Maximum fun on a minimum budget - MCN's expert guide to used bikes to enjoy year-round

Shopping on a budget for a bike you are going to use 12 months a year, whatever the weather – rather than tucking it away in the garage for sunny use only – doesn’t mean that you have to put up with something dull.

Far from it, as the selection of machines on this spread proves.

A budget of £1500 will see you riding away on a decent Fazer, Hornet or SV650 and there is real fun to be had on a machine that won’t leave you feeling guilty if it’s not spotless.

So what are the best buys and what are the pitfalls to look out for?

Big-selling middleweight does it all at an affordable price

Yamaha Fazer 600

Spec: 95bhp / 599cc / 800mm seat height / 205kg kerb weight

An incredibly popular middleweight in its day, the Fazer’s half-fairing makes it more practical than some rivals and when combined with its deeply padded seat and upright riding position, it all adds up to an excellent all-rounder. Although not as sporty as the likes of the Hornet due to its soft suspension, the Fazer can still be enjoyed on B-roads and has a good reputation for reliability. Both cheap and plentiful in the used market, the Fazer makes for a great hack that won’t let you down.

Yamaha Fazer 600 used buying advice

● The retaining nut for the front sprocket has a very shallow thread depth, meaning it is susceptible to undoing itself, leading to the sprocket and chain working loose. There is an updated nut with a deeper thread but if the thread on the output shaft is worn, the engine is effectively a write-off.
● Check the swingarm for rust, they rot from the inside out, generally around the area where the axel runs through it.
● Post 2003 models are the ones to go for (if a bit more cash) as they had bigger fuel tanks and more pleasing styling.

’06-’20 Kawasaki ER-6n – £1,000 – £3,200

Quirky and fun parallel-twin that’s a perfect commuter tool

Kawasaki ER-6n

Spec: 71bhp / 649cc / 785mm seat height / 204kg kerb weight

Kawasaki’s mad-looking ER-6n arrived in 2006 with a peppy parallel twin that was heaps of fun to ride and also very forgiving for newer riders. A great city commuter, it nips through gaps with ease, takes virtually no effort to manoeuvre and has lots of instant punch to get you away from the lights. And out of town its agile chassis is a hoot on B-roads. The ER-6f variant adds a full fairing that likes to rattle…

Kawasaki ER-6n used buying advice

● Early models can crack their frame welds on the right-hand side where the engine mounts if dropped. Flaking paint or rust in this area are a tell-tale sign.
● Check for a misfire on a test ride as a faulty side stand cut-out switch or throttle position sensor can lead to intermittent poor running.
● The exhaust can crack where the header pipes join the collector box.

’98 – ’20 Honda Hornet 600 – £750 – £3,200

Re-worked CBR power created a cheeky naked alternative

Honda Hornet 600

Spec: 95bhp / 5990cc / 790mm seat height / 197kg kerb weight

The Hornet’s re-tuned CBR600F liquid-cooled engine was housed in an agile chassis that injected real spirit into the machine… as well as a stack of vibrations, hunger for revs and a poor fuel range. The early Hornet was exciting to ride but also frustrating due to its peanut sized tank (later models had bigger capacities). If you want more practicality, the Hornet S (2000-2004) adds a half-fairing.

Honda Hornet 600 used buying advice

● In 2003 Honda’s immobiliser (HISS) was fitted as standard, so always check you have a spare key as you will need it to code new keys. If you lose your only key, life can become expensive.
● The older CBR600F engine has a weak cam chain tensioner, so listen out for a rattle on start-up that doesn’t go away.
● A rough-feeling motor probably requires its carbs balancing.

1999 – 2002 Suzuki SV650 – £600 – £2,500

Huge-seller with one of the sweetest engines ever made

Suzuki SV650

Spec: 72bhp / 645cc / 800mm seat height / 175kg kerb weight

Suzuki have sold close to half a million SV650 models since its launch in 1999 and you can see why. The SV’s easy-going nature and spirited V-twin motor set it aside from its rivals. Reliable, fun and great handling, the SV also gives you a choice of models with the half-faired S being more practical, while the less common naked N is a bit more aggressive looking.

Suzuki SV650 used buying advice

● The front cylinder is located in a direct line of fire from road crud, water gets trapped and causes the plug to fail, leading to a misfire.
● Always listen out for any knocking sounds and watch for oil smoke on start-up. The SV has a very small oil capacity (just 2.75 litres) and that makes it easy to run it low, especially on older bikes that may sip a bit of oil, potentially harming the big-end.
● The SV is popular with new riders so check for crash damage.

1995 – 2004 Suzuki Bandit – £600 – £2,500

The bike that got an entire generation onto two wheels

Suzuki Bandit

Spec: 77bhp / 599cc / 800mm seat height / 220kg kerb weight

A ground-breaking bike, the Bandit 600 brought proper handling and performance to the masses at a time when its middleweight rivals were pretty poor. Despite now being quite old-school, this basic nature means that faults are easy to fix and the air-cooled motor is very solid. The Bandit is a good workhorse (especially in half-faired S guise) that is reliable and cheap.

Suzuki Bandit used buying advice

● The Bandit eats headstock bearings so get the front wheel off the ground and check for any roughness in the bike’s steering.
● If the paint on the frame gets chipped, rust can form. Check the whole frame paying attention to the area behind the front wheel and around the headstock.
● The suspension on the Bandit is quite low-spec, so check for leaking forks seals and a duff shock (generally with a seized preload adjuster too).