Once was a time when the most popular first big bikes were sporty, fully-faired, 600cc supersports with naked, roadsters versions being virtually non-existent. Not any more. Today, one of the most active and competitive motorcycle classes of all is for the middleweight naked. With machines ranging from the affordable and versatile Suzuki SV650 V-twin right up to true sporting exotica such as Triumph’s latest Street Triple there’s a middleweight naked for everyone. What’s more, with a host of new machinery recently released from the likes of KTM, Kawasaki, Aprilia there’s now more to choose from than ever, too.
But that plethora of options also makes your buying decisions more difficult than ever as well. With V-twins, parallel twins, triples and fours available from under six grand to over eight there’s a baffling variety of options and abilities out there. So, to help you choose, here’s our pick of the current best, in ascending price order…
The long-lived and hugely popular SV is the bike that kick started the middleweight naked class when first launched in 1999. A simple but sweet-handling roadster (a half-faired S version was originally available as well) it was powered by a perky and flexible 69bhp 645cc V-twin. The result was an honest, affordable yet rewarding bike that was great for novices. Numerous reincarnations since led to a reintroduced SV in 2016. The basic layout and appeal remains but despite updated looks and now 75bhp motor it now seems a little dated. Still great value, though.
Like the SV, the Z650 has a long and popular lineage. Born as the ER-6n in 2005 clever design with an eye on costs produced an easy-to-ride yet invigorating middleweight that was a close rival for the Suzuki. The latest reinvention in 2017 saw a switch to the historic Zed name, an updated, Euro4-compliant and now 68bhp version of its lively parallel twin, freshened styling and a new, and much lighter, tubular steel frame inspired by that of the supercharged H2 hyperbike. Another good and straightforward, novice-friendly offering that’s a little more modern all-round than the rival Suzuki.
Motorcycling generally got a shot in the arm when Yamaha began introducing its all-new, modular, budget-priced MT range from 2013 and its mid-range, 689cc, twin cylinder version (there’s also the original 847cc MT-09 triple plus a single) is arguably the pick of the bunch and has proved a Europe-wide hit. The lively and brisk 74bhp parallel twin is the star of the show, but decent brakes, wide rubber and OK suspension (improved for 2017, along with the styling) also deliver fun handling that’ll entertain all riders plus, with an LCD dash and rider modes, the 07 is more modern than the Suzuki and Kawasaki twins, too. Not as cheap as it once was, but still a great, lightweight buy.
The first of the transverse (or across-the-frame) fours here. Honda’s CB is overlooked more than most in this category but is stylish, meaty and impressive value. Originally launched in 2014, with 86bhp it’s a little softer and novice-friendly than the riotous Hornet it succeeded but was still handsome, competent and, for bigger riders, more substantial than rival 650 twins. Updated in 2017 to meet Euro4 it got a touch more Hornet spirit by way of four extra bhp and a more youthful look. It may lack any particularly compelling features but the CB’s more than able, refined, versatile, has a touch of Honda class and, for a four, is good value.
Another rebranded, updated model. Originally called the GSR750, Suzuki’s 750 offering fills a neat niche in this category in being a full 750 four – as based on an older, detuned GSX-R750 motor – yet still at a decent, budget-orientated price. For 2017, partly due to Euro4, this was updated into the GSX-S, now with 112bhp, radial brakes and an LCD dash. A decent, well-proportioned and priced roadster with enough performance to satisfy most but the GSX-S lacks some of the frills, such as adjustable suspension or a slipper clutch, of less budget-conscious rivals.
Although undoubtedly competent, BMW’s middleweight parallel twins (from roadster R to sports-tourer GT and adventure GS) remain something of an acquired taste mostly due to slightly oddball looks and relatively high price (especially if you go for a few of the options packages). First launched in 2009 the R was improved with a subtle facelift in 2015 and remains a decent if unstartling all-rounder. If you want an attitude-laden naked there are more tempting options and its sibling GS and GT variants are far-better all-rounders. Still a decent introduction to BMW cachet and ownership, though…
Ducati’s stylish and charismatic Monsters have been a great and often affordable introduction to Italian exotica ever since the original 900 in 1993. The 600 version that followed soon after, for example, proved a huge hit due to its combination of allure, affordability and novice-friendliness. All-new in 2017, the 797 is Ducati’s latest entry-level Monster and, with 74bhp yet a still fairly basic spec (there’s no power modes or fork adjustment, for example) is still as fun, stylish and accessible as ever. Not cheap, admittedly, but a great entry into Ducati-dom and guaranteed to make you the centre of attention.
Italian firm Aprilia’s original 750 Shiver, first launched in 2007, was always an under-rated, often over-looked bike rated for its lusty, 95bhp V-twin, spec and style yet bemoaned for its less comprehensive dealer network and hefty prices – it’s long been a big ‘ask’ to buy an Aprilia in the UK. It was updated in 2010 and for 2018 it’s been enlarged to 896cc and although power is unchanged torque is up and it’s refined and well equipped with, for example, Brembo radial brakes. That said, competition at this end of the category is tougher than ever. A decent bike but it’s tough to recommend it ahead of the Triumph or Ducati.
The British naked middleweight triple has been the class leader ever since its introduction in 2007 as a naked version of the then Daytona 675 supersports with its combination of lusty but flexible and accessible performance, three-cylinder character and British style proving a huge hit. 10 years on and a couple of updates since its better than ever and has now spawned a three-strong family of variants based around an enlarged 765cc motor producing from 112-121bhp. The S is the cheapest, base version (the others are the 118bhp R and 122bhp RS) and lacks its siblings fully-adjustable suspension, colour TFT screen and sophisticated electronics, but is still a great bike that literally ticks all the boxes.
Upstart Austrian firm KTM has a reputation for potent, attitude-laden singles and V-twins so a lot was expected of its all-new-for-2018 790 Duke – it’s first parallel twin. It’s delivered, too. Where the minimalist, supermoto-derived Duke style and attitude are familiar – few bikes cut through tight curves or traffic so fast – the more refined twin is a revelation. With a potent 95bhp and bags of grunt, the lightweight Duke can really give the Street Triple a run for their money. But if there’s any one gripe, it’s that – at £8.5K the KTM’s fairly pricey, especially when its spec is compared like-for-like to its rivals.