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Half Price Sale: £5k used sportsbikes

With new litre sportsbikes costing upwards of £10,000 the used market is booming. But at £5k are these bikes half the performance as well as half the price?

At the moment secondhand dealers are crying out for stock and decent used sportsbikes are the most sought after commodity. The astronomical cost of buying a brand new sportsbike, not to mention the fear of being locked into a potentially tricky finance package when jobs are less than secure, has seen riders pouring through the doors of used dealers. And who can blame them when you see what’s on offer?

Setting ourselves a target of £5000 for a used litre sportsbike we scanned the adverts in various dealers all over the UK as well as the web-based trading sites to see what was on offer. It soon became apparent that you can easily pick up a 2004 or 2005 model bike well within our budget and if you’re prepared to buy private you could even return with a couple of quid in your back pocket. As with any secondhand buy; the mileage, condition and even colour affect the price, but the choice out there is impressive.

Honda’s first generation CBR1000RR Fireblade was first on our list. With a MotoGP-derived chassis and a brand new 1000cc engine this model of Blade showed that after a few lacklustre years Honda was taking the litre class seriously again. Although a 2004 model bike could be had cheaper than this 2005 version, the horrible paint scheme on the older bike swayed our choice.

Next up is Kawasaki’s frothing ZX-10R. The original model is easily the most outrageous of the ZX-10R range. Oddly enough the grey/silver paint scheme on the ZX-10R turns a lot of riders off, meaning they can be had cheaper than the green ones, but this Kawasaki racing replica caught our eye as it was neatly done and different without being too outrageous.

And finally, Yamaha’s classy 2004 R1. This model of R1 announced that the Japanese had finally mastered the art of creating a beautifully styled bike and unlike the Kawasaki the silver paint scheme only accentuates the Yamaha’s stunning lines. Yet the R1’s beauty isn’t just skin deep, below the fairing lies a monster motor. When launched it claimed to have the highest power to weight ratio of any bike.

So there we have it, three bikes that, on the face of it, should easily justify their £5k price tags. But how have the years treated these former top dogs? Will they still retain their places at the head of the pack, or are they now mangy mutts that need a damn good worming and possibly a well overdue trip to the vet…

Save some money with the Kawasaki ZX-10R

2004 Kawasaki ZX-10R

2004 Kawasaki ZX-10R

The original Mr Nasty and a bike that many considered a bit too much of a good thing. What’s not to like about a bike with the same dimensions as a 600 but the power of a 1000? Exactly.

Click to read: 2004 Kawasaki ZX-10R owners reviews

The 2004/05 ZX-10R was a bike designed to shock. Kawasaki had been flogging the dead horse that was the ZX-9R in the litre bike class for the last decade and against the likes of the FireBlade, GSX-R1000 and R1 it was getting its green arse well and truly kicked. This all changed in 2004 – Kawasaki hit back and hit back hard.

The original ZX-10R was exactly what diehard Kawasaki fans wanted, it was a truly mental litre bike that delivered a claimed 175bhp from an engine that had somehow been squeezed into a chassis the same size as the ZX-6R’s. Sit on the ZX-10R and  it feels compact and focussed with high pegs and low clip-ons. It’s a bike you plug into rather than sit astride and the huge scoops in the frame and shape of the tank are designed for your body to slide into.

Even today the ZX-10R’s engine impresses. Accelerate on the ZX-10R and you are reminded why you ride bikes. The airbox howls and the revs pick up startlingly quickly as the engine gets into its stride. You can’t hold the throttle open in first gear, the initial powerband at around 5,000rpm will start the front wheel lifting and by the time the insane top end kick fires in at around 9,000rpm all you’ll be seeing is the sky rapidly, followed by a shower of sparks from its titanium exhaust system grinding away as the bike spins down the road on its side. Even by today’s standards it’s bonkers, but there is a serious downside.

The ZX-10R’s handling has always been lively and time, not to mention worn suspension, does little to help this. Ride the Kawasaki hard down an uneven road and quite quickly it starts to get out of shape. The source of the problem is the shock, which has very poor damping, but it seriously limits your ability to exploit the Kawasaki’s excellent handling. On a smooth road it’s every bit the light and agile racer you’d expect, but bumps make the ZX-10R shake its head and should you hit one while lent over or hard on the power it can all get a little bit wild. But is this a bad thing? Obviously tank-slapping into the nearest hedge isn’t brilliant, but there’s a lot to be said for an exciting ride. Its rawness is a major selling point and a few hundred quid can sort the shock, the weak brakes respond  well to high friction pads. Do this and you have a bike with stacks of character that delivers a thrilling ride unmatched by any of today’s 1000s. It’s undoubtedly a bike for experienced riders, but if you want a bike that reminds you why two wheels are so good look no further than the original bad boy.

Another sportsbike bargain, the 2005 Honda Fireblade

Kawasaki ZX-10R Essential Info

Prices

From £3,995 (2004, 19,500 miles) to £5,595 (2005, 10,500 miles)

Sportsbikes don’t come much more hardcore than the first incarnation of Kawasaki’s ZX-10R. It sold by the bucketload when first released in 2004. For many owners though, it turned out to be too demanding of skill and commitment to really be appreciated on the road, which is excellent news for potential buyers. The vast majority of the machines for sale have less than 15,000 miles on the clock, and with examples under four grand in some cases, a potent track weapon can be had for a bargain price. If it’s a racebike with headlights you’re after, look no further than the original ZX-10R.

Instant upgrades

  • Steering Damper:The ZX has a reputation for being a frisky beast to handle on the road, so a steering damper would go some way to calm the front end. There is a wide range to choose from, but GPR’s dampers look that extra bit trick and come in a wide range of colour options. £375 (www.trackparts.co.uk).
  • Braided Brake Hoses: A few owners have noted that the standard brakes can go off after a while, and that the most cost effective way of getting them back up to scratch is to fit braided hoses. HEL offer a range of fitments and colours for £55 (www.h-e-l.co.uk).
  • Master Cylinder: Combined with braided hoses, a different size master cylinder can transform the way the bike feels under braking. Brembo’s RCS Master Cylinder allows the rider to adjust the lever ratio with the turn of a dial, meaning the brakes can be set up for more feel or higher braking pressure for a given force on the lever. The lever itself is a folding type. £311.38 (www.moto-racing.co.uk).

Parts costs

Screen: £72.83
Front mudguard: £70.95
Brake lever: £31.92

Service costs

Minor: £120
Major: £420

Common faults

The ZX-10R is pure hooliganism, with probably every one having been wheelied (intentionally or otherwise) at some point. Hard landings can damage headstock bearings, and given the reputation for being a bit ‘lively’ on the road, crash damage isn’t too uncommon. While not particularly common, the odd bike has been known to crack the clutch cover, with the first sign being a small oil leak from the right side of the engine. Overall finish seems to hold up better than on other bikes though.

2005 Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade

2005 Honda FireBlade

The RR4/5 model of Blade was the first to gain not only a 1000cc engine but also an underseat pipe and MotoGP-derived chassis. Launched in 2004 it remained unchanged in 2005 apart from decals.

Click to read: 2005 Honda Fireblade owners reviews

Where the Kawasaki is all or nothing and every trip is a near death experience the Honda is like a relaxing and very fast magic carpet. The riding position isn’t too extreme, the fairing deceptively large and even the pegs don’t feel that cramped. While the large rev counter dominates the clocks the LCD speedo is clear and even the mirrors well positioned. The Blade is a friendly litre bike, one that wants to work with you so you enjoy the ride rather than scare you silly and make you feel just a little bit inadequate.

On the go the Honda has a feel of rightness. It’s a reassuring bike to ride and one that never seems at all flustered or about to do something unexpected. The handling is assured and instantly puts you at ease as the compliant suspension and sorted chassis exude an air of calm as well as precision. Unlike the CBR600RR, which set new standards when it came to racetrack handling, the 1000RR isn’t as responsive and instead gives the rider a balanced package that works together rather than blows your mind. There is little to fault, every component does its job superbly well, but it lacks the spark of bikes such as the ZX-10R or R1 and its engine doesn’t quite deliver the big buzz you might expect from a litre bike.

Where accelerating hard on the Kawasaki is a thrilling experience the Fireblade’s motor just gets on with the job in hand. Make no mistake it’s fast, but it’s also incredibly linear and a little uninspiring, flat almost. For the second generation of RR (the 2006/7 model) Honda fitted a rear sprocket with two more teeth, lowering the gearing and giving the bike a bit more kick, something the original lacks. Owners of this model are recommended to try this.

The Fireblade rider won’t be looking anxiously for the slightest bump in the road that might set his bike off into a tank slapper, acceleration isn’t a case of controlling a wheelie and the Blade’s brakes offer plenty in terms of power and feel. As is often the way with Hondas the 2004/05 bike actually predicted the future, it foresaw the fact that 170bhp was bordering on too much power and attempted to deliver it in a controllable package. Is this something you can criticise? Not really, but the problem is having ridden it I’m not left feeling like I have ridden a class leading sportsbike. Maybe it’s just me, but I want a litre bike to be exciting as well as compliant and without the thrill factor the Blade leaves me cold. Competent, just not thrilling and almost too clinical.

The Yamaha YZF-R1, cheap Japanese exotica

Honda Fireblade Essential Info

Prices

From £3,995 (2004, 13,000 miles) to £7,000 (2007, 8,800 miles)

There’s an absolutely enormous selection of used Fireblades around and rightly so, given how popular they are with pretty much everyone. They’re most adept at lapping a track blisteringly fast of course, but they’ve been used for everything from London couriering to motorway commuting to winning races. A reputation for excellent build quality and being the most user-friendly of the thou’s perhaps grabbed the Blade a few sales from those who weren’t particularly looking for a sports machine, and these qualities also make it a sound buy on the used market.

Instant upgrades

  • Quickshifter: Cutting the time between gear shifts can pay dividends on track, and also makes changing gear less hassle on the road. HM Quickshifters use strain gauges to know when to initiate the gear change, rather than relying on gear lever movement which is claimed to give a faster and smoother shift. £279 (www.pdmracing.co.uk).
  • Power Commander: To work alongside the quickshifter, a Power Commander smoothes out any fuelling issues and can also give the bike a better fuel economy. A vital bit of kit if an aftermarket pipe is added, but it’s also a useful addition with the standard exhaust. £312.55 (www.dynojet.co.uk).
  • Tyres:To make the most of the handling abilities and power of these thousand cc machines requires as sticky a road tyre as possible. Michelin’s Power One is a popular fitment for fast road and track riding, giving excellent grip and a fast warm up time. Just don’t expect it to last too long if you get a bit throttle happy. Around £230 (www.michelin.co.uk).

Parts costs

Screen: £92.14
Front mudguard: £109.77
Brake lever: £25.92

Service costs

Minor: £140
Major: £415

Common faults

Honda’s ‘legendary’ build quality dipped a bit on the ’04 Blade. Too thin paint wearing through and fasteners corroding seem to be the biggest gripe, although any rider of a modern bike would be hard pushed to keep their machine corrosion free after a British winter. Mechanical problems are very thin on the ground with only generators being problematic on a few bikes. But considering most Blades of this vintage won’t have yet seen 30,000 miles a trouble free life so far would be entirely expected.

2004 Yamaha YZF-R1

2004 Yamaha YZF-R1

The most beautiful bike to emerge from Japan in years and with a stonking engine to back up its looks. Always aimed at the more mature rider the R1 promised a classy ride with a wild edge.

Click to read: 2004 Yamaha YZF-R1 owners reviews

The 2004/05 R1 is certainly the best pound for pound secondhand litre bike on the market. Retailing at the same cost as the other two you get a bike that not only looks a million dollars, it combines the best parts of the Honda and Kawasaki in a single package that delivers on every level.

Where the Honda’s engine is slightly disappointing and the Kawasaki’s possibly a little too mad, the R1 comes with a motor that drives strongly from the bottom-end and then throws in an extra bit of spice thanks to a cracking top-end rush that matches the ZX-10R for thrills.

 It may lack the character vibrations and raw, throaty airbox note of the green bike, but the Yamaha’s smooth power delivery is infinitely more interesting than the Honda’s and yet equally controllable. The tall first gear (96.9mph if you want to talk figures) can be slightly irritating, but once on the go it’s easily overlooked as the engine’s flexibility takes precedence and the handling starts to shine.

Like the Honda the R1 has a classy and sophisticated ride, but the Yamaha does it with a sportier edge that, while not detracting from its stability, adds an extra dash of agility. The suspension offers a smooth and well damped ride yet is firm enough to allow hard cornering without wallow while the front end feels secure and planted. It’s very impressive and while it isn’t as razor edged as the ZX-10R it is more than sporty enough for road riders to exploit to its full potential and on track is even better. And it stops too.

Unlike the Kawasaki’s brakes even six years on and with the original rubber hoses the R1’s stoppers felt good, delivering strong braking performance with a smooth lever action. But as good as it is the R1 isn’t without its niggling irritations. While the rev counter is wonderfully large and clear the speedo is something of an afterthought and is virtually impossible to read. The riding position can be a bit harsh on the wrists and the underseat pipes have been known to get a touch hot in summer (possibly not such an issue in the UK).

But these are fairly small points, for an outlay of £5k you get a bike that not only looks stunning it performs fantastically on the UK roads delivering a secure yet thrilling ride without any of the handling quirks of the ZX-10R. The R1 is certainly the bargain of the £5k litre bikes and what makes it even better is the fact the current model is still very much designed in the style of the original 2004 one, making it look current rather than slightly dated like the Blade.

Continue for the verdict

Yamaha YZF-R1 Essential Info

Prices

From £4,200 (2004, 23,000 miles) to £6,500 (2006, 3,800 miles)

The 2004 R1 was labelled the most comfortable and road orientated of the litre machines of the day. While that may not have won it the hearts of a huge number of customers who were seeking out the latest and greatest, the R1 always has a strong following whether new or used, which generally keeps prices keen. There is still a large volume of the ’04 model available used, and it may well be the more sane choice over the Kawasaki, while still keeping away from the Honda’s sensible tag.

Instant upgrades

  • Alarm: With these bikes being in the highest insurance bracket, it makes sense to fit an alarm to keep insurers happy. This can knock a chunk of cash off the premium and be a deterrent to any potential thief. Datatool’s S4 alarm/immobiliser is Thatcham approved and available for around £350 (www.datatool.co.uk).
  • Crash Protectors: Fitting some crash protectors are an excellent way to keep that deep luxurious paint away from the tarmac should the worst happen by sticking out further than the fairing, keeping the bodywork off the ground. Bike Design sell a range of protectors that don’t require modifications to bodywork for £70.58 (www.bikehps.com).
  • Rear Sets: R1 owners have commented that the footpegs are set relatively low on the bike, which may cause ground clearance issues for fast cornering. Fitting adjustable rear sets can alleviate this problem, meaning they can be raised if the bike goes out on track, but kept low if some big mile comfort is required. UK based Lust Racing offer a set for the R1 for £279 (www.lustracing.co.uk).

Parts costs

Screen: £79.71
Front mudguard: £68.03
Brake lever: £20.69

Service costs

Minor: £175
Major: £520

Common faults

Most owners feel the bike has excellent build quality and still looks fantastic after being on the road for six years. There is the odd gripe though, the underseat pipes turning the heat up on riders in heavy traffic, and a tall first gear making town work tough, and often frying clutches. Very few issues to report with the R1 though, and with it being considered a comfortable and road-orientated litre machine, heavy wear on most parts is avoided. Low footpegs may be ground down a bit though.

Verdict

When you’re spending £5000 you should, quite rightly, expect a decent sportsbike for your cash, but just how good the current secondhand crop are is a surprise. Stick on a set of fresh tyres, sort their suspension and any one of these three will be snapping at the heels of the modern tackle on both road and track. The fact is 150bhp doesn’t age, it’s only the chassis components that may start to sag slightly and require a refresh. To this end there isn’t really a winner or loser, but there are certainly ones to avoid or ones to go for depending on what you are after.

The Blade is a disappointment if you want thrills from your litre bike. It’s very reassuring to ride, totally planted on the road and still very, very fast. But it delivers all its performance in a disappointingly sanitised way.

The idiot’s choice is the ZX-10R. Its engine is mental, handling bordering on the scary and you just have to love the green paint scheme. Some say excess is never enough but the ZX-10R pushes this point. For many it is simply too bonkers but for others this is exactly what they are after.

Which leaves the R1. The Yamaha offers the best compromise of performance and civility all combined in a package that even six years after it was first unveiled remains stunning to look at. The engine has few reported problems so you can even buy privately with confidence. It’s an investment you won’t regret, especially with the current high demand for secondhand stock. You won’t lose much in depreciation over the next few years and you can’t say fairer than that.