Can’t face the prospect of months without riding but don’t want to ruin your pride and joy with road salt and winter grime? Then what you need is a bargain winter hack, a bike you can pick up cheap and modify for the colder months with winter tyres, heated grips, bar muffs and suchlike.
Here’s our pick of 10 of the best bikes that are unlikely to depreciate too much and will keep you riding right through the worst of the winter.
1. Honda VFR750 1995-1998 £1,300-£2,400 Ins group 14
Perhaps the undisputed king of the all-rounders, the last of the VFR750s — before it swelled to 800cc and arguably lost its way — was without doubt the best of its era. The 100bhp V4 motor, while only moderately powerful by modern standards, is as smooth as silk with a surfeit of grunt in the midrange that combined with softer-than-sports suspension and a sumptuous seat wafts you along on a magic carpet ride of torque.
A sports tourer with perhaps more emphasis on touring, the VFR can still be hustled along at a fair old lick thanks to a neutral chassis and predictable handling.
Finish and durability are pretty much keywords with Honda and there are few things to look out for when it comes to used VFRs — even ones that have endured a few winters.
Pros: Build quality, unique character, great all-rounder
Cons: None worth mentioning
2.Triumph Sprint ST/RS 955 1998-2004 £900-£2,200 Ins group 14
Britain’s answer to the VFR800 — and in many ways a much better bike. Best of all, it can be had for a song since the heavily revised 1050cc version pushed down prices in 2005.
The three-cylinder motor is characterful with a unique feel that combines the torque and urgency of a twin with the revs and refinement of a four. It’s an ideal motor for this type of bike and a lazy left foot isn’t punished too harshly thanks to plenty of low-down pull from the 955cc motor. Go for a post-2002 model if you can; you’ll feel the benefit of the extra 10bhp as claimed power went up from 108 to 118bhp.
Handling is easy going and the chassis works well — up to a point. Beyond that point you can quickly be reminded that this is a sports tourer. The suspension is on the soft side and, with little in the way of adjustment, many owners opted for thicker oil in the forks to firm things up and to cope with the excellent brakes. The less popular half-faired RS version can be an even bigger bargain.
Pros: Cheap to buy, cracking engine, practical
Cons: Need looking after, be wary of seized parts such as chain adjusters. Check for warped discs.
3. Honda CBF1000 2006-2009 £1,850-£4,000 Ins group 14
In some ways it’s a shame the CBF1000 looks so bland. But it’s a blessing in others — it flies under the radar, attracts very little unwanted attention and simply gets on with the job like a 140mph stealth bomber.
Powered by a retuned Fireblade motor, superbike levels of performance may be an exaggeration but only just. The power delivery is refined, super-smooth and easy enough for a newbie without being boring for the more experienced. The chassis is unashamedly basic, and while it looks to be a collection of budget components bolted to a simple steel spine frame, as a whole it just works — the handling is decent (good enough for these bikes to be used by instructors on the Ron Haslam race school!) and braking is good too, with later models getting ABS.
Honda makes a stack of genuine luggage bolt-ons and there are plenty to choose from on the aftermarket too. Indeed, building a practical winter bike on a budget couldn’t be easier.
Pros: Honda build quality, refined performance, easy handling
Cons: Bland looks, otherwise nothing
4. Yamaha FZS600 Fazer 1998-2003 £750-£2,000 Ins group 12
The later R6-engined FZ6 Fazer is also worth a look but ask most enthusiasts of a certain age and they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms that the original was the best.
The early Fazer uses the Thundercat motor which has less top-end but way more midrange than the later R6 engine, and is far better suited to a naked bike — and it’s still capable of hitting 150mph!
Handling is good for such an entry-level machine though the soft forks are easily shown up by the brakes — the same calipers were fitted to the mighty R1 of the same vintage — but it’s a small criticism of an otherwise well-balanced package that combines speed and comfort with aplomb. The choice of fairings really divides opinion. The original could be considered dated or retro depending on your point of view while the later R-series inspired headlights are not only more modern-looking but also more functional. Decisions, decisions…
Pros: Smooth and torquey for a 600, handling, brakes
Cons: A little thirsty on fuel, otherwise none
5. Honda CB600F/S Hornet 1998-2006 £1,000-£2,500 Ins group 12
Honda’s entry into the once burgeoning naked sports middleweight market created quite a buzz when it was launched back in 1998. Using the old CBR600F motor, the Hornet has plenty of punch and is easy around town thanks to its low seat height, smooth power delivery and light clutch.
Low speed handling on all models is good although pre-2000 machines use the Fireblade’s 16-inch front wheel, which can feel slightly odd at speed — if you can find a later bike with a 17-inch front wheel then it’s a much better option.
The suspension is pretty basic but works well enough right up to track pace while the slightly wooden brakes can be easily improved with a decent set of aftermarket pads.
Like most Hondas, what really sets the Hornet apart as a winter bike is the build quality and durability of the finish. Sure, there are plenty of ropey examples knocking about but even the most casually maintained machines should still be in good order. If you’re happy to sacrifice looks for practicality, then the half-faired S model is worth a look.
Pros: Build quality, easy to ride, good looks
Cons: No, can’t think of any
6. Suzuki SV650/S 1999-2003 £850-£1,600 Ins group 9
A real son of a gun, the ‘Mini TL’ is essentially a scaled-down version of the TL1000S, a wayward cult classic once dubbed ‘the widow maker’ by the biking press. Such accusations, however, could never be levelled at the smaller, well-mannered SV. The engine made its European counterparts feel positively crude and agricultural at the turn of the century and while they may have caught up over the last 15 years, the SV’s motor still feels modern with a smooth power delivery, glitch-free fuel injection and a typically Suzuki-slick gearbox.
Handling is good too, with neutral but swift handling and bags of ground clearance. It’s a bike that’s easy to ride in a variety of scenarios — particularly for shorter riders thanks to a narrow waistline and relatively low seat height.
The naked bike has a more upright perch with a wide handlebar making it ideal around town while the ‘S’ version gets a useful bikini fairing with clip-on bars and a slightly more head-down, bum-up riding position. For townies and sports fans, the SV is well worth a punt.
Pros: Superb V-twin motor, easy handling
Cons: Finish needs looking after through winter
7. Honda Deauville NT650V 1999 on £1,000-£3,000 Ins group 10
Cruelly dubbed the ‘Dullsville’ by the biking press, the NT650V is not for you if excitement is high on your list of biking priorities.
However, if you’re going to be racking up the miles and want your winter motorcycling to be cheap, practical and figure very little in the way of maintenance, then there are few bikes that fit the bill quite as well as this old Honda.
The Deauville is propelled by a shaft drive, so there’s no filthy winter chain maintenance. It also features built-in hard luggage so you’ll be able to transport your work clothes and packed lunch cleanly and without the need to scour eBay to find a top-box that fits properly.
Sure, with only 55bhp wheezing its way out of the venerable V-twin motor you’re not going to be the fastest thing on the road. But on the plus side, handling is typically Honda-neutral, the riding position and saddle are comfortable and the screen does a pretty good job of keeping the chill winter wind at bay.
Pros: Low maintenance, practical, excellent fuel economy
Cons: Pretty boring, lack of performance
8. Suzuki Bandit GSF600 1996-2005 £800-£2,000 Ins group 12
Still something of a cult classic and rightly so. While the bigger 1200 version was a massive hit with stunters and wannabe street hooligans, the 600 provided the perfect platform for new riders to hone their skills. The naked ‘N’ version is arguably the best looking with its retro looks and that iconic oil and air-cooled motor proudly on display.
The ‘S’ offers a little more wind protection by way of a bikini fairing, so is more practical if your winter miles are likely to include dual carriageways and motorways. Handling is slightly on the soft side and equipment is basic but when it comes to fun on a budget, you won’t be left feeling robbed by a Bandit.
Pros: Classic looks, no-nonsense steel frame, durability
Cons: Heavy, soft suspension, finding a minter
9. Kawasaki ZR-7 ZR750 1999-2004 £1,100-£2,000 Ins group 11
The ZR-7 uses an evolution of the somewhat antiquated GPZ750 motor so you can rest assured that it’s a solid unit that can cope with monster mileages.
The rest of the bike is pretty solid too, which is apparent when it comes to acceleration — tipping the scales at over 200kg, the ZR-7 is certainly no lightweight. While unlikely to win any traffic light grand prix, the ZR-7 otherwise hides its weight well, with easy handling and a refined, if slightly unexciting, motor that can power you all the way to a claimed 126mph; on closed roads or on the Autobahn, of course…
Fuel economy is decent and a steady hand will be rewarded with around 50mpg. Combined with a fuel tank that holds a whopping 22 litres, fill-ups should be few, something of a relief in the winter months.
The faired version brings extra practicality and mirrors that work brilliantly.
Pros: Cheap to run, easy home maintenance
Cons: Unexciting, heavy
10. Yamaha Diversion XJ600 1992-2004 £500-£1,500 Ins group 9
Cheap to buy, cheap to insure and almost unrivalled when it comes to overall running costs (well over 50mpg), the Diversion has plenty going for it as an inexpensive winter hack. Sure, the antiquated 600cc air-cooled motor is hardly breathtaking but it’s also bulletproof, so don’t be scared off by high mileages so long as the rest of the bike looks to have been looked after.
Equally suitable for the novice rider or as a courier’s workhorse, the XJ600 is famously robust and inexpensive. Other than that there’s very little to shout about — but then there’s very little to moan about either, so long as you’re not seeking excitement.
Pros: Built to last forever, cheap to insure and run
Cons: Boring, unexciting… did we say boring?