Most popular all-rounder: Suzuki Bandit 600
The Bandit has been a phenomenal sales success for Suzuki. That means there are plenty about, so there’s no reason to put up with a ropey or rattly one, unless it’s a real bargain.
The cost of a new Bandit has always been keen as most of its major parts were seen elsewhere – the oil and air-cooled engine first lived in the GSX600F and the wheels were taken from the RF600, for example. And that’s reflected in used prices.
It’s a touch less capable than its nearest rival, Yamaha’s Fazer. It’s not as nimble and, with a top speed of 120mph, it’s almost 20mph down, too. But it’s better on fuel – returning up to 55mpg – and it’s cheaper, too.
The Bandit is within the budget of most would-be owners, and running one doesn’t cost much, either. Many firms place it in a lower insurance group than the Fazer and consumables are cheaper.
But there are a few things to know before you pay up. The fork stanchions can pit prematurely, which is both unsightly and harmful to fork seals. Fork springs can lose a lot of their damping quickly and some owners complain of a soggy front end after just a year. That’s quickly followed by a loose rear, as the spring begins to lose compliancy.
The exhausts are prone to corrosion and often swopped for aftermarket ones, while the brakes are from the cheaper end of the scale and fur up readily, making the pistons drag and stick. The drill pattern on the front discs can lead to cracks between the holes. Pattern discs are about £120 a pair.
Gearbox problems are rare, but can affect bikes run on low-quality oil, so ask the seller what lube he uses, or check his service receipts for an oil change at every service.
Early Bandits sometimes suffered carb icing and Suzuki quickly made heating kits available to cure the problem. All 1995 machines should be cured by now, but it’s worth checking if the mod has been carried out. Early bikes were also given modified coils to prevent misfires in the wet.
Don’t forget there are naked and half-faired versions. Both cost around the same secondhand and performance is similar, too. But while the half-faired version makes much better sense for all-weather riding, the naked Bandit is generally regarded as the more attractive bike.
All-Rounder bargain: Yamaha Fazer 600
In the same way that Suzuki’s Bandit marked the death knell of the GSX600F, Yamaha’s Fazer was about a million per cent better than the firm’s previous middleweight all-rounder – the flat, lifeless Diversion.
A new Fazer is terrific value for money if you can find a discounted one (advertisers in BikeMart are offering them for as little as £4599). Private, however, they’re a steal, with just £2750 netting you a decent one.
The engine is a willing revver with the kind of power delivery that encourages you to ride it harder and harder. It has smaller carbs than the Thundercat motor it’s based on, but it’s still good for a true 140mph.
Though that encourages hooliganism, you can ride them sensibly if you want, thanks to an acceptable spread of torque and great road manners.
The Fazer’s nimble chassis – it has a cost-saving steel double-cradle frame – makes it ideally suited to fast, twisty roads as well as city commuting, while the screen and fairing make motorway riding a doddle, too. It’s also big and robust enough to make a more than adequate tourer, with a decent seat and grabrail for pillions, too.
Shorter riders get on well with the Fazer, thanks to a moderate seat height of 31.1in.
The brakes are amazing – they’re straight off Yamaha’s R1. Give the Fazer much more stopping power and you’ll be re-arranging your nose on the inside of your visor.
Dealers and owners alike reckon the bike has very few weak points. The main negative is the clutch, which is clunky when cold and grabby and vague when warm. They sometimes pack up, but you can replace the plates for around £120, including labour.
Early Fazers were also panned for having a pathetic headlamp, but the latest one is much better. Swingarm linkages need to be kept greased and the exhaust downpipes corrode readily, while fork legs can pit and seals occasionally blow on wheelied bikes.
Expect to get 35 to 40 miles to the gallon and around 4000 miles from a medium-compound rear tyre. Sticky rubber is likely to be worn out in 2000 miles or less, though fronts will last much longer.
Others to look at:
Honda Hornet 600
Appropriately for the name, the Hornet is buzzy, not to mention poor on fuel and a pain at speed on the motorway if you get the unfaired one. But it’s nimble, quick and fun on back roads. And it’s cheap. PRICE: £2500-£4000
Ducati Monster 600/750/900
The 600 is underpowered, but the 750 and 900 feel about right. Ground clearance could be better thanks to low exhausts. Trend-setting styling, but average brakes and handling. PRICE: 1500-£5000