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Top five first bikes under £5,000

Just because you’re operating on a budget as a rookie rider it doesn’t mean there aren’t some sporty, stylish and fun options for your first bike

Phil West

Words by: Phil West

Published on 1 December 2023 | 0 min read

If you’re 17 or over and starting out in motorcycling you’ll likely be considering a 125cc machine to ride on an A1 licence with, at the outset at least, a CBT and L-plates. And if you’re buying new with a budget of, say, £5,000 there’s still plenty of choice out there, whether you’re looking for a fun roadster, stylish supermoto, cool retro, sexy sportster or even an electric bike or quality commuter scooter.
And we’re not talking about second-hand bikes here, either. While going that route undoubtedly makes things cheaper and presents a far wider variety of bikes for the same money it also opens a potential can of worms regarding condition, reliability, warranties and more. Which, quite frankly, most novice newcomers would much rather do without. With that in mind here are our favourite rookie-friendly new bikes for less than five grand…

Honda CB125R – the quality roadster all-rounder

The Honda CB125R is, quite simply, one of the classiest and easiest to ride 125cc A1 class machines you can buy. New in 2018, it was the junior member of Honda’s new ‘Neo Sports’ roadster family (the others being the CB300R, CB650R and CB1000R), replaced the old CBR125R sportster and, with features such as LED lights, colour TFT screen, and wavy disc brakes it had a lot going for it. That original version was only criticised for its slightly underpowered 10 horsepower engine but was updated with a new, Euro5-compliant, liquid-cooled, DOHC single in 2021 when it also gained improved Showa Big Piston forks – a first in the category. The result combined a sporty chassis, great ergonomics and typically Honda ‘usability’ with funky looks, reliability and a decent price. Enough in our book to easily outshine rivals such as KTM’s 125 Duke and Yamaha’s MT125.
Click here for our long-term test on the CB125R and what it’s like to live with and learn on

Aprilia SX125 – the stylish supermoto

Italian exotica expert Aprilia has a proud heritage of sporty, small-capacity bikes and its RS 125 sportster remains one of the most potent of its type but costs over £5,000. Thankfully Aprilia also has a similar tradition for ‘tiddler trailies’ and supermotos, often sharing many of the mechanicals of their sports siblings. The SX125 supermoto and its RX125 trail bike brother, both introduced in 2018, are the latest and remain the best of the breed. The RX is the trail version complete with larger, 21-inch front wheel, dual-purpose tyres and longer travel suspension, while the SX makes the better road machine due to its smaller street wheels and tyres. In all other respects the two share the same liquid-cooled, four-valve, four-stroke single-cylinder engine, beefy twin spar frame, inverted forks and swish Italian styling. They’re great to ride, too, given they are upright, light and novice-friendly while also nimble, sharp and reasonably lively. Best of all, they’re also impressive value at under £4,000.
Read the review

Yamaha XSR125 – the trendy retro roadster

Launched in 2021 to great success, the XSR is an A1 125cc class retro-styled roadster based on Yamaha’s proven MT125 platform. As such it arguably combines the best of both worlds with ‘on-trend’ retro/scrambler styling evoking memories of Yamaha’s classic 1980s LCs. Yet also much of the performance of Yamaha’s latest nakeds and sports 125s. The XSR not quite as well-equipped as those bikes, of course. The suspension is noticeably less sophisticated, for example, but that’s compensated for by its cheaper price, which is currently just within our £5,000 limit here. The cherry on top, meanwhile, is that the retro roadster upright style also makes for an easily manageable, natural riding position great for novices.
Read the review

Kawasaki Ninja 125 – the sexy sportster

Everyone loves a sportsbike, even in the learner 125 class. But due to their high specifications, uprated suspension and full fairings, they’re usually among the more expensive offerings in any capacity class. As is the case here. Yamaha’s class-leading and recently updated R-125 blows the budget, likewise Aprilia’s mouth-watering RS125, KTM’s saucy RC125 and even Suzuki’s GSX-R125. But that doesn’t mean you have to look at less convincing Chinese offerings. Kawasaki’s Ninja 125 remains the right side of five grand, has all the Team Green style of is WSB-winning ZX-10R, has the same regulation 15 horsepower performance as most of its rivals and is a doddle to ride with bags of style into the bargain.

Super Soco TC Max – the electric alternative

If you want a credible electric motorcycle at an affordable price, the Super Soco TC Max is currently out on its own. Super Soco is one of the most popular electric bike brands in the UK and the TC Max is its range-topper with a more powerful 5kW (6.7 horsepower) motor. At around £4,500 it’s not only affordable, but also stylish, easy to ride, unintimidating for novices, great fun around town and cheap to run with a range on full charge of about 60 miles. What’s it’s NOT, however, is quite the 125cc equivalent machine it claims to be. For starters its 50mph peak simply isn’t close enough to, say, the 70mph of Honda’s conventional CB125R and, although similarly priced, nor can the Super Soco match its build quality, durability or spec. Nor can it lean on things like proven residuals and the support of an established dealer network but it IS the closest any electric bike has yet come to that kind of parity.

Yamaha NMAX 125 – the scooter option

Scooter 125s make a lot of sense. They’re easy to ride, practical, affordable, make both great commuters and remain an easy introductions to life on two wheels. One of the very best is Yamaha’s NMAX 125. Currently well under £4,000 it has perky 12 horsepower performance, easy handling, a smart LCD dash with Bluetooth connectivity, disc brakes front and rear, underseat storage and even keyless ignition and a power socket. There wasn’t much wrong with the old NMAX, as its commuter popularity proved. But an all-new chassis, updated styling and extra features make it a tempting alternative to Honda’s best-selling PCX125.
Read the review

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