Five Small Motorcycles You Can Be Proud To Ride

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Five Small Motorcycles You Can Be Proud Of

Why is it pride of ownership is so often connected to engine size in the motorcycle world? Are we compensating for other shortcomings? Not only are these small motorcycles you can be proud of, but often, they’re much more fun to ride than their super-sized counterparts.

For the purposes of point proving, let’s cap capacity at 499cc (I just really wanted to include the Enfield) and use the criteria that all of these machines must be the absolute best at their respective roles. No caveats, these are small bikes that are better than their larger counterparts.

Yamaha WR250R
Yamaha WR250R

Yamaha WR250R
Hands down, this is the most capable dual sport motorcycle sold by a Japanese company. The WR is just as fast as its 650cc rivals and comes standard with higher quality suspension. Believe it or not, but the 30 bhp motor is better at highway cruising than those larger rivals too, largely because its DOHC design is far more modern than other Japanese dual sports as well as higher spec; this little 250 even has Titanium inlet valves.

Suzuki DR-Z400SM
Suzuki DR-Z400SM

Suzuki DR-Z400SM
This is the only real supermoto available as a stock bike right now and it will destroy pretty much any other motorcycle — regardless of size or performance — through city streets or down a tight mountain road. The best part? A little tuning work can make this thing genuinely fast in a straight line too.

Honda CB500X
Honda CB500X

Honda CB500X
Our workhorse of choice right now is all day comfortable, good at carrying passengers and a blast to ride through heavy traffic. We’ve been tempted to describe it as having 75 percent of the capability of an R 1200 GS for a third of the price, but then remembered that this little Honda is actually far better for city riding. Yeah…


No one’s ridden the RC390 yet, but man does it promise to be an absolute blast. Know what’s the enemy of sportbike handling? Weight. You can throw all the Ohlins you want on a heavy bike, but all that’s going to do is redress some of that inherent problem. And the RC390 weighs just 324 lbs (wet, without fuel). I get paid to ride fast motorcycles and this is the bike I’m mostly likely going to buy next.

Honda Grom
Honda Grom

Honda Grom
I don’t think I’ve ever had more positive reactions from non-riders to a bike than I’ve had on the Honda Grom. Heck, even Kanye West asked to borrow it to display in his pop-up store a few weeks ago. When it’s not ripping its way around city streets, you can park it on the front porch as an objet d’art.

Do you ride a small bike? Which one? Why do you think pride of ownership is so often connected to engine size in the motorcycle world?

  • Jordan K

    Cant wait for the RC390! Any idea on a US release date yet?

  • Kr Tong

    Funny because I feel that there is more camaraderie around 250 ownership than there is between any other displacement. Even everyone who’s reluctantly “moved on” from their 250 can’t stop regaling stories about how great their old bike was. And guys who have the 675 at home will commonly take the 250 commute machine out to the canyons because they can’t resist.

    I love watching my friend on his WR250R catch air on the dips in the road because he just needs to lift up on the bike and boom, hang time. Also the thing wheelies and keeps up with anything else. Motorcycles shoulud be ridiculous and that thing checks all the boxes.

    I personally feel like i missed out by not owning anything small. Next bike will definitely be something i can take to the kart track for cheap track days.

  • Afonso Mata

    My daily ride is a small Sym Fiddle II 125cc.
    It’s just a blast to ride and it really makes me happy and proud to own that little piece of plastic.
    I think 11k miles in an year and a half speak for itself.
    It’s a pretty decent all-rounder, even if it can’t go faster than 70mph. On the other hand, here in Portugal it’s motorway legal, and that 70mph top speed is just 5mph shy of the legal speed limit, so I just feel bored sometimes, not endangered.
    I think engine size is often connected to pride of ownership because some people have consumerist and over-competitive mindsets. They buy stuff not only because they need it, but because someone else has it, and they want to have it too and better than, if possible. “so you have an iPhone 4? I’ll buy the 4+1, so I can rub it in your face”.
    It also has to do with how you want to feel perceived by the others. You’ll feel cooler if you ride a gixxer 1000 instead of a 600, because (in theory) you’ll ride faster. And everyone knows: faster is cooler.

    For most biker clubs/communities (like us, the RideApart readers) who are really into bikes nomatter what, I don’t think that’s the point. For example, here in Portugal, there are a few scooterist clubs and low-displacement-bikes clubs who put on regular gatherings (most of it monthly, but also some weekly) where you can see more people hanging out than other bigger bike’s clubs.

    • EReader61 .

      Well said!

    • Guest

      Brilliant thinking

    • ProDigit

      Small cc bikers have money spare to actually ride the bike, and buy another one in case it breaks.
      Big bike riders usually don’t want to ruin the bike, take it out for few rides a year, and often pay 2-3x the gas, insurance, and oil of a small bike.

      125cc is good for 1 person, city. Not too small to be sluggish, not too large to cost too much.
      200cc is good for 2 people, city.
      350cc is good for 1 person, highway. Powerful enough to go 80MPH all day, 90MPH tops; which is highway speeds.
      450cc is good for 2 people, highway.

  • Charlie

    Too bad we don’t have the Aprilia RS 50 around anymore. It was my first bike. I told my wife it was a scooter, that I wasn’t riding a motorcycle. 3rd gear in 50ft. Slow was never so much fun. But more is better, which translated into the 25cc big bore kit. Bike is long gone, and so is my prohibition on riding. One more for the list, a Vespa PX – manual transmission on the stalk and you get the smell of burning oil too

  • Justin McClintock

    Wasn’t my first bike, but my DT175 certainly is a blast to tear around town on. Beat on it all day long with little fear of getting a speeding ticket!

    Then again, I’ve got that DRZ up there too. Every time I see a set of concrete stairs, I’m tempted….

  • ookla_the_mok

    I owned a semi-functioning Honda VTR250 back around 1995. It was a blast. Had electrical problems and I had to push start it most of the time. It was semi-faired, but I wish Honda currently sold a small naked version of something similar in the states.

    • Jack Meoph

      maybe they’ll street fighter the CBR250/300 in a couple of years…………or, you could buy one, crash it (optional), and do it yourself.

  • Ryan Deckard

    I don’t think this article is necessary for our community. If you have any bike, regardless of size, be proud of it. You are among the few and proud individuals that are riders.

    • Dan

      I have an ’82 GN250 and I’m proud!

  • Dan

    I’ve been pining for the RC390 since those KTM NA slides were leaked a few years ago. I would love to see a revival in 400-500cc sports bikes so we can see club racing classes for them. Plus it would be a hoot on the road.

    Right now the racing classes jump from 250/300cc “ultralightweights” to 650cc “lightweight” twins, with the latter name being something of a joke because SV650s are grossly overweight. Experienced riders shouldn’t have to resort to 115hp 600cc supersports in order to find a fun, svelte bike with decent factory equipment.

    • appliance5000

      the honda 500s are a great place to start.

    • zombarian

      In my area the 390 would go up against ninja 250′s on account of it being a single, unless of course they dominate and they rewrite the rules.
      Your org. doesn’t have 500′s or vintage classes?

  • cocoa classic

    Dollar per smiles, the DRZ400SM is hard to beat in my opinion. It puts a smile on my face every time I ride it and is always surprising me with it’s capabilities. So much fun I’m surprised it’s legal!

    • Riedl

      I want one quite badly for work commuting.

    • DailyBikerDan

      me too! Braaaaap!

    • ProDigit

      Honda CB-500X, CB-500F
      Suzuki Ninja 300
      Yamaha SR-400
      Suzuki Boulevard S40

  • Jack Meoph

    The wife’s Kawi 250r ninjette, which I ride all the time, has a serious following and has been around forever. the new 300 is even better. I also have a Genuine Buddy Italia 50cc scooter that I ride around my burg. I’m going to upgrade that to a 200 or 250cc Vespa when the bank account can take a hit.

  • William Connor

    Not sure it’s just engine size. My pride of ownership comes from being able to just eat up miles, whether that be back roads or highway, or slightly off highway. The 500X is the only one here that comes close. Bigger displacement often times makes things easier. i probably could have gone with an 800 Triumph versus the 1200 I have but at 6ft the 800 was cramped from seat to peg. Lots of times that is the other side of the coin, larger displacement is usually larger, and subsequently more comfortable for taller folks. I would own and ride any bike on this list if I could have more than one, the 500X would be closest to a 1 bike only mount.

  • throwawayaccount

    Wes, I think the quality of the site would improve if you brought the tone down a little bit.

    For example, you don’t “get paid to ride fast motorcycles.” You get paid to show ads on your website. I’m not trying to be a jerk, but NOBODY is paying you to ride. Puffing your chest out like that doesn’t help the magazine at all.

  • John

    As opposed to all those other crappy little bikes that should make you feel shame.

  • Scott Kelley

    I feel like I am spoiled because I have only ever owned motorcycles that have been at least 100 hp. My friend has a smaller bike and says I’m missing out…I will need to pick up a smaller displacement toy one of these days…I’m sure they are a blast to rip around!

  • HellomynameisAG

    Drz for the win! I have had 2 (one stolen, one sold), and am always looking for a third for cheap. There is not a better bike for NYC. Fuel injection and an as bullet proof 450 would be a nice touch – but oh well.

    • appliance5000

      Kind of describing the 500x. I know it’s a twin but what a great twin – let’s you know its having a good time.

  • Arin Macchione

    I really need to try out these new small bikes. I had a Honda CM250 and a KTM 250exc with a license plate. The Honda was very reliable but had horrible brakes, suspension, and tires. The KTM was a fantastic trail bike but on the street you had to deal with a rock hard seat and knobbies. Those bikes hardly compare to the ones on this list and I look forward to sampling the new development and technology in this segment.

    • ProDigit

      The Honda CM250, now called Rebel 250, has improved suspension. In fact, it’s the only bike which has soft and comfy suspension in that price category.
      It also has the best, and most soft rider and passenger seat, based on an air cushion with over pressure vent hole; rather than a padded seat.

      The Suzuki TU250X, Yamaha V-Star 250, Kawasaki Ninja 300, etc… all have harder suspension.
      The Honda CBR250, and Kawasaki Ninja 250 both have the worst suspension (very hard).

      The rear brake of the Rebel 250 could not be better! It’s easy to lock the rear wheel, by just pressing a bit harder.
      I haven’t locked the front wheel yet, but don’t want to try.

  • RyYYZ

    Assuming they ever get here, I’m seriously considering a 390 Duke for next year (the RC riding position is a little too committed for me). Actually, a naked bike in this size makes a lot more sense than a much more powerful one, in that the high speeds possible on larger nakeds is really not much fun. The 390 Duke will go about as fast as is enjoyable on a bike with no wind protection.

    • Piglet2010

      What I might wait for the KTM 390 motard that is supposed to be coming out in a year or so.

      • Khali

        I really want to see that 390 dual-sport. May trade my v-strom for one :)

  • Terry Bell

    I’m a big fan of light and lively. Did a cross continent jaunt on my 250 Ninja a few years back. Just put a new 300 ABS Ninja in the garage along with a new 690 Duke. We are in a culture obsessed with bigger so it comes as little surprise that small scoots have to fight for respect. Oscar Wilde pretty much hit it out of the park when he said ” Nothing succeeds like Excess”.

    • R_Melaun

      Sort of like, a little bit is good. More is better. And too much is just right.

  • Peter

    I ride a DR-Z 400S with 50/50 tires and love it. I get nearly 60mpg commuting, and it’s got enough power and torque to constantly invite mischief. The ability to peel off on a dirt road or shred some single track means I normally take the “long-cut” through the public fire trails on my way home from work. If it had 6th gear, I think it might be the perfect motorcycle.

    • ProDigit

      A lot of smaller motorcycles are built to have their final gear top out the engine; meaning max speed at final gear, and max RPM.
      They don’t come with overdrives.
      For that reason, a lot of guys do sprocket changes.
      Most older bikes (from the 80′s to the 90′s) allow only 3 tooth change on the rear, or one in the front.
      Otherwise departing from a dead stop becomes hard.

      Most modern bikes year 2k+, are short geared, which means you can go +1 to +2T on the front, and -3 to -6T on the rear.
      Usually +1/-6T or +2/-3T will make your final gear an overdrive gear, and the gear below that, equal to the stock final gear.
      Usually you can save ~20% of gas like that (increase MPG by 1/5th).

      Sometimes changing only the front (+1) or rear (-3), might also get you a little higher top speed.

  • John

    I think one of the things that is happening is that the increase in wealth in other countries, now desiring bikes bigger than 250cc, is meeting with the decrease in wealth in the industrialized world, where more affordable bikes are more critical than ever, and is being mixed together with some common sense that we haven’t seen since the 80s. Although my favorite engine size is in the 600-800cc area, there are certainly some 400s and 500s that are tempting on the street. Hopefully we’ll actually get a return of 350-450cc dual purpose motocycles for the common man, rather than pure race bikes that require ladders and a big wallet, too.

  • 200 Fathoms

    “And the RC390 weighs just 324 lbs (wet, without fuel).”

    I thought “wet” meant with fuel. ?

    • NextTurn

      …yeah… that’s what I thought too.

    • shamowfski

      They probably mean all fluids (oil, etc), no fuel.

  • Zachary Church

    Good article

  • shamowfski

    WR400F SM.

  • Renato Valenzuela

    i love my CBR250R. i miss the gas mileage when i’m using the cage. i love the 3rd world South East Asian soundtrack my LV GP-Corsa exhaust gives when the throttle is wide open. i commute with it. i go on long rides with it. i even tracked it. no regrets. i’ve ridden bigger bikes. i still like mine more.

  • Motorcycle RN

    Any 90′s 2-stroke 250 race rep. If you’ve ridden one, you know.

  • Juan Francisco Castillo Villal

    When it comes to small cc bikes, México and South America has got you covered.
    Over here we have the XR250 “Tornado”
    Blast to ride everywhere and is quite fast for a 250!
    I’ve reached speeds over 90 mph in this thing!

  • ThinkingInImages

    I downsized to a 2013, all black, Honda CBR250R ABS this year. It’s a classy/elegant looking thing in all black. It fits me and the riding I commonly do. I expected a few people to question my sanity. I’ve always preferred small, quick and nimble motorcycles. Many people have stopped to give it a once over and a thumbs-up, not because it has “CBR” stickers, but because it looks right to them. The best I heard is “it’s a legit motorcycle”, meaning it’s not trying to pass as something it isn’t. Most weren’t aware it was a 250cc single, or if they did, it didn’t matter.

    For the sake of reference, I had a pearl white Shadow RS before this. Pearl white was a one year model and it was a sweet looking thing – without any sort of identity. People stopped and admired it, asked a few questions, and moved on. Many thought “HD” and walked away with “oh, it’s a Honda”. I didn’t mind that so much as it was more show than go.

    • james


      it is the definition of a non legit motorcycle, it is literally a scooter with some big plastic fairings stuck on it. It is not a CBR by any definition of the term.

      • james

        i just wanted to say i ride a VFR400R NC24, now that is a small bike that impresses on people, not only is it as loud as a ducati its huge 80s fairings give it big road presence. I love small bikes, the modern 250 single bikes are an insult to small bikes of the past, i want a small fast reving peaky engine not some lame ag bike lawnmower engine that sounds terrible.

        • artist_formally_known_as_cWj

          B R O


      • ThinkingInImages

        A bit harsh, James. I wasn’t aware that CBR’s had to be hyper-sports models. Granted, it looks more like a VF, but that designation is reserved for “v” engines. The CBR250R looks the part and has “the moves”. It may not have the displacement, horsepower, acceleration, and top speed of the bigger CBR’s, but there’s more to performance than that.

        For the price point, it’s one of Honda’s finer motorcycles, along with the CBR500R – in the U.S. The Honda U.S. lineup is fairly bland, ancient, and top heavy. Walk into a Honda dealer and you’ll find an endless variation of the long-in-the-tooth Shadows going back three model years – and scooters. It’s probably a regional thing. I live in NYC.

        The Shadow RS was a disappointment on every level. It was retro to the point of moving like a ’70′s/80′s motorcycle. I may be old, but not enough that I’m giving up on owning a motorcycle that can get out its own way. The CBR205R has the moves for the riding I do – and my compact size. The “age” part adds a bit of perspective, too. I started riding on motorcycles with about the same power and did a fair share of canyon carving.

      • artist_formally_known_as_cWj

        I’m sorry, I could have sworn that the point was that it is a legit motorcycle – it’s success at being a legit CBR600RRRRR notwithstanding.

  • Charles Quinn

    A few years ago I owned an ’88 Honda Bros 400 (little brother of the bike called the Hawk GT in the US) and loved it to bits. In fact I wish I still had one (I emigrated and left it behind). Only 33hp but bags of torque and character . That little twin-spark, three-valve V-twin topped out at just over 100mph with an aftermarket slip-on and sounded great too. It was built better than any other bike I’ve owned, single sided swingarm and all. I rode it right round the coastline of Ireland in a weekend and it took motorways, rutted B-roads and mountain passes in its stride. When I put it up for sale, one of its former owners spotted the ad and bought it back — he’d always regretted selling it.

  • DailyBikerDan

    I’ve got a DRZ400e for commuting, it’s way good fun to nip in and out of the traffic, and I get more comments about ‘my little motard’ than when I ride my other bike, a Ducati Multistrada. I’m pretty excited about the RC390 and the Grom this year. Little bikes are just heaps good fun :)

  • ThinkingInImages

    I have an all black 2013 CBR250R ABS and it’s a fine looking motorcycle. It’s gets a lot of compliments from others, even non-riders. It’s the color. It’s looks bigger in one color and the design is more cohesive, almost timeless.

    From my perspective (and compact size) it’s probably the best thought out Honda I’ve owned in quite some time. Honda is excellent at engineering, but their styling can be aesthetically odd, drifting from bland, to toy-like, to bizarre.

    I’m slowly warming up to the CBR300R and CBR500R. They’re a bit too slab sided for my taste.

  • Terry Davey

    I am always being asked if my Ninja 300 is a 600cc bike or higher. An example….”hey is that the new Ninja 636″ – Guy who rides a GSX750r
    I love it, the bike is a great!

  • Guest

    Yamaha R15 v2.0, MotoGP 50th Anniversary Edition

    It’s a track bike but I used it for touring, offroading, jungles, valleys, beach, .. and it almost fell into world’s second largest lagoon and a quick sand too.

  • Krish

    Yamaha R15 v2.0, MotoGP 50th Anniversary Edition

    It’s a track bike but I used it for touring, offroading, jungles, valleys, beach, .. and it almost fell into world’s second largest lagoon and a quick sand too.

  • Byron Sanderson

    I love my WR250r… over 13,000 miles in the last 2 riding seasons. Hwy, curves, city, commute, single track… It does it all, provided you have the right tires, I have two sets and change as needed. Recently I picked up a 19″ front wheel for the street set up, nice improvement on road and now I only need to use the spoons for the back tire when switching.

  • ProDigit

    Honda Rebel 250, re-geared to get ~85MPG avg.
    Good enough as a city bike for one or two people.
    Good for highways, but not long trip interstate rides (I find anything longer than 45 min. WOT rides quite boring, and wish I had something faster).
    The rebel has trouble keeping up 75MPH (it peaks at 85MPH in optimal environments, but a little head wind can slow it down quite a bit).

    The grom isn’t fast enough for 2 people, neither is it fast enough for the interstate. At 60MPH all day, and lucky to get 70MPH in optimal environments, it’s a good city and suburban bike.

    The Honda CB-500X or CB-500F are great Interstate bikes. Top speeds of almost 120MPH attainable, which means the bikes could do 100MPH all day.
    Re-gearing one can get the stock 66MPG up to ~80MPG; and I find they are the best bikes right now, imho.

  • ProDigit

    Almost forgot SYM Wolf 150, a very nice, cheap, and efficient bike (150cc).

  • rudedog4

    “Why do you think pride of ownership is so often connected to engine size in the motorcycle world?” I think most of that is macho BS. Small light bikes are a lot of fun. Not everybody feels the need to go stupid fast all the time.