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You'll Never Forget Your First (Big Bike)

Passing their bike test was the easy bit. Now our band of intrepid new bikers have been set the task of choosing a first bike from five models aimed at new riders

BMW F650CS

Tanya

The BMW just felt too tall for my little legs and I got the feeling I couldn't hold it up if it started to topple. The styling was a complete turn-off, I'm not quite up to the standard of riding where I want people to turn and look at me!

Adam

Everything about the BMW was easy. It's easy to ride, brakes well and corners as well as I am prepared to try. The switchgear felt a little cheap and basic and the horn button was in the wrong place but apart from these silly little things the BMW was really easy to get on with. The looks actually grew on me, but probably because I started to enjoy the bike.

Matt

The BMW was nice and relaxing, a bit like a cup of tea. On the road it performed really well, smooth and very easy to live with. But, and this is a big but, aesthetically it's horrible. I was pleasantly surprised by the BMW and preferred it to the Guzzi, but I couldn't live with its looks.

Jim

I like the hassle free side of the BMW. The belt drive looks a bit odd but at least it cuts down on maintenance. I found it a bit sluggish but it feels light and handles well. A good town bike too.

Dawn

I really liked the BMW, which surprised me because I really didn't think I would on looks alone. To ride it didn't feel very powerful and the gearbox was clunky, but apart from that it makes a great town bike. But like the others I don't like its looks and no matter how enjoyable it is to ride I couldn't own one because of this.

Sarah

Once I got used to the fact it vibrates more than any other bike I have ridden the BMW was really nice. It looks a bit weird but is friendly and relaxing to ride and cornered well too. I like the thought that has gone into making it practical and would definitely buy it over the Ducati or Harley.

Jon Urry - Road Tester

The CS is an oddball. If you either like, or can live with its looks, the BMW surprises. As a town bike it's very easy to get on with. The compartment where the tank should be is a great solution to the  problem of where to put luggage and the pillion grab rails are excellent. It can vibrate a bit, but this is true of most singles, and the gearbox is a bit stiff. However, with options such as ABS, BMW provides the extras that new bikers will find comforting. But the CS's problem is that no-one seems to like its looks. It has a serious image problem.

BMW F650CS Specs

TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2003
PRICE NEW - £5395
ENGINE CAPACITY - 652cc
POWER - 47.9bhp@7000rpm
TORQUE - 41.9lb.ft@5400rpm
WEIGHT - 170kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 780mm
FUEL CAPACITY - 15L TOP SPEED - 113mph

Ducati Monster

Ducati Monster

Tanya

At last a bike I can ride and feel comfortable on! The Monster is light enough to make me not worry about it's weight getting the better of me at low speed and it even looks cool. The motor felt a bit rough but I could live with that. The Monster is perfect for me to gain confidence on two wheels.

Adam

I was actually intending to buy a Monster. Good job I tried one first. Riding it, it felt too light and the brakes were a bit weak. I couldn't get to grips with the way it handled and never felt totally comfortable. It still looks the best but looks can be deceiving. I would go for the SV over it.

Matt

The Monster felt really strange to ride. Its bars feel too low and are angled strangely. Although it looks good I ultimately want a sportsbike so the naked Monster didn't really do it for me. Also it felt a bit slow, especially compared to the SV.

Jim

The Duke is great looking and I loved it through town. It appears bigger and heavier than it actually is and because it's so light it was brilliant fun on the twisty roads. Not so much fun on the motorway though, it's light weight made it feel unstable.

Dawn

The Monster was much nicer to look at than the SV and I also found it comfier. The clutch was a bit stiff, especially compared to the Guzzi, and riding the Duke it almost felt a bit too light, which was slightly disconcerting. A close second but I would go for the Guzzi over it.

Sarah

I found the Ducati really hard to corner. It didn't really want to change direction at speed and I struggled to get it into the corners. At low speed it was fine and through town it was great at dodging traffic but I didn't like it on the country roads.

Jon Urry - Road Tester

The Monster is Ducati's success story and is a massive seller all over Europe. As a town bike the 620ie is great in traffic but the heavy clutch and strange riding position can be uncomfortable. The injected motor is a bit rough and ready and the gearbox is quite heavy. Like Sarah I found it unwilling to turn quickly when you are on the faster country roads and on the motorway it's a nightmare, no wind protection and not very fast. As a first bike the Monster looks good, comes in a range of different options to suit your budget and is very easy to find secondhand. Would I recommend it as a first bike? Yes and no. It looks brilliant, is the right price and there are hundreds around. Also it feels very light, which is reassuring.  But the engine isn't as nice and refined as the SV or Guzzi, the clutch is heavy and the handling isn't brilliant. Try an SV or Guzzi and then have a go on a Monster.

Ducati Monster Specs

TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2003
PRICE NEW - £5100
ENGINE CAPACITY - 618cc
POWER - 59.7bhp@8500rpm
TORQUE - 39.1lb.ft@6250rpm
WEIGHT - 177kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 770mm
FUEL CAPACITY - 15L
TOP SPEED - 118.9mph

Harley-Davidson 883

Harley-Davidson 883

Tanya

No, no, no. Not only do I think the Harley looks horrible, but it was just too heavy for me to feel happy riding. The seat was quite low, which helped my little legs, but it's just too physically big for me.

Adam

I loved the Harley. Despite the vibrations I found it comfortable and it looks really cool. Through town it handled fine and the great sound made everyone look. My only complaints were the heavy clutch and the brake lever was too close to the mirrors which trapped my glove a few times.

Matt

It does exactly what it says on the can. The 883R is a wine bar town bike that looks cool. Although it's not my cup of tea I can see why people would buy one. I didn't find it fun to ride, the gearbox is crap and the clutch too heavy, but if you want a Harley to cruise up the King's Road then it's fine.

Jim

Unlike the rest I really enjoyed the Harley. At first it felt a bit like a 125 because of its low riding position but its extra size gives it more road presence, which is reassuring. I thought it would be louder, it is a Harley after all, but through town it was light to turn and I found it quite comfortable.

Dawn

Riding the Harley is like sitting on a vibrating toilet. The seat is horrible and hurts the back of your bum and the gearbox and clutch are horrible. I felt every bump in the road through the hard suspension and I really don't like its look. No thanks.

Sarah

I didn't like the Harley, it sounds like a tractor and vibrates too much. I didn't feel at all confident in the corners and the side-stand is an accident waiting to happen. It's ugly and like the others I found the gearbox and clutch too heavy.

Jon Urry - Road Tester

The 883 is the starter Harley. If you can't afford or don't want a heavier 'proper' Harley then go for an 883. But they aren't actually very good bikes for new riders. The brakes are weak and the raked out front end doesn't give much feedback in corners, which can be unnerving. The engine vibrates more than any engine has a right to and the gearbox is simply terrible. Also, the clutch lever is too short as well as being very heavy and it tends to trap your remaining fingers against the bar if you try and use only two fingers on it, also the mirrors are too low and can also trap fingers. Pillion on the 883R is a massive no. The seat is tiny and sloped backwards, not the best combination, and the vibrations do their best to bounce you off the back. Good points? Well it's a real Harley-Davidson which in itself carries a lot of cred, even if it is mainly among non-bikers. A Harley comes with its own 'lifestyle' - the clothing, the clubs, the image. This model is relatively cheap too.

Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster Specs

SPECS - HARLEY-DAVIDSON
TYPE - CRUISER
PRODUCTION DATE - 2003
PRICE NEW - £5895
ENGINE CAPACITY - 883cc
POWER - 47.4bhp@5800rpm
TORQUE - 47lb.ft@4000rpm
WEIGHT - 245kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 758mm
FUEL CAPACITY - 12.5L
TOP SPEED - 104.3mph

Moto Guzzi Breva

Moto Guzzi Breva

Tanya

The Guzzi looks great but I found it just a bit too heavy to be totally comfortable on it, which was a real shame. I reckon with a bit more experience I could have got on with the Breva fine, but I found the Monster lighter and easier to ride.

Adam

The first thing I noticed about the Guzzi was how comfortable it was. Through town it was light and had a good turning circle but I found the throttle cable had too much play in it. If you live in town it's great but out of town I found it a bit under powered. A decent bike, not the best but very good.

Matt

I didn't like the Breva at all. The front felt light and I didn't have any confidence when I was cornering on it. The Guzzi just felt soft everywhere, suspension, brakes, everything. It just didn't have a hard edge like the Monster to keep me interested.

Jim

The Guzzi was brilliant in town and just so easy to get on with. Although it lacked a bit in power the comfortable seat, relaxed riding position and light clutch and gearbox made it extremely easy to live with. I'm not hugely keen on the look and it sounds a bit like a wet fart but it's a great town bike.

Dawn

I loved the look of the Guzzi and found it very easy to ride both in town and on the country roads. It's comfortable and the clutch and gears show Ducati and Harley how it should be done. As a first bike I would be very happy with the Guzzi.

Sarah

The Breva was a really friendly bike. I like the looks and to ride it was really relaxing, it just does everything for you without a fuss. Nice handling and the motor was happy being left in one gear while you just roll on and off the throttle. I was really impressed by the Breva, it's a great starter bike.

Jon Urry - Road Tester

Fair play to Moto Guzzi. In the Breva the Italian company set out to make a cheap, stylish bike aimed at new riders. And according to our new riders Moto Guzzi got it right. Time's been spent making the clutch and gearbox light as well as making it look good and handle reassuringly well. Like all Guzzis it's shaft-driven, so there is no chain to adjust or lube and also the motor is relatively quick and easy to service. Being a 750 the Breva has more torque than the others which means that there is less gear changing and the motor pulls well low down. Bad points? Well, Matt shows what I reckon a few more experienced riders will find. The Guzzi can feel a bit under-powered and I wouldn't be surprised if riders soon get bored of the performance, or lack of it. The SV650 has a 100cc smaller motor but provides more thrills. But as a first bike or a town commuter the Breva is very, very good and well worth a look.

Moto Guzzi Breva Specs

SPECS - MOTO GUZZI
TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2003
PRICE NEW - £5135
ENGINE CAPACITY - 744cc
POWER - 43.2bhp@6000rpm
TORQUE - 41.2lb.ft@3000rpm
WEIGHT - 182kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 737mm
FUEL CAPACITY - 18L
TOP SPEED - 114mph

Suzuki SV650S

Suzuki SV650S

Tanya

I'm really gutted. I thought that this lowered seat height SV would mean I would find it easier to ride, but it was just a bit too heavy. I could reach the ground much better than with a standard SV, but the extra weight of the SV over the Monster made it feel as though I wouldn't be able to hold it up if it started to topple. It did and I couldn't.

Adam

The SV was easily my favourite. I really liked the engine braking as it meant I didn't have to brake as hard and it looks great. I rode the SV1000 but much preferred the 650 as it was a bit lighter. The handling is great, stable and gives you loads of confidence. A great starter bike.

Matt

The SV is like a Fisher Price 'my first big bike'. Although I aspire to owning a race rep the SV is perfect for teaching me how to ride a sporty bike without the speed of a sportsbike. A great introduction to real biking.

Jim

The SV was brilliant and really confidence- inspiring. You feel totally safe riding it and it's great fun. The engine has enough power to be fun without scaring you and the handling is brilliant. I would definitely buy one as a first bike.

Dawn

The SV was great. I rode TWO's SV1000 longtermer and found it a bit too big, but the 650 is perfect. The engine has loads of power and the lowered seat height made it much easier to get both feet on the floor, which is reassuring. My only complaint is the cramped riding position. Great bike.

Sarah

The SV was really good and handled brilliantly but I just found it too cramped with the pegs too high and the bars too low. I tried the naked version and it was much better, but I did most of my riding in town which suits the flat bar version.

Jon Urry - Road Tester

Europe's best selling bike the SV650 has been the natural choice for new riders for a number of years now. Crescent Suzuki (01202) 512923 lowered this bike by about an inch by dropping the forks through the yokes and adding a new suspension linkage. Buy a new SV from them and they will do it for free, otherwise it's £199. For town the naked SV is best but for long journeys the lack of fairing is a pain. Brilliant bike and a perfect first bike for most riders.

Suzuki SV650S Specs

SPECS - SUZUKI
TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2003
PRICE NEW - £5149
ENGINE CAPACITY - 645cc
POWER - 73.1bhp@9000rpm
TORQUE - 45.5lb.ft@7300rpm
WEIGHT - 169kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 800mm
FUEL CAPACITY - 17L

TOP SPEED - 131.5mph

Conclusion

Conclusion

Out of the five bikes our novices really took a shine to two of them, the Guzzi Breva and the Suzuki SV650S. Both are aimed at new riders and it looks like they have hit the mark. The SV is now an established star but Guzzi has got it right first time. The thought that has gone into the Breva is excellent. A shaft drive means no chain to adjust, servicing is quick and easy and the light clutch and gearbox is excellent. Opinion was split over the Monster with Tanya finding its light weight reassuring while the others weren't too keen on its handling. The BMW deserves to have done better. Everyone liked the CS when they actually rode it but visually they found it a massive turn off. If you like the look the BMW is a great and very well thought out town bike that can handle motorway miles and is well worth a look. Unfortunately the Harley has fallen well short of the mark. Hard, vibrating and not a very good handler just about sums it up. If you want a Harley then you will probably put this down to character, but as a first bike it's no fun.