Spring is right around the corner, and for those of us in the Midwest and the east, that means motorcycle season is almost here! Lately, I’ve been finding myself looking at deals on cheap motorcycles, and have been surprised with the copious choices at the inexpensive end of the new-bike market. If you want something new, there are some cheap bikes that don’t appear to be completely terrible. Here are five new motorcycles that won’t break the bank.
Last week, I wrote about the 2023 Honda XR150L. Honda is pitching this motorcycle at first-time riders and experienced ones who want to relive their first motorcycling experiences. Here’s a little motorcycle with enough power to scoot around on most roads and capable enough to tackle some trails. In a world where many new motorcycles have all sorts of kit like rider assist systems, riding modes, screens, apps, and monitors, the XR150L is almost an anachronism. Its engine is fed from a carburetor, its uses a simple analog instrument cluster, and heck, the rear brake is a drum! Perhaps even better is its price, which is just $3,000 before fees and dealer markup.
Most of my colleagues in the Autopian Slack channel adored this motorcycle. It seems like the perfect ride for someone who just wants something that will reliably do its job without gimmicks or anything else to break. Naturally, this brought up another question: What other new motorcycle gems are out there for under $5,000? Well, I’m glad you asked!
Really, an under $5,000 list could be populated entirely with Hondas. The best-selling motor vehicle in the world, the Honda Super Cub, can be had for just $3,849. There are well over 100 million of them in the world and the new ones still have that classic look. You could also find yourself on the stylish $4,749 Honda Rebel 300, the brilliant $3,499 Honda Grom, or a $4,899 CBR300R. These are all great choices, but for this one I’m going to focus on the cheapest motorcycle that still has a Honda badge.
In late 2021, Honda announced that Americans would be able to buy a new dirt-cheap bike starting in 2022. The Navi borrows some traits from both the Grom and the Ruckus scooter and combines them into one accessible and affordable commuter motorcycle. Perhaps surprisingly to some riders, the Navi wasn’t engineered in Japan or even America, but in India. Even though America got it in 2022, these have actually been around in India since Honda R&D India unveiled them in 2016. In fact, Navi is an acronym for “New Additional Value for India.” It’s powered by a 109.2cc air-cooled single-cylinder scooter engine making 7.83 horsepower and 6.6 lb-ft torque. That drives the rear wheel of the 235.9-pound motorcycle through a CVT.
This isn’t like a Grom where you can expect to do wheelies, stoppies, and other stunts. Really, the Navi packages scooter power and ease of use into a motorcycle package. With a light rider and perhaps with a tailwind, a Navi will do at best 55 mph, which makes it too slow for most highways. But it is fast enough for running around town or jaunts down backroads.
I’ve been following Navi owner groups since the motorcycle’s launch and it seems many owners love them for the lack of having to shift, their low price, their 30.1-inch seat height, and their maneuverability. I’ve also noticed that many Navi owners are newer riders. Normally, I’d say that a new rider should get something used, but at $1,807, a Navi could be your first motorcycle.
If you’re like me and you adore motorcycles that have classic style, Royal Enfield might be the ticket. Since its introduction in India in 2008, the little Classic 350 has the distinction of being Royal Enfield’s best-selling motorcycle over its 120-year history. Royal Enfield says that as of 2022, it sold over 3 million Classic motorcycles in more than 75 countries. Here’s what the company has to say about the Classic 350:
The design inspiration of the Classic range dates back to the Royal Enfield G2 350 Bullet in 1948, a motorcycle that revolutionized the industry with the introduction of the articulating swingarm. While this innovation transformed the performance of motorcycles at the time, the modern Classic 350 invites us to rediscover the experience of pure motorcycling. Nostalgic style cues blend with a confidence-inspiring ride, with modern touches and a refined overall feel that celebrates the original unhurried, uncomplicated feel of an authentic handcrafted motorcycle.
Something that Royal Enfield doesn’t mention in that graph is that the Bullet has the distinction of being the motorcycle with the longest production run. Bullets have been around since 1948, continuously! The Classic 350 is supposed to look like a Bullet but carries some modern equipment. Power comes from a 349.34cc air and oil-cooled thumper making 20.2 HP and 19.9 ft-lbs torque. Despite the vintage looks, you’re getting fuel injection and dual-channel ABS. Top speed can be over 70 mph on the 430 pound bike depending on rider or conditions. That makes it good enough for state highways, but interstates might be a stretch depending on where you are.
When Cycle World reviewed the Classic 350, the publication admitted that it isn’t the fastest nor futuristic motorcycle in the world, but Royal Enfield and its machine are planting its stakes in a world where people yearn for simpler motorcycles:
Unhurried by the march of time, the Royal Enfield Classic 350 is proudly simple, wearing its affordability like a badge of honor. As the motorcycle industry at large invests in new technologies, places its hope in alternative energy sources, and dazzles with ever-grander ideas, it seeks to divine the dreams of the mythical next generation of rider. Royal Enfield, on the other hand, has let the arc of history do the hardest work for it, slipping into the global scene at what it hopes is the right moment: When the basic, affordable motorcycles it’s long built and has continued to develop are primed for acceptance by young people who long for the virtue of simplicity.
I wasn’t aware that the Classic 350 is as inexpensive as it is. I’ve long wanted a Royal Enfield and I might just put my money where my mouth is and swing a leg over its 31.7-inch seat.
Developed by BMW Motorrad in Munich and constructed by the TVS Motor Company in India, the G 310 R is BMW’s motorcycle initially for developing countries. Back in 2013, BMW Motorrad decided that there was an opening in the market of small displacement sub-500cc motorcycles in developing countries for the roundel to make some inroads. BMW’s history is full of small motorcycles, including the 200cc BMW R2. However, BMW Motorrad of today is known for its big bikes. Teaming up with TVS Motor Company, BMW Motorrad brought the G 310 R and G 210 GS to market in 2016, reaching America in 2017.
The G 310 R is the least expensive way into a new BMW motorcycle, and you still get some pretty neat bits of kit. The G 310 R has a slipper clutch and BMW’s Ride by Wire throttle system. There are more goodies in there like ABS, LED lighting, and adjustable brake and clutch levers.
Ultimate Motorcycling has this to say from a review of the machine:
The BMW G 310 R is the perfect bike for urban day rides. It’s small and agile, easy to handle, and the 30.9-inch seat height ensures I can get my feet flat on the ground at every stop.
Those are all important, as I’ve joined the post-Christmas bustle on the boulevard. Drivers are still a bit distracted, leading to unexpected stops and evasive action. The 310 is also narrow enough to thread the lanes to move me to the front of the queue, keeping me ahead of the fray.
The ergonomics make for a comfortable ride as I tool along the San Fernando Valley’s suburban roads. The close-to-upright seating allows me to easily look over my shoulder to keep an eye on the surrounding traffic, as well as take in some new storefronts emerging from the COVID-response-scarred economic landscape. Footpeg position is lightly sporty, and the reach to the handlebar is natural.
Power comes from a 313cc single-cylinder making 34 HP and 20 lb-ft torque. Seat height comes up to 30.9 inches. Loaded down, it weighs 362 lbs and has a top speed of around 89 mph, which makes this one capable of taking you down a highway without getting creamed by a semi.
By all accounts, it seems like the cheapest BMW is still a good one. My former colleague at the lighting site, Steve DaSilva, has the adventure bike version of this and he loves it.
If you’re more into cruisers, you don’t have much choice for a name-brand bike for under $5,000. Before, I mentioned that you can get a Honda Rebel 300 for just $4,749. That machine has been called a “top-quality beginner motorcycle” by Cycle World for its mild manners, ergonomics, and riding characteristics that are perfect for a rider fresh out of class. If for whatever reason you cannot find a Rebel 300, or the dealership has marked it up too much, you can still get a small displacement cruiser from Yamaha.
The Yamaha V Star 250 made its first appearance in 1988 as the Yamaha Virago VX250. Like the Rebel, the V Star exists as a low-displacement chopper-style cruiser that’s perfect for beginners. I think the most incredible thing about this machine is that it hasn’t changed much since 1988. Motorcycle riders sometimes mock Royal Enfield for being stuck in the past, but the Classic 350 on this list has more tech.
Yes, this motorcycle is like a stone axe, but apparently, it also means a good ride, from Ultimate Motorcycling:
A beginner motorcycle should be welcoming, friendly, and fun—a simple concept that Yamaha figured out 30 years ago and hasn’t let slip away with the 2018 Yamaha V Star 250.
New riders will immediately feel comfortable when they throw a leg over the very-approachable 27-inch saddle. The low seat will allow most people to sit astride the slim 326-pound motorcycle with both feet firmly planted on the ground, and this is one of the best ways to put a beginner at ease.
The grips are within easy reach of the rider as the compact cruiser motorcycle has narrow drag bars and the foot controls are in a relaxed forward position. Surprisingly, Yamaha totally missed the mark on the hand levers. The levers are non-adjustable and the reach, especially to the front brake, is excessive. I have big hands for my size—women’s large gloves—and it was immediately noticeable to me. The only saving grace to this inexplicable oversight is that the clutch pull is light.
This 324-pound cruiser feeds from a Mikuni carburetor, is stopped with a front disc and a rear drum, and you won’t find a single screen on it. There’s a 249cc V-twin on deck and it makes 21 horses, good for a top speed of around 85 mph. A highlight of this motorcycle is its low 27-inch seat height.
The last motorcycle on this list is more of a wildcard. Motorcyclists may have some reservations about Chinese brands and it’s because, in the past, a number of brands landed on American shores with downright garbage offerings. CFMoto was among them! The company set up its U.S. headquarters in 2007 and not long after started selling vehicles here. A couple of its early American efforts are the CFMoto V5 CF250T-5, a weird cruiser hiding a scooter powertrain. There’s also the CFMoto CF250T-F, a scary-accurate clone of the Honda Helix/CN250 scooter. I owned the Helix clone before and rode it through winter. In some regards, it was better than the Helix, but it also drank its own oil and tapped like crazy even when the valves were adjusted correctly.
CFMoto has come such a long way from those days and today, the company sells motorcycles that look attractive and appear to be pretty decent in quality. CFMoto left America before making a return in 2021. One of the motorcycles in the new lineup is the 300NK, an entry-level sportbike. This motorcycle is such a departure from CFMoto’s old fare that Cycle World sums it up like this:
CFMOTO’s entry-level naked sportbike, the 300NK, is an impressive machine marketed as a direct competitor to the small-displacement motorcycles from the Japanese Big Four and European companies. The 300NK features comparable specs, features, and performance at a lower cost, potentially swaying consumers to rethink their biases toward the long-standing contenders in this space.
From what we can tell, the CFMOTO hit the nail on the head with its 300NK, offering a quality motorcycle for an affordable price. Welds on the trellis frame are clean and even, materials seem premium, coatings are robust and neatly applied, and everything functions precisely as intended. You’ll be hard-pressed to point out notable flaws…
For $4,199, you get a naked sportbike with a 292cc single making 29 hp, 18.7 lb-ft torque, and fueled with Bosch EFI. It weighs in at 333 lb, has a slipper clutch, a 31.2-inch seat height, dual-channel ABS, a color display, and LED lighting. Basically, it’s nearly as well-equipped as that BMW, but for hundreds fewer dollars.
Cycle World’s review notes that the 300NK’s steel trellis frame and suspension give the motorcycle a high-end look and handling that’s predictable. Steering is noted to be direct and the ride is sporty, yet comfortable. The publication also gives it a high mark for its counterbalanced engine.
Cheap Motorcycles Are Abundant
This isn’t an exhaustive list of motorcycles under $5,000. As I said above, Honda has tons of awesome motorcycles that you can go home with little money. And if you don’t mind some wrenching, going with a drop-shipped motorcycle from China can mean even more savings on two wheels. At the same time, prices are changing. If I wrote this back in 2020 I might have included a Kawasaki Ninja 400 or the Royal Enfield Himalayan, but now both of those are above the $5,000 mark. There are some awesome motorcycles just above $5,000 out there like the KTM 390 Duke or the Husqvarna Vitpilen 401.
I would also recommend looking at the used market. Depending on where you live, you might find used motorcycles with attractive pricing and low mileage. You can even find some quirky machines like a Harley-Davidson V-Rod for a surprisingly low price.
If you need training, I highly recommend taking a Motorcycle Safety Foundation MSF Basic RiderCourse. This course will teach you the basics of riding and the instructors will even teach you some extremely helpful habits that can even save your life behind the wheel. Depending on where you live, the instruction may be as cheap as free. Go to MSF’s site to learn more.
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