Ten recommended austerity-busting middleweights in no particular order that you can pick up for peanuts, starting from the UK’s average weekly wage of just £500. Feel free to add your own budget bike recommends in the comments section…
1. Yamaha XJ600S/N Diversion
Unassuming yet undisputed, the Divvy is the king of middleweight budget biking. Reader Steve picked one up recently for £300 with just 32000 miles and it all looks good – not an unusual scenario at all. Many buyers (and owners, luckily) are frightened off by bad engine noises, but armed with a bit of knowledge (click here and read all about it) you can grab yourself a decent, long lasting, cheap to run and pleasant to ride UJM that’s as unfashionable as it is thoroughly decent. Look out for: Rust and those rattles.
2. Kawasaki GPz500S
A bargain at the bottom of the biking barrel and second only to the Divvy in terms of underappreciation. Slight in stature and light on its loafers, the GPz twin is an accomplished motorcycle and well up to the task of mixing commuting with a bit of swift Saturday afternoon fun.
Being utterly unfashionable but doggedly long lived there are plenty of these about, making them one of the gems of shoestring biking. Early 16” wheel version has limited tyre availability but no one buys a GPz if they are a tyre nerd, trust me.
Look out for: rattling cam chains. The tensioner on first generation bikes was poor, but after ‘94 it was redesigned. Magnets are known to separate from the generator rotor and can take out the stator – this is just one of those things and you won’t be able to check it, though later bikes are supposedly better. Rear unitrack linkages can exhibit signs of play even with relatively new bushes. Other than this the GPz is a reliable and comfortable companion.
3. Kawasaki ZZR600D (1990-1992)
Now we’re talking. The fastest two-wheeled object I’ve travelled on to this day remains a ZZR600 shaped one and no, I’m about to say where or exactly how fast, only that its 150mph design speed is not in any way cock or bull if you’ve got a long enough road, a Ducati 998 breaking wind in front of you and you’re late enough for a ferry.
The first (and in my opinion most attractive) pre ram-air D series will I think become desirable in the future. The motor is smooth, reliable and when called upon for shits and giggles pulls like the Starship Enterprise on Welsh coal. OK the suspension’s underdamped and squidgy and should the carbs go out of sync the clutch gets all rattly and irritable like all Kawa fours, but get a good one and it’s all the motorcycle you’ll ever need.
Journalists initially compared its portly gait to more cutting edge fairies like the Yamaha’s FZR and if you re-read the reviews the ZZR comes across as middleweight magnolia to the FZR’s feature wall. But 27 years down the line the unassuming Kwak is having the last laugh. It’s durable, comfortable and easy to ride, making it the one to pick up for pennies. Look out for: brake issues – the fronts can get squishy and are hard to bleed acceptably (braided hoses are a must). Warped discs (front) are common (EBC aftermarket rotors are a good compromise) some suffer poor gearshift action (correct chain tension and unworn gear linkage helps) and I had an exhaust valve go out on one but I think this was a rare occurrence. Stonking bike.
4. Honda CBR600F1-3
Old E and F reg jelly mold CBRs are regularly getting pensioned off for a pittance these days and the more comfortable to ride early ones are definitely the ones to look out for for everyday use.
Typical problems encountered are rattly cam chains (a do-able fix for the competent home mechanic), fuel pump failures and lunched regulator rectifiers – and apart from the bad amateur paint jobs the CBR seems to attract and flat spots from aftermarket 4-1 exhausts that’s about it.
DO look for service history – like the equally stout VFR750 mill, the CBR motor is and always has been tough but it can suffer from Series Land Rover Syndrome – encouraged by folklore and forums, people continue to believe the thing to be so commendably strong and long lasting they completely forget to service it as a result. If serviced though, runs forever. Quite dated looking these days, but under all that environmentally unfriendly plastic is an all time great. It’s the Cher of budget biking.
5. Suzuki GS500E
The GS is low hanging biking fruit and if you’re short then it could be a sensible biking pick for you. Yes the design’s as old as the Cheviots (dating back beyond the GS425 even) but it’s been good enough for Suzuki to refresh time and again over the years leaving the skinflint biker an enviable scare (collective noun for the GS500) of simple to fix parallel twins available through that popular online auction site.
Excellent for commuting, falling off and getting back on again, but most importantly for people who want their wheels available during happy hour with a free plate of nibbles. Look out for: Corrosion. Oh my, the corrosion.
6. Honda NTV650
The midget sub of the middleweights. Surprisingly small in the flesh and with its unassuming (read: dull as shit) looks the NTV has managed to sneak well under the radar of almost everyone in biking except for the canny commuter who knows what’s what.
With an unstressed V twin engine and shaft drive, the NTV inspired so little devotion it was eventually demoted by being developed into the world’s most boring motorcycle of its era, the Honda Deauville (which I also love but misses the top 10 for being too new and high mileage at this kind of price point).
Buying a slightly miley (40,000 miles plus) NTV isn’t a big deal if you see evidence of regular oil changes. Look out for: rusty exhaust collector, ex despatch fleet bikes (check MOT history for mileage confirmation and that it hasn’t been around the clock), poor gearbox action, warped rear disc and owners who invite you into their bungalow to look at their camping holiday photos.
7. Kawasaki ER-5
Another Kawa twin worth a look. Using the same worthy motor as the GPZ but unfaired and with a drum rear brake, the ER-5 is much more of a commuting tool than the sportier GPZ and the terribly overpriced KLE which uses the same engine but with questionable adventure styling.
The ER is an attractive enough simply-conceived commuter that gets used in tons of training schools without issue, suits smaller people well and compares extremely favourably to the GS500E. Look out for: poor finish. We’re talking seaside railings-type corrosion.
8. Suzuki Bandit GSF600
The Bandit was a supremely popular class-leader in its day and is consequently now suffering from oversupply on the used market. Good news for tightwads then.
At this kind of price the one you’ll be getting will be abused/neglected (sorry, ‘carefully barn-stored’) but don’t worry, the structural basics are all good: an oil/air cooled motor so no water to worry about and no plastic so you can see all the corrosion easily (and there will be a lot – Bandits have a knack of looking terrible once abandoned to fate).
The silver lining to the Bandit is you can fix ’em up for pennies and they look and ride great. They’re all over the breakers like a rash and there’s a massive aftermarket supply chain of hop-up parts too. Can be a good long-term middleweight option.
9. Yamaha FZS600 Fazer
A great engine from the pensioned off Thundercat and a nice styling job by Yamaha too (should you have the misfortune to visit a Yamaha dealer to see what they’re offering these days you’ll see I’m not being sarcastic. Perhaps it’s just me).
For such a modern bike the Fazer is remarkably (even surprisingly) cheap, with early models now coming in at the top end of our budget. Some owners report cam chain tensioner problems and finish is poor on original exhaust down pipes. Ask the owner if Yamaha have changed the original sprocket nut on the older bikes – there was an issue with the nut undoing itself despite the lock washer and a deeper-threaded nut was issued as a service update rather than a recall. Not much else is wrong with it though. It’s an obvious choice for someone moving up from a Divvy with sporting intentions and is a much more dynamic and enjoyable package than most budget bikes have any right to be.
10. Suzuki GSX600F ‘Teapot’
Crap looking and unreliable? Well, maybe. But where do you think they nicked the engine for the Bandit from eh?
The Teapot (not its official name) still hits the spot when it comes to a budget brew of sporty touring and penny pinching. Neither particularly powerful nor good handling and in terms of reliability the Achilles heel remains Suzuki’s electrical niggles, which at least can now be easily sorted.
The weakest spot is really the styling, which remains particular. Still, “you can’t see it when you’re riding it” as the XV535 Virago’s chief designer was probably fond of saying.
Happy kicking of tyres!
Note on methodology and buyer’s tip:
I’m assuming buyers reading this will have a full set of spanners, no particular aversion to the occasional whiff of WD40 and a realistic idea of what kind of problems all 20-30 year old motorcycles can suffer – but we’re still looking at bikes which are viable everyday hacks – and at these prices remember to always buy on condition, not year.
I’ve considered budget priced, common bikes with long production runs so there should be plenty of choice and competition amongst sellers. I’ve excluded ’80s and earlier bikes due to age and the annoying classic premium which is impossible to dispute, and I’ve excluded otherwise good late ’80s/’90s bikes (just to take Kawasaki for example, the GPX600/750/GPZ600/GT550/GT750/KLR650) which either didn’t sell in great numbers and so come up rarely now, were all used to death and scrapped or are beginning to command more money for inexplicable reasons of fashion (GT shafties are cool? Never saw that coming…).
I’ve also excluded insurance write-offs as unless you know what you’re doing a bargain is hard to quantify and I’ve left out otherwise good newer bikes like the Honda CB500 twin as they just get too many miles on them in the hands of dedicated commuters and despatchers to be worth bothering with, though I’d definitely recommend one if you can find one in its middle age.
The price point of £500 to £750 is in my experience the lowest average price at which you can reasonably expect an MOT and some life left in a typical private sale – including consumables, which at this depth of the poverty pond will account for the lion’s share of the bike’s actual market value – something definitely worth remembering when you’re out kicking tyres.
Finally even though it’s a buyers’ market don’t forget to be polite, which goes a long way with sellers. If you’ve ever advertised something for £750 as I have many many times, you will know how a chancer offering £300 via Ebay messages does not go down well. Always meet the seller, have a chat and by all means ask them what they’d like to realise from the sale. If it seems like a good starting point for negotiations bid sensibly on that basis. If it seems too much, step out of the negotiation on good terms rather than stupidly lowballing an offer. As with all conversations with people you just met, it’s always better to walk away than to take the piss!