Whether you’re a seasoned rider or just starting out, there will be at least one bike here to suit you I’m sure.
But before we hit the starter, let’s be clear and set some criteria down.
We are looking at brands and bikes known for their long-lasting performance with a minimum of breakdowns. Value for Money is also important. Getting the best bang for your buck without compromising on the motorcycle’s quality and performance is always a balance. So we need to consider age, reliability and availability of parts as well as the buying price.
Versatility is always a good thing too. Bikes that can serve different roles are more likely to have a lasting legacy. So if its a tourer, ask yourself, is it still practical to use for shorter rides out? Or if it is a sports bike, will it still be OK to go touring on?
Think about the different ways you will use it. Remember, the more versatile a motorcycle is the more you will find yourself riding it. And the more you ride the better life gets.
It really is that simple.
I am going to go from the obvious to the less obvious choices today. Some of the bikes will just suit different riders, so saying one is better than another is a bit silly, They are all great bikes. It is just that some are more obvious choices than others.
These are all bikes I have owned or ridden too, so some of the comments are very personal. And before you say I haven’t included the many bikes you think I should have, maybe go and look at the first BombProof Bikes video and the Bargain Bikes of the 80’s and 90’s videos I have done first. If I included a bike there I am not going to include it here.
I will give an honourable mention to the Honda Goldwing here too. I could and maybe should have included it here. I didn’t this time, but as with them all, they will find their place in time.
So lets jump in and see what’s in store.
Just try to remember to like the video and subscribe to the channel if you enjoy it.
To start today we have the Honda VFR750 and VFR800
First released in 1986 the VFR750 RC24 Kept the Interceptor name in the USA until 1990, but that was the start of so many changes it is impossible to list them all. The VFR750 lasted until 1997 before being superseded by the VFR800, which was still being produced in 2021.
That is effectively 36 years of continuous production, and I know there are many who would still be buying it new now if Honda would make it again.
From start to finish the overall power output has stayed fairly steady at around 100HP for the 750 with closer to 110HP with the 800. Some will prefer the 750 which was carb fed, others the 800, which got fuel injection. Both have beautifully engineered engines with gear driven cams. The Vtec version does get a whole boatload more midrange torque than the earlier 750, but they all have plenty of power on tap when it is needed.
They are complex machines and aren’t the easiest to work on. That is why they were only mentioned briefly in the first bombproof bikes video which I will link above. However, the reality is, that outside of routine maintenance and replacing the reg/rec, you shouldn’t have much to do as far as maintenance is concerned.
The VFR is a sports bike, but it is a practical sports bike. It will happily carry luggage and a passenger with ease and cruise along at highway speeds all day when needed, but show it a canyon road or mountain pass and before you know it you will be scraping your knee with the best.
I have watched VFR’s hold their own with much faster bikes on trackdays. They are a great bike that makes it easy to get the best from them.
The engine will do endless miles if it is looked after well, so look for service history more than low mileage. A bike with long periods of ownership is always a good way to sort out the lemons too. Build quality in general is really good. I remember one story was that the early 750 was actually a loss leader, built to try and repair the damage done to Honda’s reputation by the cams made from cheese that many of the bikes from the early 80’s suffered from.
If you want a practical, comfortable and reliable sports tourer, then the reality is, the VFR750 and 800 are hard to beat.
Next we have the equally fabled Yamaha YZF600 R6
When it comes to sports bikes, the R6 starts where the VFR finishes. It is a much more focussed sports bike. However, if you like a sport bike riding position the R6 will happily tour the Alps or more, and I have known plenty of people commute on them too.
The R6 is so much easier to ride fast than bigger, heavier, more powerful sports bikes that it is a much more practical ride. The smaller engine will give better economy than any litre sports bike, and it can find its way around most tracks faster too.
It is only the very best riders who can actually use the extra power of a litre bike, and then only if they have the roads too.
As it is out of the showroom, the R6 produced around 120HP when it was first released in 1999. With a 15,000 rpm redline. It was the first production 600cc bike to be able to put over 100HP down to the ground. Now quoted figures for this one vary more than most, but by 2003 when fuel injection was implemented it had risen to around 125HP and by its peak in 2006 to 2008 that was up to over 130HP.
Again, depending on your choice of carb or fuel injection, it is these years from 1999 to 2009 I would think of as the best to go for. The later ones are still great bikes. But especially now they are out of production, I think the later models will be slow to depreciate in price, whereas the older models are already beginning to mark their territory in the collectors market.
When buying, service histories are always good, but there are a lot of R6’s that have had a lot of money thrown at them, and you can tell a lot from certain mods. If someone has gone to the trouble of fitting racetech fork internals or a Wilbers rear shock, they are less likely to have scrimped and saved by not doing oil changes or valve clearances on time.
Plenty of people will have swapped cans, but ask for the paperwork to confirm any tuning that has been done, Remember, a loud can doesn’t mean more power. The extra power only comes if it is a good silencer and the bike is tuned right. If someone has invested in a full racing exhaust system complete with downpipes, and has the paperwork to show it was tuned properly, they have spent a much bigger chunk of money.
But what if it has been thrashed I hear you say. Well, for one thing, the R6 engine likes to be revved, for another, the R6 is still a lot faster than most riders. So I wouldn’t worry too much unless it has been raced or looks obviously neglected.
If you can, follow the bike and get the rider to rev the bike and get it up to speedv and then shut off the throttle with the bike still in gear. If it smokes on the overrun then it could be valve guide oil seals or rings, either way it means work. If you are mechanically adept that may be fine, but it can be time consuming. If you are not ok with spannering, it is probably better to walk away.
One thing I will say, I would argue certain bikes I have had never really ran right until after I had thrashed them around a track to clean off all the carbon deposits left by riding them around within the speed limit. The R6 is one of those bikes that just likes to be ridden fast.
Next we have the Hinkley era Triumph Bonneville Specifically the Air cooled 865cc version.
Since the relaunch of Triumph, the triples had formed the backbone of the new range. But in 2002, in answer to the calls for a new version of the classic Triumph Bonneville, we got a new Bonneville. An air cooled 360 degree parallel twin that although more overweight, harked back to the design and style of the Bonneville’s of old.
The 360 degree twin had the old vibrations ironed out by a balancer shaft and produced a reasonable amount of power and torque. It was fairly basic. A simple design. It sold on style and the lifestyle brand that Triumph were promoting. But it was a good bike.
The first 2 years it had a capacity of 790cc, then it was upped to 865cc in 2005. In 2007 the carbs were replaced by a fuel injection system, that was disguised to look like carbs, then in 2017 we got a new 900cc water cooled engine, again disguised to look like a finned air cooled engine.
Personally, I think that misses the point and I am not including the water cooled models here. They were heavier and with less power, so for me, offer little that the earlier models don’t do better.
I would say that the 865cc version is the one to get. The few early niggles had been ironed out and you still get the choice of carbs on the earlier models or fuel injection if you want it on the newer models. The engine is in a fairly low state of tune so it lasts well. Finish is good, and I would say better than the newer Triumph are.
There are many variants, from the Speedmaster to the Thruxton, and they sold well, so there is a good selection to choose from on the used market. Owners tend to dote on them so you will find plenty with a long service history and some good, low mileage examples too.
If you want a parallel twin with a more British character and retro style in a reliable, practical package, then you can’t go far wrong with the Bonneville.
They hold their price well and I can’t see that changing much. They are equally at home in the city or in the wild and are perfectly capable of carrying a passenger and luggage for some relaxed touring.
They are a strong and very versatile bike, as long as you aren’t off to Bonneville to try and break any speed records.
Next we have the Honda ST1100 and ST1300 Pan European
Mechanically and technically the Honda Pan European is a bike like no other. It began life in 1990 as the ST1100, then in 2002, capacity was increased and we got the ST1300. The ST1300 then continued in production until 2012.
The V4 engine is mounted longitudinally rather than in line like the VFR. Unless you count the Motus, this is the only full production longitudinally mounted V4 I can remember being made, although I do look forward to any corrections you have to this, and I guess it wouldn’t surprise me if some old British firm had tried it in the early years.
Anyway, I digress.
The Pan European took much of the tech from the Goldwing at the start, but the idea was a lighter, faster, more nimble touring bike than the Goldwing. The engine was complex and over engineered, the shaft drive was all but unbreakable, and the high speed comfort really was unmatched.
In real terms, it was aimed at the European market sector that BMW had dominated. The Honda was a far faster and smoother alternative to what many riders saw as the boring tourers available at the time.
The ST1100 produced around 100HP and the ST1300 around 120HP. This gave them a top speed of around 140mph, but they would sit at 130mph all day in comfort, carrying a passenger and as much luggage as you like, and they could still scrape the pegs down on twisty mountain roads.
If you are looking for long haul 2 up comfort at speed, there aren’t many bikes that do it as well as the Pan European. Prices are about as low as they will get now I think, and the engine and running gear is all reassuringly reliable.
They are a big bike, but not as big and heavy as the Goldwing or some others. Centre of gravity is lower on the ST1300, so they feel a little lighter, especially at low speed.
As long as maintenance has been done the mileage of these bikes gets a bit irrelevant. I have seen more Pan Europeans with 100,000 plus miles than any other bike. So look for service history or any signs that someone hasn’t taken the care they should have. Build quality in general is as good as it gets.
They might not be the coolest or best looking bikes on the market, but they will reliably get you there fast and in comfort, wherever there might be.
If the Pan European is summed up as “Comfort at Speed” then the next bike turns that around as “Speed with Comfort”.
Now if I told you you could go out and buy a reliable comfortable motorcycle that will do 170mph for less than £2,000 and never go down in value if you look after it would you believe me?
Well, you can. The Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird, once the fastest bike on the planet. and if you are lucky and patient that might find one even cheaper. The market for these bikes now is probably at an all time low, and there are still one owner bikes out there which says a lot about these amazing bikes.
They will eat endless miles in comfort at very high speeds. So if you live on the side of an Autobahn they are perfect. In reality, even in traffic and around town at slow speeds the Super Blackbird is an easy bike to ride.
As soon as it is moving any idea of weight is forgotten, and to be fair, there are heavier touring bikes with less power being sold new now.
The engine on the Super Blackbird is pretty damn flawless. Power is delivered in a seamless and seemingly endless surge. You can ride it relaxed and short shift, taking advantage of the torque for a relaxed ride, or let it run up to 10,000rpm for that surge of maximum power.
The fairing is possibly one of the best performing ever for high speed riding. The speed bubble formed above 70mph means it is much less tiring to ride fast than many bikes. The gearbox is slick and smooth and the suspension just works really well straight off the showroom floor.
Handling is neutral and the Super Blackbird holds its line really well. I have a friend who would routinely taunt superbikes who were showing off. The faces of the many riders was always a picture when they realised it was a “WOMAN riding a touring bike” that had just whipped their arses.
Personally I will say that I think the carb models are the best, but I know some will disagree. They will produce more power with no fiddling, but it is a matter of taste. Both are fantastic bikes that have an iconic reputation. They will inevitably become a collectors piece in time.
Build quality is typically Honda and they will do high miles with few issues. As with some of the other bikes here, these are now as cheap as they will ever be. So if you want a fast reliable touring bike that won’t let you down and won’t depreciate in value. The Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird is a fantastic choice.
The next bike today is the Suzuki GSX 750F Katana built from 1988 to 2007.
But that is the last time I will call it the Katana. I was lucky enough to be around for the original Katana, and this just isn’t that bike.
As the saying goes, take your best sport bike engine, detune it a little and give it more torque, then raise the bars and screen a little to give it a more comfortable ride, simplify the design and use what parts are available where possible.
That is what Suzuki did in 1988, and the concept continued for the next 20 years. The engine was reliable in the GSXR750, so the detuned version was always going to win on that front. Power wise, it would produce exactly the same power as the previous model GSXR, so a little less than the GSXR of the same year, but the difference was hardly discernable.
Suzuki did manage to start filling that hole in the midrange of the GSXR though. The exhaust system seemed to always get the credit for that, but somehow I think that is an oversimplification of things.
Suspension was softer, but that meant it was easier to live with on normal roads and more comfortable, The ground clearance wasn’t quite as good and the clip on’s not so low, but that meant the rider triangle was much more user friendly. That made it much more practical as an every day ride than the GSXR.
Not quite as powerful as the R6 and not quite as heavy as the VFR, it would still keep up with most bikes on most roads. On a track it wouldn’t break any records, but you could still have a whole barrel load of fun.
Prices are stupidly cheap for what you get now. Just watch for the usual problems with Suzuki’s less than wonderful paintwork and finishing. If someone has gone to the trouble of replacing the engine case bolts with stainless ones then you may have a much easier time of things when it comes to maintenance.
Next we have a very different bike.
The Yamaha MT01 first shook the stages of the exhibition halls in 2003, but it was in 2005 that we finally got the finished production bike. For once, the reality, was that the production bike was better than the prototype. Build quality was absolutely astonishing. The attention to detail made most of the bikes in showrooms around the world look very ordinary.
The Vmax had stood the test of time, and Yamaha needed a new range topping bike that would take over the mantle the Vmax had worn so well.
They decided to take a slightly different route this time. They took the biggest V-Twin they had and mounted it in a short, sharp, stocky chassis that just looked like it was going to punch your lights out. This was the start of what became a style trend for Yamaha, who coined the phrase “Join the Dark Side” for the following MT models.
This the first of the MT range, was a bike boiling over with low end torque. A bike with enough muscle to stand up against a Massey Ferguson in a tractor pull. It was made to corner and stop on a sixpence too though, unlike many of its competition.
Yamaha had learned a lot of lessons after the original Vmax, and this bike handled better than any power cruiser had done before. To call it a power cruiser is missing the point though. The engine was tuned for low end power. At 3,500rpm it could put 150Nm down to the tarmac.
It can be a lazy ride, but it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Snap open the throttle and you have gone. There is no build up of power, it is just there like a wall of force. What gives the game away is the aggressive stance and the thunderous exhaust note.
With a 0 to 60mph time of around 3.5 seconds it was no slouch between the lights, but its real strength was the way it put that power down when accelerating out of corners. Roll on power is endless. Gear changes quickly become pointless. Short shift through the gears and once it is in top, it will just pull and pull.
Because of the build quality the finish on the MT01 has stood the test of time well. It is hard to stress the engine, and reliability is as good as you can get. Prices won’t be the cheapest, but they are good value, and the prices will inevitably rise in the future. This is a bike that screamed collect me as soon as it was released.
The only motorcycle that I think is comparable to the MT01 is the Indian FTR1200. So if you are looking for a practical hooligan that you can enjoy every day, the MT01 is definitely worth considering.
Next we have the Aprilia ETV1000 and ETV1200 Caponord
Often overlooked in a market full of adventure bikes. The Aprilia Caponord is a gem of a motorcycle that was rarely appreciated as it should have been. It might not be the best off road bike, but it has many advantages.
It can be split into 2 era’s.
The first from 2001 to 2012 used a detuned version of the Rotax engine used in the Mille and Tuono. It was detuned for 100HP and 100Nm of torque, had a capacious, comfortable seat and riding position, with a well designed fairing. It also had a 25 litre tank and was capable of around 130mph.
The second gen used the 1200cc engine from the Dorsaduro. It kicked out around 125HP and 115Nm of torque and although it had undergone a major redesign managed to keep weight the same. This meant top speed was pushed up to around 140mph and it kept the big fuel tank too.
The engines are both strong and the support of the Aprilia community can go a long way to overcoming the deficiencies of the dealership networks.
This is a more touring based bike than many of the newer adventure bikes, although in 2003 and then again in 2015, we did have Rally Raid models that were more off road orientated. They are sportier than many adventure bikes too.
You could think of it as more like the Ducati Multistrada than the BMW GS. But that is comparing it to the Multistrada of today. It was a far superior bike to the Multistrada of its day. They are a fantastic bike in the twisties where the weight is forgotten and the ride quality shines out. On a highway they will eat the miles in comfort with the best.
Build quality is excellent, and Aprilia owners tend to care for their bikes with tender hands. Parts supply might not be as easy as some, but most parts are available from somewhere. It just takes a bit of a hunt sometimes. This is a riders bike that reminded me of my old Cagiva Navigator. Fond memories I have to say.
Next we have the Kawasaki ZRX1100 and ZRX1200.
The Kawasaki ZRX1100 and 1200 are bikes that bucked the retro trend. Instead of following styling cues from the sixties and seventies, the ZRX was based on the bike made famous by the great Eddie Lawson in the 1980’s.
First released in 1997, it was updated and capacity increased to 1200cc in 2001.
If the Kawasaki ZRX was a person it would probably have a back combed mullet and be wearing skinny ripped jeans, fancy cowboy boots and a studded leather jacket. But that doesn’t tell the real story.
The engine is a peach in both the 1100 and 1200. Both have more than enough power to keep any rider entertained. 10 second quarter mile times and 150mph top speeds are not unheard of, although the 1100 falls a little short of that without some tuning. The engine just pulls and pulls with maximum power coming in just below 9,000rpm.
Build quality is better than your average Kawasaki, but it is something to watch out for. Fasteners can be prone to corrosion, especially if the roads are treated with salt in British winter. That can be partly solved with stainless fasteners and a tube of copper slip, and if you find one where that has already been done that is a good sign.
The ZRX is a classic UJM. It isn’t the best at anything, but it is a practical versatile bike that will scratch with the best, Sit on the highway all day, or simply take you backwards and forwards to work before it gets a good thrashing at the weekends.
Fuelling is good and power delivery comes in a predictably smooth curve. Show the ZRX an open road and crack open the throttle and the crackle of that 4 pot engine quickly turns into a roar. But treat it gently and it is a pussycat, with predictable handling even at slow speeds.
Although made until 2011, with a special made as late as 2015, they weren’t available in all markets for the whole of that period. Kawasaki just never seemed to push the marketing, and sales were never as high as they might have been.
Now, prices are already starting to see a rise.
From a personal perspective, if you want a reliable, powerful, naked roadster, the ZRX1100 and 1200 are hard to beat.
Now to our last bike for today, the Kawasaki W650 and W800.
In 1999, Kawasaki took the retro trend a step further than most companies had. The W650 was a much more authentic copy than most retro bikes. It was a more modern version of the earlier Kawasaki W1 650 and the Meguro and BSA twins they were copied from.
In reality, this bike is a more lifelike copy of the early British parallel twins than either the Triumph Bonneville or the Royal Enfield twins.
The early W1 had solved many of the flaws in the original designs. The crank bearings and big end had been built up and oil feeds improved with a bigger oil pump too. The new W650 just continued that theme.
Rather than searching for more performance, Kawasaki took the old engine and introduced a longer throw crank for a slower revving long stroke engine. Power of the new bike was identical to its older sibling, but the power was produced at lower revs and the torque was significantly improved.
This really does make the early W650 a classic “Plodder” in the true British style, with maximum power coming at just 5,000rpm.
However, in 2011, when the new W800 was released, we were back to a much more “square” engine design.
The crank from the 650 remained for an 83mm stroke, but bore size was up from 72 to 77mm taking capacity up to 773cc. This meant that maximum power was produced slightly higher at 6,500rpm. That maximum power remained almost the same as in the 650, but torque in the 800 was up.
Weight remained unchanged from the 650 to the 800, so in many ways choosing between the two is a question about what you want. The W650 has a strong, lazy engine with bags of character and feels more British than anything else on the modern market. The W800 is a little more refined with a less lumpy feel. It revs harder, but you don’t actually go any faster.
Both of these bikes are great bikes. They are much more authentic than most of the so called retro bikes that have been released over the years and are reliable with a great community behind them.
You could stand a Kawasaki W650, Triumph Bonneville 865 and Royal Enfield 650 twin next to each other and it is obvious where the ideas came from. Kawasaki did just do it better from my perspective.
So if you want the feel of a classic British twin without the oil leaks or breakdowns, maybe go and take a look at the Kawasaki W650 or 800.
Well that about wraps it up again today.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the video and can take the time to look around the channel.
If you enjoyed this one then part 1 of the BombProof Bikes video and the Bargain Bikes of the 80’s and 90’s videos should keep you smiling too, I will link them below in the description.
As always, thanks for watching, and I look forward to hearing your comments about the bikes I have inevitably missed.
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