Supertramps - Honda Blackbird, Ducati Multistrada, Aprilia SXV550 used test

There’s a heatwave on out there and you’ve got £4000 to spend on a new bike for summer, but should you go for something refined, something Italian or something plain nuts? Let’s shop...

Picking a brand new bike is easy – either you can afford it or you can’t. That detail sorted, then it’s a simple case of matching your requirements to this year’s shiny new offerings and skipping along to your nearest dealer. When it comes to buying a used bike, though, the thought process becomes a lot harder to navigate.

You have the chance of tailoring your option perfectly to the kind of riding you do. For most of us there are three categories to consider, the first being the ‘riding in comfort’ option. For this purpose we’ve chosen Honda’s fantastic Blackbird. Remaining relatively unchanged for its 10-year lifecycle, for some the Blackbird is the ideal bike.

The middle ground is a bike that covers as many bases as possible; looks, character, fun and functionality. The Ducati Multistrada is our choice, and it should be on your list too.

Lastly we’ve picked a raging monster of a bike that you might think you want but should think long and hard over before buying. Aprilia’s fruity SXV550 has dropped below £4000 and could be the perfect bike for you. If you’re mental.

Enjoy the test – it might have been a cheap day out but we had a top time riding all of these.

Click next to continue

Honda CBR1100 Blackbird

The Best Unkept Secret of the Go-Fast World

Click to read: Honda CBR1100 Blackbird owners reviews

Honda make fantastic motorcycles but, when they’re new, they tend to feel a little bland in the company of the competition. No bad thing but when you’re spending sacks of the bank’s money you want to feel like you’re having all of your senses stoked. As they gain a few miles and a few scuffs around the edges, that blandness matures into a feeling of ageless quality, something that appeals to used bike buyers looking to get the most bike for their money.

Honda’s Blackbird is the perfect example of this. In its ten-year production cycle it only briefly enjoyed being better and faster than a Kawasaki before Suzuki streaked into the top spot with the ugly-as-sin Hayabusa. The Blackbird didn’t get any worse at doing 170mph all day in complete comfort, it just wasn’t the best at it anymore.

There are subtle differences to look for when it comes to choosing a Blackbird. Early versions had carburetors and smaller fuel tanks; 22 litres rather than 24. Paint has always been of the highest quality but subtle in colour rather than sporty, lairy graphics that flake and peel after a few winters. Carbed bikes picked up an incredible 20bhp in the midrange if you added cans an a Dynojet kit; fuel-injected bikes came with this hole filled in at the factory.

If riding far and fast is top of your agenda, the Blackbird still completely outclasses pretty much any other bike out there thanks to one of the most comfortable riding positions ever built. It’s weird – whenever I see someone riding a Blackbird it always looks like they need longer arms and shorter legs but, when you’re sat on one, nothing aches after hours in the saddle. To look at the clocks are dated, all sweeping needles and simple dials, but the numbers they display are anything but old hat.

Click next to continue

The Blackbird doesn’t have the reputation for swallowing fuel like the ‘Busa and the speeds that it can maintain will have you scratching your head with a quizzical look on your mug. It really will sit at 150mph all day long. Hunker down, get comfortable behind the huge standard screen, wind on some gas and just watch the world fly by in fast-forward. Our test bike had slightly spongy linked brakes but they were still more than up to the job of hauling nearly 250kg down to cornering friendly numbers. The bike inspires you without egging you on like a ZZR1400. It makes you feel safe at high speed.

The Blackbird isn’t going to rock anyone’s world when it comes to throwing it around. Sure there’s pleasure to be had from bashing it down a twisty A-road, but it all feels a bit like entering a hot air balloon in the Red Bull air races, especially an older one that’s done thousands of miles. The set up was never intended for that kind of riding and, while the suspension will show its age, the motor won’t so you’ll find yourself travelling way too fast without the necessary tools to make for an easy or pleasurable ride.

No, the best thing you could do with this bike is make sure your passport is up to date and head south. If the Cote d’Azur were your desert island then the Blackbird would be your Kylie Minogue; the perfect companion to help pass the time. And all the other traffic. The best accolade I can give the Blackbird is simple. Most bike journalists don’t make a habit of buying bikes but, whenever the question of which one they’d buy if they weren’t doing this job is asked, the answer’s nearly always the oldest, cheapest Blackbird available – fast, comfortable, cheap and as reliable as a Rolex.

Essential Info


From £1995 (1997 bike, 60,000 miles) to £6800 (2007, 4000 miles).

Blackbird prices tend not to drop much below £2000 since they’re well known for being tough, well-built machines. Right at the bottom end of the price range the bikes tend to have 50,000+ miles on the clock, but for a few hundred pounds more there are plenty in the 25-30,000 miles bracket, which is astonishing value for such an accomplished mile-muncher. These machines are almost always ’96 to ’99 examples, which is no real issue since, other than the change to fuel injection, only minor upgrades were introduced, such as the a bigger fuel tank and a lighter clutch.

At the other end of the scale, an absolutely mint example can be had for under £7000. This may seem like a lot of money for a secondhand bike that hasn’t had an update since 1999 but trust us, it won’t feel secondhand.

Instant upgrade

  • Exhaust Scorpion’s Street Extreme “stubby” cans are available for £478. They’ll help remove some of the weight of the stock cans and liven up the exhaust note.
  • Tyres Bird owners are usually interested in tyres with a long lifespan yet still with enough grip in them to be able to hustle when the destination is reached. In this respect the BT-021 from Bridgestone is a popular fitment at roughly £200 a pair.
  • Screen For more comfort at speed, double bubble screens come in very handy. The Powerbronze Airflow is available in a range of colours from £39.95.
  • Headlight For extended night riding, an HID headlight upgrade for £125
  • Luggage If long distances are on the cards an Oxford Deluxe Tailpack is available at £85.49 and would be very useful for a long weekend away. For something more secure (and expensive) luggage specialists Givi offer a range of cases for the Blackbird.


Service intervals are every 4000 miles, the first service being an £85 job for an oil and filter change. At 8000 miles the price goes up to £165, and most services from then on are between the two prices. The 16,000 mile service includes valve clearance checks and costs around £350.

There aren’t many issues with the Blackbird other than the usual Honda problem of a dodgy camchain tensioner. This is an easy fix and a dealer would charge around £45 for the job. The Blackbird is held in high regard as being a very reliable bike in general, with huge mileages being covered without any major problems. Worry instead about consumables like tyres and chains.

Click next to continue

Ducati Multistrada M1000DS

Slightly Weird But Absolutely Brilliant. . .

Click to read: Ducati Multistrada M1000DS owners reviews

Ducati’s bestselling bike for a while, the Multistrada is a bike those in the know praise while everybody else laughs at the quirky looks. Look a little closer and you’ll find a practical, individual, enjoyable and reliable bike that’s as happy carrying you to work as it is frazzling your berries on a trackday. The 1000DS version you see here is our pick of all the versions available.

The old school, two-valves-per-cylinder motor, plucked from the 1000SS sportsbike is ace. Expect around 80bhp at the back wheel, a little more if the used example you find has Termignoni exhausts fitted (as most have). The motor fuels cleanly even from cold, pulling away eagerly in first and providing plenty of accessible power, the kind you can actually make use of rather than just brag about to your mates. The air-cooled motor is laced into a pretty trellis frame and suspended at both ends by quality Showa springy bits in a package that, looks aside, is pretty conventional.

If you’re in the market for a Multistrada, the first thing you should do is see if you fit on one – at 850mm the seat height is the same as a BMW R1200GS. Not everyone will get on with such a stretch but those that do are in for a treat – the manners of a well-ridden Multistrada are fantastic. The high and wide bars, coupled with comfortable pegs that are miles from the ground, allow you to carve along safe in the knowledge that you have the leverage to haul the thing from side to side without worrying about decking everything out in the process. The standard tyre on this bike is a 180-section and, for sweet handling, is best left as is – a handsome 190’s too wide.

To say I enjoyed changing gear on the bike would be a little strong but the six-speed box still felt in great shape on the five-year-old example we found. I wrongly assumed the 1000DS came with the APTC clutch as found on Monsters of the same era. If you don’t know the difference between the two, the APTC is a finger-light delicacy, pliant and easy to use. The other version, as found on this bike, feels like trying to squeeze a can of beer open with one hand every time you use it. I’m all strong and manly so it didn’t bother me but, if you’re a puny-armed sailor-chaser, you’ll have to renew your gym membership if you want to perfect your traffic light getaways.

Click next to continue

The long stroke suspension is firm enough to get a lick on but still provides plenty of feedback. You can feel the forks squishing the tyre into the road on the brakes, providing you with stacks of confidence to carry them for longer or change line mid-corner. The clock layout is the prettiest and most detailed of the three bikes on this test, digital but legible and definitely in keeping with the Ducati family.

That said, this bike pulled the same trick as every other Multistrada I’ve ridden, showing loads of digital bars of fuel until you’ve done just over a hundred miles, when suddenly they all disappear and leave you panicking about fuel range. The Multistrada has an air of air cooled cool but is more than capable of bloodying the nose of the newer bikes like Ducati’s own Streetfighter in a tussle. The new bike being too highly strung and set-up for baby’s-bum-smooth roads of which, in the UK, I know very few.

I ride in London everyday, take in the odd trackday and enjoy sneaking off for high mileage weekends when I get the chance. Of the three bikes here, this is the one that ticks all of the boxes for me.

Essential Info


From £2400 (2003, 28,000 miles) to £5500 (2006, 2600 miles).

With the Multistrada not being the oldest model available on the secondhand market, prices can still be quite keen. The £2400 model found was £600 less than the next cheapest, but while used prices are relatively high, mileages are not. Between 15-20,000 miles seems to be the average in this price range, with many of the bikes up for sale from dealers. This gives the buyer more confidence of a bike in good mechanical condition. As with all Ducatis, a full service history is worth paying a bit more for, as is a bike with a recent service since these bikes can be quite expensive to service.

The more expensive bikes around still represent excellent value for money for such a versatile machine. There are a number of machines for sale near this price with similarly low mileages, so it’s definitely a good idea to shop around to find the colour you want, or a bike with added accessories thrown into the deal.

Instant upgrade

  • Exhaust Termignoni exhausts are popular with Ducati owners, understandably so given the quality of the workmanship and the much improved sound. The kit also includes an air filter to allow the engine to breathe more freely. A must-have.
  • Power Commander A new exhaust will require tweaks to the fuel/air mixture to keep throttle response clean. A Power Commander sorts all this out with as little fuss as possible, though you’ll need to get it set up.
  • Tyres Because the Multistrada is such a well-rounded package, it’s certainly possible to hustle it along at a fair pace. A pair of Pirelli Diablo Corsa 3s will make the most of all that cornering ability.
  • Heated Grips The Ducati is also pretty handy at long distances, but in winter could benefit from some Saito heated grips.
  • Hugger A carbon fibre rear hugger will help keep the ass of the bike clean plus, on the right bike, they look killer.


Perhaps surprisingly, the Multistrada has longer service intervals than the Blackbird, but more work is required at each service. They are due every 12 months or 6000 miles, with the work costing around £460. Every other service however is more comprehensive, so the 24-month service is likely to be around £520.

An oil and filter change will usually set you back about £45, with a chain and sprocket set at £170. Brake pads are £25 per side. If servicing hasn’t been kept up to date, it’s reasonable to assume the bike hasn’t been looked after as well as it should have been.

Click next to continue

Aprilia SXV550

Are You Man Enough to Tame the Untamable?

Click to read: Aprilia SXV550 owners reviews

“Of course you can borrow a 550 John. A guy traded his R1 for ours but bought it back the same day – he’d scared himself inside-out within a tankful of fuel.” That’s how hard it was to secure the loan of one of the most ridiculous road-registered bikes money can buy. If your window for biking kicks is tiny, like an-hour-a-week tiny, the Aprilia SXV will no doubt deliver the most extreme dose of two-wheeled action available, whether you’re spending four grand or forty.

Introduced in 2006, the V-twin beastie packs a 70bhp punch into a 128kg frame. All of which slots up your jacksie like a fifty-pence piece thanks to the tiniest of perches on which to place your behind. With all sights set on World Supermoto titles and only the briefest of glances at the everyday road user, you don’t need to be a Tefal-head to see that this bike is hard work on the road. But, if you’re the kind of person that likes eating bowls of live cobras, chased down with pints of plutonium, this could be the perfect bike for you. The riding experience is full-on; you’ll hate it when you’re trying to get it started, you’ll scare yourself rigid while you’re trying to get used to it and you’ll love it when you get the thing singing down the right road.

Jump onboard and prime your senses. The tickover is erratic so catch it on the throttle, fiddle with the ridiculous push-button choke and keep the underseat, slash-cut pipes barking until there’s some heat in it. Even when it’s warm you’re not guaranteed a tickover – you share control of an SXV with itself. First gear is of little use, even for pulling away. Second is a better choice simply because it gives you a fighting chance of staying on if you were to afford it too much throttle. Once rolling the SXV is an absolute missile – third-gear handfuls cannon it down the road, the rider throwing gears and expletives at the bike in equal measure.

Click next to continue

The Aprilia turns unbelievably quickly. It will take time to re-adjust your lines and your road manners to reap rewards from the SXV and, in keeping with all the other extremes, the radial brake will shock initially, such is their ferocity. You’ll never quite get comfortable on this bike – it isn’t that kind of supermoto. If you’re thinking you might like one of these, read the rest of this magazine straddling your garden fence.

Stick with an SXV longer than the previous owner of this example though and things will become more manageable. Keeping the revs from the top or the bottom of the rev range proved to be the best way to handle the power. Too few revs and it coughs and splutters like a forty-a-day lifer. Too many and it’ll scream and scare mortal riders all the way to A&E. Sitting over the bars, toes up on the pegs and with one finger draped over the brake lever, you can’t help but ride like a plonker, the bike obliging you in every way possible. You’ll definitely have some fun finding out if you’re man enough to handle one, though you won’t be alone if it gets the better of you.

If this all sounds a bit doom and gloom, like you’d have to be mental to buy one, I’m sorry but the Aprilia really is that extreme. You have to be a little unhinged to think that a bike that does under 50 miles to a tank of fuel and comes with service intervals measured in hours rather than miles is going to be useful to you as a road tool. Granted, when you get things right on this bike it feels amazing, but you need more than aligned planets for the perfect experience on an SXV550. Massive, retractable carbon fibre testicles would be top of my list of accessories.

Essential Info


From £4000 (2007, 1800 miles) to £6750 (2009, 0 miles). Aprilia’s crazy supermoto isn’t a cheap bike secondhand, but then again it has only been with us for a couple of years. For that reason used values remain fairly high. With the nature of this bike, there won’t be many out there with more than 5000 miles on the clock. The bike is generally a complete pain to ride further than down to the shops. If the cheaper bikes are being looked at, it should be remembered that the engine needs attention at incredibly short intervals, so that should be budgeted for.

If more expensive examples catch your eye, £7000 buys a bike with zero miles on the clock quite easily. The SXV is such a focused machine though that £6,750 is a considerable sum of money for a bike that can’t do long distances and is totally impractical for taking a pillion. Having said that they are great fun and, as the basis of a seriously rapid supermoto or dirt track race bike, the V-twin Aprilia is a cool choice.

Instant upgrade

  • Slipper Clutch, with one of these fitted you’ll smash this bike up, no doubt about it.
  • Exhaust Arrow make a full race system for the SXV. That said the standard exhaust sounds pretty meaty as it is – leave it be.
  • Air filter to go with the exhaust, a K&N air filter allows more power to be gained in conjunction with a Power Commander.
  • Power Commander Sorting the fuelling on a bike like this will make the power easier to kill yourself with. A Power Commander from Dynojet makes everything work as it should, only a bit more mental.
  • Seat The standard seat on the SXV is a joke for a road bike, so a more comfortable option is vital if many miles are planned on the bike. The Bagster Comfort seat makes riding distances marginally less painful. Really though, that’s a band aid on a far bigger issue if ever we saw one.


It is important for potential buyers to note the short intervals between services for these machines. The service schedule begins at 500km, which is a general oil and filter change, with the bike being checked over for any problems – budget £100.

The next service is at 1800 miles, and then every 1800 miles from then on. If these distances aren’t covered in one year, the bike should go in for a service every 12 months. If the bike is raced these service intervals should be halved. Get yourself a decent toolkit, get stuck in and save yourself a fortune.