7 brilliant big singles

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If all of these were hanging around in a bar, you’d want to lose your wedding ring. 

Ducati SuperMono (1992-1995)

The 550cc DOHC liquid-cooled racing single first saw the light of day in 1992. It bristled with top-notch components like an Öhlins shock, Termignoni exhaust and Marchesini wheels. It revved to nearly 11,000 rpm, was staggeringly beautiful, incredibly light (122kg), and capable of well over 140mph. In 1995, it became 572cc and went from 65bhp to 76bhp. People waited for the road version to appear: the successor to the fabled Ducati Desmo 250, 350 and 450 sporting singles of the 1970s. It didn’t happen. Ducati was in financial trouble at the time, and didn’t think they could sell the 2000 per year they needed to make a profit. They were almost certainly wrong. It’s still not too late to build it, Ducati…
What you’ll pay now £70,000-£100,000.
But should you? God, yes. 

Gilera Saturno Bialbero (1988-1991)

Possibly the poor man’s Supermono. At least Gilera had the balls to build it, following a request from Japan (of all places) where they like small, light sportsbikes. Production of the 500cc single started in 1988, and two years later the first batch of 50 bikes arrived on the UK market and sold out instantly, despite the price of £5000. Production ended in 1991, and Gilera folded in 1993. Power was nothing special at 45bhp but small size and the light weight of 137kg meant it was good for over 110mph, and a 20-litre fuel tank meant it could go a long way on a tankful of petrol.
What you’ll pay now £5000-£6000
But should you? Only if you’re a diehard Italophile.

Yamaha SR500/400 (1978-current)

The bike that restarted interest in big single-cylinder road bikes, way back in 1978. A very simple bike (SOHC, no balancer shaft, and kickstart only), it has nevertheless been held back by high pricing in the UK. It’s not fast: 90mph is about your lot from the 500, and the modern fuel-injected 400 struggles to exceed 80, but is still immense fun. There’s a whole aftermarket tuning industry dedicated to the SR500, and they can be made to chug along surprisingly rapidly. Dead easy to work on as well.
What you’ll pay now £1500-£2500 (it’s £4000 for a 400).
But should you? Do you own a stormcoat and waders? If so, yes.

Honda XBR500 (1985-1988)

After the disaster that was the flat track-styled FT500, Honda tried again with this gem. A radial four-valve head gave 44bhp, and the XBR would do 110mph, and manage 200 miles on a tankful. It also handled extremely well. It had a twin-port exhaust, so two silencers, even though it was a single. Only produced for three years, but still highly sought-after.
What you’ll pay now £800-£1500
But should you? Yes: they’re great bikes, especially the GB.


Matchless G80 (1987-1990)

In 1988, Les Harris acquired the rights to the Matchless name and made a batch of Rotax-powered 500cc singles. An Italian-built frame was complemented by a rummage through Italian parts bins for brakes, suspension, wheels and the rest. Some good, some cheap and tacky. Not a bad bike, but with 35bhp only about as quick as the Yamaha SR500. Available in electric start or kickstart-only versions.
What you’ll pay now £1000-£1700
But should you? If it’s cheap, then OK.


Kawasaki KLR650 (1987-2002)

Immensely popular in the US as a bog-basic and indestructible trail bike. Much rarer sight here, and was deleted from Kawasaki’s range some years ago. Easy to ride, cheap to run, good fuel consumption, decent range: only its very tall seat and rather low-rent suspension spoil the picture. Oh, and the US Army uses a diesel version!
What you’ll pay now £700-£1400
But should you? A Yamaha XT600E is easier to find, lower and even tougher.


Yamaha SRX600 (1985-1997)

Rorty twin-carb single should have been a hit but wasn’t. For some unfathomable reason Yamaha removed the electric starter from the XT600 engine they used, which was silly given that it was the mid-80s. Shame, as it’s a slim, light, neat-handling bike. The SRX400, available as a grey import, is similar and possibly a better choice.
What you’ll pay now £800-£1000
But should you? Not really, no. Look elsewhere.

Words: Neil Murray