6 Best Budget Motorcycles: The Definitive Guide to Help You Get a Great Value

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Looking for a motorcycle and don’t have endless resources? Sure, some of you guys can afford the Panigale Rs and Multistradas, but the rest of us need to get the most out of our money so we can afford things like gas and cool armored pieces to protect our bodies. On a tight budget? The bike for you is on this list of the best budget motorcycles.

Disclaimer: We are well aware that there fantastic bikes on the used bike market. However, we cannot predict what kind of deals are available in your area, nor what the supply will be like. Additionally, since we know most of us tinker with our bikes a lot, many of you are in the market for a new bike (which is why that’s all included in this list). Save your “that’s a stupid choice, why by that when you can get a 5 year old ____________” comment, we know. We assume you guys are smart enough to be checking craigslist if you only have 5 grand to spend and want a literbike.

The Dual Sport – 2013 Honda CRF250L ($4,499)

At $4,499, the 2013 Honda CRF250L is $2,000 cheaper than its competitors in the Yamaha WR250R or Suzuki DR-Z400S. While maybe not quite as high-tech as more dedicated or focused bikes, the Honda definitely offers all of the that fun riding around town on a dual sport can bring, as well as a machine plenty capable off road. Wes rode and reviewed it here, and our friends over at Wilderness Collective use them for their off-road tours as well. If I was looking for a bike to start off road or wanted a cheap option to do double duty, this is the bike I’d buy.

The Starter Sportbike – Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS ($5,499)

Our love for the Honda CBR250R has been well documented, and it’s a fantastic bike that gets great gas mileage and is very capable in the twisties. But, for $800 more, the Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS, with an MSRP of $5,499, is the bike I’d buy if I wanted a sportbike for cheap. 50 percent more horsepower, 50 percent more torque, and only 25 pounds heavier (some of that due to the extra gallon of gas it holds); it just feels more like a miniature sportbike whereas, to me, the CBR just feels like a small displacement engine molded into a sporty riding position. We’re picking up one for a more in depth review this week, so check back for the full story.

The Around-Towner/Daily Ride – 2014 Honda CB500X ($5,999)

This was probably the hardest area for me to choose the best option. The DR-Z400SM is an awesome option if you aren’t going to go on the freeway at all (and don’t mind the terribly short range). The other bikes in the Honda 500 line (the Honda CBR500R and CB500F) are great, but just don’t feel quite as capable. All of these are pretty much the same price ($5,500 for the 500F up to $6,999 for the Dr-Z400SM), so it’s really a matter of personal preference. Read our reviews of the CBR500R, CB500F, and CB500X to learn more for yourself, but the 500X is the one I’m recommending to all my buddies and, at $5,999, a steal.

The Adventure Bike – 2013 Kawasaki KLR 650 ($6,499)

Another area where I struggled to pick a top bike, the adventure/larger displacement dual sport segment has a lot of options that seem real similar. The Suzuki DR650SE is the cheapest at $6,399, but felt small and the kind of bike built more for asian markets than for real adventuring. The Honda XR650L is the most expensive (of the ones in this range) at $6,690 and is probably my favorite of the bunch, but that’s mostly because I think these bikes are similar enough to let my aesthetic preferences win out. When choosing the KLR, I had to base my decision on the enormous following that the KLR has in ADV forums, where the real adventurers are. Sure, Wes and I like to go on adventures, but we’re still tied to computers and internet connections and we don’t really get to do it like this guy. A time tested engine, simple enough that you can fix it in the middle of nowhere, and capable of getting you around the globe and back. All the necessary aftermarket upgrades are widely available and cheap and the huge knowledge base will have you riding a truly capable motorcycle for the minimum spend in the minimum amount of time.

The Commuter – Honda NC700X ($7,499)

We’ve covered this bike a ton, from likening it to a Swiss Army knife, to throwing dirt tires and crash bars on it and taking it off road. This thing can do pretty much anything you need it to. Yet with all those abilities, what it’s best at is what it was initially intended for: carrying you and your stuff from place to place, safely and economically. With great gas mileage, a low center of gravity, and that beautiful storage where you’re used to putting fuel, this thing makes it cheap to operate, easy to maneuver, and gives you a spot to put your groceries or a hoodie for when it gets cold. We absolutely love its competitors, the Suzuki V-Strom ($8,499) and Kawasaki Versys ($7,999), but in the end the Honda is the better buy.

The Cruiser – Star Bolt ($7,999)

Classic Sportster lines, with Japanese technology and performance, the Star Bolt is a great buy at $7,999. I was actually out with friends in Downtown LA and saw one last week, parked under a street lamp in a cool neighborhood later at night, and it had that aura of cool usually only achieved by a Harley Sportster or Triumph Bonneville. I reviewed the Bolt when it launched and it easily surpassed my expectations, making this my recommendation anytime a buddy tells me he’s looking to buy a used bike and turn it into a bobber.

  • MichaelEhrgott

    Great list! I want a Ninja 300 to fart around on really badly. I also like think the FZ-09 will be added shortly… :)

    $9 less than the Bolt and only $491 more than the NC700X. Oh and don’t forget the 115 bhp and 64 ft/lbs of torque. Now that’s serious power on a budget.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Headed to the launch a week from today!

      • MichaelEhrgott

        So jealous. Hopefully you will love it and give it a great review! It’ll make me feel better about already putting a deposit on a red one. Haha

    • Dan

      I did an on-track demo ride of the ninja 300 and was somewhat disappointed. I lived in LA a few years ago and had a ninja 250 and thought it was great for dancing in the canyons. But riding the 300 I found that the magic was gone. Not
      sure if it was increased weight, or just having rose-tinted memories of the old bike, but it didn’t seem as eager as I remembered.

      • Piglet2010

        I have a pre-gen Ninjette for a track bike (hey, I’m cheap), and it is a hoot to ride.

  • JR

    RideApart is doing good things for the sport here. I don’t hesitate to call you out on your millennial hipster crap when I see it, so I should be equally prepared to give credit when it’s due. This is becoming the best online-only motorcycle publication.

    • MichaelEhrgott

      I agree. It comes up with my homepage now. To all the writers and the Mod Squad: thank you for the great articles, keep em comin!!

    • Pete

      I just recently discovered RideApart and I have been to it every day since.
      Keep up the awesome content!

  • zombarian

    So how long ’till the How to: Craigslist article?

    • Brian

      which should be split into 2 articles. 1) for ready to ride and 2) for ready made to be cheap project bikes to make streetable quickly and cheaply

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Just landed for a launch in Orlando, gimme a week or two?

      • MotoEnthusiast

        Which launch? I’m down here on vacation and all I see is Harley this and Harley that.

        • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

          Check our Instagram tomorrow :)

          • MotoEnthusiast

            You guys have all the fun. How does one become a motorcycle journalist again lol?

            • victor victor bravo

              sacrifice your first born child to Shiva

              • Bryan Zebleckes

                Shivakamini Somakandarkram !!!

  • Stuki

    Someone told me Kawi even dropped the price on the ABS 300 by a few hundred bucks for 2014.

    • kawatwo

      Yup, only $5299 now since you don’t have to get ABS AND the SE colors. They have a nice beautiful black now with ABS. I love Kawasaki but I don’t want my bike to be green :)

      • Michael Love

        “It’s not easy being green” – Kermit the Frog

      • Stuki

        At $5299, it’s starting to get meaningfully lower than the $6499 Honda is charging for the 500 CBR, and closer to the $4700 for the 250. All with ABS. Looking forward to the RideApart review. I’m kind of biased in favor of 10,000+ rpm redline bikes (prefer a WR250 to a KLR even as an “adventure” mount), but the RideApart review of the 500s are so glowing, the darned bikes seem darned near unbeatable. It would be cool if they could repeat their 500x vs Vstrom 650 race up Angeles Crest on a Ninja 300 and a CBR 500 (or any 500, as they seem so similar.)

        And while I’m pretty certain the ideal tire sizes for how 99% of people uses their street bike, is closer to the Ninja’s (and CBR250′s) 110/140, than the 120/160 combo on the 500s, the latter has several orders of magnitude larger selection of cutting edge rubber available for them. Particularly on lightweight bikes with less than Ohlins grade suspenders, less unsprung weight ought to beat contact patch size for most street riders.

        Yet, as it stands, tire makers still seem convinced the only reason people aren’t getting bikes for bigger tires, is that they’re either broke, or cheapskates, and bias their selection accordingly.

  • Stuki

    I just notice there is no budget 2up (sport) tourer/high power big bike in this list. Not long ago, there was a healthy selection of these, like the Bandit, ZRX, Concours 1000. That whole class seems to have gone missing, replaced by $15+k Shamus, ‘Busas, Beemers and Multistradas.

    • Mark D

      I bet that Ninja 1000 is pretty good two-up.

      • Stuki

        I’m sure it is. Just a bit high compared to the $7-8,000 Bandits of yore. Even the Bandit replacement, the GSX 1250, is over $11K these days.

    • Devin Byrnes

      VStrom, Bonneville with King and Queen seat? That would be my guess.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      CB500X for just a general two up ride. V-Strom 650 if you want to do distance.

      • Stuki

        I’m sure I’d completely agree with that, as I generally tend to favor spinning smaller engines faster, but there are loads of people who consider the ‘Strom 650 “adequate for oneUp”, but “labored” on the freeway fully loaded. Instead preferring to shortshift their 1200+cc Beemers to the point where they’re not really producing more power than one can coax out of the little V. And ditto for the 80+% of Busa owners who don’t drag race, instead outfitting it with Helibars and sporttouring on it.

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          I find the V-strom to be a superior two-up bike than anything else out there, regardless of price or capacity. I’ve carried a 6’5″ frenchman on the back, totalling 420lbs and 12’7″ of men on one and didn’t have to work the engine any harder than riding it solo.

          • jonoabq

            The 955i and the 1050 Tiger do a fair job of that as well. Essentially the same class of motorbike but with a better motor (thought the transmissions have always been questionable). Both great buys on the used market.

        • Mark D

          Nobody knows the meaning of “labored” until you’ve put 310 lbs of human beings on an EX500, and tried to maintain 70 mph uphill in rural NorCal.

          Nor the butt-puckering fear that comes with the downhill side of the road, with nothing but a rapidly overheading 1980s tech single disk braking system between you and the Siamese Sausage Creature.

        • Justin McClintock

          While spinning smaller engines fast can be fun, I prefer spinning a big V-twin fast. My SV1K has an 11K redline, and I’m not afraid to use it. Makes a nice touring bike with slightly lower pegs, helibars, a better seat and a touring shield too. And oddly enough, my wife doesn’t mind the back seat (but I think she’s crazy).

          That said, if we did more 2-up riding, a Strom of some flavor might would be in order. Well, that or a used, 1st gen Concours.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      What @Wes Siler said.

    • Joe

      I just picked up a super clean sv1000s on craigslist. It is amazing for this purpose, and cheaper than almost every bike on this list.

  • Versys Jake

    Haha Great Disclaimer! I heart Craigslist.

  • Jason 1199

    Finally some love for the KLR on rideapart. It’s more than just the sum of its parts and it does everything (except go fast)

    I spent all my play money on a Panigale so I needed a budget ride for winter, 2 up, off road, hauling parts. I’m happy w my choice and the support of the online forums can’t be overstated

  • Brian D

    If I am looking to get into dual sports with emphasis on off-road, what makes more sense the CRF250L or an older CRF230L with a couple hundred dollars in mods?

    I was originally set on the 250, but reading online about the much lighter and mechanically simpler 230 has me undecided.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      I’m not totally sure on the price difference (feel free to add that info) but I’d say the 250. It’s SOOOO much nicer and a better platform. You can really tell the 230 hasn’t gotten an update since the 80′s.

    • michaelse

      I’m in a similar situation. The CRF250L has piqued my interest. Last year, wanting to get into dirt riding, I picked up a used CRF230F. I quickly grew bored with both the lack of power (even after exhaust/airbox/rejet mods) and the smallness of the bike, which made it feel like a toy to be broken if I got more than 2 inches of air. To the OP: don’t bother with the 230L.

      I sold it only 3 months after I bought it. Is the difference in stance and power of the 250L significant? If it really is 200% better, I might have to check it out. I still want to ride the trails; guess I was just on the wrong bike the first time around.

  • YouMotorcycle.com

    Not sure I would recommend buying a brand new model vehicle to turn into a bobber… seems like they’re a lot more cost-effective options out there, but hey, to each their own! Good list!

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      If they’re asking me what to buy, they’re almost always new to riding and they like that aesthetic and are considering a used bike because they heard of a guy who knew a guy who got a great deal and the thing actually ran. I always try and steer those guys towards new/newer bikes. A real bobber, it’s not, but it usually better fits their needs.

  • pete bloggs

    well I’ve been hearing nightmare stories about the Ninja 300. Stalling issues that have led to the bikes being recalled in the U.S, Australia and Canada and also fairings not lining up properly making the bike seem cheap and poorly put together. Seems like it would be a winner otherwise but these stories make me concerned about handing over hard earned money

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Just picked one up, with a review coming shortly. LOVE it so far.

  • ahniwa

    A little surprised you would admit to loving the CBR250R and then turn around and recommend the Ninja, immediately admitting that you haven’t even done an in-depth review on one yet.

    The numbers on the Honda have always seemed unimpressive, but the performance in the real world is top-notch.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      i’ve spent plenty of time on both, we’ve just only written about one (yet) :) I think the CBR250R is a great bike, but when you ride them back to back, the 300 feels noticeably sportier.

      • ahniwa

        Cool, thanks for the reply. Obviously I love my CBR but I look forward to reading the in-depth review on the Ninja when it comes out. :)

  • http://statesofmotion.blogspot.com/ FastPanda

    My one major concern about the Ninja 300, and PLEASE someone tell me if I’m doing it wrong, but I don’t think so:

    Got to try one on for size at the bike show here in NY this past winter. When I got good and situated, and had the balls of my feet on the pegs as I’ve been led to understand is the correct position, the heel of my boot rested on the exhaust can.

    Yes, I have huge feet, but that was really disconcerting. No such problem with the CBR250R, or really any other bike I can remember. Had this high on my list but have had to rule it out.

    • Justin McClintock

      If you’re planning on racing it or really riding it hard on some twisty roads, then yes, you want the balls of your feet on the pegs. Just tooling around? Move your feet forward and relax a bit. That won’t hurt anything on your daily commute.

      • pete bloggs

        Well I think the idea of being on the balls of your feet is to stop you resting your foot on the back brake. People have been known to press the back brake down a little and not realise it which obviously doesn’t do the bike any good when moving along the road.

        • Tom

          You rest your weight on the balls of your feet — in basically every activity ever — so you can move your weight around more easily. It has nothing to do with the brake.

          Even if you’re on a vehicle with no brake pedal to avoid (like when you’re a pillion rider, or a bicyclist), the proper riding position is the weight on the balls of your feet.

  • Shane

    Okay, but which is a better do-it-all, the NC700X or the CB500X? I’d like to see a comparison of the two in all conditions (town, touring, off-road adventure) and see which is better for the money.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Did you read the review and the comments?

      http://rideapart.com/2013/08/rideapart-review-honda-cb500x/

      • Shane

        I did, and I can see you greatly favor the 500, but my question remains. I remember reading the review where you took the 700 with some off-road tires on it and drove sand dunes, keeping up with and surpassing much ‘greater’ bikes. Could the 500 do that? Is it just a matter of tires?

        • JP

          I believe they said the 700x much better in the dirt due to lower center of gravity and more low end torque.

    • John

      Depends on whether comfort and practicality is most important, or running around having a blast.

      Seems to me the 700x is the better all around bike IF that includes long trips. One is a better tourer, one is a better commuter. You going to work, or to another state? With or without a passenger? Don’t forget the beauty of that tank trunk. Are you taller or shorter?

      What I read is that the CB500x is better on twisties and in town, with a more willing, but less powerful engine. And a better deal. Still, 471ccs is pretty tiny for an interstate and the NC700x sounds like it’s a much better tourer and adventure tourer for not that much more (longer suspension too)

      Honestly, I’d like to have both.

  • Jo

    boo hoo, Suzuki GS500 didn’t get a mention – the best little bike on the planet!!!

    • Mr.Paynter

      Sorry, I had to vote you down.
      I’ve only ridden one mates GS 500 and it was atrocious.

    • http://statesofmotion.blogspot.com/ FastPanda

      Not available new and hence not eligible here. Great bargain on the used market, thinking about one myself, but that’s a different article.

  • Khali

    The star bolt on that picture looks really, really good.

    • Ty Gerhardt

      It should…it’s a complete rip-off of the Iron 883 Sportster from Harley Davidson which is the exact same price. I’m surprised it wasn’t on the list.

  • John

    Only the Kawasakis are available in Mexico, none of the others, and they’re ridiculously overpriced here, with the KLR being $9700 and the Ninja 300R being $8500. Budget my butt.

  • Conrad

    I just put down a deposit on a new, unused 2012 Versys :) Got a great deal on it and I think it also makes a good choice for people looking for a budget bike. The 2014′s will have ABS to boot, sweetening the deal I.M.O.

  • El Isbani

    This site is cool. Just bought my first bike–tu250x, not one of your recs, but it’s all good. I was looking for a scooter, stumbled upon this site, and realized that I never thought I was good for bikes was because the one experience that I had on my friend’s sportbike as a teen was terrifying because I had no biz getting on it to begin with. Wanted a dual-sport, or CB500, but too much advice pointed to my little TUX for me as a city-dwelling newb. Trying to stay fairly safe with gloves, helmet and a jacket–I can hardly hold my head up going to the store sans jacket, call my self squid the whole way. I love reading the impassioned disagreements in the comments too. Bikers are just some real cool geeks at heart.

    • Mark D

      Mind if I ask how much you paid for your TX250? They look like well-built machines in person, very friendly and intimidating, but not totally cheap like the SYM 150cc Honda-clones.

      • El Isbani

        Walked out paying $4000 w/ taxes and everything. 2012, 1900 miles. It’s a good bike, and I don’t feel like giving it up, even though I’d like a faster one one day. Slow acceleration, but that’s probably a good thing right now.

  • Tom

    I’m not sure the point of this article, since the #1 way to get a good value for money is by buying used, which you explicitly say you’re ignoring. It’s like an article on “Best 125cc Motorcycles For Drag Racing”, or “Best Bobbers for Carrying a Pillion”.

    Besides, you say you can’t predict what’s going to be on the used market where I live, but why do you think you can predict what’s available new? I live in a medium-large American city, and there are lots of new motorcycles that simply can’t be bought here at any dealer. More than once, I’ve been told “Ask again next year” (!!). Buying used bikes isn’t just for cheapskates. It’s the only way for a lot of us to get most of the models out there.

  • Biker Dash

    If all these rides, The only one I would really consider is the Star Bolt. The CB500 I would consider if you had not chosen the tallest of the three offered, which is a really poor choice for someone who is very short and light like myself. I notice that you chose the taller version for the Commuter.
    Remember, not every rider out there is 5’10″ @ 170lbs.

  • jamesh

    Where is KTM duke 200/390 !!

  • Peter Negru

    probably because its not going to vibrate itself to pieces the 3rd time you ride it. (jks)

    because the harley is a bit over priced. it doesnt make the same power, probably not as smooth, and if history is anything to go by, probably not as reliable.

    IN B4 :my harley has nvr broken

    ok, YOUR harley has never broken. but i have at least 3 motorcycle reliability horror stories that have happened to friends of mine. (and one to me). all of them were harley products.

  • おか

    Only if i could have traced to your blog correctly, i’m really impressed by your courage to post the remarks to someome who at least best tried to serve for common riders, from someome just says rain is dangerous for you to ride. I guess you are raking accesses to your blog.