Wednesday 1 May 2024

Learning to Ride a Motorcycle

"Vroom!", "Vroom!", "Ca-chunk, Va-room!"

Can you guess what I'm doing? That's right, I'm riding a motorcycle. Obviously this makes more sense if you're watching the video version of this blog post. Just pretend.

A few years ago I didn't own a motorbike, but then I saw this video by top Canadian motorcycle channel FortNine:

That led me to Itchy Boots, a motorcyclist who drives up and down Africa and South America, and RevZilla, who are a bit like FortNine but from the United States, and now I own two motorcycles. If you aren't careful it will happen to you.

Why did I bother? I've managed to avoid learning how to drive a motorised vehicle well into middle age. If you're an urbane hipster living in London there's really no point. However I now live in the countryside, and although I don't have a pressing need for motorised transport it's nice to get around. In the UK the quickest way to get hold of a motor vehicle is to do a half-day Compulsory Basic Training course, at which point you're allowed to drive a 125cc motorbike or scooter for two years, so I did that. One year later I saved up for a series of proper training courses, and in March 2024 I passed my test...s, tests, plural, because there are two.

Well, technically there are three. I'll get to that. One thing struck me throughout the process. My motorcycle training establishment had no shortage of students, and there were at least five other people taking their final test on the same morning as me, but outside the training grounds they all seemed to vanish. Where did they go?

Motorcycles: The Case Against

The fact is that motorcycling just isn't all that popular in the UK. Motorbikes are outnumbered thirty-to-one by cars, which is sad because motorbikes have a lot going for them. I've always assumed they had their heyday in the UK in the 1970s, the decade of Barry Sheene, Chris Spedding, the hot summer of 1976, Junior Kick Start etc. All those punk leather jackets had to come from somewhere. But according to this academic paper motorcycle ownership in the UK actually peaked in 1960, a decade earlier, having more than doubled since 1950. That paper links to a fascinating report from 1975, Strategy Alternatives for the British Motorcycle Industry, which is a dry read, but informative.

The report points out that motorcycles had two heydays. In the post-war years they were a viable alternative to the car as cheap transport for the masses. They weren't very practical, but they were a lot more convenient than a horse. As a consequence the first generation of post-war motorcyclists tend to be associated with the working classes, and in the United States with the Hollister Riots, which were blamed on uncouth service personnel and working-class louts on their weekend off. That plus Marlon Brando in The Wild One cemented the image of motorcyclists as rough, tough, devil-may care rebels, which is hilarious nowadays because the average motorcyclist nowadays is middle-aged.

Ownership declined in the 1960s in the face of stiff competition from the car - according to this article car registrations increased more than five-fold from 1950 to 1968 in the UK, with an awful lot of those people ditching their motorbike for a BMC Mini. But sales recovered in the late 1960s and 1970s, because the motorcycle was cool! People who were too young to participate in the Hollister Riots or see The Wild One at the cinema were suddenly hit with Easy Rider and Electra Glide in Blue. The motorbike took off as a lifestyle accessory for people who already had a car, thus the popularity of Barry Sheene, Chris Spedding, Kick Start etc.

As Strategy Alternatives points out the market had by the mid-1970s become saturated, and a combination of that and stricter licensing sent motorcycle ownership into decline again in the UK, reaching a nadir in the mid-1990s. Luckily sales have recovered again over the last twenty years, and I like to imagine that YouTube hasn't hurt. I have the impression that the 1970s was the last decade when British people were prepared to buy a motorbike instead of a car, as practical transport, but given current economic pressures, who knows? I actually bought a bike purely as a commuting tool, because it's cheaper than a car - in particular petrol and parking are much cheaper, although on the flipside insurance is steep.

I mentioned licensing. Before 1982 the UK motorcycle test consisted of driving around the block a few times and doing an emergency stop. There was no requirement or even expectation for formal training, so it was easy for youngsters to hop on a motorcycle and admittedly kill or seriously injure themselves. From 1982 the test involved a riding-around-cones element, and from 1990 it was made harder still, which has greatly reduced motorcycle deaths, but has had the side-effect of excluding anyone under the age of 22 from driving a full-sized bike. As of 2024 a motorcycle test is just as complex as a car test, so why bother with it?

As a consequence the average age of a motorcyclist in the UK is apparently 54, according to Honda, which jibes with figures from the United States, where the average is apparently 49. Part of the reason for this is the the full A-class licence is only available at the age of 24, or 22 if the rider has progressed through from the A2 licence. Another part of the reason is that older riders tend to own more than one motorcycle, which skews the figures upwards; anecdotally, London seems to have plenty of young riders buzzing around on L-plates, but they only own one motorcycle.

The ageing population of bikers is a major pain for the likes of Harley-Davidson, who are stuck between a desire to appeal to a dwindling pool of ageing riders while simultaneously appealing to new riders who have grown up with TikTok and internet memes. Hanging over everything is the spectre of electric bikes, which generally appeal to a young, tech-savvy generation that can't legally ride them.

On the other hand the population of old people is growing all the time, and every so often a young person grows old, and short of a major plague or solar flare I suspect that old people will be with us forevermore. One day we will all be old.

Putting the Boot In

There are a number of other reasons why motorbikes are a hard sell in the UK. The climate doesn't help. There's a widespread perception that they're deathtraps, or at the very least that a motorcyclist can do everything correctly but still be killed through no fault of their own. There's also the fact that British cities are smaller than their counterparts in the United States, with superior public transport. And the most popular type of motorcycle in the world, the 125cc type, is a frustrating fit for British roads, being just slightly too slow to comfortably ride on motorways and faster A-roads. In Africa, India, and South-East Asia, where the roads are jam-packed, a 125cc is perfectly sufficient, but I can't imagine it being much fun to drive on the A303 with a 125.

People will always want cheap transport, but that need is increasingly being met by electric scooters and electric bicycles, neither of which require a two-part test and a load of expensive safety gear. Did I mention that you can't take your mates out to the beach on a motorbike? At least not without a sidecar, which you can't legally use unless you've passed your full test. And there's insurance. In the major cities insurance is enormous, because bikes are theft magnets.


Motorcycles do have some things going for them. The days of oil-spewing two-strokes are long-gone, and all modern motorcycles are EURO 5 compliant. Even the absolute highest-performance street superbikes will do over 40 miles to the gallon, with 125cc models double and sometimes triple that. Road tax is £24 a year. Parking is in most places free. Motorcycles can squeeze through gaps that confound cars, and in the UK filtering between lanes is perfectly legal. Furthermore if you've ever wanted to have a conversation with a middle-aged man about parking, a motorcycle will break the ice. And they're fun to ride on the rare days the UK has sunshine.

If you're a speed freak motorcycles also have an incredible price-performance ratio. A Suzuki Hayabusa costs around £18,000, but it will accelerate from 0-60mph in under three seconds, a second faster than an Audi S3 (around £50,000). It has an electronically-limited top speed of 184mph, slightly faster than a BMW M2 (£65,000), or indeed a Lotus Carlton, although I I'm showing my age again

Admittedly a car will also carry luggage, and a car is much less likely to send the driver flying hundreds of feet through the air in the event of a crash, but if you only have £18,000 and terminal lung cancer (for example) there are fewer more spectacular ways to end it all. And there are plenty of bikes much cheaper than a Hayabusa that will outpace a mid-range Ferrari.

The Point, At Last

But how do you get to ride a motorcycle in the UK, in the modern age? As mentioned earlier, before 1982 the test involved driving around the block a couple of times and doing an emergency stop. The majority of riders didn't bother with formal training. From 1982 a ride-around-cones element was added, and from 1983 the 250cc training limit was reduced to 125cc. A loophole whereby trainee riders could own a high-capacity bike as long as it was fitted with a tiny vestigal sidecar was closed at roughly the same time. The modern system came into being in 1990, although there have been tweaks since then.

As of 2024 there are four elements, technically five:

0. You have to own a helmet. This isn't part of the testing regime, but it is the absolute legal minimum amount of safety gear you need to own in order to ride a motorbike. Ideally it should be a government-approved helmet with a SHARP rating. I bought an Airoh Valor, which has a five-star SHARP rating. It set me back around £110.

In addition you will also want a pair of gloves, preferably with some kind of armoured palm protector, plus a tough jacket, tough trousers, tough boots, ideally boots that prevent your ankle from being crushed. I ended up buying a bunch of second-hand gear from eBay. Getting hold of safety gear is one of those unpleasant hidden costs of motorcycle ownership, but on the other hand it lasts forever and you're treating yourself to some cool new duds. If you're a woman, don't forget to flip your hair whenever you take off your helmet.

1. A Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) course, which takes four hours or so and has a mixture of riding-around-cones, navigating junctions, and riding on the road. It's a miniature version of the full-on motorcycle test. A CBT costs around £150 although prices vary depending on the school.

In order to book a CBT you need at least a provisional driving licence. It can be done on either an automatic scooter or a geared motorcycle, up to 125cc capacity, but it doesn't lock the rider into a particular category. I did my CBT on an automatic scooter, but I bought a geared motorcycle and taught myself how to change gears while riding on my CBT certificate.

16-year-olds are restricted to a 50cc moped, and having briefly ridden a 50cc moped during my own CBT I don't recommend it. In the UK they're restricted to 30mph, which strikes me as dangerous. I have to admit that I was absolutely terrified before doing my CBT, because I'd never ridden a motorbike of any kind before, but I have spent most of my life riding a bicycle, and the basic principles are similar. A motorcycle feels like a big, heavy bicycle with lots of luggage. Motorcycles tend to balance themselves with a bit of throttle, so I quickly learned that if I felt slightly wobbly I just had to twist my right wrist a little bit.

Once the CBT is over you are entitled to ride on the roads for two years with front and rear L-plates, but not motorways, and you can't carry a pillion passenger or fit a sidecar. You can however use dual carriageways, which are bracing. After the two years are up you can, in theory, book another CBT, and there's nothing to stop you from riding indefinitely with back-to-back CBTs. This appears to be how Deliveroo drivers manage things, which explains why there are so many scooter drivers buzzing around on L-plates. If you want to progress to a full licence you need...

2. A theory test, which costs £23 and is booked via the government's website. This consists of a mixture of Highway Code-style questions, plus some short CGI videos. During the videos you have to hit a button whenever there's a developing hazard, as if you were playing Dragon's Lair in the arcades. That dates me. I passed by a single point, largely because of the hazard section. The two parts have separate qualifying scores, e.g. you can't ace the multiple-choice questions and then give up on the hazard perception section, you have to do well on both. When that is done you have two years to book...

3. The dreaded Mod 1, technically the Module 1 Off-Road Test. The name is slightly confusing. It doesn't involve driving up hills or through country paths. Instead it takes place in a flat area covered in grippy tarmac that is literally off the public road. The Mod 1 test involves weaving through cones; doing a couple of figure-8s through some more cones; riding at walking pace to a stop line; performing a controlled U-turn; driving around an imaginary bend in the road before performing a controlled stop; driving around the same bend before performing an emergency stop at a speed of at least 50kmh / 31mph; driving around the same bend before performing a swerve around an outlying cone, again at 50kmh / 31mph.

One thing it doesn't test is riding up to, and pulling away from a junction. The test is closely-monitored, and it is possible to fail even before entering the arena, if the instructor judges that the student isn't in control of the bike. In particular the tests involve a certain amount of role-play - the student has to pretend they're on a public road, performing mirror checks and lifesavers as necessary.

After a year commuting in slow traffic I had no trouble with the cones. The U-turn was difficult because in real life I would put my foot down, which you aren't allowed to do on the test. Getting up to 31mph on the training course was hard, but at the actual test ground it was easy. I wonder if the training course was deliberately made slightly smaller?

I passed my Mod 1 with one minor fault, observation. There's a general consensus that it's the hardest part of the process, because it feels artificial, and there are no second chances. If you knock over just one cone you fail. Put your foot down? Fail. Momentary lapse of reason? Delicate sound of fail.

On the other hand it's a defined set of manoeuvres with no traffic, no chaotic elements, obvious pass/fail requirements, and I found it the easier of the two tests. Perhaps because I grew up playing computer games, where you either win or lose, and if you touch the sides you die.

You can in theory book the Mod 1 test yourself, and turn up with no training at all. It costs £15.50. Bear in mind there are a limited number of test venues - in my experience the hardest part of the test was the thirty-mile ride to the test centre - and you have to supply your own bike. The Mod 1 is the point at which you are locked into a certain class of motorcycle, and with a CBT you're restricted to a 125cc, so in theory the only bike you can ride to the test centre and take the test on is a 125cc.

In theory you could hire a full-sized 650cc bike and have it delivered to the test venue. Perhaps a friend could ride it there. But you would need to be insured during the test, which strikes me as not a trivial ask, and bear in mind that the DVSA is literally the DVSA; they won't turn a blind eye. But on the other hand perhaps you really do just want an A1 125cc licence, in which case my tips are (a) do shoulder checks compulsively (b) and a lifesaver during the U-turn.

With the Mod 1 under your belt the final step is...

4. The Mod 2, the Module 2 on-road test. Some riders find this easy, and if you're an experienced car driver who knows the roads I imagine it's not hard at all. But I don't drive a car, and the local area has some tricky roundabouts, so I dreaded it. But I passed. The test involves reading out a numberplate from a distance, then answering some technical questions, then navigating the local area for around forty minutes under test conditions, so you can't skimp on over-the-shoulder lifesavers and shoulder checks. The instructor follows you in a car or motorcycle, communicating directions via radio. Sometimes the directions are "turn left" or "turn right". Sometimes they're "follow the signs to X". If you take the wrong turn that's not a fail, unless you do so dangerously, although if you consistently refuse to navigate a roundabout - let's say you take the first exit all the time - the instruction will eventually fail you.

On three occasions the instructor asked me to pull over to a safe spot at the side of the road, which was nerve-wracking - was that it? was it all over? - but no, I pulled off again. The first two times there was no traffic; the third time there was. In theory there's a hillstart, but I didn't notice one. I assume it was part of my regular riding. The Mod 2 test doesn't include a U-turn or emergency stop, presumably because they would be far too dangerous.

In the end I was convinced I failed in the first ten minutes, so I relaxed. And then later in the test I was convinced I failed again - I passed very close to a person getting out of car - but I carried on. Ultimately I had six minors, but they were spread across the different riding categories. You're allowed a total of ten minors, but no more than four in a certain category, so it pays to be averagely bad. If you crash, or cause another road user to take avoiding action, or the instructor has to intervene, the test is an instant fail, although the instruction might continue until you return to home base before telling you the bad news.

The technical questions are available on the government's website. Your instructor will go through them, and bear in mind that some bikes have an oil level window, other bikes have a dipstick. It's called a show-me, tell-me test, because some answers involve demonstrating the procedure while others merely involve describing them. You are allowed, nay expected, to answer literally. When do you use the emergency engine cut-off? In an emergency. That is the correct answer.

And that's it. Having passed your CBT, your theory test, your Mod 1, and your Mod 2, you are now a motorcyclist. After passing my Mod 2 I was reminded of the final shot from Lawrence of Arabia:

I remember thinking "was it worth it" and "what now" and "how much would it cost to ship my bike to Peru" and "how much is a drone" and "if I'm going to be a YouTube star, what will be my gimmick" and "do I need a gimmick? can't I just be really, really good" and "we should send cows to Titan, the methane-rich moon of Saturn, to show them the error of their ways".

Is there anything else? There are complexities. In the UK there are four different licence categories, split into automatic and manual pathways. A manual licence entitles the owner to drive an automatic in the same category and below, but not vice-versa, and you have to do your Mod 1 and Mod 2 tests on (a) the same category of machine (b) the category of machine you intend to ride. One thing worth mentioning is that no matter which licence you go for the tests are identical, so if you're over the age of 24 you might as well go for an A-class licence.

AM is for 30mph mopeds, scooters, three-wheelers and light quadricycles. It's the only category available to 16-year-olds and it strikes me as a very narrow niche. A1 is for 125cc motorcycles up to 11 kW / 14 bhp, or 20 bhp and any capacity for tricycles, although as far as I can tell no such vehicle exists. You have to be 17 to qualify for an A1 licence.

A2 is for machines up to 35 kW / 47 bhp, which is actually a useful power range. Most of Royal Enfield's motorcycles are A2-compliant, for example. It also covers bikes that have been electronically restricted to 35 kW, but only if the original bike has a power output of less than double that, e.g. 80 kW. The idea is that you can complete your A2 test at the age of 19, and then when you do pass A-class test you can use the same bike, but destrict it. I proof-read these posts a day after I publish them, and I'm going to leave "80 kW" as a warning to my future self to never again attempt to multiply two numbers.

The A licence has no limits. It's available from the age of 24, but there's also a progressive access scheme whereby if you've been driving on an A2 licence for two years you can pass the test at the age of 22. And there's also an A1-A2 progressive access system, but I'm fuzzy on the details.

I admit to not being sure about the regulations regarding sidecars. The popular Ural motorcycle/sidecar combo is A2-compliant, but the government's website implies that only A-licence holders can use them.

One thing that struck me throughout the process is that there's no separate test pathway for automatic scooters. The law treats them as motorcycles with an automatic transmission, but they're almost a separate category of vehicle. I mention this because if you want to ride a scooter with a capacity over 125cc - such as a 300cc Vespa GTV - you're almost railroaded into an A-class geared motorcycle licence. A-class, because why bother with A2? And geared, because there are only a handful of automatic motorcycles, and very few riding schools have access to A2-compliant automatic scooters. This is probably the main reason why the Suzuki Burgman / Yamaha X-ADV maxi-scooters are so rare in the UK. If you're going to go the whole hog, why not go the whole hog?

Do I have any tips? The first time I rode a geared bike I held the handlebars in a death grip. But that is not the way. You are instead supposed to grip the bike with your thighs, so that when you go over a bump you don't jerk the throttle. This is one area where knowing how to ride a bicycle was useful.

You will stall in embarrassing situations, e.g. after waiting for ages at a roundabout, just as a small gap appears. Always remember that "slow is smooth, and smooth is fast". Formula One icon Pastor Maldonado was fast, but he wasn't smooth, and in his career he only won a single race. It's tempting to slowly release the clutch until the bite point, and then just let it open the whole way, but you have to be smooth.

At every stage in my training I remember thinking "who am I kidding" and "what am I doing" and "never again will I criticise the man in the arena" and "is that sexist" and "no-one can see inside my mind" and "that's okay then" and "am I saying this out loud" and "echo echo echo echo".

How did I cope with the gnawing, nagging fear that I was out of my depth? I thought about royalty, and world leaders, and people who are born into wealth. As children they have a personality. There is a little boy or girl or person within them. But they are taught from an early age to bury their personality. To act in a certain way, dress in a certain way, hold certain opinions, as in a Bret Easton Ellis novel. They are taught to obliterate their animal self and instead become a construction, and that is how I coped with the nerves. I put my personality into a box and told it to wait until later on. At some point I will have to retrieve it.

And with that I bid you adieu. After hitting "post" I will drink myself senseless, and at three o'clock in the morning it'll dawn on me that I've left out a crucial detail. But it will be too late, the damage will be done.

Monday 15 April 2024

Yamaha YS125: Last of the Breed

Let's have a brief look at the Yamaha YS125. It's not often that I write about motorbikes, but it's 2024 and I've recently passed my motorcycle test, so I'm in an up-beat mood. The YS125 is a learner-legal 125cc motorbike sold by Yamaha from 2017 to around 2021, as a replacement for the decade-old YBR125. NB It has nothing to do with the Yamaha YZ125, which is a motocross bike, or the Yamaha Y125Z, a scooter.

The YBR125 was apparently very popular, with sales of over 150,000 units. I have no idea how well the YS125 sold, but I have seen a few here and there, including this one in Trieste, Italy:

Some 125cc motorbikes are sold in Europe with 150cc or 200cc engines - 150cc is the minimum requirement for the Italian autostrada - but as far as I can tell the YS was only available as a 125.

I bought mine to learn how to ride a geared motorbike. Now that I've passed my test my YS125 is in theory surplus to requirements, but it sips petrol and doesn't take up much space, and one of the few good things about being middle-aged is that motorcycle insurance is cheap.

The YS125 represents an interesting turning-point in the evolution of modern motorbikes. A long time ago all of the big motorbike manufacturers had a boring, ordinary 125cc learner model - neither a sports nor an adventure nor a custom bike - but now only Honda has a standard learner bike, the CB125F, which is yours for just over £3000. Where did they all go?

There's still a huge demand for 125cc motorbikes, but the entry-level end of the market is now dominated by cheap imports from China. Chinese bikes are controversial. There's a stereotype that they're unreliable and don't last. It's not that Chinese manufacture is inherently rubbish. The YS125 itself was made in China. It's just that importers in Europe and the UK tend to import the absolute dregs.

On top of that the Japanese manufacturers have all gone upmarket. Yamaha's nearest modern equivalent of the YS125 is the XSR125, which is considerably more capable but also a lot more expensive, at £4800 (vs £2800 for the YS125 in its final year). Yamaha's other entry-level 125 is the sporty MT-125, at £5000.

Honda has a range of 125cc motorbikes, but they're mostly novelty models such as the pint-sized Grom or the semi-automatic Super Cub 125. Other 125s from other manufacturers, such as the Kawasaki Ninja and the Suzuki GSX, are aimed at the sporty market, and so the basic commuter 125 is a dying breed, on the endangered list.

What's the YS125 like? Agricultural. Part of the reason for its obscurity is that it was essentially a continuation of the 2005-onwards Yamaha YBR125. The YBR125 was originally sold with a carburettor, a kickstarter, and an old-fashioned round headlight, but by the end of production it had been updated with electronic fuel injection and plastic fairings. The YS125 added a slightly larger fuel tank, a tweaked engine that complied with EURO 4 emissions standards - the YS125 is ULEZ-compliant - and a simple digital dashboard:

It also added a linked braking system. From 2016 onwards European standards required that new motorcycles have ABS, or alternatively a braking system that linked the front and rear brakes. The YS125 has a disc brake at the front but a drum at the back, so Yamaha added a linked braking system. It's odd. When I press the rear brake pedal the front brake lever moves slightly. The rear brake itself is designed to stop the bike on a hill, but it's not particularly effective otherwise, which is something that tripped me up slightly when learning to ride a bigger bike, but more of that later.

Yamaha's publicity materials quoted a fuel consumption of 2L/100km, which is 140mpg, but most reviews suggested a range of 300 miles from its 14-litre tank, which equals around 100-120mpg or so. That's still not bad. I find that £10 of fuel takes it from a couple of bars on the meter to full. The fuel meter is such that I can start off at two bars and reach my destination with three bars, perhaps from the tank tilting in the corners.

Performance-wise Yamaha claimed 7.4kw at 7400rpm, which is just slightly less than 10bhp. In the UK the legal learner limit is 14bhp, and I can confirm that the YS125 is not a rev-happy speed demon. Let's talk about the good and bad things.

Good Stuff

The YS125 is almost purpose-designed for commuting in a city. It's slow off the lights, but it keeps pace with ordinary cars and vans. It chugs along easily at 20mph, 30mph, and 40mph in second, third, and fourth gears - 20mph falls slightly between second and third gears, perhaps because a 20mph limit was still unusual in 2017, when the bike was new. It weighs around 120kg and I have no trouble moving it around. I am six feet tall, and I can easily, easily get both feet on the ground while sitting in the seat.

It's physically tiny, and it doesn't look aggressive, so I find that squeezing in between traffic isn't a problem at all. No-one waves, no-one shouts, I have not been glared at. Parking is easy.

My commute amounts to around 50 miles a week, and every three weeks or so I have to buy £10 of petrol. The bike doesn't smell of petrol, and it doesn't leak oil all over the place. Maintenance consists of periodically wiping off and lubricating the chain and checking the oil level. Yamaha sold a top-box as an accessory, although there are also aftermarket mounts that allow for panniers. As far as I know the battery, fuses, wheels, probably chain are shared with the YBR, which was on sale for ages, so parts are still widely available.

As a recently-qualified motorcyclist I can't comment about the handling. The only time my knees have touched the ground while owning my YS125 have been while I was changing the oil (it takes one litre of 10W40 and has a separate filter). But, again, in town I can easily wend my way around vans, pedestrians, bollards etc.

Bad Stuff
As mentioned up the page performance is sluggish. I noticed this after doing my motorcycle training and my test. Moving from a 650cc Kawasaki back to the YS125 was a striking experience. In particularly it needs a fistful of revs to pull away at more than walking pace. Up to 50mph it keeps up with traffic, topping out at around 65mph in fifth gear, although I have only briefly touched that speed, and the speedo over-indicates, so it was probably more like 60mph.

The biggest problem is handling - not so much cornering but staying planted on bad roads. On regular roads the YS125 doesn't have a problem, although it tends to smash over potholes, but it copes poorly with ruts. It has a habit of tramlining, as if it wants to follow ruts in the road rather than bumping over them, and in general I wouldn't want to ride in the countryside in poor weather at high speed on a YS125. On the other hand mine still has stock tyres, so perhaps the problem is the tyres.

That's about all the bad stuff I can think of. It has no integral storage at all, beyond a small compartment for a toolkit, but that's motorcycles for you. Did I mention the toolkit? It comes with a toolkit:

The lack of storage makes it awkward if you're going to be a delivery driver. Where are you going to put your helmet and security chain, hmm? Despite the sluggish performance it's still inherently fun to ride a motorbike though, and as a tool for learning how to use gears it worked in my case, as I now have a full motorcycle licence.

On the used market prices from dealers vary from £1000 or so to £1800 depending on condition. A scan of eBay suggests that anything less than £1000 has masses of rust, and anything above £2000 is wishful thinking, bearing in mind that a brand-new Honda CB125F is only £3000. The YBR is still widely available used, and older YBRs have a classic, retro look that has aged well, although I have no idea if the YBR was ULEZ-compliant or not.

Incidentally, the YBR's predecessor was the carburetted SR125, which looks great but dates back to the 1980s. My hunch is that the few SR125s available nowadays are valuable antiques. There was also a 250cc version of the YBR, with a 21 bhp engine. To confuse matters Yamaha still seems to sell a version of the YBR125 in Pakistan, as the YB125Z-DX, but it's not formally imported into the UK.

Is that it? Can I stop now? My impression is that the equivalent Honda, the CBF125, holds its value slightly better, and judging by the reviews the Honda had one extra horsepower. But I imagine that either one will teach you how to ride a geared bike, after which you have the choice of selling it to the next student, or keeping it and using it for errands.