Top A2 licence-friendly bikes for 2021
If you're 19 or older, after a CBT, theory test and two-part practical assessment you can gain an A2 licence, which allows you to ride a bike of up to 35kW (roughly 47bhp) without displaying L-plates. And you can even take a passenger!
- Related: Best motorcycle training aids
- Related: Best 125cc sportsbikes for trackdays
- Related: Learn to ride a motorbike with MCN
As a new rider, what are the best A2 compliant motorcycles?
There are many bikes built specifically to hit that power limit. Often affordable, due to being built in the Far East, A2-legal machines are also light, agile and bags of fun, delivering performance that makes them more than capable of matching motorway speeds if required. They also make very economical second bikes for those with a full motorcycle licence looking for a weekday workhorse.
Here are our top A2-compliant bikes, straight from the crate.
The best A2 motorcycles in 2021:
- Honda CBR500R
- BMW G310R
- Ducati Scrambler Sixty2
- Honda CB500X
- Honda CMX500 Rebel
- Kawasaki Ninja 400
- KTM 390 Duke
- Royal Enfield Interceptor 650/Continental 650
- Yamaha MT-03
- Yamaha R3
- Honda CRF250L/Rally
- Royal Enfield Himalayan
Spec: 471cc / 47bhp / 194kg / 785mm seat height
An excellent introduction to the world of sportsbikes, with a big bike feel and enough power from its purpose-built, easy to use twin-cylinder engine to keep even experienced riders entertained.
The sportiest of the three Honda 500 models was introduced in 2013 alongside the naked CB500F and adventure-styled CB500X, it was updated with an aggressive new look for 2016, with LED lighting, larger fuel tank, adjustable forks and new exhaust, and has been updated again for 2019. All are great bikes. A solid all-rounder with a big bike feel and decent handling.
Buying advice: Corrosion due to poor quality fasteners is common but there are very few mechanical issues. Check the bearings well as they did skimp on grease in the factory, and be vigilant for crash damage.
Spec: 313cc / 34bhp / 158kg / 785mm seat height
The Indian-built G310R is specifically aimed to tempt new riders into the BMW family, and it does a good job. At its heart is a 313cc, single-cylinder, 4v liquid-cooled engine with double overhead camshafts and fuel injection, plus there’s inverted forks, ABS and four-piston brake calipers.
The result is attractive, light, easy to manage at low speed and it even has a sporty side when you push it hard. And if you want an adventure version, there’s now the G310GS, too.
Buying advice: BMW have kept costs down by designing and engineering the G310R at their HQ in Munich but building it in India, and on the whole, quality is good. Clutch and gearbox can be a little tricky at low speed, though.
Spec: 399cc / 41bhp / 183kg / 790mm seat height
The Sixty2 is Ducati’s A2-compliant version of its hugely successful Scrambler retro roadster range. It’s basically the popular 800cc air-cooled Scrambler in 400cc form with a few budget-oriented changes such as narrower tyres, conventional forks and slightly more basic spec and cosmetic details. But despite the smaller, 41bhp engine (down from 75bhp) and more basic chassis, it still rides, looks and feels like a premium product with plenty of style and class.
Buying advice: Cost reductions are evidenced by the traditional Showa 41mm forks in place of the bigger inverted units on the 803cc Scrambler, but it’s otherwise very close in terms of class and feel to the existing range.
Spec: 471cc / 47bhp / 197kg / 830mm seat height
First introduced in 2013 alongside the CBR500R sportster and CB500F roadster, the X is the 'adventure' take on Honda’s A2-specific 500cc twin and as such is a great option for taller riders or those wanting that globetrotting style.
The engine and chassis are easy yet useful, it’s well built, practical and stylish and for 2019 became even more of an adventurer with a larger, 19in front wheel and longer-travel suspension – although the earlier version is good, too.
Buying advice: As with the CBR500R there’s little to fear: the X is well-built, durable and reliable although you should inspect closely for corrosion and damage on older versions.
Spec: 471cc / 45bhp / 190kg / 690mm seat height
Later custom addition to Honda’s A2 500cc twin family, the Rebel may not have the looks or authenticity of American custom V-twins but is a great introduction to biking.
The retuned twin is gruntier and easier than ever, the new frame gives a ridiculously low seat height for shorter riders, and the quality and all-round ability are second to none. And if you’re not completely sold on the looks, you’ll be happy to learn there are plenty of cosmetic accessories available, too.
Honda updated the CMX500 Rebel for 2020 with revised suspension internals for an improved ride, a Euro5 friendly 471cc parallel-twin engine - complete with a slipper clutch, LED lighting and more.
Buying advice: Honda’s parallel twin motor is proven and understressed and build quality is good. As long as it’s been looked after you should have nothing to fear here.
Spec: 399cc / 44.3bhp / 168kg / 785mm seat height
Replacing the already excellent Ninja 300 in 2018, Kawasaki’s racy 400 is a genuine sportsbike in every respect; it has character, great handling and a superb parallel twin-cylinder engine. It’s also light and comfortable enough to be a useable all-rounder. It may be A2-friendly, but that shouldn’t stop someone with a full licence giving serious consideration to a test ride. It’s fairly new so used examples aren’t cheap, but the older 300 version is worth consideration, too.
Buying advice: Kawasaki’s reliability is practically beyond question these days, and if looked after the Ninja 400 should be pretty much bombproof. Fit and finish is in line with far more expensive models and the overall feel is of a quality item.
Spec: 373cc / 44bhp / 147kg / 830mm seat height
This is one bike for A2 licence holders to get excited about. The 390 Duke is fantastic to ride, and while it’s not as sporty or exciting to look at as the sporty RC390, it makes up for it with character and technology. There’s even a range of Power Parts tuning accessories out there to personalise your bike.
Buying advice: Servicing and maintenance can be costly to factor that into your calculations. Our owners’ reviews don’t show any prevailing problems.
Spec: 648cc / 47bhp / 202kg / 806mm seat height
A 650 for less than £6k? That’s right, the Royal Enfield Twins - the hugely popular Interceptor and the sportier and hence more niche Continental GT - represent some of the best value for money motorcycling on sale. For your money you get retro styling, an air-cooled motor and a chassis tuned in the UK for lively, engaging handling.
Buying advice: The OE Pirelli Phantom tyres aren’t great, and swapping them transforms the ride. It’s a simple bike to work on if you have basic tools.
Spec: 321cc / 42bhp / 168kg / 780mm seat height
Taking the parallel twin YZF-R3 as a base, in 2016 Yamaha stripped its fairing off, added funky styling and created the MT-03. While not as popular as the MT-07, the MT-03 is a decent enough city bike with a peppy parallel twin motor that gives you more than enough fun, and if you want some bendy weekend scratching the handling is superb, too. The seat height is a workably middling 780mm, which should suit a broad range of riders, while ABS will give a useful safety net.
Yamaha updated the MT-03 for 2020 with new styling, front forks, an LCD dash, a revised riding position and tweaked rear shock, with altered preload and damping settings, plus a stiffer spring.
Buying advice: There aren’t that many major faults, so buy on finish and consumables. Avoid any bikes where corrosion has taken hold and inspect items such as the tyres, chain and sprockets and brake pads for wear.
Spec: 321cc / 41.4bhp / 169kg / 780mm seat height
First introduced in 2015, the stylish, twin-cylinder Yamaha R3 sits between the KTM RC390 single and Kawasaki Ninja 400 twin in terms of A2 sportster performance. It’s not quite as slick and fast as the Kawasaki but on the flipside it is more of a substantial and practical machine than the KTM.
Updated for 2019 with new styling, suspension and dash, it looks really good, too. One drawback, however, is the latest version isn’t exactly what you would call cheap.
Buying advice: The 'made in Indonesia' sticker may concern some, but the finish is generally good. Look out for corrosion and any signs of abuse or crash damage, though.
What about an A2 adventure bike for tackling trails?
If you’re keen to take your A2 bike off road, there are a couple of options out there that satisfy the right A2 restrictions for power to weight ratio requirements.
First up we have the ultra-reliable Honda CRF250L and Rally, which offer brilliant suspension for trail-bashing but also enough manners to make the commute a reasonably pleasant experience.
However, for even better value for money, you could also consider the Royal Enfield Himilayan, which features true adventure weather protection and a decent specification - just don’t expect it to do particularly well on the motorway… its power output is more suited to lower-speed riding.