The motorcycle is a the quintessential symbol of freedom. Nothing captures the essence of the open road quite like taking flight on a touring bike across the country, or as far around the world as you can get.
For the even more audacious, there’s also adventure motorcycles that can take you beyond the blacktop to see untamed wilds.
Though these traditional notions of what a bike is – wind in your hair, nothing but horizon ahead – are inspiring, motorcycles are also a daily convenience for the average commuter who’s idea of “open road” is the six blocks it takes to get to 125th and Lexington.
Urban commuter motorcycles aren’t new, but they have recently developed a greater following as manufacturers have begun stepping up to bring a greater sense of freedom and fun to these zippy ways to avoid traffic snarls, difficult parking, and save money on fuel.
Best Small Motorcycles for Riding in the City
Rather than riders being constrained to nothing more than scooters or sad, overburdened machines, the city-dweller can now get any number of small motorcycles that are built with safety and agility in mind, but also carry enough enjoyment for pleasure riders to get a thrill from every grocery store run.
If you’re ready to improve your short game, here’s the best minuscule motorcycles to get you around town and beyond.
Compact from front to tail and bottom to top, the Grom gives you nothing more than a springy, sprightly moped motor that is only 125 cc capable of pushing about 9-10 horses. It isn’t a lot, but it’s a meager 225 pounds, one of the lightest bikes around. That allows the small output to feel exciting and corner like a screaming fiend. Purchase: $3,299+
Engineered entirely with smaller size in mind, Honda made the CB300F shorter from stem to stern, but also trimmer from side to side, allowing it to disappear between reckless cab drivers and dodge around street trash or pedestrians. It’s made low so putting your feet to the pavement at stoplights, then taking off is no sweat, even for the green rider. Purchase: $4,149+
Tipping the scales at a scant 325+ pounds, the light TU250X opts for simplicity above all else, making it an accessible first bike for new riders, as well as an easy, maneuverable steed that’s good for getting all around the town. The 16 horsepower isn’t meant to intimidate, but hit street speeds while delivering about 80+ miles per gallon. Purchase: $4,399+
The dirt bike body isn’t just for show. The 270+ pound TW200 intends to tackle tougher pavement and harder highways than the average city cycle, which is a blessing when you’re coping with streets that need maintenance, or a commute that goes from rougher, rural spots into the urban sprawl. At almost 80 miles for each gallon, it won’t slow you down. Purchase: $4,599+
Suzuki Vanvan 200
Originally coughed up in the ’70’s, then reworked and sold overseas, the Vanvan has finally brought its worldly wiles back to the west. You’ll only get 199 ccs, but since it’s a bit over 282 pounds, that’s plenty for riding high and tight whether going flat out or round and round. Purchase: $4,599+
Usually a BMW badge on a bike will automatically inflate the price tag, but this is a kinder, gentler Motor Works for a time when money is scarce for all but the thieves in the 1%. It lets you hop into and out of dense traffic, using a 313 cc engine that feels good on the go, but not overpowered. Comfort here is hard to oversell, and its got enough reliability to make even the most nervous saddle jockey feel good. Purchase: $4,750+
Made to be a sports bike for the starter set, this has a few teeth to go with its streamlined looks. The engine is a parallel twin with 321 ccs that’s capable of more than 40 horsepower, allowing for you to open it up when you’ve got the space, yet calm enough that you don’t feel like you’re trying to manage taking a jet through rush hour. Purchase: $4,999+
Kawasaki Versys-X 300
Given an upright riding posture reminiscent of an adventure bike, but miniaturized to fit on city streets, you’ll find the Versys-X 300 is a weekend runner as much as a daily rider. The tires and suspension, along with the 7.1 inches of ground clearance, all speak to taking tougher roads, such as those with potholes and poor maintenance, as you’ll find in many urban areas. Purchase: $5,399+
Kawasaki KLR 650
There’s two types who will want a KLR 650: The rough commuter heading from the dirt roads to their job site and the weekender who needs a true adventure motorcycle that has the suspension and torque to get her or him far from the city lights. It’s a bit bigger and heavier than many other choices, coming in at more than 430 pounds, so don’t expect whipping nimbleness or lithe performance. Purchase: $6,699+
Kawasaki Ninja 650R
Admittedly way more than you’ll need for tackling the mean streets, there’s a lot to love about the 650R, with its 649 cc performance engine that’s macho enough for old hands, but also allows new riders a gentle giant they can grow into over time. If admiring glances are something you want to go along with your daily drive, you can’t get more mouth-watering than this. Purchase: $7,399+
Harley-Davidson Street 750
The street comes in both 500 and 750 sizes, so if you want to lower the asking price and sacrifice a little size, it’s possible to go down a notch. What we adore about the 750 is cruiser capabilities that give this a real long-haul feel with enough panther to slink and turn while still letting the world know you’re riding a hog. Purchase: $7,549+
Ducati Scrambler Sixty 2
The Ducati Scrambler isn’t a bad city bike unto itself, but the stripped-down, shortened Sixty 2 is even better for weaving in and out of traffic when quitting time hits. Best of all is the vintage aesthetic that hides a 390 cc engine that tops out at about 41 horses. Purchase: $7,995+
Ducati Urban Enduro
When you aren’t sure exactly where you’re going to be headed on any given day, and need a bike that can flex from country roads to cramped streets, you can’t do better than the 803cc L-Twin that powers the playful Scrambler body of the Enduro. Filled with features for comfort wherever the lonesome road wends, it’s a goer as much as a show-er. Purchase: $9,995+
Triumph Street Cup
The café racer looks of the Street Cup are borrowed directly from Triumph’s own Bonneville lineup, but looks can certainly be deceiving. There’s no shortage of high-tech gear on-board, such as ABS brakes and throttle-by-wire operation which allows the 900 cc engine to sing, and makes the high price well worth it. Purchase: $10,500+
Though electric bikes aren’t yet solving the woes of the world, the Zero S makes a strong case for them. 54 horses and a generous 121 mile radius – upgradable to almost 200 miles – serves eco-friendly power and pleasure in equal degrees. Purchase: $10,995+
Harley-Davidson Road Glide
A costly juggernaut, the Road Glide is a truly modern build that uses Harley’s huge 1753 cc Milwaukee V-Twin, which brings the hits but is also more emission and environmentally friendly. If you’re hoping to get a commuter that’s also a modern classic, this has the bones to more than do the job. While not lightning quick around corners, there’s a surprising amount of swing and sway in play that’s fun to handle. Purchase: $21,299+