Want the maximum bike for the minimum dollar? There are plenty of naked bruisers out there on the second hand market that will give you plenty of power for not much money.
Which are the best? Armed with a theoretical budget between £2000 and £3000, we sifted through the classified ads and came up with our favourite five…
Yamaha’s venerable XJR has been around for donkey’s years.
Launched as the XJR1200 in 1995, it mated a punched out version of the old FJ1100 mill (which in turn was launched over a decade earlier) with a traditional roadster chassis.
The XJR was an instant hit, providing classic good looks, plenty of punch and an easy going nature. In 1998 the engine was increased to 1251cc, creating the XJR1300. With 105bhp hauling around 224kg on pretty basic suspension, it’s no café racer. It does stop and go well enough, the stopping coming courtesy of front brakes taken from the R1 parts bin, and it’s comfy too.
Part of the XJR’s appeal is that it just looks so right, especially in traditional Yamaha yellow (with black speed blocks). A 2007 update saw the adoption of fuel injection, largely to bring it in line with Euro3 emissions regulations, and some small detail changes, such as Ohlins branded rear shocks on the SP version.
The model ended in 2014 and has a short term replacement in the more obviously retro styled XJR1300 Racer, which scuttled out when the Euro4 regulations came in a few years later.
Like all of the bikes on the list here, the XJR is ripe for customisation. Whether you prefer modified or stock is a matter of personal taste, but the XJR can definitely benefit from upgraded suspension. There are also a whole load of modifications that improve practicality, such as a windscreen, luggage and comfort seats.
Early examples can be had for as little as £2000, with a late Racer costing three times that.
The success of Yamaha’s XJR1300 (and to a lesser degree Honda’s CB1300 and the Kawasaki ZRX1200) Suzuki got in on the act in 2001 with the GSX1400.
The recipe is the same as those other two illustrious machines. The 1402cc air/oil cooled four is classic Suzuki and also puts out 105bhp. Like the XJR it’s a heavy and basic beast, weighing in at around 229kg but in many ways that’s the appeal. It’s a simple bike, a throwback to the days before electronic aids or even fully adjustable suspension.
The GSX sold well, albeit never quite in the numbers of the Yamaha. The reason for that may well have been Suzuki’s internal competition from the ever popular Bandit 1200, which remained in the range alongside the 1400, and today they’re still a popular second hand buy with prices starting at around £3000. For that, you get a stonking engine, authentic looks and whole heap of retro attitude. Whether it’s better than the XJR is really down to your own brand loyalty.
Suzuki Bandit 1200
Talking of the Bandit, no list of bruisers could be complete without Suzuki’s ever popular hooligan bike.
Bandits are icons of the 1990s. The formula that made them so popular was simple: take a big, simple engine (in this case a 1152cc version of the venerable air/oil cooled Suzuki four), streetfighter styling and a low sticker price.
They were built to a price, meaning that build quality was a bit iffy, but loads were sold in a 10 year production run, between 1996 and 2006, which means that there are still plenty out there.
Good luck finding a standard one though. Even the youngest ones are at least a decade old, and most will have had some kind of modifications over the years, whether that’s a sporty end can to replace a rotten original exhaust or anodised bits and pieces to replace levers or handlebars that have inevitably gone down the road at some time in history.
They’re still massive bargains though, with prices starting at a little more than a £1000 and going up to £3000 for the best examples.
Aprilia RSV Tuono
It’s not just the Japanese who make bargain bruisers. If you fancy something with two cylinders, and Latin blood running through its veins, then there are a few Italian stallions that might be right up your strada.
Early Ducati Monsters can be had within our budget, however the air-cooled 900cc V-twin only made 73bhp when it came out of the factory and struggles to deliver the kind of power the aggressive looks suggest. Later, water-cooled, S4 Monsters, powered by the iconic 916 engine, tick the bruiser box but for a real bargain, Aprilia’s RSV Tuono is pretty much untouchable.
Launched in 2002, it’s based on the Aprilia RSV1000 V-twin superbike. There are numerous versions, with different specs and power outputs, but with over 120bhp for the base version, it’s on a different performance level to the other bikes we’ve listed so far. It is (apologies) wheely good!
Looks are a bit marmite, with factory streetfighter styling that’s extremely aggressive, but it’s a thrilling ride and an absolute steal – good ones can be had for around the £2k mark!
If your idea of a bargain bruiser doesn’t involve retro, and isn’t a headbanger like the Tuono, the Kawasaki Z1000 might be the bike for you.
The first generation bikes were launched in 2003 and cashed in on the trend for bikes like the Triumph Speed Triple and the many unfaired Italians on the market. Power came from an enlarged version of the old ZX-9R motor, which was good for over 120bhp, and the styling was modern, if a little bland.
Make no mistake though, the Z1000 packs a massive punch. The motor is revvy and sportier in nature than the other Japanese nakeds. There are loads of accessories available and that has led to a number of modified examples appearing on the second hand market. Whether or not these are desirable to new buyers is a matter of taste, but they did sell well – meaning that there are plenty out there with prices starting from around £2000.