of styling makes a brilliant all round machine. Reliability is excellent although Honda’s camchain tensioner and regulator/rectifier issues can cause grief, they’re not too hard to fix. The first bikes had 16” front wheels which limit tyre choice and feel odd to some.

2000 bikes got a 17” front and a faired ‘S’ model was available too. 2003 saw minor updates including a multi-reflector headlight and USD forks, a small cowl and other tweaks were on 2005 onwards machines. Replaced in 2007 by a more angular looking machine with a fuel injected engine.

Click here to read Honda CB600F owner reviews.

02. Yamaha FZS600 Fazer (1998-2004)

02. Yamaha FZS600 Fazer (1998-2004)

Engine: 599cc, 16 valve, carb’d, four
Power: 95bhp
Torque: 45ft.lb
Weight: 189kg
Top speed: 140mph
Insurance group: 12
Rating: 4/5
Used prices £2750 - £1100

Near cult status and deservedly so. Easy, relaxed and comfy but fast and fun when revved hard. Ace brakes, acceptable to good handling plus it’s a robust machine. Very few faults are reported although a handful of early bikes had the front sprocket come loose which can cause serious damage or an accident.

The new, improved parts are fitted now but check it’s tight and for signs of previous problems. Check for corrosion, especially the downpipes and discs. Early ‘square eye’ models have rubbish headlights. Updated from 2002 including larger tank, better headlights and a more conventional looking fairing. Later fuel injected bikes never had the same following.

Click here to read Yamaha FZS600 owner reviews.

01. Kawasaki ER-6n (2005+)

01. Kawasaki ER-6n (2005+)

Engine: 649cc, 8 valve, injected, parallel twin
Power: 71bhp
Torque: 49ft.lb
Weight: 174kg  raucous  gallant
Top speed: 130mph
Insurance group: 9
Rating: 5/5
Used prices: £3800 - £1750

The best current all-round affordable middleweight twin. The engine’s lively, the riding position’s comfy, handling’s sweet if a little bouncy and it’s comfy for all. Reliability’s good although electrical gremlins aren’t unheard of.

A very limited number of early bikes had problems with the frame cracking at a weld. Check the tube on the right-hand side which wraps around the cylinder. Rust or cracking paint may be signs of trouble. Kawasaki said after market crash bungs were to blame. Usefully updated in 2009 including optional ABS. ‘F’ models have full fairing and are worth slightly more.

Click here to read Kawasaki ER-6n owner reviews.

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