One of the most reliable ways of choosing a new bike is by looking at the current best-selling models – after all, if it’s good enough for most of ‘them’ it’s likely to be good enough for you!
But that’s only a reliable indicator if you consider the best sellers of the specific type of machine you’re interested in. For example, while it’s commonly known that BMW’s monster adventure bike, the R1250GS, has been a perennial best seller for over a decade, that’s not much use if you’re looking for a 125cc sports bike.
But looking at the best-selling machines over a wide range of types of bike and capacity groups is a different matter, especially if you’re using the very latest sales data.
Which is where we come in. 2020, apart from being devastated by COVID-19, was also a record year in many respects for bike sales, as commuters turned away from public transport and enthusiasts returned to this naturally ‘socially-distanced’ leisure activity – but which bikes did they turn to?
To answer just that we looked at the best-selling motorcycles in Britain in 2020 according to official new bike registration figures published by the UK’s primary motorcycle trade organization, the MCIA – or Motorcycle Industry Association.
Each month the MCIA publishes a list of the best-selling bikes according to the number of registrations over a comprehensive range of motorcycling categories, defined both by engine capacity and type. It’s worth reminding again that these figures are skewed sometimes by when particular models become available. It’s also true that some bikes benefit from the MCIA’s categories more than others. This year we’re also discounting sub-50cc machines to give more space to larger bikes. Even so, here we highlight the standout models of 2020, in capacity ascending order, and give our view on what makes them so great.
See our Lexmoto LXR125 review here.
The smartly-styled but budget-friendly, Chinese-built LXR is not just the UK’s best-selling sports 125, with getting on for 150 machines registered almost every month throughout 2020 – it’s also the best-selling sports style machine of all, whatever its capacity.
And it’s not hard to see why. With a price tag of just £2199 the Lexmoto LXR is less than half that of Yamaha’s latest YZF-R125 yet still boasts plenty of style thanks to its racy bodywork, trellis style frame, radial brake and stubby exhaust – and if you want more there’s also an SE version (at £2499) boasting inverted front forks, aluminium swing arm and more. No, at around 12bhp, the Lexmoto is not quite as quick or as slick as the 15bhp Yamaha, nor as well put-together, but there’s really not that much in it and, at this price, and considering most buyers will be first timers on a budget who’ll trade up within a year, how much does that really matter?
See our CB125F review here.
Japanese giants Honda have a better reputation than most when it comes to simple, affordable but reliable and economical commuters thanks to machines such as the old CG125, which date back to the 1970s. The CB125F is the most recent of these, being launched in 2015 as a successor to the old, half-faired CBF125. It’s based around a similar, air-cooled, SOHC four-stroke single which, although producing just 10bhp, is so frugal with fuel that mpg figures well in excess of 120mpg are easily possible. And that, allied to ridiculously easy manners your granny could manage, proven reliability, decent durability and the retail reassurance of Honda’s impressive dealer network, all add up to one of the most affordable commuting options of all – hence the CB’s popularity.
It is worth adding here, however, that 2020 was also the end of the line for this particular version of the CB. The onset of Euro5 regulations in 2021 means a new version has just been unveiled with an updated engine, lightly modified chassis and subtly tweaked styling and equipment. But don’t worry – although we have yet to ride the new version we’re sure it’ll be every bit as reliable, easy and affordable as the outgoing CB!
See our Honda PCX125 review here.
Last year we pointed out that Honda’s PCX125 was not just the UK’s best-selling 125cc scooter it’s also the best-selling 125 and, most impressively of all, the UK’s best-selling powered two-wheeler of any type or capacity. The same is even truer in 2020. On average, around 300 examples of this stylish, effective, affordable and easy-to-use scoot were registered every MONTH this year adding to the 18,000-odd sold since its introduction in 2010. That machine received a styling update in 2014 followed by a further refresh in 2016 to meet Euro4. While, for 2021, due to Euro5, it is being updated again.
The basic recipe, however, remains the same: as a 125cc scooter it can be ridden with just a CBT certificate and provisional licence. Being a twist ‘n’ go scooter with luggage space makes it easier to ride, more practical and comfortable than, say, Honda’s CB125F and, being a Honda, the PCX delivers plenty of peace of mind and reassurance. Best of all, though, the PCX is as good looking as ever and with ‘stop-start’ technology, LED lights and a smart LCD digital dash, has a premium feel; its liquid-cooled engine is both brisk and economical (Honda claim 134mpg) and it’s a doddle to ride. All that plus an affordable price tag made the PCX massively in-demand during 2020’s lock-down and the new version is set to be even more popular still.
See our Interceptor 650 review here.
Royal Enfield makes a big deal about how much of a best-selling sales success its new retro roadster twin has been since its launch in 2018 and you can hardly blame them. The Indian-built 650, which comes in both roadster Interceptor and café racer Continental GT guise, instantly became its European best-seller, overshadowing the likes of Triumph’s Bonneville in the British firm’s own back yard and, by undercutting the Brit by over £2000 yet ticking many of the same boxes (in being a novice-friendly retro twin), was almost too good to be true. The actual truth, however, is that, although admittedly popular, the Enfield, by being 649cc compared to the base Bonneville’s 900cc, benefits by fitting better into the MCIA’s capacity categories, has an extra bonus of an almost identical sibling and, although able and pleasant, can’t actually match the Bonnie’s performance and all-round quality. Then again, at well under £5700 that probably hardly matters: the Enfield twin is stylish, has all the right retro bits in all the right places; its 47bhp is unintimidating and A2-compliant and, as an affordable, entry-level retro, beats all-comers on price – and that’s why it’s so popular.
See our Tenere 700 review here.
Another return of a great name. The original Yamaha Ténéré was a Dakar Rally-inspired big trail bike from the early 1980s – and was such a success it inspired a whole family of ever bigger, sometimes twin cylinder spin-offs. This latest version, introduced in late 2019, had the further benefit of being derived from the brilliantly-affordable and effective MT-07 twin cylinder roadster and also having genuine off-road ability in an unintimidating, middleweight package at a time when adventure bikes seem to be getting ever bigger and more expensive. It’s for exactly that reason that the sub-£9K, yet at the same time 72bhp and truly versatile Ténéré, has proved so popular. That said, the Yamaha is still nowhere near as big a seller as BMW’s adventure class-leading R1250GS, only out-sold the big Bavarian twice in 2020, in August and October, and its sales are more on-par with its more road-based sister bike, the Tracer 700 (which you’d be more advised to consider if you’re not planning any off-roading). But it’s still a hugely popular machine and the best-selling Ténéré in a generation.
Leading British manufacturer Triumph is no stranger to best-selling bikes in the UK with its Speed Triple and Street Triple super nakeds setting the benchmark for their breed for over a decade. But it’s been Triumph’s Street Triple-derived, middleweight Tiger adventure-style bikes that have been one of its most popular models of all, selling over 85,000 examples. Ever since the original version came out in 2010 the Tiger 800 has stood out for its blend of comfortable, mid-sized adventure bike practicality with the added bonus of a characterful, flexible three-cylinder powertrain and typically-brilliant Triumph handling – the latter two being what distinguished it most from competition such as BMW’s F800GS twin. Since then it’s got steadily better, with improved equipment and, particularly, electronics before, for 2020, Triumph updated it further into 900 form. The GT Pro is its top-spec, road-orientated version (there’s also a more dirt-biased ‘Rally Pro’) and, with 94bhp, great handling, spec and versatility, it’s a truly impressive package – no wonder it was in such demand when it finally became available in the shops.
See our S1000RR review here.
The all-new version of BMW’s S1000RR superbike was actually unveiled in 2019 so it’s probably fair to say that some early production problems have contributed to its appearance as the sole 1000cc superbike in the MCIA’s best-sellers charts. After all, long gone are the days when c. £20K superbikes, brilliant though they may be, could be expected to be mass sellers. But whatever the reason, the S1000RR’s appearance here is to be applauded. Lighter, smaller, more powerful and more sophisticated than ever, you’d be forgiven for expecting BMW’s flagship sportster to be extreme, uncompromising and intimidating… but nothing could be further from the truth. Brilliant ergonomics make it reasonably roomy for even a 50-something six-footer, astonishing tractability and light controls make it refreshingly easy to ride and sublime electronics, suspension and brakes quickly convince you’re a superbike star. Yes, all of that 200+bhp performance, phenomenal handling, braking, grip and refinement are barely troubled on the street and Ducati’s latest V4 Panigale is arguably even more alluring and exotic, but superbikes simply don’t come with more speed and sophistication and that’s why the S1000RR is so successful.
See our Z1000SX review here.
The Z1000SX’s popular success story is now well known so it should be no surprise to see the latest version, for 2020 called the Ninja 1000 SX, maintaining its place at the top of the ‘sports-tourer’ sales charts. In truth, the name change is an affectation: Kawasaki decided to prefix all its naked bikes with ‘Z’, its faired bikes with ‘Ninja’. But it also reminds of the SX’s slightly unusual roots. It was first introduced in 2010 as little more than a faired, sports-tourer version of the then Z1000 super naked – hence the name. The surprising reality, though, was that the SX was at the same time fast, versatile and at under £10,000, brilliant value, helping it become an instant best seller. Constant evolution since has kept it that way. The 138bhp engine grew to 140, it gained a decent spread of electronic rider aids, the chassis, already commendable, was boosted with adjustable suspension front and rear, the dash improved and so on. And although the price has slowly risen, too, the SX is still brilliant and still a bargain.
See our BMW R1250RT review here.
Once again, no bike dominates its category more than BMW’s peerless tourer, the RT. And although the slightly sensible, and definitely premium-priced, latest version, the R1250RT as updated with BMW’s new ShiftCam, 134bhp version of its trademark boxer twin in 2019, certainly can’t match the sheer numbers of its GS adventure bike brother, the RT is still head and shoulders ahead of all other dedicated tourers. Again, the reasons why are blatantly obvious: BMW’s peerless, premium touring pedigree that dates back to the 1970s; the iconic boxer twin powerplant which, effortlessly flexible and with shaft drive, is perfectly suited to the role; more comfort, luggage-carrying ability and luxury than any rival and, on top of all that, surprisingly good handling and class-leading residuals. For a pure tourer, who could want for any more? As the sales statistics prove once again, hardly anyone.
See our R1250GS review here.
If you were to bank on any bike being a best-seller, surely it would be BMW’s peerless, evergreen, boxer-powered adventure bike, the R-GS. The GS has long been considered the definitive machine of its type, has been a best seller throughout the 2010s and is bolstered further by having a sister, large-tanked ‘Adventure’ version, whose sales are rolled together. The latest R1250GS, as introduced in 2019 with the larger, ShiftCam, 134bhp version of the traditional boxer twin, remains far and away Britiain’s best-selling big bike with over 200 registered, on average, ever month since March.
And with extra updates including a slick new TFT colour dash, uprated electronics, peerless versatility, and an accessory catalogue few rivals can get near, the GS continues to deserve that status. It might not be exactly exclusive – the GS today is one of the most common motorcycles on Britain’s roads – but still, as the sales figures prove, no bike does more for more people.