23 May 2023

Absolute beginners: Modern classic bikes for the less experienced

If you’re a recently qualified rider and can’t find anything new that suits your needs or budget, maybe a ‘modern classic’ might fit the bill? Even the Vintage Motor Cycle Club accepts bikes from 25 years old, so 1996 models now qualify. Insurers often set the age bar for classics lower still, at 15 or 20 years, which embraces some surprisingly modern machinery.

You might not get the period styling of the classic 50s, 60s and 70s bikes but, choose carefully, and you should get all the convenience and reliability of a modern machine. The big plus is the low cost. Bikes from 20 years ago are typically at the bottom of their depreciation curve; they’re never going to get any cheaper and may even start to rise a little.

The secret of success is to choose a good example. Many bikes of this era change hands for as little as £1000 to £2000. This means if you unwittingly buy one that needs new tyres, suspension, exhaust, chain and sprockets, you could spend more than the bike is worth getting it through the next MoT.

At the bottom of the price scale, Yamaha’s 600 Diversion is often seen advertised for less than £1000. One of the last traditional air-cooled fours, it has always been overshadowed by Suzuki’s Bandit but is a worthy machine nevertheless, especially as a winter runabout.

Those looking for something more exciting should start with the supersport 600 class where machines like Yamaha’s R6 and Suzuki’s 600 SRAD offer lots of thrills with well over 100bhp on tap. Well cared for examples come up from time to time so there’s no need to settle for a tired ex-trackday hack. Further up the market in the ‘big bruiser’ category there are some amazing bargains; bikes like the early Hinckley Triumphs, Kawasaki’s gpz1100 and even Honda’s Fireblade from the late 1990s can be had for under £2000.

Riders who want relaxation rather than speed will probably be happier with a cruiser. Most of the machines in this category come with a lazy vee-twin motor, comfy seat and forward-set footrests. A budget below £2000 will restrict the choice to machines like Yamaha’s characterful little XV535 but stretching to £3000 or more opens up a wide choice of bigger machines. If the characteristics of a vee-twin appeal but not the cruiser styling, Ducati’s Monster 600 offers a more sporting alternative.

Those buyers looking for a slim, lightweight single cylinder machine have lots of choice, from BMW’s 650 (which was actually assembled by Aprilia) to a whole range of trail and enduro style singles from the Japanese manufacturers. These range from the popular Yamaha Serow 225 to the mighty Suzuki DR800 or DR Big, though at 220kg it’s hardly a lightweight.

For a genuine modern classic, Yamaha’s SR400 was an authentic re-creation of the old SR500 and available new until 2018, but cost £5000. A cheaper alternative would be any of the Enfield or Royal Enfield singles made from the 1990s onwards, but be ready to get the spanners out.