Second only to the A1/125cc category in terms of interest to novice bikers, A2 bikes, which, in simple terms are machines restricted to 35kw or 47bhp, can be hugely attractive to inexperienced riders, are a popular, competitive class as a result and, for 2020, have even more new offerings to choose from.
Compared to the A1/125 class, where 17-year-olds with a provisional licence and a valid CBT certificate can ride an A1 bike on the road as long as they display L-plates, the A2 qualification is a little more complicated. Our Guide To Motorcycle Licence Categories will come in handy.
First, you have to be at least 19 years of age. If you’re completely new to motorcycling you’ll need a provisional licence and valid CBT certificate before then passing the theory test and two-module practical test, which must be taken on an A2 category machine.
Alternatively, if you’re coming to A2 after having held a FULL A1 licence for at least two years you can upgrade by solely passing the two-part practical test.
Incidentally, A2 mostly applies to 19-24 year-olds as, once you’re 24 you qualify to apply for a full, unlimited A licence via Direct Access.
A2 qualifying machines also aren’t quite as simple to explain as A1 125cc 11kw/15bhp ones. Although the general rule is a maximum performance figure of 35kw (47bhp) and that some normally more powerful bikes can qualify by being restricted to this power figure, it’s also important to note other stipulations. Although there’s no upper capacity limit, A2 bikes must be larger than 395cc and also have a minimum output of 27bhp. In addition, the power-to-weight ratio must not exceed 0.2kw/kg while ‘restricted’ A2 bikes must not produce more than 70kw (94bhp) in standard production form.
The result of all that is that most production A2 bikes tend to be between 400 and 600cc, often relatively lightweight single or twins although a number of manufacturers do also offer restricted versions of their larger bikes, which qualify for the A2 regulation.
So, with all that in mind, what are the latest and best A2 machines available for 2020. Here’s our pick to help you choose…
One of the highlight new A2 bikes for 2020 is Yamaha’s significantly updated MT-03, which is effectively a naked, roadster version of the YZF-R3 sportster (see below) which itself received a major makeover last year. The 321cc, 41bhp twin, as first introduced in 2016, was always a perky, easy-to-ride and nicely equipped offering, if a little on the pricey side, but changes and additions mean it now justifies the cost more than ever. There’s aggressive new styling more akin to its MT-07 and MT-09 stable mates, a new, ‘reversed LCD’ dash, an improved riding position and improved suspension front and rear. There’s plenty of competition in this bracket but if you want the smoothness of a twin with the classy sophistication to match, the new MT-03 is up there with the best.
The Austrian off-road specialists have a long-held and well-deserved reputation both for off-roaders and adventure bikes and for punchy lightweights so it should be no surprise that 2020 also sees it debut a possibly long-overdue ‘adventure’ version of the punchy 390 single that’s long earned rave reviews in roadster Duke and sportster RC forms. The base mechanicals are all Duke, that being a punchy 44bhp single in a tubular steel trellis frame. But in this adventure guise it gets longer-travel, off-road suspension, a big 19in dirt front wheel and revised ergonomics and styling. But though taller and with a pretty high saddle, it’s still light and slim enough to suit novices. As a road bike it’s nimble, comfortable and reasonably long legged plus it’s a genuinely credible off-roader, too. In fact, overall, it’s probably the most genuinely versatile A2 bike around, period.
Read our full review here.
Another newcomer for 2020 is Triumph’s unique take on the A2 theme – it’s fully updated, A2-compliant, 660cc version of its class-leading Street Triple naked. While other manufacturers offer restricted versions of bikes to comply with the A2 regulations, the British firm goes one further – by offering a smaller capacity, 660cc version of the normal 765cc three-cylinder engine in order to comply with the 35kw/47bhp rule. That said, once you qualify for a full A licence, the bike can then be derestricted, by a Triumph dealer, to the full 95bhp allowable. The updates follow the arrival of the new Street Triple 765 RS this year which, prompted by Euro 5, got a significant makeover including engine mods, freshened up styling and spec changes. The styling update of more angular bodywork is carried over to this A2 version which also gets a lowered seat and more affordable, basic spec yet retains decent quality suspension, two riding modes, full size proportions and the ‘Striple’s unique combination of three-cylinder character and brilliant handling which makes its bigger brothers stand out.
The adventure styled version of Honda’s brilliant, A2 purpose-built CB500 twin family, as first introduced in 2013 alongside the CB500F roadster and CBR500R sportster has, like its siblings, proved a great success but this latest version, significantly updated last year, moves it to another level. All three stand out for the combination of their purpose-designed, 47bhp, parallel twin engines, affordable but decent Malaysian build quality and typically-Honda brilliant ergonomics and novice-friendly manners. But the taller, more upright X adds to that with more of a big bike feel and long-legged nature than most rivals that particularly suits taller riders. 2019’s updates enhanced that further with longer-travel suspension and a 19-inch front wheel (replacing the old 17-incher) which is far more in-keeping with its adventure style, further improved ergonomics, new Africa Twin inspired styling and updated spec including a stylish new reversed LCD dash and LED lights. As an A2 introduction to the whole adventure bike style they don’t get any better.
Read our full review here.
Another impressive newcomer for 2020 is BMW’s brand new F900XR, which, although in standard trim comes with 104bhp, a special A2 95bhp version is also available, which can be restricted to 47bhp to comply with the A2 regulation. Although looking like a ‘junior’ S1000XR, the 900 is more a twin cylinder, classy alternative to Yamaha’s hugely successful Tracer 900 triple. It’s based on the F800 parallel twin but enlarged to 895cc, like the Tracer has a brilliant blend of versatility, comfort and performance, looks great, has useful features such as a one-hand adjustable screen and colour TFT screen and, in higher spec TE trim, comes with typical BM goodies such as multiple riding modes and heated grips. The versatility of a Tracer but with the class and gloss of a BMW yet all under £10K? No wonder it’s one of our bikes of the year.
We couldn’t let BMW’s new F900XR pass by without also mentioning its similarly-new-for-2020 stable mate, the F900R roadster. Based on the same, enlarged 895cc parallel twin powerplant and rolling chassis as its adventure sport brother, the R instead, as you might expect, goes down the sporty roadster route with lower bars, no fairing and a more aggressive attitude which should appeal to the more sporting rider. Two versions are again available: the base R with TFT dash and two riding modes and the higher spec SE with quickshifter, extra riding modes, BMW’s brilliant Dynamic ESA suspension and more. Best of all though here is that, like the XR, an A2 version with 95bhp is also available that can again be restricted down to 47bhp to comply with A2 then converted back again once you qualify for you’re a licence.
Strictly speaking the latest R3 was introduced last year, in 2019, rather than this but Yamaha’s fully-updated A2 pocket rocket sportster is so good it has to get a mention here. Based around the same willing but free-revving 321cc twin as this year’s updated MT-03 roadster (see above) it was first introduced in 2015 effectively as a junior, more novice-friendly brother to Yamaha’s world-beating R6 and R1 sports bikes. The result delivers a real sporting flavor backed up by quality cycle parts and more full-sized proportions than many rivals yet is still light and easy enough for novices. Last year’s update brought updated, M1-alike styling, improved suspension, new, full LCD clocks and more. On the slight downside, it’s not exactly cheap, but if you want the closest thing to a Valentino Rossi replica while riding on an A2 licence, this is certainly it.
Read our full review here
Ducati’s hugely-trendy, retro-styled, novice-friendly Scrambler family has been a sensational global sales hit since their first introduction in 800cc form in 2015 proving so successful that there’s now a full five different variants, ranging from café racer to trail style plus also two 1100 versions now, too. But the smaller, 400cc Sixty2, introduced a year later in 2016 specifically to appeal to A2 riders has arguably been the most significant of all. Its 399cc engine produces an A2-compliant 40bhp, its ergonomics, lower seat and lighter weight are all conceived with novice riders in mind and its more basic spec helps keep the price at a very affordable sub-£7K – yet all while still looking ever inch a thoroughbred Ducati. For an easy, accessible and yet still stylish introduction to Italian exotica there’s none better.
Read our full review here
Another bike actually introduced in 2019 rather than this year but so worthy and so new then it’s more than worth its inclusion here. Kawasaki’s latest ‘Zed’ – the name Kawasaki now gives to all its naked roadsters – replaced the old Z300 and fits neatly as the firm’s A2 roadster offering between the A1 Z125 and its MT-07-rivalling Z650. Derived from the well-respected Ninja 400 sportster, the new Zed uses that bike’s lively and free-revving 45bhp 399cc parallel twin motor and sports-orientated rolling chassis but ditches the fairing, assumes a more upright posture and gets a whole new set of Zed bodywork full in-keeping with the rest of Kawasaki’s line-up. Light handling and a low seat mean it’s totally unintimidating to novices yet it’s also sporty and sufficiently engaging to satisfy. While the cherry on top, as with many Kawasaki ‘Zeds’ these days, is impressive build quality and spec including LED lights and digital clocks that bear comparison to any rival. Not quite as sporty and substantial as the MT-03 but for some that’s good.
Read our full review here
Finally, another new-for-2020 A2 offering that’s out of left field. Benelli is a historic Italian brand that’s now Chinese owned and built (although still designed in Italy) and the Imperiale is one of its first full-on retro offerings, being inspired by the firm’s classic 1950s machines. As such, it’s a triumph of style over performance but, in this category, that sometimes makes a refreshing change. Power from the air-cooled single is just 20bhp and the chassis is hardly cutting edge but that’s made up for by fabulous period detailing including twin seat, ‘peashooter’ silencer and ‘bullet’ indicators, easy manners, nice details such as twin analogue clocks and knee pads as standard and, best of all, a sub £3500 price tag that undercuts by over £500 even the cheapest Royal Enfield.
These are our top picks for 2020, but you might be able to grab yourself a bargain with some older models. Checkout our top 10 A2 friendly bikes from 2018 here.