Which motorcycle should I buy?


Most motorcyclists can spend hours talking about favourite bikes or reminiscing about their first, but when it comes to choosing your own then it's really down to you.  One thing is for sure: the more you change your mind about what you want, the more it will cost you.  So try to buy something that will last you a while rather than trading in ever few months.

Although there's a huge number of bikes available, there are a number of things which will limit your choice from a practical and legal view point.  This guide will hopefully help you decide on the right sort of bike for you. 

The not so humble moped

So you've just turned 16, got your provisional licence, taken your Compulsory Basic Training and are keen to get your hands on your first bike.  As a 16 year old you'll be restricted to a moped with an engine no bigger than 50 cc and a maximum speed of 30 Mph (50 Kph).  If you are 17+ and hold a full car licence, you will more than likely have full moped entitlement.  This means you don't even need basic training.  However, we think it is useful none the less and does allow you to ride a bike up to 125 cc as a learner.  At the end of the day, unless you are 16 - do you really want to be stuck at 30 mph? We all know that few drivers stick to 30 mph no matter what the speed limit is, so you'll constantly have people squeezing past you or treating you as a bicycle.

The humble moped has come a long way since the original pedal start bikes, which were little more than a bicycle with a motor.  Most modern mopeds feature electric start, excellent styling and reliable engines.  Almost all moped are two strokes, which basically means you need to check/add two stroke oil every time you fill up.  Many unrestricted 50 cc mopeds can manage over 50 Mph, although you'd need to be 17+, hold a provisional motorcycle licence (and have a valid CBT) to legally ride one.  A reasonable used moped will cost around £400 up (private).  If you are looking for a good used bike, budget around £1,200.  Some of the new race replica 50cc bikes cost up to £2,600 new, which to be honest is at least £500-600 worth of branding and race pedigree, that you will just not be able to experience in a 50cc package.

There are essentially 4 types of moped to choose from:

Scooter - Currently the most popular.  These bikes are nippy, light, reliable and practical.  Most have automatic transmission (twist 'n' go) and often feature built in locks, disc brakes and plenty of storage e.g. the Beta Eikon 50.
Practical, stylish, easy to ride, comfortable and fairly quick.
Lack of road presence, Step through bikes are not everyone's taste

Cut down commuter - Very popular in the 80s the cut down commuter was often a 50 cc version of a bigger bike and featured a manual gearbox with a more traditional step over motorcycle design.
Conventional riding position, manual gearbox and very cheap to buy
Dated design, surpassed by the modern scooter

Race Replica -  Ultimate sports bike with a 50 cc engine? Not quite, they may look the part, but that's about it. If you take into account the high purchase price and above average depreciation, you'll realise that unless you plan to de-restrict it, there really isn't much point.
Great handling, sport styling and good road presence
No faster than a scooter but with higher running costs and expensive parts

Trials Bike - Louder than a Harley, these light weight off road bikes often come in either road legal trim or off road only (conversions can be expensive).  Most have a taller riding position and a manual gearbox. However, the deep tread tyres can cause a lot of vibration and poor handling when riding on the road.
Great fun off road, ideal for the taller rider, with fairly good road presence.
Noisy and not particularly practical if you only intent to ride on the road.

50 cc - 125 cc Lightweight Motorcycles

Many 17 year olds opt for a car nowadays and its fairly obvious why. - The power restrictions for young motorcyclists are far more limiting than cars.  However, you can't drive a car on your own as learner which seems to be the key attraction for most young riders.  There's a lot to choose from in the 50 - 125 cc range.  Many bikes available in 50 cc also have bigger brothers in either 100 cc or 125 cc models.  A Typical 125 is designed to meet the legal restrictions for the light/learner legal motorcycle category, which means they'll do about 50 - 70 Mph, have around 12 - 14.6 BHP and can do about 80 - 120 MPG.  If you intend to buy a learner legal motorcycle to take your test on, make sure you buy a 125 cc bike, as taking your test on a smaller bike (75 cc - 120 cc) restricts you to the A1 Light motorcycle licence.  This means you will only be able to ride machines up to 125 cc.  To be perfectly honest this is a waste of time as the test is identical to that of the 125 cc test which allows you to ride a wider range of bikes and potentially any bike after 2 years.

It's worth noting that while a race replica 50 cc bike is largely a waste of money, it's 125 cc bigger brother may actually make more financial sense.  As a 17 - 21 year old you'll be restricted to a 33 BHP (25 kW and a power-to-weight ratio not exceeding 0.16kW/kg) bike for 2 years after passing your test.  In most cases that means one bike to learn on and a new one after you've passed.  A good Race Replica like the Cagiva Mito 125, Aprilia RS 125 Honda NSR 125 or Yamaha TZR 125 will conform to the lightweight category in restricted mode, but can produce around 30 BHP in de-restricted form.  That means it has the potential to last you a lot longer, which will ultimately save you money.  However, you do have to balance this with higher insurance cost, as Race replicas are not the cheapest to insure.  125 cc bikes start at around £500, something like a recent Honda CG125 or Yamaha SR 125, will cost about £900-1400 private.  Race Replica 125s range from 1800-2500.

One bike for both learners and restricted licence holders

If you're going to take your test on one, make sure you can do a U-turn on it and that you can prove it complies with the learner legal requirement (i.e. less than 14.6 BHP rather that 30+ BHP).

In 125 cc trim, there is also a new category of bike:

Small cc cruiser.  These typically range from a commuter based bike like the Yamaha SR125, to the more typical cruiser like the Honda shadow 125, which features one of the smallest V-twin engines in production.  Many features of larger capacity cruisers are included such as low seat, feat forward ride and classic styling. Classic Harley looks in a small package, comfortable and economical
Not the fastest or lightest 125 you can buy.

2 Stroke vs. 4 Stroke

33 bhp restriction

Un-restricted motorcycle licence

Parallel & Grey Imported motorcycles

Buying your first motorcycle

Once you've worked out what type of bike you want, you need to decide if you are going to buy new, or second hand.  For many of us our budget determines what we can afford.  Here are a couple of tips which we hope will help you find a decent bike at a competitive price.

Buying a new motorcycle

There is nothing better than being the first owner of a new bike, but that privilege comes at a price.  While it is true that motorcycles depreciate a lot more gradually than cars, you will loose at least 15% as soon as you've ridden it out of the dealers show room.  If it's your first ever bike, then the likelihood of you having a minor drop in your first few weeks of riding is pretty high.  This will dramatically affect the bike resale price.  If you're going to buy new make sure you intend to keep it for a few years to ensure you spread your initial loss.

Key tips and gotchas

Shop around 

There are hundreds of dealers offering all sort of bargains, check out your local yellow pages or Motorcycle press to find dealers.  Phone them and ask for their ‘best price’.

Test Ride

If you're not 100% sure of the model arrange a test ride.  Be sure to ride a variety of roads including round town and fast A roads.  Aim to ride for at least 30 minutes to be sure the bike is comfortable and what you want.


It is rare that bikes are so in demand that you can't knock 10% off the list price.  Haggle the price down and then see what extras they'll throw in.  Don’t get hooked with a load of stuff that you already have or don't need though.  Use the internet to email dealers your requirements to see if they'll price match.


Many finance packages have very high interest rates, if you've got good credit, but need to pay on finance be sure that your £6,000 bike wont cost you £12,000 after the finance.  Check with your bank or credit card, to see if you can't get a better deal.

Interest free credit

If you're offered 6 months free credit don't be tempted to pay off in instalments  there after.  APRs can be as high as 29% after the initial 0% free period.  Also check for arrangement fees etc.

Free insurance

Check that any no claims bonus you build up with free insurance, can be transferred after the first free year.


The best prices can be had September to January, with December offering the best bargains.  However, most bikers know this so end of season models tend to get snapped up before the end of the year.  Conversely if you're looking in june-August, expect to have a harder time getting a discount.  That said, there's no point buying a bike in October and keeping it in the garrage all winter.


If you're paying top price make sure you're getting the latest model.  Your dealer may be selling off last years model, which may only have a slight change, but it will affect the resale price.  Alternatively why not go for last year's model you can often save around 20%.


A Pre-reg is a bike that is first registerred to the dealer, so you are affectively the second owner.  This allows the dealer to get round discount limits, increase sales and avoid new legislation from time to time.  A pre-reg should be brand new with delivery only mileage.  When the V5 comes through you will be listed as the second owner, for that you can expect a heafty discount.


The idea of a pre-run in bike at significantly reduced price is tempting.  However, few demonstrators are properly run in and may have been given a good thrashing by potential buyers (and time wasters) this may affect the long term reliability of the bike.  You also have to treat it as used, so look for damage etc.  On the plus side you'll get a nearly new bike for a lot less with almost a full warranty.

Free lessons

Some dealers offer free introductory lessons.  If you need a CBT check that this is what they are offering, if it's a motorcycle appreciation course check that it's run by a reputable group.  There are currently no official advanced teaching qualifications, but a Police class 1 rider, RoSPA diploma holder or IAM qualified observer will have passed an advanced test and undergone assessments.


Ensure the price you pay includes any additional security features, road tax, number plates and fuel.


Check the bike over very carefully, look for damage, scratches and signs that the pre-delivery inspection was not caried out (fluid levels etc.) BEFORE you leave the shop.  It will be much harder to resolve these once you've left.

Buying used or second hand

Most dealers will also have a range of second hand bikes or trade-ins for sale.  The price wont be as low as if you bought privately, but a reputable dealer will:
  • Allow you to test ride it without arranging your own insurance.
  • offer a warranty or service package.
  • Ensure that the bike is not stolen and has no outstanding finance.
  • Be required to adhere to the appropriate consumer protection laws e.g the Trades Descriptions Act and Sale and Supply of Goods Act.
Even though you're buying from a dealer you will need to check the specification over.  Ask if there have been any modifications (e.g. race exhausts) as these are common on older bikes and will affect your insurance and the bike may even fail an MOT.  The dealer may not be prepared to refit original parts.

Buying at Auction

If you are prepared to take a bit of a gamble and are not too fussed about the type of bike you go for, you may want to try an auction.  Some car auctions also sell bikes and these can often be worth a try.  Few car dealers will touch a bike at an auction, so the competition at auction will be less.  That said, if bike under auction is a private entry rather than a finance company or fleet sale, you have to ask yourself why the owner did not try to sell privately.
Finance company sales and emergency services auctions are really the best place to find a bargain.  If you are looking for a big tourer or commuter bike, you wont find cheaper Hondas, Triumphs and BMWs at services auctions (providing you don’t mind white, orange or yellow).  They may be high mileage, but will usually have been properly serviced.  I recently spotted a 3 year old ex-Police Pan European, which went at auction for £1,800, approximately 50% of it’s value.

Key tips and Gotchas

Buying privately

The private ads are where you'll find plenty of bargains and one or two wrecks.  Here are some tips to securing the best buys:

Early bird

Motorcycle News and Auto Trader's Bike trader are probably the best places to look for used bikes in the £1,000 - £5,000 price range, if you're budget is less than that, try your local free ads (e.g. Loot or Friday ad) .  Buy it on the day of publication (MCN is Wednesday).  If you can, arrange to view any bikes you are interested in that night.  Most people wont be able to view until a day later (or the weekend), so you'll have plenty of time to check the bikes history out and negotiate a price.  If you want to arrange a test ride, then you'll need to get insurance sorted, so you may want to do an initial viewing and agree a sale price, subject to a test ride and HPI check.

Arranging a viewing 

Although many small traders are honest enough not to pose as private sellers, one trick to catch them out, is to say "I'm phoning about the motorcycle, is it still for sale?"  If they've got more than one on offer, they'll reply "which one?"  Always arrange the viewing at the sellers home, don't agree to meet in a car park, as you'll have no idea if the seller is genuine.  Before you agree to view, ask about mileage, number of owners any damage, rust,  service history etc. as this may save you a wasted journey.

Inspecting the bike

If you know very little about motorbikes, its well worth taken a mate with you to help you control any enthusiasm and give the bike a second opinion.  However, you don't need to be a mechanical genius to spot the basics.  If it's clean and tidy, then the chances are it's been looked after.  Ask the seller to show you round the bike and explain the controls - this will tell you how familiar they are with the bike. Make sure you give it a thorough look over.

Plenty of bikes get scuffed or knocked over, but this doesn't mean they are ready to be thrown away.  Fairings, levers and mirror scuffs are OK and likely to help you get the price down.  More serious damage may indicate a crash.  Check for non cosmetic damage like cracks and damage to mechanical or structural parts.

Items to check

Put the bike on the centre stand if it has one and look for the following. If the bike only has a side stand, then you may need someone to hold it:

Paperwork check

Once you're satisfied that the machine is in order, then you'll need to check the paperwork

V5 & MOT certificate 

The V5 is the vehicle identification document.  If the bike is over 3 years, it will also need a valid MOT certificate.  You need to satisfy that the document matches the machine on sale.  Check Engine/frame number, Make, model, Year and colour and obviously the registration.  See the DVLAs website for more details on checking V5s.

Service book and owners manual 

Do the service stamp dates and mileage match the required interval, can the owner back up the service with receipts.  If you have time, phone the dealer who serviced the bike last and verify the information is correct.  Stamps are easily falsely obtained, so it's worth checking.

HPI check

For £12.50 - £20 you can get a check done that will identify if the bike's stolen, a write off or has outstanding finance on.  It's well worth it, as you stand to loose your investment if the bike turns out to be stolen.  One company that offers this service is  Equifax HPI check.

Completing the sale

To transfer keepers you will need to ensure the vendor completes the V5 with your details.  The V5 explains on the back which sections you need to fill out.  It is now the responsibility of the seller (vendor) to transfer the bike, as this stops people buying bikes and not registering them.  You will need the transfer slip as proof until your new V5 is posted to you.  You must ensure that the details are correct, as obtaining a new document is inconvenient and suspicious when you come to sell the bike.  You should also obtain a receipt sometimes refered to as a bill of sale for the purchase (a simple signed note detailing what, when and how much and by who to who will do) in case the owner attempts to report it stolen after you've paid for it.  Remember the V5 is NOT proof of ownership.

When you come to sell the bike it is essential that you create a bill of sale that is signed by both you and the purchaser, with both parties retaining a copy.  The bill of sale should include: Vendor name & address, buyers name and address, make, model, registration number, VIN plate number and the mileage.  You should also aim to include the following text:

>Sold as seen  tried, tested and approved by the purchaser, without any representations warranties or conditions expressed or implied whatsover

This basically protects you from the buyer coming back the next day with a fault and demanding a refund.

It's worth noting that under The Road Traffic Act 1988 - Section 75 you have a duty not to sell a vehicle in an unroadworthy condition, unless (under paragraph 6) you can prove that you believed it was not going to be used on the road or it was not going to be used on the road until it had been repaired.  Therefore if you are selling a vehicle that you know is unroadworthy and have made that clear to the buyer, you should include a note stating that the buyer understands this and intends to use it off-road or carry out appropriate repairs.  

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