You all know the score. Especially if you live in a country where every winter the roads are liberally doused in a mixture of urea and salt – an environmental disaster for verges, watercourses and metals. The very thought of that biohazard going anywhere near your pride and joy is enough to make you reach for the trickle charger and fuel stabiliser, prior to tucking her up in a cosy shed. Or garage. Or living room. Anywhere away from that greasy shit…
But you still fancy a regular fix, or maybe circumstances demand that winter and your motorcycle be reconciled. So you buy around the time of the first frosts, when used prices drop away. And then you sell when spring has sprung and everyone wants a piece of the action. That way, a shrewd operator guarantees free winter transport.
So what’s not to like? Obviously there are the risks associated with any used vehicle purchase, but shrewd buyers are not rash buyers. Just because you’re after a hack doesn’t mean abandoning caution: au contraire. Test rides and HPI checks are always a good idea: make friends with your local car dealer – (s)he will subscribe to a checking service by default, and if you ask nicely will run a reg number through on your behalf.
The same car dealer would also know that the secret of any form of vehicle trading is minimising how much it owes you. My absolute limit for a hack in 2014 is £1k, based on the current state of the market. I would hope to turn that into at least £1250 in the spring: based on experience you’re looking at a seasonal upshift of around 25% – just as long as you pay the right money in the first place.
Because of the value first philosophy, you have to understand that anything which is the right price is your potential hack – no matter how apparently unsuited to the task. In fact, there are relatively few machines whose very nature precludes winter usage, since those which could be tricky – rev hungry bikes with questionable handling – tend to be way over hack money: certain two stroke triples come to mind……
The ballpark includes anything which has traditionally been under rated and subsequently revised. Thus a TDM 850 is on the menu: mark 1s can still be found around a grand. Being softly sprung twins only adds to hack allure – in winter you want the suspension to do more work and the tyres to do less. The Honda CB500 is a formidable mill, often outlasting everything else attached to it. Half decent ones are seldom less than a grand these days, but remain worth searching for. Singles also provide plenty of welcome traction, and early Yamaha XT600s are as robust as the CB – and like the Honda the cheapest hover at the upper limit of hack wedge. Electric start Suzi DR350s eat the miles happily and you’ll find one within budget. Just walk away from the kickers….
Remember that weight is not such a disadvantage in winter, since heavier bikes can recover lost traction that little bit quicker. Bearing this in mind, a number of four cylinder machines come into play. If you’re hack is carrying weight, you want it to be long and low – a bit old skool. The last VFR 750s ticks those boxes and can be found for hack money, albeit with big miles on the clock: these were bikes people used in the real world. Early Hinckley Triumphs are starting to get a bit too expensive, and their top heavy feeling may not instill much confidence at slow speeds in bad weather. FZS 600 Fazers and ZZR 600s offer plenty of hack money examples, but Yamaha’s Thunderace devalued like no other bike around, courtesy of its immediate successor – the 98 R1.
For this reason they are considered by many to be the best value used bike out there – period. Not least because of a stonking lump, deltabox frame and blue spot calipers. You might think anything sporting a claimed 146 bhp would be a recipe for winter woes, but the Ace has sublime fuelling courtesy of downdraught Mikunis and potters happily. It’s a well balanced machine which wears its tonnage down low. As with all winter hacks, decent tyres are a big plus, and the state of the in situ rubber has to be factored into the purchase. The one we’ve just sourced (lovely condition, consumables sound, 18,500 miles and purchased for £900) was wearing new boots.
One word of caution. The best hacks promise to deliver so much more when the temperature rises that you might actually want to hang onto them. This is particularly true of those which handle properly and can lay down some power, like the VFR and….. the Ace. It could just be that come the summer of 2015 it’ll be meeting it’s latest descendant on road and track. The new R1 should walk it, but despite costing 17 times more than our Ace we’d happily wager that one thing it wont be is 17 times more fun. And if you manage to find a decent hack, we want to know – add to comments below or submit here if thereby hangs a tail….