EVEN the rich like to get more for their money. Let’s talk cars, just for a moment. Your average millionaire feels he’s bagged a bargain if he forks out for a £45,000 TVR rather than a £100,000 Ferrari with similar performance. But if he knew about bikes, he’d realise how cruelly he was being ripped off.
He could have even more go for a tenth of the TVR’s price tag – and get insured and be in new leathers. We picked three variations on a high-speed theme – Kawasaki’s famously rapid ZZ-R1100, Honda’s all-time all-rounder CBR1000 and Yamaha’s YZF1000R Thunderace, all of which are available secondhand for less than £4500.
The similarities are clear from the outset. All three are relative porkers compared to cutting-edge sports tackle, all are capable of instant ban motorway speeds, and all three have been in the line-up as long as most of us can remember. And it’s those three factors that make them such a steal to buy secondhand.
With two of these bikes, you don’t have any choice but buy secondhand. The CBR went out of production in 1999, while Kawasaki has just downed tools on the ZZ-R production line as it cranks up production on its successor, the ZZ-R1200. Only the Yamaha is still available new.
And that can be a problem if you’re trying to get hold of one. People tend to hang on to these, and without a stream of new bikes adding to the pool, supplies can be scarce. However, a flick through MCN BikeMart or BikeMart Fortnightly will always turn up a few of each. Just get in there quick. The upside is that once you’ve found one, you’ll find it won’t have dropped in value by a huge amount if you come to sell it.
You certainly couldn’t call a ZZ-R a bad investment. The bike is a legend for longevity and you’ll find plenty to keep you happy while you own it. The moment you get into the seat, you feel at home. The footpegs, bars and clocks are all in the right place and the screen gives plenty of cover. It can be hard work to muscle around at low speeds and buffeting can make it weave if you’re stuck behind an 18-wheeler on the motorway, but it’s the master of making the horizon become the view in the mirrors in no time.
It pulls hard from tickover, so you don’t have to trouble the slick gearbox too much. However, wind the pace up and it gets a bit wallowy in long, sweeping bends. There’s more than enough stopping power, but you have to use it with caution as it’s more likely to lock the heavy bike’s front end than stand it on its nose.
Any used ZZ-R is a good buy as there were few changes apart from cosmetics during its 11-year lifespan and it has a solid reputation. That means there are plenty of bargains to be had if you’re prepared to look at older bikes – we found a 1991 model for £1800 in BikeMart. If you’re planning serious miles, the bigger fuel tank on post-1992 models could take you to your hotel without an extra stop.
But newer examples are just as much of a bargain. The bike we tested here is up for £4500 at D&K in Staffordshire. The 11,000 mileage is fairly high for the year, but the motor is good for it. We also came across a 2001 import bike with the final " D9 " suffix for £5995. And bear in mind that the new ZZ-R1200 will tempt many 1100 owners to part with their bikes, which will also lead to a drop in price. The free market – ain’t it wonderful?
The Thunderace feels sporty after the Kwak. The steering is lighter, the pegs are higher and the bars lower, though the wide tank seems to force your knees a long way apart. The riding position puts you much more over the front end, though it’s still more of a " sit-in " rather than " sit-on " kind of bike. The suspension is a lot firmer, too, and it holds its line more precisely, while the engine gives you more of a kick in the pants.
Braking, too, marks out the Yamaha as the sports bike of the bunch, with good feedback and power. Sharper geometry really drives the tyre into the Tarmac when you yank the lever.
But just because the Ace looks more modern and is still available new, don’t expect to be falling over them. We only found one on sale privately in BikeMart – and at £2650 for a 1997 model, it’s amazing it hadn’t been snapped up, too. Even virtually brand new bikes won’t bankrupt you – the CAP Green Book trade guide quotes £4200 for a secondhand 2001 bike. If you find one, that rarity works in your favour, as you won’t be thousands out of pocket when you come to sell it unless you hang on to it for 10 years.
Unfortunately, the chances are it will be looking a bit tatty by then, as it’s not as well-finished as the other two. But though its appearance may embarrass you, you won’t be ashamed by its performance. Unless you’re on a track it’s easily capable of keeping up with your mates on more cutting-edge sports bikes.
The CBR combines some of the qualities of both of the other bikes. The high footpegs and low screen are like the Yamaha and the bars are comfortably placed like the ZZ-R.
However, the overall feel is distinctly ZZ-R – including the way you feel like you’re pootling along, then glance at the clocks and realise you’re well into three figures.
It isn’t as precise in turns as the Yamaha, but it feels surprisingly nimble, while also holding its line well. Use the brakes hard or cover some bumpy roads, however, and the soft suspension will pitch you back and forth like a ship in heavy weather. The seat is also flatter than Holland and there’s nothing to keep you in place – you’ll be straddling the tank during an emergency.
As two years have passed since Honda decided there was no future for the CBR with the Blackbird in its line-up, it’s the rarest of the lot – especially if you’re searching for the last F-X model. We even had trouble getting ours for this test.
Older ones are more common, though, and since there have been no major changes since optional ABS was introduced in 1992 and it has the usual Honda build quality, there’s not much advantage to owning a newer bike. On the other hand, there are plenty of financial benefits to going for one that was in its prime when the Happy Mondays were in the charts – a trawl through BikeMart turned up a 1991 model for just £1850. Many include full luggage – a godsend if you plan to tour.
If you buy one of these bikes, be honest about the riding you do and you’ll find a bargain. If you do thousands of motorway miles, the ZZ-R should float your boat. If you like your tour to take in some hard-riding switchbacks, it’s the Ace, which also wins if you need a bike that looks modern. And if you want to tackle tighter roads in a bit more comfort, and don’t mind a bland-looking machine, go for the CBR. Simple as that.