Niall's Spin: 2003 Kawasaki ER-5

The commuter and courier favourite. But how does it stack up as a first big bike?

Click to read: Kawasaki ER-5 owners reviews, Kawasaki ER-5 specs and to see the Kawasaki ER-5 image gallery.

BIG ENOUGH TO be a proper bike but easy enough for a learner to feel confident on and cheap to buy and run too. That's Kawasaki's bike school-favourite, the plucky ER-5.

Often regarded as second fiddle in the 500cc parallel twin category behind Honda's CB500, this is a little unfair. The Honda's not much better built but does have a torquier power delivery and neater styling (plus a one-make race series pedigree lacking from the ER's CV). Either way, you'll pay more for a CB500 of the same year and mileage. The ER-5's still a better bet than the rust magnet that is Suzuki's GS500 though. Hundreds of training schools rely on ERs and plenty see service as courier bikes and urban commuters. Superb in town, a fraction breathless on the motorway but for the price, espcially used, the Kwak's a tough act to beat.

Spec is basic and functional, with a single disc up front (check for disc wear on hard-worked commuters), twin shocks at the rear (check seals for signs of leakage), and a simple, liquid-cooled, two-cylinder motor derived from the GPZ500, which is both cheap and easy to maintain, and reliable. Performance won't set anyone's hair on fire (fortunate, as this would be both painful and potentially disfiguring), or break any records but it's more than enough for the newly qualified or those looking for modest, reliable wheels that can still hack motorway spurts. Riders of sportier, larger capacity machinery may find the ER-5's delivery wheezy and unexciting, but that shouldn't really be coming as a surprise to anyone.

Compact size and a low centre of gravity keeps the ER manageable and manoeuvrable, and it feels light, even though at 176kg it's heavier than many sporting 1000s. There's provision for a pillion but it may be asking a bit too much of the little Kwak to pull a rider and passenger around for any length of time - motor aside, the suspension and brakes will be working overtime.

Be aware though, many of the examples on the used market will have suffered the knocks and bangs of either inexperienced riders or hardcore inner city commuters - not to mention those machines run into the ground by rufty-tufty couriers (their bikes are probably best avoided altogether unless the price is a virtual giveaway).

Despatch hacks aside, the odd dent or scrape goes with the terrirtory so don't be put off, but check carefully for signs of more serious damage - creased and flaked paint around the headstock indicating a bent frame, bent or twisted yokes and an out of kilter subframe. Check for corrosion and a lack of TLC on bikes owned by newer rides who may lack the nous to keep things in good order, or those machines simply kept on the street and never shown the loving caress of a cleaning sponge and a bucket of warm, soapy water. The cheap, mild steel exhaust is exposed and ripe for a spot of rusting, so cast an eye over that too.

Key ID: 2004-onwards bikes subtly updated and in black or red colours only

Don't fear: a few scrapes from light drops

Also consider: 2001 Honda CB500, 2002 Suzuki GS500E