Once upon a time, motorcycling was seen by most as an inexpensive way to get from A to B. These days, more and more motorbikes are being bought for leisure use, while commuters use new financing methods, especially PCPs, to spread the cost of their bikes over a number of years. For many city dwellers, the monthly cost of a motorcycle on finance is cheaper than a season ticket on public transport, but if you just want a cheap set of wheels to hack around on, can you still get a motorbike for under £1000, in cash? We hit the classified ads to find out…
Finding a motorcycle for under £1000 isn’t such a difficult task, just head to eBay/Gumtree/Facebook or any other classified site of your choice. Finding a good motorcycle for under £1000, on the other hand, is a real minefield but there are some gems to be had out there, provided you keep your wits about you and don’t just buy the first bike you find.
Of course, a lot depends on what you are looking for. If you want a moped or scooter, you’re likely to find plenty options out there within your price range, and that will even include new examples of some Chinese scooters. Basic learner bikes can also be found plentifully within the grand mark, but if you’re looking for something bigger, and from one of the more established manufacturers, the task becomes somewhat tougher.
Tips for finding a cheap bike
Ask a trader
Going to a franchised motorcycle dealer for a cheap bike may feel counterintuitive, but there can be bargain bangers to be had at your shiny main dealer.
Generally dealers have a stock profile for the bikes they sell. Typically they’ll avoid old bangers as they can be more trouble than they’re worth. Having an old bike hanging around can devalue the look of their carefully curated showroom. What’s more cheap bikes still take up valuable showroom space and staff resources (it’ll still need a valet, for example), and the Consumer Rights Act means that if the bike goes wrong up to 30 days after it’s sold, the dealer will have to rectify the bike, offer a replacement or give a refund. More often than not an old bike just isn’t worth the hassle to a big dealer…
So if they take one in as a trade in they’re usually keen to move it on as quickly and as hassle free as possible. Sometimes they’ll just send trade ins to auction, or they’ll have a deal with a local trader to take the stuff that doesn’t fit their criteria. But if you see something round the back it’s often worth putting in a cheeky offer. Chances are that they’ll be keen to get rid as quickly as possible and you might be able to ride away ‘sold as seen’ on a bargain.
Basic economics decrees that market forces dictates prices. If you live in London, or indeed any major city, you’ll likely find more choice of bikes (supply) out there, but with more riders also eager to snap up a bargain (demand) the prices are also likely to remain more buoyant.
In more rural areas, you’ll find less bikes, but less demand too. That often means that prices are lower and that bikes take longer to sell, while the bikes often find themselves in better condition too. We know more than a few traders who regularly take an empty van up to the north of Scotland in order to bag some bargains, and if you’re prepared to travel for your new bike (for example taking a train up and riding it back, or arranging for a courier to collect it) you’ll open yourself up to a wider range of bikes for sale.
Do your research
Buying at less than £1000 exposes you to risks. Chances are that something will go wrong with it one day, so do your research and find out what any likely problems are. Understand what can possibly go wrong, what the consequences are and how much it will cost to fix. For example, a sprag clutch failure on an old Triumph is likely to destroy the engine and make the bike an absolute money pit, while early Street Triples have a penchant for blowing their original rectifier/regulators. It’s a pain if it goes, but a £50 DIY fix if the worst does happen.
Don’t be afraid to ask the seller what work’s been done on the bike and if it doesn’t feel right, walk away. You won’t have too many options at your price point, but you shouldn’t just buy something for the sake of it. Cheap bikes have a habit of becoming expensive bikes if you buy the wrong one. Google is your friend.
Consider a project
If you’re handy with the spanners, why not consider a project? We’re not advocating buying a basket case, but many owners just want to get shot of an old bike if it’s broken down or failed its MoT. If you’ve done your research and can fix it on the cheap, you might find yourself getting a bargain that you might even be able to make money on when it comes time for you to sell it on.
Look at the other costs
So far we’ve only looked at the price to buy your bike, but consider the running costs too.
Your insurance premium is one of the main costs, so that needs to be factored in. In general, high performance bikes are more expensive to insure than less powerful ones, so this needs to be considered, especially if you are a younger or less experienced rider. Carole Nash offers a Future Classic policy on bikes more than 10 years old, while bikes between 20 and 30 years old qualify for a classic motorbike insurance policy.
Fuel economy and the cost of parts is another part of your equation. If your bike was rare when it was new, you might find it hard to find spare parts for it, while breakers yards are positively swimming in inexpensive parts for commonplace models like the Suzuki Bandit and Honda CBR600F. A cheap bike that’s expensive to run may well break the bank in the long term.
Five sub grand bargains
Want a full-sized bike for under £1k? You’ll mainly be looking at some 1990s metal. Here’s five we think you should be able to find within budget…
Honda CBR1000F – Honda’s early 1990s sports tourer never really caught the imagination like the Kawasaki ZZR1100 but they’re well built and offer loads of bike for the money these days. Good examples are at the £2k mark but you won’t have to look too far to find a usable example for less than half of that.
Suzuki Bandit 600 – the Bandit has always been one of the UK’s most popular motorcycles, providing cheap thrills since 1995. Part of the appeal was always the low purchase price, and the fact that they were built to a price means that many have rotted away. Don’t expect to find a minter for a grand. Chances are it’ll be sporting a few battle scars and the odd modification, but the appeal is still the same and the technology makes them simple for the DIY mechanic too.
Yamaha Diversion 600 – Yamaha has made plenty of exciting bikes over the years, but unfortunately the Diversion 600 isn’t one of them. To many, the Divvy is as dull as dishwater, but to others it’s a reliable workhorse and a perfect winter hack. The air-cooled four-cylinder motor can be traced back to the XJ600 of 1984 and is a strong old lump. The Divvy was introduced in 1992 and ran for over a decade without significant changes, so buy on condition rather than age. There’s the choice of a naked or faired version, and you’ll possibly even find a 900cc version, with shaft drive, available under the magic grand mark.
BMW F650 – BMW introduced its single-cylinder F650 range in 1993 to broaden the brand’s appeal and create a range of products for a more youthful audience. Assembled in Italy by Aprilia, the original range consisted of the standard F650 model (known as the Funduro) and the lower and more street orientated Strada (street) version. They’re simple, light and fun to ride, especially around town, and fall within our £1000 budget. The new millennium saw the range updated, with the first F650GS and the weird and wonderful F650CS ‘Scarver’. The Scarver was a sales disaster, but underneath lay a fun bike that makes a great (sub £1000) bargain today.
Kawasaki ER-5 – if you fancied a 500cc twin in the 1990s, there was plenty of choice. From Honda’s popular CB500 to Suzuki’s utilitarian GS500, there were loads of cheap commuter bikes out there. Many have succumbed to a life of abuse, particularly in the hands of motorcycle couriers and training schools, while the CB500 was (and still is) even a popular (and unlikely) steed for club racers. Perhaps the best buy on the market today is the Kawasaki ER-5. Based on the GPZ500 (another sub-£1000 bargain) the ER-5 was produced from 1997 to 2006, when it was replaced by the ER-6. We’ve found plenty of examples with a full MoT that were well within our budget. Indeed a few hundred quid might be all that it takes to ride off on a running example