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Road Test: R1100S v VTR v ZRX1200S v Bandit 1250S

With a price tag of £5549 Suzuki's new Bandit 1250 comes with a huge motor and tons of all-round potential. But is it better than a lightly-used big bore bargain?




Buying a new bike is a double-edged sword. You may bag a virginal steed unsullied by human hand, but you'll also face the dreaded depreciation. Just turn the key on a new bike and you'll lose money. A brand new 1000cc superbike burns the best part of £1000 as soon as that first dose of fuel squirts into the motor, and loses double that two years on. That's the harsh reality of buying new.

You could avoid this and buy second-hand, letting someone else take the real depreciation kick in the pods, but the other option is to buy smart. Very smart. Which is where the 1200 Bandit comes in. Since its introduction just over 10 years ago Suzuki has been careful not to change the Bandit too much - apart from two slight updates in 2000 and 2006, which mainly involved frame strengthening and minor cosmetics, the Bandit has remained virtually unchanged. Which has helped it keep its resale value. A six-year-old Bandit 1200, bought new for £5500, is still worth around £2500, making the cost of depreciation around £500 a year. Compare this to a 2001 GSX-R1000, which cost £9000 new and would now be worth £3500, and you can see why smart money goes with the Bandit. With this kind of economical motoring it's not surprising Bandit owners love their bikes, as we found out when we caught up with the owners' club (see page 56). But it's not just frugalness that wins the Bandit friends, it's the amount of bike you get for your money.

A new 1250S costs £5549, but you can pick one up for less if you shop around. For this you get a brand new bike with ABS, a half fairing, a motor with tons of stomp and a chassis and riding position as suited to touring as to everyday commuting. Sounds like a deal, doesn't it? Well yes, on the face of it, but what about the competition? Well, conveniently, that's exactly where this test comes in. Putting our best money-minded heads on, we rounded up a trio of chunky, tasty, previously owned big bore rippers and set them toe-to-toe against the Bandit. Would the big Suzuki win by a knockout, or would it be floored in the first by its bargain brethren?

First up is Honda's legendary Firestorm. It's a long-forgotten fact these things were launched as Honda's answer to the 916 back in 1997, and held the firm's V-twin fort until the SP-1 appeared two years later. There are tons of these on the used market with prices starting at around two grand for a high-mileage early model, but ours is a £5500 minter - right into Bandit country. This V-twin is sportier than the Suzuki, but don't let that put you off in your all-round quest - it wouldn't be a Honda if it wasn't annoyingly good at everything, would it?

Next comes Kawasaki's ZRX1200S. Frumpy sister to the oh-so-stylish Eddie Lawson rep ZRX1200R, the S gets a half-fairing instead of the R's retro nose cone, but apart from that the pair are mechanically identical. Poor sales meant Kawasaki stopped making the S in 2005 while sticking with the R. So, like the Firestorm, £5000 gets you an absolute beauty with hardly any miles, and some change to boot.

Finally BMW's R1100S. But not any old R1100S, it's a BoxerCup Replika no less. Back in '02 these cost the thick end of £8500 being a limited edition to promote the Boxer Cup, a one-make race series designed to give BMW more track cred. And we're not stupid, the bike is a BoxerCup (one word), the series was the Boxer Cup (two words). Like all BMWs these hold their value well and even after four years this one's still worth close to £5500.

With our brace of bargain blasters we headed for the Peak District, where the up hill and down dale rolling countryside awaited to test their swagger as well as their stomp.

And stomp is what Suzuki's new Bandit 1250 is all about. Having been forced to dump the old air/oil-cooled carbed motor in favour of a new liquid-cooled, fuel-injected lump, Suzuki ran the risk of ruining a classic engine. Thankfully they haven't. The old engine endeared itself to riders thanks to mountains of torque and an exquisite throttle response. The old Bandit 12 had a motor that was a joy as it required no thought: simply open the throttle in any of the five gears at any revs and you were rewarded with a chunk of smooth and hefty forward motion.

And the new bike is every bit as good, even better in some places. Although the carbs are gone fueling is still spot-on and the 1250 motor has even more torque than before, as well as an extra gear. Brilliant. At first though I admit I did think the bike was a touch dull, but as the miles churn by you realise it isn't dull, just really, really easy. Everyone loved the fact you could leave the Bandit in top and even from 35mph and 2000rpm it would pull cleanly. Simple, hassle-free riding, which is what the Bandit stands for.

Back to back with the other big inline four motor here, the ZRX's, the Bandit feels less powerful and doesn't have the ZRX's top end rush. But it doesn't have the Kwak's vibrations either. Being derived from the ZZR1100 motor it's no surprise the ZRX is potent, but it's fast in a typical converted sports bike way. Where the Bandit's engine feels like it was built for a naked bike, the ZRX's feels like a once sporty motor reigned in a bit. While it does have a decent midrange and a proper top end the ZRX doesn't like pulling high gears at low revs, and it isn't as relaxing to ride as you have to work it harder. But at least it has some character, and certainly more than the BMW.

Talking of which I often wish BMW would simply admit their S range of Boxer twins are sports tourers not the sportsbikes they pass them off as. Yes, within the context of BMW's range they are sporty(ish) and yes, the BoxerCup rep was raced, but there used to be a Bandit 1200 race series too and Suzuki aren't calling that a race rep. Accept the R1100S and even the BoxerCup as a sports tourer though and you'll discover a surprisingly nice bike.

The look is very un-BMW and actually rather striking. It's a clean, functional, race inspired style and turns heads in a way few Japanese sports bikes of the same vintage can. Japanese bikes date fast where BMW's don't, although the cynical among us may say that to be out of fashion you need to have been in it in the first place...

The BMW is surprisingly nimble for its size, and reassuringly planted with it. The handling does take a bit of getting used to, mind. You have to be a bit rough with it to get it into a corner and it does weigh a fair amount, but once leant over it takes a chunky bump to upset it.

In fact, like the Bandit, the more you ride the BoxerCup the more it grows on you. For a start it has heated grips, which are fantastic when you live in the UK no matter how fast global warming's heating us up, and, unlike most BMW's, it has no ABS. Definitely a good thing as BM's ABS of this era wasn't the best.

As for the motor, any Boxer with an '1100' monicker has the pre-1200cc update Boxer engine, which has a few niggles. Although it has a fair amount of grunt the engine feels flat and comes complete with a fairly unpleasant gearbox. It clunks through the cogs in tractor fashion and, unlike on most bikes, the gearlever still moves in first, so you're rarely sure you're quite in gear.

But for cruising or churning through some flowing backroads, simply rolling on and off the throttle, the Boxer's lovely, and even sounds quite appealing. Step it up though, try some fast gear changes and really working the motor and you're not rewarded with much faster progress. Then again Boxer engines never respond particularly well to sound thrashings, having been basically designed as touring motors and then re-tuned for other formats.

Honda, on the other hand, designed a dedicated motor for the VTR1000 Firestorm, back when it began life awkwardly trying to be the sports scalpel it wasn't.

Now, having changed nothing (other than swelling the original thimble of a fuel tank, which could make getting to the shops without filling up tricky), the Storm has matured into a stylish all-rounder with a semblance of sporting skills. Time, it would seem, has finally plonked the Firestorm in the home it should have always occupied. And all these years later the Firestorm still feels right, almost. Good points first so we'll start with that V-twin motor.

The VTR lump is smooth, non-lumpy and full of torque and, unlike most V-twins, which can be a pain at low revs due to vibrations, the Honda retains its composure. Very low down it still judders and doesn't like to be put under strain, but get it above this rough patch and it's a beautifully rounded, thumpy and free-flowing motor.

The chassis ain't bad either. Get a move on and the suspension does start to protest and is a fair bit on the soft side, but on real roads this makes it a well-planted solid, performer. On track fast lads (and ladies, natch) are going to want something a little stiffer but this is nothing a few quid spent on an overhaul can't sort out. Look at hitting some distance though and the Storm can become somewhat less attractive.

As well as the still meagre fuel range (even with the bigger tank) the Firestorm isn't a very comfortable bike. It still wears a fairly racy riding position that puts quite a strain on the wrists. Unlike a VFR, which is sporty but remains comfortable, the Firestorm becomes quite painful to ride in less time than the tank takes to empty, which isn't long.

And so let us head back to the big bad Bandit where, having ridden the other bikes here, we found what really stood out as radically different on the Bandit 1250 compared to the old model, apart from the motor of course. And that's the handling.

On visual inspection it looks like Suzuki hasn't changed much when it comes to the chassis, but it has. As well as firming up the suspension Suzuki has tweaked the frame and swingarm on the Bandit to improve the handling. Gone is the 'Bandit weave' in corners where the chassis and suspension gently oscillated when you pushed on, replaced by a bike that feels secure, if a little lardy.

Make no mistake, the Bandit is a big old girl, but this mature lady will now happily hitch up her skirt and go for a dash. Whitham described the handling as composed and connected on the bike's launch, and that's exactly what it is. We aren't talking Firestorm levels of cornering, but bends are no longer to be feared or minced through with your eyes shut on a Bandit 1250, as they often could have been on the old model.

Although with the Suzuki it has taken a redesign to make a significant difference to the handling, ZRX owners can do it themselves. As standard the ZRX isn't a great handling bike y'see. It feels a lot like an old Bandit, softly sprung and a bit of a top-heavy wobbler. The problem largely stems from the suspension being too soft and the rear being too low, which makes the bike sit long and stodgy, affecting the handling.

The cure for this is fairly simple. New fork springs sort the front end out while the rear shocks are soft but liveable with. If you're feeling flush, and with the ZRX being the cheapest bike here, finding a little more in the budget will be easier than with the others so get 'em replaced, but not before you've tried the world's cheapest suspension upgrade, available to ZRX owners only. Simply rotate the eccentric chain adjusters through 180-degrees. This raises the back of the bike and helps the handling no end. Whatever you do though, ignore the shock adjusters - they do absolutely bugger all.

So, with a £5550 budget in mind do any of our second-hand bikes have what it takes to bloody the Bandit's nose when it comes to what you're getting for your money?

To be truthful I'm not convinced they do. The Honda's just a bit too sporty for a rider after a Bandit. Where the Suzuki can be used every day, rain or shine, and then be taken touring too, the Honda's far less compromising riding position makes it more of a sporty fun bike. Sure, build quality beats the Bandit, but wrist ache, a small fuel tank and poor fuel range make it more of weekend blasting kind of machine. If this is your thing and you prefer sportiness to comfort it's worth a look, but the Bandit's the better all-round bet.

The BMW certainly has potential. The riding position is a wonderful balance of sport and touring, and as well as excellent BMW build quality the BoxerCup holds its resale value like a limpet. You ain't going to lose much cash on this bike, but you aren't going to really excite yourself either. Workmanlike, solid and reliable, that's the BMW, but despite the lovely paint scheme we still struggled to get too excited riding the R1100S.

That leaves the Kawasaki. On the face of it this and the Bandit are fairly similar - big engines in a semi-naked bike with classic big bike looks. I don't think the ZRX1200S is a great looker, never have, and prefer the Bandit's classic lines, but others will argue against that. When it comes to the riding experien ce the Bandit is a much easier machine to get on with. Out of the crate handling is better, the engine's easier to live with and the fairing more effective. For a second-hand bargain the ZRX is well worth considering (and it does have the world's largest underseat storage space), but for not a lot more money you could have a brand new Bandit. And, especially if you're looking at holding onto the bike for a while, that has to make Suzuki's Bandit 1250 our winner.

NIALL'S SECOND OPINION - SUZUKI

"The Bandit has received a good old freshen up, but apart from the silver engine I struggled to see much difference at first. Is it any good to ride? Yes, but it's not perfect. The engine is superb with its free revving nature and instant acceleration from just above tickover. Gear changing is slick through the new six-speed box whether revving past 9000rpm or short shifting round town. The front end felt planted but I was glad of the ABS on our 'S' model as the 229-kilo Bandit regularly wanted to lock the front on cold greasy roads. The rear suspension was much more confidence inspiring, coping brilliantly no matter how hard I was riding. The only niggle I have is with the handlebar angle. I'd like it to be a few degrees wider and not feeling like a 1920s push bike with its handlebars running parallel to the crossbar. Otherwise this is a proper big motorbike that delivers both on the road and on the pocket."

BERTIE'S SECOND-HAND OPINION - SUZUKI

"The Bandit 12 started life as a mad machine and gradually grew into a pipe-and-slippers tool. Good value when new, the budget aspect abounds when looking at used examples. Suspension and finish are two areas to watch out for. Engine paint flakes, exhausts rot, discs can corrode, bolts fur, forks pit and even weld seams on frames can go rusty. You get our drift. But with a mega motor, and a dash of practicality with the faired S, you get a decent bike. You just need to look after it religiously. And we mean in a papal fashion. Dogs sell for a grand or less, but there are plenty of good 'uns available so search hard. Tip: buy one that's been used by a touring rider. Chances are it'll be cosseted and have heated grips, a Scottoiler and sorted suspension."

NIALL'S SECOND OPINION - BMW

"Every time I see a BoxerCup Replica I'm reminded of the dearly departed Gus Scott, who competed on one of these unlikely race bikes, even banging fairings with myself during a one-off race at the 2004 British GP.

"Our used model was as spotless as the day it left Bavaria. The torque reaction of the engine while warming it up always amuses me but does nothing to spoil this splendid (if expensive) bike. It has an unusually lofty, over-the-front riding position but I find this delivers a very positive feel from the front Telever suspension.

"Down low the motor feels lumpy but this disappears as you blast it up through the gears and the torque kicks in. This race-tweaked BMW would probably be my pick of the four. It's different but capable at the same time. It doesn't have all the usual BMW safety gizmos but our one did have heated grips which were a godsend for our February test."

BERTIE'S SECOND-HAND OPINION - BMW

"One of the best BMWs ever and, until fairly recently, the most sporty. No major problems, although do look out for machines with aftermarket pipes. Some people don't have experience of setting them up and the performance can be marred - not that the 1100 Boxer is ever going to win any dyno shoot-outs. Warning though: they are pricey. £3500 gets a decent 1100S, prices then rise like a helium-filled balloon for newer machines and the BoxerCup models. A three-year-old BoxerCup model with 12,000 miles on the clock would still be priced at around £7K at a BMW dealer's (you could get a new Blade for a bit more than that...), so we think you get our drift. The S came out in 1998, the SS (with wider rear rim and better suspension) debuted a year later, while the BoxerCup Replika first saw light of day in 2003."

NIALL'S SECOND OPINION - HONDA

"Honda make many stunning looking motorcycles but as hard as I try I can't warm to the VTR. I know it's a close relation of the SP racers (and riding it confirmed this) but the looks are dated so I couldn't have one in my garage. That aside, it is actually a lot of fun to ride with balanced handling and a sporty riding position. As with most used Hondas the engine and gearbox felt like new, plus it sounds and feels like it would last years longer than an equivalent Italian model. I also found the VTR the safest and most agile for nipping past the tractors and VW campers that occupy the Peak District no matter what time of year you visit.

"I also couldn't fault the Firestorm's brakes, or for it being the only bike on test that encouraged wheelies and stoppies. Immature I know, but I'm only 45 - I promise I'll stop when I'm 50. The riding experience far outweighed the VTR's visual appeal but remember, I also find Edwina Currie attractive, so who am I to judge?

BERTIE'S SECOND-HAND OPINION - HONDA

"Now over 10 years old, time has shown the Firestorm to be one underrated bike. For a Honda, finish isn't as good as, say, a CBR or a VFR, but that still makes it better than most other machines nonetheless. Still, problems include starter motor bolts corroding and fouling the motor itself, fork pitting and rusty downpipes. Fuel range is also verging on the pathetic: 60 miles on a track to 100 miles on the road. Bigger fuel tanks came with the later models. Suspension also is budget, so many owners fiddle with or replace theirs. Know what you're looking at when you're buying, as Storms with suspension mods can be worthwhile. With prices starting at £1700 there's a FireStorm for every budget."

NIALL'S SECOND OPINION - KAWASAKI

"Don't ask me why but I always prefer Kawasakis to be one colour, and preferably green. They look better in solid colours so I reckon the ZRX's graphics should be dumped in favour of a single colour.

"But that doesn't matter one iota when riding. For me Kawasakis are all about Eddie Lawson sitting up and begging round Daytona in the early 80s, so this at least delivers the Ted factor. The straightish bars, glorious inline four-cylinder motor and factory style braced swingarm all point to a bygone era I still cherish. The ZRX didn't handle the best, stop particularly well or go the fastest but that didn't really matter because they didn't back then either. I even liked the no-nonsense dash - three clear dials mounted in a brushed aluminium backing plate.

"Rather than being the best at anything the ZRX is about enjoying a satisfying riding experience while being transported back in time."

BERTIE'S SECOND-HAND OPINION - KAWASAKI

"The S version of Kawasaki's monster motorbike has been around since 2001. This introduced a sizeable top fairing to the original retro 'R' model, making it a favourite mile-muncher with Kwak-a-holics.

"The original 1100R is much better looking, almost as practical and has been around for a decade now, so there's one to suit all pockets. Prices start at around £1900. The bigger 1200 motor turned up in 2001. All ZRXs tend to wear better than a similar Bandit 1200 as they weren't as cheap to buy new, but Kawasaki still seems to have a problems making engine paint that stays in place and bolts that shun winter fur coats. A weak point is suspension. Forks are soft and shocks are springy. A cheap option is to upgrade suspension with Hagon's progressive fork springs and rear shocks. Have a look at www.hagon-shocks.co.uk"

SPECS - BMW

TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 200
PRICE NEW - £5500
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1085cc
POWER - 74.8bhp@6500rpm
TORQUE - 66.6lb.ft@5500rpm
WEIGHT - 208kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 800mm
FUEL CAPACITY - 18L
TOP SPEED - 135.2mph
0-60 - n/a
TANK RANGE - 150MILES

SPECS - HONDA
TYPE - SUPERSPORTS
PRODUCTION DATE - 2006
PRICE NEW - £5500
ENGINE CAPACITY - 996cc
POWER - 107bhp@8750rpm
TORQUE - 68lb.ft@5750rpm
WEIGHT - 193kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 810mm
FUEL CAPACITY - 19L
TOP SPEED - N/A
0-60 - n/a
TANK RANGE - 120MILES

SPECS - KAWASAKI
TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2005
PRICE NEW - £4500
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1164cc
POWER - 108.4bhp@8400rpm
TORQUE - 76.6lb.ft@6800rpm
WEIGHT - 224kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 790mm
FUEL CAPACITY - 19L
TOP SPEED - 149mph
0-60 - n/a
TANK RANGE - 176MILES

SPECS - SUZUKI
TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £5549
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1255cc
POWER - 100bhp@7900rpm
TORQUE - 80lb.ft@3700rpm
WEIGHT - 229kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 790mm
FUEL CAPACITY - 19L
TOP SPEED - 144.7mph
0-60 - n/a
TANK RANGE - 160MILES

Buying a new bike is a double-edged sword. You may bag a virginal steed unsullied by human hand, but you'll also face the dreaded depreciation. Just turn the key on a new bike and you'll lose money. A brand new 1000cc superbike burns the best part of £1000 as soon as that first dose of fuel squirts into the motor, and loses double that two years on. That's the harsh reality of buying new.

You could avoid this and buy second-hand, letting someone else take the real depreciation kick in the pods, but the other option is to buy smart. Very smart. Which is where the 1200 Bandit comes in. Since its introduction just over 10 years ago Suzuki has been careful not to change the Bandit too much - apart from two slight updates in 2000 and 2006, which mainly involved frame strengthening and minor cosmetics, the Bandit has remained virtually unchanged. Which has helped it keep its resale value. A six-year-old Bandit 1200, bought new for £5500, is still worth around £2500, making the cost of depreciation around £500 a year. Compare this to a 2001 GSX-R1000, which cost £9000 new and would now be worth £3500, and you can see why smart money goes with the Bandit. With this kind of economical motoring it's not surprising Bandit owners love their bikes, as we found out when we caught up with the owners' club. But it's not just frugalness that wins the Bandit friends, it's the amount of bike you get for your money.

A new 1250S costs £5549, but you can pick one up for less if you shop around. For this you get a brand new bike with ABS, a half fairing, a motor with tons of stomp and a chassis and riding position as suited to touring as to everyday commuting. Sounds like a deal, doesn't it? Well yes, on the face of it, but what about the competition? Well, conveniently, that's exactly where this test comes in. Putting our best money-minded heads on, we rounded up a trio of chunky, tasty, previously owned big bore rippers and set them toe-to-toe against the Bandit. Would the big Suzuki win by a knockout, or would it be floored in the first by its bargain brethren?

First up is Honda's legendary Firestorm. It's a long-forgotten fact these things were launched as Honda's answer to the 916 back in 1997, and held the firm's V-twin fort until the SP-1 appeared two years later. There are tons of these on the used market with prices starting at around two grand for a high-mileage early model, but ours is a £5500 minter - right into Bandit country. This V-twin is sportier than the Suzuki, but don't let that put you off in your all-round quest - it wouldn't be a Honda if it wasn't annoyingly good at everything, would it?

Next comes Kawasaki's ZRX1200S. Frumpy sister to the oh-so-stylish Eddie Lawson rep ZRX1200R, the S gets a half-fairing instead of the R's retro nose cone, but apart from that the pair are mechanically identical. Poor sales meant Kawasaki stopped making the S in 2005 while sticking with the R. So, like the Firestorm, £5000 gets you an absolute beauty with hardly any miles, and some change to boot.

Finally BMW's R1100S. But not any old R1100S, it's a BoxerCup Replika no less. Back in '02 these cost the thick end of £8500 being a limited edition to promote the Boxer Cup, a one-make race series designed to give BMW  more track cred. And we're not stupid, the bike is a BoxerCup (one word), the series was the Boxer Cup (two words).

Like all BMWs these hold their value well and even after four years this one's still worth close to £5500.
With our brace of bargain blasters we headed for the Peak District, where the up hill and down dale rolling countryside awaited to test their swagger as well as their stomp.

And stomp is what Suzuki's new Bandit 1250 is all about. Having been forced to dump the old air/oil-cooled carbed motor in favour of a new liquid-cooled, fuel-injected lump, Suzuki ran the risk of ruining a classic engine.

Thankfully they haven't. The old engine endeared itself to riders thanks to mountains of torque and an exquisite throttle response. The old Bandit 12 had a motor that was a joy as it required no thought: simply open the throttle in any of the five gears at any revs and you were rewarded with a chunk of smooth and hefty forward motion.

And the new bike is every bit as good, even better in some places. Although the carbs are gone fueling is still spot-on and the 1250 motor has even more torque than before, as well as an extra gear. Brilliant.

At first though I admit I did think the bike was a touch dull, but as the miles churn by you realise it isn't dull, just really, really easy. Everyone loved the fact you could leave the Bandit in top and even from 35mph and 2000rpm it would pull cleanly. Simple, hassle-free riding, which is what the Bandit stands for.

Back to back with the other big inline four motor here, the ZRX's, the Bandit feels less powerful and doesn't have the ZRX's top end rush. But it doesn't have the Kwak's vibrations either. Being derived from the ZZR1100 motor it's no surprise the ZRX is potent, but it's fast in a typical converted sports bike way.

Where the Bandit's engine feels like it was built for a naked bike, the ZRX's feels like a once sporty motor reigned in a bit. While it does have a decent midrange and a proper top end the ZRX doesn't like pulling high gears at low revs, and it isn't as relaxing to ride as you have to work it harder. But at least it has some character, and certainly more than the BMW.

Talking of which I often wish BMW would simply admit their S range of Boxer twins are sports tourers not the sportsbikes they pass them off as. Yes, within the context of BMW's range they are sporty(ish) and yes,  the BoxerCup rep was raced, but there used to be a Bandit 1200 race series too and Suzuki aren't calling that a race rep. Accept the R1100S and even the BoxerCup as a sports tourer though and you'll discover a surprisingly nice bike.

The look is very un-BMW and actually rather striking. It's a clean, functional, race inspired style and turns heads in a way few Japanese sports bikes of the same vintage can. Japanese bikes date fast where BMW's don't, although the cynical among us may say that to be out of fashion you need to have been in it in the first place...

The BMW is surprisingly nimble for its size, and reassuringly planted with it. The handling does take a bit of getting used to, mind. You have to be a bit rough with it to get it into a corner and it does weigh a fair amount, but once leant over it takes a chunky bump to upset it.

In fact, like the Bandit, the more you ride the BoxerCup the more it grows on you. For a start it has heated grips, which are fantastic when you live in the UK no matter how fast global warming's heating us up, and, unlike most BMW's, it has no ABS. Definitely a good thing as BM's ABS of this era wasn't the best.

As for the motor, any Boxer with an '1100' monicker has the pre-1200cc update Boxer engine, which has a few niggles. Although it has a fair amount of grunt the engine feels flat and comes complete with a fairly unpleasant gearbox. It clunks through the cogs in tractor fashion and, unlike on most bikes, the gearlever still moves in first, so you're rarely sure you're quite in gear.

But for cruising or churning through some flowing backroads, simply rolling on and off the throttle, the Boxer's lovely, and even sounds quite appealing. Step it up though, try some fast gear changes and really working the motor and you're not rewarded with much faster progress. Then again Boxer engines never respond particularly well to sound thrashings, having been basically designed as touring motors and then re-tuned for other formats.

Honda, on the other hand, designed a dedicated motor for the VTR1000 Firestorm, back when it began life awkwardly trying to be the sports scalpel it wasn't.

Now, having changed nothing (other than swelling the original thimble of a fuel tank, which could make getting to the shops without filling up tricky), the Storm has matured into a stylish all-rounder with a semblance of sporting skills. Time, it would seem, has finally plonked the Firestorm in the home it should have always occupied.

And all these years later the Firestorm still feels right, almost. Good points first so we'll start with that V-twin motor.

The VTR lump is smooth, non-lumpy and full of torque and, unlike most V-twins, which can be a pain at low revs due to vibrations, the Honda retains its composure. Very low down it still judders and doesn't like to be put under strain, but get it above this rough patch and it's a beautifully rounded, thumpy and free-flowing motor.

The chassis ain't bad either. Get a move on and the suspension does start to protest and is a fair bit on the soft side, but on real roads this makes it a well-planted solid, performer.

On track fast lads (and ladies, natch) are going to want something a little stiffer but this is nothing a few quid spent on an overhaul can't sort out. Look at hitting some distance though and the Storm can become somewhat less attractive.

As well as the still meagre fuel range (even with the bigger tank) the Firestorm isn't a very comfortable bike. It still wears a fairly racy riding position that puts quite a strain on the wrists.

Unlike a VFR, which is sporty but remains comfortable, the Firestorm becomes quite painful to ride in less time than the tank takes to empty, which isn't long.

And so let us head back to the big bad Bandit where, having ridden the other bikes here, we found what really stood out as radically different on the Bandit 1250 compared to the old model, apart from the motor of course. And that's the handling.

On visual inspection it looks like Suzuki hasn't changed much when it comes to the chassis, but it has. As well as firming up the suspension Suzuki has tweaked the frame and swingarm on the Bandit to improve the handling. Gone is the 'Bandit weave' in corners where the chassis and suspension gently oscillated when you pushed on, replaced by a bike that feels secure, if a little lardy.

Make no mistake, the Bandit is a big old girl, but this mature lady will now happily hitch up her skirt and go for a dash. Whitham described the handling as composed and connected on the bike's launch, and that's exactly what it is. We aren't talking Firestorm levels of cornering, but bends are no longer to be feared or minced through with your eyes shut on a Bandit 1250, as they often could have been on the old model.

Although with the Suzuki it has taken a redesign to make a significant difference to the handling, ZRX owners can do it themselves. As standard the ZRX isn't a great handling bike y'see. It feels a lot like an old Bandit, softly sprung and a bit of a top-heavy wobbler. The problem largely stems from the suspension being too soft and the rear being too low, which makes the bike sit long and stodgy, affecting the handling.

The cure for this is fairly simple. New fork springs sort the front end out while the rear shocks are soft but liveable with. If you're feeling flush, and with the ZRX being the cheapest bike here, finding a little more in the budget will be easier than with the others so get 'em replaced, but not before you've tried the world's cheapest suspension upgrade, available to ZRX owners only. Simply rotate the eccentric chain adjusters through 180-degrees. This raises the back of the bike and helps the handling no end. Whatever you do though, ignore the shock adjusters - they do absolutely bugger all.

So, with a £5550 budget in mind do any of our second-hand bikes have what it takes to bloody the Bandit's nose when it comes to what you're getting for your money?

To be truthful I'm not convinced they do. The Honda's just a bit too sporty for a rider after a Bandit. Where the Suzuki can be used every day, rain or shine, and then be taken touring too, the Honda's far less compromising riding position makes it more of a sporty fun bike. Sure, build quality beats the Bandit, but wrist ache, a small fuel tank and poor fuel range make it more of weekend blasting kind of machine. If this is your thing and you prefer sportiness to comfort it's worth a look, but the Bandit's the better all-round bet.

The BMW certainly has potential. The riding position is a wonderful balance of sport and touring, and as well as excellent BMW build quality the BoxerCup holds its resale value like a limpet. You ain't going to lose much cash on this bike, but you aren't going to really excite yourself either. Workmanlike, solid and reliable, that's the BMW, but despite the lovely paint scheme we still struggled to get too excited riding the R1100S.

That leaves the Kawasaki. On the face of it this and the Bandit are fairly similar - big engines in a  semi-naked bike with classic big bike looks. I don't think the ZRX1200S is a great looker, never have, and prefer the Bandit's classic lines, but others will argue against that. When it comes to the riding experien ce the Bandit is a much easier machine to get on with. Out of the crate handling is better, the engine's easier to live with and the fairing more effective. For a second-hand bargain the ZRX is well worth considering (and it does have the world's largest underseat storage space), but for not a lot more money you could have a brand new Bandit. And, especially if you're looking at holding onto the bike for a while, that has to make Suzuki's Bandit 1250 our winner.

SPECIFICATIONS

SPECS - BMW R1100S BOXERCUP
TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2003
PRICE NEW - £5500
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1085cc
POWER - 74.8bhp@6500rpm
TORQUE - 66.6lb.ft@5500rpm   
WEIGHT - 208kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 800mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 18L   
TOP SPEED - 135.2mph   
TANK RANGE - 150MILES

SPECS - HONDA VTR1000 FIRESTORM
TYPE - SUPERSPORTS
PRODUCTION DATE - 2006
PRICE NEW - £5500
ENGINE CAPACITY - 996cc
POWER - 107bhp@8750rpm
TORQUE - 68lb.ft@5750rpm   
WEIGHT - 193kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 810mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 19L
TANK RANGE - 120MILES

SPECS - KAWASAKI ZRX1200S
TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2005
PRICE NEW - £4500
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1164cc
POWER - 108.4bhp@8400rpm
TORQUE - 76.6lb.ft@6800rpm   
WEIGHT - 224kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 790mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 19L
TOP SPEED - 149mph   
TANK RANGE - 176MILES

SPECS - SUZUKI BANDIT 1250S
TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £5549
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1255cc
POWER - 100bhp@7900rpm
TORQUE - 80lb.ft@3700rpm   
WEIGHT - 229kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 790mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 19L
TOP SPEED - 144.7mph   
TANK RANGE - 160MILES