Today, we review the top 20 best small motorcycles available as of 2021–in no particular order. Whether you’re commuting or need nimble wheels for winding roads just beyond the horizon, you’ll find the right ride below.
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 small motorcycles to get you around town and beyond.
The Trail125 is a go-anywhere workhorse that fares just as well crawling city streets as tearing it up on off-road adventures. Unlike the world-famous 90 and 110 models, the Trail125 is specced as a dual-sport spitfire. Tucked inside the compact frame is Honda’s bulletproof 124.9cc single-cylinder, four-stroke engine. It’s enough oomph to handle whatever you throw at it, while sipping fuel for enhanced mileage. Somehow, it all adds up to a mere 259 pounds; and with tons of ground clearance, skid plate, and spark arrestor, the Trail125 is a true hinterland skirmisher.
Learn more about the Honda Trail125
2. Honda Grom
Compact from front to tail and bottom to top, the Grom gives you a springy, sprightly moped motor that is only 125 cc capable of pushing about 9-10 horses. The 2022 model does, however, up the compression ratio to 10:1 and adds a fifth gear. Clearly, Honda has been listening to calls for zippier performance from their small motorcycles. Moreover, at a featherweight 227 pounds, the Honda Grom is one of the lightest bikes around. That allows the small output to feel exciting and corner like a screaming fiend. There’s also a marginally more expensive Grom with ABS, but many riders will find it unnecessary.
Learn more about the Honda Grom
3. Honda CB300R
Engineered entirely with smaller size in mind, Honda made the CB300R shorter from stem to stern, but also trimmer from side to side, allowing it to slip between reckless cab drivers, evade street trash, and dodge clueless 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. Compared to its popular predecessor (the CB300F), the CB300R drops futurism for a modern take on the classic cafe racer.
Learn more about the Honda CB300R
It’s probably a little unfair of us to include the Yamaha SR400 on this list, as they will soon be gone. That’s right, after 43 legendary years, Yamaha has stated that their 2021 “Final Edition” will indeed be the last we see of the SR400–and will only be available in Japan. It’s easy to understand the logic, as this small motorcycle is something of a relic with not a lick of modern tech on its lightweight frame. Still, there’s some serious appeal in its retro styling. And while it won’t keep up with modern machines, its 399cc single-cylinder, air-cooled engine manages to put 23 horses underneath just 348 lbs. Plenty of get-up-and-go for cruising around the city. Sayonara, SR400, you will be missed.
Learn more about the Yamaha SR400
5. Yamaha TW200
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.
Learn more about the Yamaha TW200
Originally coughed up in the ’70’s, then reworked and sold overseas, the VanVan 200 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. Curiously, Suzuki didn’t reveal an updated VanVan 200 in their 2021 catalogue, casting some doubt over this funky little whip’s future. But for now the 2019 model is still readily available, and is one of the best small motorcycles for city riding.
Learn more about the Suzuki VanVan 200
7. BMW G310R
Usually a BMW badge on a bike will automatically inflate the price tag, but the G310R is a kinder, gentler Motor Works for a time when money is scarce. 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 it’s got enough reliability to make even the most nervous saddle jockey feel good.
Learn more about the BMW G310R
Made to be a sports bike for the starter set, Yamaha’s YZF-R3 has 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.
Learn more about the Yamaha YZF-R3
Whether you’re cruising or cranking it, the Honda Rebel 300 is a joy to ride. Weighing in at just 364 pounds, the Rebel 300 handles whatever twists and turns you throw at it. Sporty yet laid back, you’ll ride in comfort and in control with a super-low 27.2″ seat and roomy rider triangle.
Learn more about the Honda Rebel 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.
Learn more about the Kawasaki Versys-X 300
Delivering a blast from the past, Royal Enfield updates a classic design with modern sensibilities for performance, handling, and safety in the Interceptor 650. Whether you’re commuting on the open road, zipping around city streets, or cruising the boulevard, the 648cc parallel twin engine with twin throttle body, Bosch fuel injection, and EMS tuning takes it all in stride. Ground clearance is just under 7″, letting you eat speed bumps and sand dunes for breakfast. It’s not exactly ultra-light at 445 lbs., but it nets you extra protection with a stainless steel engine guard.
Learn more about the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650
Admittedly way more than you’ll need for tackling the mean streets, there’s a lot to love about the Ninja 650. Its 649 cc parallel-twin performance engine is 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.
Learn more about the Kawasaki Ninja 650
Harley Davidson’s 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. It’s got enough panther to slink and turn while still letting the world know you’re riding a hog.
Learn more about the Harley-Davidson Street 750
14. 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 it’s not quite as whippy or nimble as others on our list of the best small motorcycles. However, it still puts out a respectable 48hp and 38.3 lb-ft of torque, so the KLR 650 is definitely no slouch. The 2021 model features ABS breaks which some consider overkill, but certainly make it a safe choice for hectic city riding.
Learn more about the Kawasaki KLR 650
The Ducati Scrambler isn’t a bad city bike unto itself, but the stripped-down, shortened Sixty2 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.
Learn more about the Ducati Scrambler Sixty2
When you aren’t sure exactly where you’re going to be headed on any given day, you need a bike that can flex from country roads to cramped streets. And you can’t do better than the 803cc L-Twin that powers the playful Scrambler Icon body. Filled with features for comfort wherever the lonesome road wends, it’s a goer as much as a show-er, with 73hp to spare.
Learn more about the Ducati Scrambler Icon
This class of small motorcycles lacks V-twins almost entirely–and then there’s the V Star 250. As such, many consider this to be one of the best on-ramps to the world of bigger bikes but in a manageably small package. Nimble yet smooth with snappy throttle response, you’ll have a blast with this classic-styled, chromed-out badass.
Learn more about the Yamaha V Star 250
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 900cc high-torque engine to sing, and makes the high price well worth it.
Learn more about the Triump Street Cup
19. Zero S
Though electric bikes aren’t yet solving the woes of the world, the Zero S makes a strong case for them. 46 horses and a generous 134 mile radius – upgradable to almost 200 miles – serves eco-friendly power and pleasure in equal degrees.
Learn more about the Zero S
Yes, we’re cheating by including this costly juggernaut in a list of featherweights, but hear us out. The Road Glide is a truly modern build that uses Harley’s huge 1753 cc Milwaukee-Eight 107 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. There’s also no bike on this list more comfortable or suitable for long-distance touring.
For extra safety, also consider the Reflex Defensive Rider–a plethora of advanced control mechanisms that pull the chassis, brakes, and powertrain together to ride smooth through subpar riding conditions. Completely optional, but nice to have in a long-hauler.
Learn more about the Harley-Davidson Road Glide
How to Pick the Best Small Motorcycle for You
We’ve just presented a comprehensive list of great rides, but undoubtedly a few of them won’t be a perfect fit for you. Here’s how to help narrow down your options for the right ride:
You might think this is primarily a product of weight and overall handling, but that’s only partially true. The ergonomics of your bike matter for how well you can control your bike both at a stop and a go.
The chief concern here will be your seat. What’s your pants inseam? If it’s under 30”, you’re gonna want a smaller bike with a lower seat. Moreover, the seat should be relatively narrow up front if you want to flat-foot it confidently and comfortably at stoplights.
Moreover, a low center of gravity is a huge advantage when cornering and weaving–something you’re likely to do quite a lot of on your city commute.
One of the main advantages of small motorcycles is that they’re generally under 500 pounds. That means it’s easy to wheel out of the garage, agile on the streets, and quick accelerators even with less powerful engines.
A light bike is also usually more fuel efficient, which is crucial in the city where gas prices are high and stop-and-go mileage is less than ideal.
A defining constraint of how small a motorcycle can be is the size of the engine. The most common measurement is in cubic centimeters, or ccs, which describes the volume inside the combustion chambers. It’s not a direct indicator of overall power, but it gives you an idea.
Most of the motorcycles on our list above are between 200-300cc, though anything under 500cc is considered small. (Yes, we broke this rule on our list!)
Also pay attention to cylinders. You’ll generally see options of single-cylinder, two-cylinder, and four-cylinder engines (typically only in larger bikes). The difference is mostly in how much torque the system generates. Unlike cubes, the torque does directly translate into power.
Don’t forget the power spectrum, either. Do you want a bike that is most responsive from a stop (good low-end power), or do you need to open up as you get going (good high-end power)? The answer will depend on where and how you intend to ride.
The old adage goes: “not if, when”. Small motorcycles do have something of a built-in advantage in that they usually don’t top out at high horsepower ratings and super-fast speeds. And if you do go down, there’s not as much mass to crush you into the pavement.
But, you can’t just rely on size to keep you safe. What’s more, small bikes are much more vulnerable on the open highway where threats are measured in tons rather than pounds.
Look for bikes which offer some measure of additional safety features.
- Stability control systems are a godsend while weaving in and out of traffic–even more so when the weather or terrain aren’t in your favor.
- Might sound basic, but also pay attention to your LED lighting system. Yeah, effects can make your bike look cool, but lights have a primary purpose of making you easy to see. Make sure visibility of the bike is good from any angle.
- You can often save a buck skipping the antilock brakes (ABS) which are often available with small motorcycles, and there’s a solid argument to be made in favor of doing so. However, if you have any doubt about your use-case, riding skill, or plain bad luck, ABS can save your life. It’s usually not more than a couple hundred bucks tacked on, either.
- Anyone who’s laid the bike down will tell you what they think of crash bars and skid plates. We’re not trying to rope you into one style of bike over the other, as not all of them offer this feature. But it’s something to consider if safety is at the top of your list of concerns–which it should be.
You probably already know what you want, and no buyer’s guide is going to change your mind about it. That’s fine, your style is something only you can determine.
But just keep in mind some styles of bikes excel in certain use-cases, and less so in others. If you’re mostly going to crawl down the strip, a cruiser with a good low-end is what you want. They tend to hang lower down to the ground, too, letting you flat-foot at frequent stop signs and traffic lights. Careful though, as hogs make you look like a badass, with bolder shapes and typically chrome hardware.
A sport bike (crotch rocket) might be more your speed for commuting longer distances. On the open road, good high-end performance is a life-saver. And once you get into the city, the improved mobility will help you keep that bullseye off your back. Sport bikes are sleek, modern, and aggressive in appearance, with sharp angles and flashy colors. They’re a good candidate for ground effects, as well.
Or, you might try any number of hybrid bikes, which borrow style and performance elements from either category.
Best Small Motorcycles: CONCLUSION
There you have it: 20 of the best small motorcycles currently available. We’ve reviewed a wide range of bikes, but only you can determine which is the right for you. We hope our buyer’s guide helps you figure out what you want to ride.