The route to big bike ownership is complicated. Once you’ve passed your full, unrestricted A licence, either at the age of 21 or older via the progressive route through the lesser licence categories, or at the age of 24 or over via Direct Access, you’re finally qualified to ride anything you fancy.
Obviously the world’s your oyster but, particularly if you’ve come up through the smaller categories, we’d recommend moving up to a middleweight machine of up to around 100bhp, as a sensible stepping stone to full-power bikes. Even these can take a little getting used to.
Choices range from funky nakeds to practical sports tourers, retros and adventure bikes, all with their own pros and cons and many available both new and used to appeal to all budgets.
Here are MCN's best first big motorbikes. Jump to
Price: £4200 (used) - £7950 (new)
Spec: 853cc / 76bhp / 224kg / 815mm seat height
There’s no doubting BMW’s allure when it comes to adventure bikes, as the success of their bigger 1200 and 1250GS testifies, but the German marque’s smaller middleweights, the parallel twin F-series, share that credibility. Available in both 700 and 800 form since 2013 (although both, confusingly, are 798cc), then updated to 750 and 850 form in 2018 (although both are now 853cc), it’s the smaller versions, with a softer tune and less-intimidating proportions and price, which appeal most as first big bikes. Flexible, easy, stylish and with as much spec as you can afford.
Build quality is superb, paint finishes and chunky plastics are top notch and the attention to detail, from fasteners to silky switchgear, is all you’d expect from a BMW.
Price: £6000 (used) - £8100 (new)
Spec: 803cc / 74bhp / 193kg / 805mm seat height
The 797 version of Ducati’s legendary Monster was conceived as an entry-level Ducati and it delivers just that. With its air-cooled V-twin motor and pleasing lack of gadgetry it’s that most rare of modern bike – a turn-key fun machine. It is simple, fun, handles well thanks to its light weight and is pleasingly devoid of modern electrical assists and yet full of Italian roadster character. Just get on and enjoy without the need to read the instruction manual!
As long as it’s been looked after you should have nothing to worry about. The air-cooled engine is reliable, has pleasingly long service intervals of 7500 miles, and the quality of finish appears high.
2014-2019 Honda CB650F/R
Price: £3700 (used) - £6999 (new)
Spec: 649cc / 92bhp / 202kg / 810mm seat height
The spiritual successor to the old 600 Hornet was reintroduced in 2014 as a naked, roadster version of the four-cylinder CBR650F and has much of the original’s appeal – that being smooth, brisk, four-cylinder performance, unintimidating ergonomics and stacks of naked style. First versions had shades of CB400F about them but it became edgier in 2017 before a further, significant update with new clocks, ‘Neo Café’ styling and other tweaks for 2019.
The inline four motor is tried and tested and there are no CB650F-related horror stories so all should be well. Build quality appears fairly high so you can confidently expect it to run and run.
2011-2019 Honda CBR650F/R
Price: £2900 (used) - £7729 (new)
Spec: 649cc / 92bhp / 207kg / 810mm seat height
Updated-for-2019 version of the old CBR650F, Honda’s middleweight, four-cylinder sports-all-rounder is intended as a spiritual successor to the hugely popular CBR600F of the 1990s – and now, with updated, Fireblade-inspired looks, new digital dash and further refinements, it’s closer than ever. In truth, the original 2011, 600cc version did most of that as well, but suffered mostly from bland styling. Updated twice since (in 2014 and 2017) it’s easy to ride, versatile and sporty.
CBRs have an excellent reputation for reliability and the CBR650 is based around the tried and trusted RR engine in a lower state of tune, so all should be well on that front. The build quality is pleasingly good.
Price: £4500 (used) - £7500 (new)
Spec: 649cc / 67bhp / 193kg / 790mm seat height
2017 successor to the old ER-6f, the parallel twin Ninja is basically a Z650 with a fairing and added sportiness – but there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s added Ninja style, a lighter, more nimble chassis, a more flexible and friendly engine, added versatility and extra class thanks to the attractive new clocks, decent mirrors, span-adjustable levers on both sides and even a three-way height adjustable screen. If you want a sporty mid-weight but don’t want a bulky four it’s a tempting buy.
The ER-6f on which it’s based has been mechanically solid with no major scare stories, while Kawasaki really seems to have upped the quality, particularly in terms of finishes and detailing.
Price: £5600 (used) - £8100 (new)
Spec: 900cc / 64bhp / 198kg / 790mm seat height (new version)
Updated significantly for 2019, the Street Twin was first launched in 2016 as the more budget, novice-friendly version of Triumph’s then all-new Bonneville retro roadster family. Originally making 54bhp it’s now been boosted to a more healthy 64bhp, which increases the appeal and injects some excitement to the bike, whilst retaining its ease-of-use and rider-friendliness. The result does everything you want from a modern classic, but now with improved braking, comfort, safety and – more importantly – performance.
Reliability shouldn’t be a problem as the motor is based on the previous model with lighter internals. Also, the Triumph’s service intervals remain at 10,000 miles.
Price: £3500 (used) - £5599 (new)
Spec: 645cc / 75bhp / 197kg / 785mm seat height
Originally introduced in 1999 Suzuki’s middleweight V-twin has proved a brilliant ‘first big bike’ over the years for its combination of ease, fun, practicality and value. Fully reworked and re-introduced in 2016, all of that remains true today. It’s a fun bike that will appeal to new riders and give older ones a thrill, has impressive new features and also undercuts its main rivals on price. It also handles well, is unintimidating and there’s even a semi-retro ‘X’ version.
The engine has been around for 16 years and there are plenty of long-in-the-tooth examples bearing testament to tip-top reliability. The chances of the new tune making the bike less reliable are very slim.
Price: £3500 (used) - £7900 (new)
Spec: 645cc / 71bhp / 216kg / 830mm seat height
The original V-Strom, a taller, adventure-styled version of Suzuki’s brilliant SV650 V-twin, was a goodie back in 2004, but it’s the later versions, from 2011 and particularly from 2017, when it was fully updated again, you should be most interested in. It might not be the latest or flashiest, but it’s got a great, flexible engine, decent handling, real world ergonomics and all the tech you need for a great price. If you’re after an adventure-styled middleweight, for the money, there’s none better.
The SV650-based engine has been around since the nineties and is pretty much bulletproof. Suzuki used to have a slightly iffy reputation when it came to finishing, but that’s no longer the case.
Price: £5800 (used) - £8000 (new)
Spec: 765cc / 111.5bhp / 198kg / 810mm seat height
The Street Triple, basically an unfaired, roadster version of the 675 Daytona sportster, has proved a huge success for the British firm since the debut of the original 675cc version in 2007 and all remain great bikes. But it’s the base ‘S’ version of the updated 765cc version, introduced in 2017, we’re most concerned with. This bike is accessible and affordable yet still manages to be huge fun and characterful, thanks to its brilliant three-cylinder engine.
Ride quality is a step below the RS version’s Öhlins and a constant low frequency drumming over bumps accompanies a 40mph ride in town. But the edges are rounded off and it doesn’t feel cheap.
Price: £3800 (used) - £6500 (new)
Spec: 698cc / 74bhp / 182kg / 805mm seat height
First introduced in 2014, Yamaha’s lightweight, novice-friendly but great fun MT-07 has proved a Europe-wide sensation. Its parallel twin motor is flexible and punchy, its handling light yet involving and it’s a decent all-rounder, too. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, in 2018 it was improved with uprated suspension and tweaked styling. Pound-for-pound, this is one of the best bikes on the market and likely to continue to be a huge success for Yamaha.
Build quality is up to Yamaha’s usual high standards, although fasteners can suffer if neglected, while the engine has proven reliability. Check for novice dings and scrapes, though.
Getting used to your first big bike
So, you’ve hunted through the ads, visited the dealers and sat on loads of bikes in showrooms. You've even managed to persuade a dealer to take you out on the pillion and you've splashed four figures on your first big bike. Now it's ready for you to ride away, but you're looking at it with a mixture of excitement and nervousness, wondering if you're going to be able to handle it.
The trickiest times on a new big bike, are those first few starts when you're getting used to the weight and the engine's slow-running characteristics, and the first few times you twist the throttle wide open to sample the extra engine performance.
So, it's a faster machine which means you take it slower. Sit astride it and turn the bars from side to side to feel the weight of the bike. Hold the front brake on and pump the forks up and down a few times.
Make sure the engine is thoroughly warmed up so there isn't the chance of an unexpected stall and pull the clutch lever in and out a few times to get the feel for it.
When you pull away for the first time, have your route planned in your head already, without complicated junctions and heavy traffic. Adjust your mirrors and practice a few lifesavers before you start as tugging at the bars could set up a nerve-wracking wobble.
Short shift into second and third, using the bottom of the rev range where the power produced is comparable to your previous bike. Get the feel of the steering by weaving gently (in your own lane) and start braking as early as possible.
When you get to a stretch of road you know well that is light on possible hazards like side junctions, that's the time to explore the upper reaches of the rev range. Get it rolling in third gear, maybe fourth, then open the throttle wide.
Watch the needle climb, and feel where the power starts to build quickly. Get to know that engine and the way the rest of the bike performs and you'll have a great time.
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