10 best 1st bikes for £1000

When you’re starting out in motorcycling at 17, not only are you restricted to A1 category 125cc machines, unless you’re very lucky (or rich) you’re more than likely going to be operating with a restricted budget, too which further limits the choice of bikes on offer.

So, while those privileged few, or those prepared to buy on finance, may be able to consider a brand new £4K+ Yamaha YZF-R125  or the recently further improved KTM 125 Duke  – both of which, admittedly, are brilliant bikes – the great majority of us are instead limited to considering what you can get for, say, a grand. 

But while that fairly typical 17-year-old budget rules out machines like the sporty Yamaha and stunt-styled KTM (even the cheapest, roughest YZF is about £1500 while you won’t find the smallest Duke for under £2K), it DOESN’T mean there aren’t any good bikes out there. So here, to help you make up your mind, and in no particular order, is our pick of the best first time bikes for under a grand.

Honda CBR125R (2004-2010) – The ‘Sensible Sportster’



Although the updated, face-lifted, 2010-on version remains out of reach on this budget, with used prices currently starting at about £1400, decent examples of the original can be found for around £900+ – and we heartily recommend it. Although the CBR may lack the pizazz of more modern, racier rivals, such as the YZF or Aprilia RS, it’s still a brilliant first bike thanks to being reassuringly easy to ride, durable and robust with an impressively reliable four stroke engine. Importantly it also has completely safe handling and brakes. Find a decent one and you’ll have no complaints.

Price guide: £900-1500


Derbi Terra 125 (2005-2016) – The adventure-style one


derbi 125


Often, the problem for larger riders with small 125s is exactly that – they’re small. Which is where upright, trail style 125s come in. While taller riders look like gorillas on children’s bicycles on sports or roadster 125s, a tall, wide-barred, upright trail bike offers some kind of learning comfort and dignity. The biggest and, arguably, best of the bunch is Honda’s V-twin powered 125 Varadero – so much so that, despite being off-sale since 2010, they still command well in excess of £2K used. But the Spanish-built Derbi, although only a single, can, thanks to its mini-F650 proportions and decent manners and build quality, offer a cut-price alternative, with prices occasionally sneaking under £1K.

Price guide: £850-2000


Vespa LX 125 – The authentic city scoot




First introduced in 2005 and since replaced by the higher spec GTS, the LS is the classic, retro-styled scooter from THE classic scooter company. As such it has bags of style and authenticity, impressively decent build-quality and lots of pleasing design touches while also having all of the scooter practicality (including underseat storage, decent economy and easy twist and go manners) of less well-known rivals. Best of all, in 125 form, it’s a great city learner runabout while, although quite pricey when new, as a used buy it can be something of a steal.

Price guide: £850-1900


Suzuki Marauder GZ125 (1998-2011) – The custom cruiser




Laid-back, easy-going custom-style 125s make popular learner bikes as their ultra-low seats, comfort and unintimidating performance particularly appeal to first timers. Of the bunch, Suzuki’s air-cooled single-cylinder offering is one of the most popular – and affordable – of all, having more presence and substance than the ultra-budget Yamaha SR125 yet being simpler and more affordable and V-twins such as Honda’s Shadow or the now aging Yamaha XV125. It’s no Harley 883, admittedly, but the Suzuki’s still got adequate style, in solid and reliable, easy to ride and, best of all, great value used.

Price guide: £700-2000


Honda CBF125 (2009-2014) – The classic commuter


Honda cbf125


Classic, air-cooled, single-cylinder, commuter was a huge update on the perennial and massively-popular CG125 it replaced but sadly short-lived being succeeded in turn by Honda’s CB125F, due to tightening emissions regulations, in 2014. With smart, half-faired, but upright styling, idiot-proof manners, solid Honda build quality and capable of well in excess of 100mpg, the CBF is a tempting rather than exciting learner buy. But as cheap, easy transport on an A1 licence, they don’t come much better – which explains why the CBF is still in strong demand as a used buy today.

Price guide: £950-2300


Suzuki RV125 VanVan (2003-2017) – The beach bike




Oddball, fat-tyred ‘fun’ bike is effectively a two-wheeled beach buggy – its low, light trailie style combined with those balloon tyres is designed to work best in dunes or on sand – but it’s also proved a perennial learner favourite. Being low and light makes it a doddle to ride, particularly for shorter riders; it’s air-cooled four-stroke single, although only 12bhp, is rugged and reliable; it has an unmistakable style all its own and, being mechanically simple, it’s relatively cheap, too – although it’s popularity keeps residuals higher than you might expect.

Price guide: £950-3399 (new)


Suzuki DR125SM (2008-2012) – The affordable supermoto


Suzuki DR125SM


For some, supermoto-style machines offer the best blend of attributes for a first time 125 bike of all, by having trail-bike-style tall and roomy upright ergonomics and maneuverability but with sharper and more reassuring street tyres and brakes and all wrapped up in uber-cool, stunt bike styling. Often, however, as proved by Yamaha’s WR125X and others, all that costs. Suzuki’s offering, however, as it’s based on the worthy air-cooled DR125 trail bike but with street wheels/tyres etc, manages to deliver most of that but at a budget price. The DR-SM may not be quite as exciting and cool as some, but it has enough to deliver on most counts and is durable and affordable, too.

Price guide: £990-1750


Sinnis Trackstar 125 (2010-2017) – The Chinese built retro




Sinnis are typical of the modern breed of cheap Chinese imports in being styled in Britain but built in China based on old Japanese designs. The result, a variety of basic but undeniably cheap 125s, can have a lot of appeal to first-time buyers. Arguably they’re at their best, though, with the current fashion for retro-style roadsters of which the Trackstar, with its twin shocks, wire wheels and chrome, is among the best. Easy to control and manouvere, simple to maintain and cheap it has a lot of appeal, just don’t expect Honda-style performance, quality, longevity or residuals…

Price guide: £850-£1699 (new)


Yamaha YBR125 (2005-2016) – the cheapest of all




Sometimes, price is everything – and this can be more so than ever when buying your fist bike and faced with the additional costs of sky-high insurance, new gear and training. Naturally, though, you still want something that’s credible, effective and proven – and there’s none more so than the YBR125. Effectively Yamaha’s rival to Honda’s CG and CBF125s, it’s a no-frills, air-cooled, twin shock roadster/commuter. As such, it might not be the sexiest or most stylish, but it is both a doddle to ride and ridiculously cheap to run. And, with used prices for decent ones starting at under £800, that’s, sometimes. All that counts.

Price guide: £795-£2000


Aprilia RS125 (1999-2006) – the extreme sportster




The RS125 was the screaming, liquid-cooled, two-stroke predecessor to the Italian firm’s current four-stroke RS4 125 and, as such, along with rivals like Cagiva’s Mito 125, it was the most extreme, most desirable 125cc learner sportster for a whole generation. And, although performance was muted to a regulation 15bhp (although many were sneakily ‘tuned’), it had the chassis, looks and equipment, including twin-beam aluminium frame and inverted forks, to back that image up. Although pricey when new and gaining an angular restyle in 2006 (which is outside this budget) well-used, earlier versions do now occasionally pop up for around a grand. But be warned. This is a highly-strung, brittle, crash prone machine that tends to get abused and there are plenty of hounds around. It’s also not the most learner-friendly. But if you know your onions and are handy with a spanner you can, potentially, get the most desirable of all 125s.

Price guide: £800-1700