Used Bike

Whitham's three and a half grand second-hand challenge

In 2006 with the unlikely premise of £3500 fast burning holes in their pockets, four Visordown teamsters are buying second-hand steel. It's head v. hearts all the way

Buying a bike is the fourth most stressful event in a man's life. It comes after marriage, buying a house and being told,"we're having a baby". It marginally nudges that fateful, "I want a divorce". Buying a car doesn't register because only losers buy cars - oh, and those of us who have just been told "we're
having a baby", of course.

And quite probably the one way to make the transaction even more stressful is to buy second-hand. With new bikes there's the comfort of a two-year warranty, no question as to the condition and certainly no nagging doubts over whether it's been crashed. Not so with second-hand. There's something very primal about buying a second-hand bike that engages the hunter-gatherer in us. Buy well and you'll be the envy of your mates. Buy a pup and you'll be ridiculed for ever and a day - and be feeling the financial loss.

Quite why that placed four Visordown staff in DK Motorcycles' super-showroom of a cold winter's morning we don't know, but they were, each shelling out a hypothetical three-and-a-half large. Yeah, we were keeping it real, as Ali G would say. And it is a very real scenario, as DK's Garry Mackay confirmed.

"It's a popular price bracket and as much a commitment as buying a full-price new bike. Guys don't come in with a stack of cash and say, 'I want that one'. Typically they're bringing in their old bike, usually worth £1500, and they've begged, borrowed or financed the rest."

Of the Visordown team, sadly only Whitham would be able to lay out the cash for real, although even he'd sweat the transaction. Urry would have to hock one of his LCs and then finance the rest. But for Hogan and JB, now sprogged-up, this is a fantasy exercise. To do this for real they'd need to get a real job with real money - and it'd still be state schooling for the kids, eh?

So let's experience what it is to browse the shop floor. And with Whit being our knowledgeable expert lets look at how well our lads buy.

2000 Kawasaki ZX-9R

JB bought: 2000 Kawasaki ZX-9R
Miles: 8147
Tyres: Bridgestone BT010s, three-quarters worn
Standard? Yes
Comments: Just plain good all-round, apart from the chamfering on the bottom of the right fork leg...

HAVING THREE-AND-a-half grand to spend on a bike is a luxury I've not enjoyed in over 10 years - precisely the time I've been full-time in bike journalism. Hmm. And being in a position of supporting a mortgage and a brand new baby means even if I had the theoretical three-and-a-half Gs I'd still be struggling to keep up with the costs of ownership. So I'd have to choose wisely.

So what is it I'd want to buy? A sports bike of course. As an ex-racer of sorts (my last season was in 2001) I love the track. Yes, what I'd need is something that would do my 100-mile commutes, would lap up track days (as and when I could afford) and would be cheap as chips to run.

Given these criteria I'd practically decided on a ZX-9R before I'd arrived at DK's impressive showrooms, but I kept an open mind. There were quite a few Blades in my price range. But they were of that slightly too heavy, slightly too sensible variety that Honda made prior to the RRY. Then I spotted a 2001 Suzuki GSX-R750 in Alstare colours. I used to race one of these and it was fantastic. But the condition wasn't top notch and there were too many owners' modifications that were not to my liking. I'd love one, but not this one.

Surprisingly, the next choice was an Aprilia Mille. I've always liked the look of these, they're big and
muscular where Ducatis can be svelte and feminine. A burly biker's sport twin. I wanted to say 'yes' but there was this nagging doubt whether the 100 miles a day, five days a week would kill it.
And then I saw the Kawasaki. A D-type and mint. Green, clean and with just 8000 miles on the clock it looked likely to be mean too. There was nothing I didn't like with the example. It was bog stock. And immaculate. I'd have it.

And the test ride proved it was as good as it looked. The motor is old school fast thanks to the carbies, and with a great induction roar. The handling is slowish compared to the latest tackle but plenty good enough. And everything with this example worked just right. Gearbox, clutch, everything. Like new, almost. Oh yes, and look at the pics, does this thing look cool or what? I'm really pleased, for my £3500 I'd have bought a six-year-old sports bike that was barely distinguishable from new. Yes, the ZX-9R was Cool with a capital 'K'.

2005 Kawasaki Z750

Whit bought: 2005 Kawasaki Z750
Miles:
1900 miles
Tyres: Bridgestone BT019s, in good nick
Standard? No, Blue Flame muffler, Renthal bars, heated grips, braided hoses, tail tidy, rear light-indicator conversion
Comments: Mint, but scuffing on the headlight and mirrors

THE FACT IS that with three-and-a-half bags to spend I wasn't getting my dream bike, even if I knew what my dream bike was. So I decided to go for something I'd actually use, that was as new as possible.

A mint 2002 R6 took my eye, firstly because of its condition, secondly because it was a totally unmolested standard example, right down to the stock exhaust can, and thirdly because I've got a sentimental attachment towards the '02 R6 as it was the last bike I ever raced in anger. This one would've made a good little toy for someone.

The same goes for a nice '02 Kawasaki 636 that had a lot going for it, if you like that sort of thing.
The fact is though I didn't fancy a sports bike and ended up nailing my colours to a really low mileage 2005 Z750 Kawasaki. Only just over a year old with 1900 miles on the dial. Even this wasn't perfect. I would've preferred it without the aftermarket can and Renthal bars but I did welcome the heated grips.

This bike, like Urry's Hornet, bore evidence of being on its side at some point, namely a slight scratch in the headlight and marks on one of the mirrors. But apart from that she was a little gem.

Going for a basic bike that's almost new instead of a more exotic machine that's older with more miles (the 748 was over 10 grand a decade ago when it was new) was the way to go in my opinion. The Z750 rode like it had just come out of the box; Hogan's Duke rode like it had just come out of the sea.

I know the Z750 is only about 5K new, but this one was only £3500 and it's as good as new. Like the
ZX-9, you could run this bike for a couple of years without fear of any mechanical dramas, only lose a grand in depreciation, and it feels like you're riding a new bike. All this and warm hands! Nowt wrong wi' that!

2002 Honda CB900F Hornet

Urry bought: 2002 Honda CB900 Hornet
Miles: 8000 miles
Tyres: Bridgestone BT020s, half worn
Standard? Crash bungs, gold anodised engine bolts, braided hoses, resprayed
Comments: Signs of being accident-repaired, corrosion on fork bolts and axle, but engine runs a dream

ALL RIGHT, I admit it. I live alone, don't have a bird, let alone kids, and am rapidly approaching 30. Yeah, cheers for reminding me JB. My needs are different to the others.

Above all I want a bike that is fun to ride. I could never own a Deauville or the like simply because they don't make me smile. But, and this is the crux of the matter, I need a solid, reliable bike that will get me to and from work every day.

The problem is I own a Triumph Spitfire car, which is about as reliable as, well, a Triumph Spitfire. So I need a bike that will start every day as it's my primary transport. A fun bike that is reliable, will commute through city traffic, allow me to go on occasional 200-odd mile trips in comfort and, should the (unlikely) situation arise, take a girl on the back. Although with my luck, this isn't a huge consideration.

What did I plump for? Reliable, solid build quality, practical - it has to be a Honda, doesn't it? In fact a Honda Hornet 900. I was torn between the Hornet and a 2002 Fazer 1000 but in the end went for the Hornet because the lack of fairing doesn't bother me and I know the Honda has a sportier chassis.

I've been road testing for four years now, so I've done a fair few miles on both the Hornet and Fazer and know them both fairly well, but only as virtually new bikes. Second-hand was a different prospect.
This Hornet has some right and some very wrong things about it. The good parts were, despite being four years old, the mint finish, and it has some good extras such as crash bungs and braided brake lines. The bad points included a horrific gold anodised engine bolt kit, a bent ignition key... and it had been down the road. Which was a sign to walk away - a sign I chose to ignore because it looked so good.

So to the proof. The engine felt great. Yes, against other naked competition it felt underpowered and a bit weedy, but on its own and on a greasy back road the lovely fuelling, smooth gearbox and mountains of torque were perfect. For town riding the clutch is light, there's decent steering lock, the mirrors work, the riding position's comfortable and it's light enough to make filtering easy. In fact the Hornet would be simply perfect, if this one had been a good one.

Whitham spotted some horrible bodges such as paint-over spray hinting at a DIY repair, which isn't ideal. While this particular bike isn't that good you can pick up a decent, stock, Hornet 900 for £3500, which I thoroughly recommend you do.

1996 Ducati 748

Hogan bought: 1996 Ducati 748
Miles: 28,000, er, kilometres
Tyres: Pirelli Diablos
Standard? All stock, but why on a kilometre clock?
Comments: Looked great from 200 feet, but rear cylinder coated in engine oil and usual wear and tear to fairings

I SPEND A lot of time riding through our congested capital, so my choice would have to be something that could put up with that. I also spend a fair amount of time riding like a twit. I like trying wheelies and generally being stupid. You may be wondering then, why there isn't a tidy two-year-old KTM Duke in the pictures. On paper that's the most logical choice.

However, there's one thing that no amount of knowledge of bikes and bike buying can't overcome: passion. I've been having rudey dreams about Ducati 916s and 748s for over a decade and have wanted one since I was 14. I quite clearly, and endlessly, slurred this to Urry and the others in the bar the night before this test.

The '96 P-reg 748 I found at DK's instantly got me excited and I prematurely pledged that I had found my choice. Outside it was clear to everyone that I had in fact picked what I like to call a 'shitter'. I tried to defend the 748 from the lads who eventually stopped laughing and began firing into the Ducati. My Ducati. But I was fighting a losing battle. I was convinced that if it rode like I thought it was going to then I would have the last laugh.

Pulling on to the dual carriageway I seized my chance to hoik the first wheelie on my dream bike. The
second gear minger that followed was a peach, except it was Whit doing it on his Z750 that I had passed over in favour of a bike that was rapidly disappearing off the list of things I have to own before I die.

I wasn't expecting an absurd amount of power, which was lucky. The wheezing 10-year-old engine was flat all the way through to the rev limiter. But the sound was stunning; like no other. I liked the riding position - at least I would be comfortable while I watched Urry crab up the road on his CB. Every time I got stuck behind JB I nearly choked on the fumes his ZX-9R tourer pumped out on the brakes. But annoyingly Whitham was having a ball on the Z.

The roads we rode didn't suit the 748. It was tying itself in knots. Yet every time I parked it up I couldn't help feeling that everything was rosy. I know I was stupid to expect a bike of this age, in this condition, to deliver anything other than bad news and woe, but... but it's a Ducati, just look at it. For every tired old 748 or 916 going cheap you can guarantee there's a buyer who, like me, has waited a long time to finally be able to afford one.

No matter what Whit says, I'm confident I could polish this 748 , enjoy it then pass it on to another Ducati fantasist without losing money.

Whitham's Verdict

2000 KAWASAKI ZX-9R

The big Kwak would never have been my choice, it just wouldn't suit the kind of riding I do. That said this one was in very good order. Eight thousand miles in six years isn't a lot and everything was tight and wear-free. Out on the road it ran well and did exactly what it says on the tin, but the ZX-9 just ain't my cuppa tea. If this sort of bike does flick ya switch I have no doubt this one would reward you with many trouble-free miles. Keep it sweet and it'd be worth two-and-a-half grand in two or even three years' time. A grand's depreciation in three years? That's cheap motorcycling!

2002 HONDA CB900 HORNET

When John first spotted the Hornet I was a bit jealous. This was exactly what I was looking for. A big, good-looking naked. But after looking a bit closer I decided he was welcome to it. Anodised engine cover bolts and bar-ends were the first signs of trouble - I hate that stuff. The tank had been re-sprayed and there was evidence of a fair bit of careless touching-up where the bike had been on the floor at some point in its life. It looked and felt like it had done twice its 8k.

1996 DUCATI 748

I don't know what mummy's little soldier-boy was thinking when he chose this bike. In my experience, the early 748s were a bit fragile, especially on the electronics side. But blindly going for one, against your better judgement, with the best part of 20K on the clock, that looked like it had been used as a bilge-pump on a North Sea trawler, is asking for trouble.

A 'bit of previous' doesn't come close. The chain was dragging on the floor, it smoked, it leaked oil, and it rattled like an industrial stone-crushing machine. JB said, "it's only the clutch rattling," or at least that's what I think he said, I couldn't hear over the noise. It wasn't even as though only one or two jobs needed doing, it needed a ground-up restoration. Just walk away.

CONCLUSION

We really did enjoy this experience. Despite the pretence, we all felt a thrill in 'buying' these bikes, none more than Whit who ran out of the showroom punching the air convinced he'd bought the best one. In the event two out of four (Whit and JB) were to keep their smiles. Hogan's second thoughts were a result of a slimy, too-tight test venue that didn't suit the less-than-perky 748. And the dawning reality that dream bikes, even bought cheap, cost. Urry made the right choice, only the chosen example wasn't pin-perfect. Proof that you need to do everything right when it comes to buying second-hand, not just some of it.

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