The words ‘sportsbike’ and ‘beginner’ rarely mix well, but that doesn’t stop many of us lusting after some sporty wheels for our first ride.
While superbikes like the FireBlade and S1000RR are definitely for experts only, the truth is that supersport 600 machines are also best handled with care too.
But with Kawasaki set to unleash its entry level Ninja 400 in 2018, we thought that it would be a good time to look at some of the other sporty bikes that have been designed with the beginner and intermediate rider in mind. We’ve selected some of our favourites, all of which can be ridden on an A2 licence, which is compulsory for any new riders under the age of 24. We’ve also restricted our choice to racy looking faired bikes, ruling out some juicy nakeds like the Kawasaki Z800 and Triumph Street Triple. That’s another story for another day…
Aprilia RS 4 125
If you’re 17 or 18 and want to start out on a sporty bike, you’ll be restricted to a 125 – it’s the law. These bikes are limited to 15bhp and can be ridden on L plates, or a full A1 licence, but the great news is that there are quite a few options out there. Yamaha’s ever popular YZF-R125 is a good choice, especially on the second hand market, but for sheer just-rolled-off-a-racetrack looks, it’s hard to beat Aprilia’s gorgeous RS4 125.
Yes, it’s only a 125, but what a gorgeous looking 125 it is. The spec sheet is awesome too, with its aluminium frame, upside down forks, snazzy instruments and radially mounted brakes. It even has an optional quickshifter. In fact, the only thing that lets it down out of the box are poor original equipment tyres, which are disappointing in the dry and extremely naff in the wet. Change these for some Pirellis or Michelins though and you’ll be king of the corner speed down at the local chip shop Grand Prix.
KTM RC 390
At 19 years old you’re eligible to upgrade to an A2 motorcycle licence, opening up a whole fleet of higher performance bikes for consideration.
One of the most popular, and sportiest, bikes in this category is the KTM RC 390. The free revving, single cylinder 373cc motor is a gem and the chassis (shared with the ace RC 125) goes around corners like it’s on rails.
Styling isn’t to everyone’s tastes, and it’s not hugely practical (think small fuel tank and poor pillion provision) but for teenagers looking for the sportiest bike around, there’s not much to touch the KTM.
If the KTM doesn’t float your boat, then the 321cc Yamaha R3 might just be the bike for you.
While the name and styling suggest a mini-R1, the R3 is perhaps not quite as sporty as the other bikes on our list. Conventional telescopic forks (as opposed to the upside down items on the RC 390), basic brakes and an old fashioned steel frame are hardly the stuff of dreams, even if they work very well and help keep the costs down.
It looks great though, and has some racetrack pedigree as one of the bikes used in the new Supersport 300 class. The engine is a twin that’s smoother than the RC 390’s single, and the bike feels bigger and more grown up than the cramped KTM.
The YZF-R3 narrowly edges out the Kawasaki Ninja 300 as our choice as a sporty beginner bike. There’s not much between the two on the spec sheet or the road, but the Yamaha just gets the nod thanks to its sharper styling and revvier engine. That said, the new Kawasaki Ninja 400 lands in dealerships soon with eyes on becoming the new king of the class.
Kawasaki Ninja 650
There are some cracking bikes in the 650-700cc bracket, like the Honda CB650, Suzuki SV650, Triumph Street Triple and Yamaha MT-07, but if you want something faired and with sportsbike styling, there’s only one real option – the Kawasaki Ninja 650.
Sure, it’s not the most sporting bike out there. The steel frame and conventional forks give the game away that this is not an out and out race replica, but take a step back and the lines are every bit worthy of Kawasaki’s flagship Ninja nameplate.
It’s got some sporting pedigree too. The Ninja 650 (or rather its predecessor, the ER-6) has powered the winner of the Lightweight TT every year since 2012, when the class returned under supertwin rules, and it’s one of the most practical bikes on this list thanks to its good comfort, pillion provision and optional luggage.
As standard the 650 makes 67bhp but an A2 version is available for younger riders on restricted licences.
Fancy a ‘proper’ racer for your first sports bike? How about a Kawasaki ZXR400?
Grey import 400s were all the rage in the 1990s. These were scale model replicas of the top-of-the-range superbikes built mainly for the Japanese market, but which came to the UK by the container load after a few years on oriental roads.
As well as these ‘grey’ bikes Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki also officially imported new examples of these pocket rockets, mainly to satisfy demand from club racers, and it’s the Kawasaki ZXR400 which has arguably stood the time better than the rest.
Part of that reason is because they sold quite a lot of them. With their upside down forks, more modern wheel sizes and lower cost, the Kawasaki was a pretty common sight in the late 1990s and early part of the 21st century.
It looks like a miniature replica of a mid-1990s ZXR750 world superbike and has an addictively revvy four-cylinder motor. It’s a proper, built-for-purpose, sportsbike but with 60bhp on tap it is far less likely to catch out inexperienced riders than a 600. An A2 kit is available to restrict the ZXR for younger riders, if their licences are limited to 47bhp.
The downside? Well even the youngest examples will be 15 years old. Many have been converted for track use or abused by numerous rookie owners, but there are plenty around and if you find a good one it still provides an intoxicating and engaging ride that is the very essence of a race replica sportsbike.
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