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Picking the right bike for the short period of time you’ll have an A1 license can be tough. Will you be upgrading as soon as you can, or are you pretty sure you’ll be happy with a 125 for longer? There’s a wide range to choose from, covering everything from loving recreations of old classics, to loving recreations of modern classics. Whether you’re looking at buying new or you’re looking to grab a second-hand bargain, the choice can be overwhelming. Join Bikesure, the free-wheeling insurance broker, as we look at the machines vying for your attention.
The Retro Zone
The arrival of the new Chinese manufacturers has developed alongside the seemingly endless vintage trend, combining the looks of popular bikes from decades past with slightly updated technology. The biggest change in recent years are those introduced by the Euro4 regulations, which mandate fuel injected engines.
The Bullit brand pays homage to motorcycle mad Hollywood legend Steve McQueen and the film Bullitt (note the subtle but significant change, a double “t”) which celebrates its half century in 2018. Their range, the Spirit, Hunt and Hero, are based on classic British designs. They certainly look nice, and the overall build quality is in keeping with the original British brands that inspired them. If you’re looking for an authentically unpolished retro experience then this could well be the brand for you.
Of course, you probably want to support a British motorcycle importer, which is where Mash Motorcycles comes in. Alongside the café racer and roadster tributes, they have added a nifty retro dirt track bike. These are nicely made bikes, and have features like linked front and rear brakes that are designed to make them easier for new riders to control. That means they’re great choices for anyone looking for an affordable, authentically retro riding experience.
Another importer of Chinese manufacturers, AJS has a lineage stretching back to the early 20th century and connections to some of the best British marques. The company’s current incarnation has been importing motorcycles for two decades now. As well as classic British designs they also offer two American cruiser style learner-ready bikes, which is lovely for the tiny amount of people who think that sounds like a good idea. Fans of modern bikes are served by the TN12, a naked sports bike with a fairly generic but still funky look.
You’ll never be able to guess what this range looks like, unless you’ve looked at the other entries in this section. It’s difficult to fully analyse these bikes, but the general consensus around the net is that Brixton bikes are more likely to provoke disappointment in their owners.
Evolving from making custom vintage bikes to making a range that combines the value of Chinese bikes with the kind of detailing familiar to customs. Based in Birmingham, each bike is customised to a high standard once it reaches the UK. They’re a little more expensive than some of the other brands mentioned here, but the quality and style is immediately apparent so you’re definitely getting your money’s worth. Props must also be given for having possibly the strangest name of all the motorcycles in this article, Fat Sabbath. They also have the Blackest Sabbath, which will make fans of Spinal Tap happy. They’ve also revived a defunct local brand, New Imperial.
By now you’ll have noticed that a lot of the bikes these manufacturers make are very similar. The real differences are the levels of quality control each company demands of their suppliers. Herald are one of the companies with higher standards, so if you’re near one of their dealers and fancy their take on the café racer, or any of the other classics, you can rest assured that you’re getting a good deal.
Back to the Future
Not everyone likes classic styles, but that’s OK because there’s a wide selection of machines in a modern style that don’t cost an arm and a leg. But you’re getting what you pay for, from some of the biggest manufacturers in the world.
The YS125 is the updated version of the beloved YBR125. It’s a nimble, lightweight bike designed to be suitable for beginners, commuters and anyone who wants a low-fuss ride about town. It’ll set you back a few quid short of £2.8k but you’re definitely paying for the peace of mind only an established brand can give.
If you’re operating on a budget then those YBR’s can be found secondhand for under a grand, with cheap spare parts helping to keep costs down.
Suzuki GSX S125
If you’re into your modern sports bikes, the Suzuki GSX 125s will be like catnip on wheels for you. There are two variants, the R125 for the true race-heads, or the S125. Alternatively, the evergreen VanVan continues to attract riders who want something a bit quirky and laid-back.
The third corner in the pyramid of great Japanese manufacturers, Honda’s 125s have been some of the best-selling bikes in their class. The CB125R is the latest in their venerable CB range and has a sharp, modern style.
New it’ll cost you close to £4k so probably another one for the learner who’s at least 70% sure they won’t want to upgrade once they’ve learned.
A slightly more convincingly entry-level Honda is the CB125F, which is over a grand cheaper and has an F after the number instead of an R.
Zontes are one of the newer brands on this list, part of the new breed of Chinese manufacturers that have arisen in recent years. Now, there is, let us say, a certain amount of skepticism about the quality of these bikes. It’s not totally unfounded, but they are improving and Zontes are one of the more reliable budget manufacturers. The Rocketman is a modern take on the classic café racer style. The full Zontes range also includes a futuristic take on the chopper, which can be had for under £2k and has a lower seat height making it ideal for shorter riders.
Motorini is another Chinese brand with more of a scooter focus, but the company also has a few motorcycles for variety. The MT125RRi is its flagship bike but those great looks don’t quite disguise the budget nature of the components. It’ll almost certainly “do”, although it’s at the more expensive end of the budget category, so expect to feel a couple of hundred pounds worth of disappointment every time you notice something a bit rubbish about it.
Seeing as we’re reviewing Chinese and Japanese motorcycles it would be rude not to also consider what South Korea has to offer. The GT125P is Hyosung’s naked street model, and although the reviews seem to be in generally positive, there are still a few steps down from the kind of quality you can expect from the Big Four Japanese brands. It’s around £2.5k new. As you’d expect there’s also a full-fat sports version, the GT125R should meet your needs quite suitably.
The TNT in TNT 125 is a reasonably priced bike that’s equally at home on and off road and has a distinctive, modern design that distinguishes it from other bikes on this list.
FB Mondial HPS125
The reborn Italian marque’s range are made by Piaggio in China, perfectly illustrating the problem of writing off all Chinese bikes. The HPS 125 is £3.5k of incredibly nicely designed bike. It’s a modern take on the café racer, again, using high spec’d components that help deliver an extremely smooth and fun bike to ride.
One of the big hitters of the Chinese manufacturers, Lexmoto covers clones of classics to clones of moderns, all for a pretty reasonable amount of cash. Some of the highlights of its range include the Tekken 125 which, as far as we can tell has nothing to do with the popular video game franchise of the same name, despite the logo looking rather familiar; the Falcon and the ZSX-R 1215, which is billed as a tribute to the Honda CBF. Yamaha fans are served by the Aspire, which is Lexmoto’s tribute to the YBR.
Have we missed anything off the list? What bike would you recommend to a new rider? What bike did you pick? Sound off about how right or wrong you reckon we are, in the comments. We dare you!
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