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Bike chooser: Big retros

Published: 07 March 2013

Updated: 20 November 2014

I fancy a good-looking air-cooled retro bike, what are my options? I’m looking at spending around £4-5,000 and need one that is practical as I’d like to take my wife on the back for Sunday jaunts to the seaside.
James, email

Suzuki GSX1400, £2,500 - £5,500
The GSX is physically the biggest of the air-cooled retro bikes and is a machine with one hell of a street presence. If you want a bike to turn heads then the Suzuki is the bike to go for, but as well as looking good it is remarkably practical to boot. The monsterous 1402cc inline four engine makes a thumping 91ftlb of torque and this, combined with the extremely large pillion seat, makes it perfect for stress free two-up riding. Early GSXs came with twin pipes, something that altered in 2005 for a single pipe look, but other than this the bike remained unchanged from its launch in 2002 to 2008 when it was dropped from Suzuki’s range. Although a bit heavy at low speed, owners rave about the GSX and there are lots of forums should you wish to know any more about the bike. When looking at a second hand machine pay attention to the shocks as they are a weak spot and also check for warped discs, stopping a 228kg GSX can take its toll on the braking system…

Yamaha XJR1300, £2,000 - £8,000
THE XJR1300 had been around since 1999 (1995 if you count the XJR1200) and other than fuel-injection has hardly altered. Sportier and lighter than the GSX, the XJR is equally comfortable but lacks the Suzuki’s grunt. If you are looking at commuting through traffic the XJR is the better option and due to its long life span there are a few bargains to be had. If you can stretch the budget look for ex-demos, they are going for silly money.

Ducati GT1000, £4,500 - £6,000
The Ducati GT is often an often overlooked bike that is brilliant fun to ride, although in typical Ducati fashion also sometimes equally irritating. The air-cooled 992cc V-twin engine packs a decent punch but it is in the handling department that the GT beats the competition. The chassis is sporty enough to keep up with modern machinery although it is unlikely your pillion will appreciate the firm suspension or lack of padding in the seat… Buy it for yourself and just put up with the gripes from the wife.

Triumph Scrambler, £3,600 to £7,000
You can always go for the iconic Bonneville, but why not think a bit differently and instead buy a Scrambler? This off-road styled bike has the 270-degree crank from the Speedmaster, something that gives it a bit more character than the Bonnie. The riding position is extremely comfortable and although it’s not the fastest bike in the world, it is pleasant to ride and looks great. Early Scramblers came with carbs while 2008-onwards bikes have fuel injection, not that you can tell the difference, Triumph have cleverly disguised the injectors as carbs!

Moto Guzzi V11, £3,000 to 6,000
The V11 is something of an oddball in Moto Guzzi recent history, but one actually gaining in appeal and charm. The first Moto Guzzi V11 was launched in 1999 and was a worthy, good–looking if heavy roadster using Moto Guzzi’s traditional and characteristic transverse 1100 V-twin shaft mated to a raft of top spec cycle parts yet let down by equally characteristic Moto Guzzi poor quality and reliability. This last factor changed dramatically following Aprilia’s takeover in 2001, as did the number of Moto Guzzi V11 varients. If you want an old-school Italian heavyweight with 21st century components, finish and style, look no further than the Moto Guzzi V11.


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