Buying your first big bike: MCN’s new boy ponders the perfect choice of A2 licence thriller

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MCN videographer Joseph Wright, 22, is at the start of his biking journey. He’s owned a 125 for a year and recently passed his restricted A2 licence, which shackles him to life in the 47bhp lane until he’s 24.

Unusually for one so young, he bought a bike as old as he is: a Kawasaki ZXR400. A poster bike of the 90s, the dream of owning one prompted him to take the plunge and do his test. Back in the day it made a claimed 62bhp and no doubt a lot less on a dyno now. He’s had to fit a 40 quid, certificated 47bhp restrictor kit, which comprises washers placed inside the intake rubbers to limit fuel mixture into the cylinders.

With 9000 miles on the clock and four previous owners, his Kawasaki is extremely tidy for its age and appears never to have been dropped, rallied or raced. Still a head-turner for those who ‘know’, Joseph’s already racked up 4000 miles over the winter months. It’s fair to say he’s keen.

Cornering right on the Honda CBR500R

But there were two other bikes on his shopping list before he ended up with the ZXR400: the Honda CBR500R and Yamaha MT-07. The former makes the regulation 47bhp, but the latter would’ve had to be restricted. Yamaha offer a 47bhp kit which includes smaller intake trumpets and an ECU reprogram, for £62.14, plus labour. Haggle hard with the dealer and they might well throw it in with the bike.

So, what’s a 22-year-old supersport bike like to live with? “An absolute nightmare”, jokes Joseph. “It can be terrible and a complete drama queen. It doesn’t run properly when it’s too hot or too cold, and if I wasn’t working with people who’ve been doing this for a long time, who I can ask advice from, it wouldn’t have been the right option.

“I’ve learned so much, but it’s a nightmare, especially as I’m from a generation where everything starts first time. I’ve had to get used to chokes, idle screws and an engine that’s gutless at low revs. It loves to be a problem and it’s taught me a lot about buying a used bike.

“But I love the novelty factor, the sound and all the things that Euro5 tries to take away,” he continues. “I clean and look after it, like it’s the best thing in the world, but I still use it in all conditions. I’m a big fan of its looks, too. I love the aggressive lines of modern superbikes, but I’ve never thought they look great on smaller bikes, like Ninja 400s or KTM RC390s. The curvy 90s style of the ZXR is unique.

Leaning into a bend on the Kawasaki ZXR400

“The engine character works well in its favour. Without too much power at the bottom it’s easy to ride around town and isn’t intimidating, but when you want to have a bit of fun you can keep it high up in the rev range. The restrictor kit lets the engine run smoothly, but it’s like a soft ‘rain’ mode and takes away its kick at between 12,000rpm and 14,000rpm.”

To find out if Joseph’s life would’ve been easier had he bought a modern bike, we gave him a Honda CBR500R and a restricted Yamaha MT-07 (a ’22 model without the new colour dash) to try for two weeks. We spoke to him before and after to get his opinion… but what we weren’t expecting was quite how far he’d ride them.

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