Expert guide to buying your first big motorbike used

Buying your first big bike can be a daunting experience. These five machines make for handy ‘first big bikes’ that have enough power to ensure you won’t be left lacking should you wish to embark on a long-distance trip but won’t be intimidating either.

Armed with a budget of just £2000 you can find some really great used bikes but, as you will probably be being from a private seller and not a dealer, you need to be extra vigilant when making the purchase.

And don’t forget, you can check out our pick of the best first motorbikes for those that have just passed.

Oddball looks but peppy and fun parallel-twin performance

Kawasaki ER-6n

Spec: 71bhp / 649cc / 785mm seat height / 196kg kerb weight

Way back in 2006, Kawasaki released the parallel-twin ER-6n. Light, cheap and huge amounts of fun, the quirky-looking ER was a massive seller and went on to form the basis of a whole parallel-twin range. A great city bike that handles remarkably well on B-roads, the ER has a lovely low seat, very friendly engine and great natural balance that makes it extremely reassuring to ride. Plentiful and therefore cheap in the used market, it’s well worth considering.

Kawasaki ER-6n used buying advice

● Check the weld around the right-hand engine mounting bracket because it has a habit of failing, which is potentially a very dangerous situation.
● The area where the exhaust’s twin downpipes enter the collector box is a known weak spot that often fails, leading to holes in the exhaust. As it is a single-piece system, you will need a whole new exhaust to pass an MoT.
● Be very wary of any poor running. The wiring loom around the headstock can rub through, leading to electrical issues that generally begin as a misfire.

Suzuki SV650S (1999-’15) – £1,000 – £4,000

Baby boomer V-twin that just keeps on rolling regardless

Suzuki SV650S

Spec: 69bhp / 645cc / 800mm seat height / 169kg kerb weight

With TL1000-inspired looks Suzuki’s evergreen V-twin SV650S has always been a great choice for anyone looking to buy their first big bike. Incredibly impressive handling and the narrowness of the engine means that the already low seat height feels even lower. Although parallel twins are now the engine of choice, the SV’s V-twin is a little gem of a motor that won’t let you down while its chassis has bags of longevity thanks to its sporting side.

Suzuki SV650S used buying advice

● If the bike has a misfire, it is almost certainly down to the front cylinder as water gets trapped in the spark plug area.
● Higher-mileage SV engines can develop cam chain tensioner issues that sees both requiring changing.
● Theft is an issue, so inspect the bike’s frame and engine numbers carefully and see if a single key operates the ignition and fuel cap.

Honda Hornet (1998-2006) – £1,000 – £3,200

Sporty option with decent build quality and funky exhausts

Honda Hornet

Spec: 95bhp / 599cc / 790mm seat height / 176kg kerb weight

Honda’s Hornet has always targeted the sportier end of the middleweight market. Powered by a re-tuned CBR600F motor, the early generations of Hornet are pleasingly basic and although undeniably a bit revvy and vibey to ride, have lots of spirit. Initial criticisms about a poor fuel range were cured (partially…) in 2003 when a larger tank was fitted.

Honda Hornet used buying advice

  • Camchain tensioner issues are common so listen for a rattle (worse when the engine’s cold) when the bike is held at 5000rpm. Fitting a new one is around £80 plus £50 for a tensioner.
  • If the bike runs roughly, assume that the carbs need balancing. It’s not that hard a task to perform but makes a big difference to how the bike feels.
  • If you want a bit more practicality, Honda built a half-faired Hornet S from 2000 to 2004.

Yamaha XJ6 (2009-2012) – £1,500 – £4,000

A simplistic, charming and relaxed naked with plenty of style

Yamaha XJ6

Spec: 77bhp / 599cc / 785mm seat height / 216kg kerb weight

Yamaha’s budget-targeted commuter bike is actually a very good option for anyone looking to buy a solid, dependable and easy-going machine. Based around the older R6 engine, but heavily re-tuned for a more user-friendly attitude, the Yamaha XJ6 is a great workhorse that comes in a variety of guises. Thanks to a re-worked clutch it has none of the FZ6’s annoying snatch and the fuel injection is more refined.

Yamaha XJ6 used buying advice

  • The exhaust collector box is made from mild steel and rusts badly from the inside out.
  • Brake calipers are prone to seized sliders. Rebuild kits are only about £30 a side.
  • There are three version of the XJ6 – the naked XJ6, half-faired XJ6 Diversion and fully-faired XJ6 Diversion F. Only the Diversion models get ABS as standard.

Kawasaki 250R (2008-’11) – £1,500 – £3,500

Mini Ninja packs sporty lightweight fun at a cheeky low price

Kawasaki 250R

Spec: 32bhp / 249cc / 775mm seat height / 165kg kerb weight

The Ninja 250R initially wasn’t set to be imported into Europe but it sold so well in America that Kawasaki changed their minds. This lightweight sportsbike has an impressively roomy riding position and its parallel-twin motor has enough pep to get you up to 70mph, possibly even more. A really charming bike with bags of spirit, the Ninja has loads of fans globally.

Kawasaki 250R used buying advice

● Mild steel exhaust rots through. Check it for holes, thankfully a new system is only about £150.
● Build quality isn’t the best out there. Be wary of seized fasteners and excessive corrosion.
● The rear caliper is prone to seizing. Check it is working by lifting the rear and listening for any sounds of the pads dragging when the wheel is spinning. Caliper rebuild kits are about £30 with used calipers roughly £50 if the problem has gone too far.