Top 10 best value motorcycles up to 500cc

You may not have the biggest budget or the biggest need to go big power but there are plenty of treats to be had in the sub-500cc motorcycle segment

2024 Honda CBR500R

There’s no more obvious ‘middle point’ in bike capacities than 500cc, and while most motorcycles seem to fall on either side of the magic marker, the line right down the middle represents some of the most keenly-contested - and big selling - segments. However, finding a bike in the mid-capacity segments that is both appealing to you and to your budget is no more straightforward than in those either above or below.

So, for this Top 10 we’re going sub-500cc, doing so on what we reckon is a reasonable budget, and we’re going to tell you which we reckon is the very best of all.

Budget never looked so bountiful.

10. Benelli TRK 502 (from £5,999)

Forget the extra ‘2’, the TRK is actually 500cc and is effectively a slightly larger, slightly cruder, Italian/Chinese version of Honda’s brilliant, class-leading (and just updated again) CB500X, now NX500. 

Like the Honda, it’s a parallel twin pumping out an A2-licence compliant 47bhp. It’s a little harsher than the Honda but otherwise more than acceptable. Being slightly bigger it suits taller riders, especially in wire-wheeled, more rugged ‘X’ form. 

Plus its spec now (with LCD clocks etc) is a touch dated, but it’s also a more than capable 500cc all-rounder and great value as well. Just ask the Italians… the Benelli 502 TRK has sold more than any other motorcycle over there this year.

9. Vespa GTS300 (£5,700)

We couldn’t overlook scooters entirely here, but which to choose? Easy. The class-leading TMAX, at now 560cc, is too big to be included here and BMW’s C400s are too sensible, so there can be only one. 

The Vespa GTS remains the definitive scoot, and in 300cc form, it’s an impressively able and classy all-rounder. Boasting Piaggio’s 300 HPE engine, the GTS300 produces 24bhp and 19lb ft, but it’s not the performance that makes this scoot appeal as much as its beautiful, subtle, curved lines and retro aesthetic.

Yup, at £5,700 it’s not the least expensive thing out there, but sub-500cc scooters simply don’t get classier.

8. Honda CRF300L (£5,799)

Once upon a time (ie in the late 1970s and early ‘80s) 125-500cc trail bikes were everywhere. Machines like Yamaha’s two-stroke/four-stroke DT175/250 and XT250/500, Suzuki’s similar TS/DRs and many more defined a generation and delivered a brilliant introduction to on/off-road riding. 

Not any more. The Honda CRF300L, however, stands out. Introduced in 2012 powered by a 23bhp, liquid-cooled, DOHC single, it’s a ‘proper’ trail bike, more than capable off-road and a pleasant, easy road bike, too. 

A Dakar-style adventure version was added in 2017 before both were boosted by an enlarged engine for 2021. If you want a proper, dual-purpose, sub-500cc trailie in the spirit of the 1970s, this is the one.

7. BMW G310R (£5,190)

First launched in 2016, BMW’s Indian-built, entry-level roadster single was updated for 2021 with Euro5 compliance, new LED lights and adjustable levers and remains the best sub-500cc introduction to premium BMW motorcycling (there’s also a G310GS which is somehow less convincing). 

In truth, there’s nothing particularly outstanding about it. With 34bhp it’s not that powerful. Though a pleasant handler and great around town it’s not as exciting as, say, KTM’s offering, and it’s not particularly lavishly equipped, either. 

But that’s missing the point: the G310R is sweet looking, a better-than-average performer, not bad value and, best of all, it’s a BMW, starting your motorcycling journey with one of the most admired brands of all. For a sub-500cc bike nothing does it better.

6. Yamaha MT-03 (£6,005)

Yamaha’s A2-compliant, 321cc twins, the sports-styled YZF-R3 and its naked brother, the MT-03 have tended to be overshadowed by both more glamorous rivals (such as Kawasaki’s Ninja/Z 400 duo) and by Yamaha’s more mainstream or larger stablemates, such as the R125, MT-07 and R1 – but they’re both great bikes and, after a 2020 update, better than ever. 

Now with inverted forks, a smart new LCD dash and freshened-up styling, the MT-03 is a great all-rounder and brilliant introduction to bigger bikes. Its engine produces a willing 41bhp, its chassis is agile, intuitive and fun and it’s good-looking and decently equipped. 

It might not have the wow factor of KTM’s 390 Duke or the updated aplomb of the new CB500 Hornet, but it’s a great sub-500cc roadster which won’t leave you disappointed.

Visordown review | Yamaha MT-03 [2016]

5. Royal Enfield Meteor 350 (from £4,059)

If Enfield’s new (yes it is new, honest) Meteor 350 is anything to go by there seems to be a growing trend for ever LESS powerful motorcycles – but don’t let that put you off, cos really, Royal Enfield’s new ‘cruiser’ single is a sweetie. 

Sure its meagre 20bhp won’t get anyone excited, but it’s a willing puppy of a bike, a pleasure to humbly thrum around on, with a charming olde worlde style, idiot-proof manners and impressive commuting economy. 

Best of all, though, its quality, style and detailing are huge advances over previous Enfields and it costs mere pennies. Want a cheap, sorta-cool, sub-500cc (but 125cc+) commuter? This is the one you need…

Visordown review | Royal Enfield Meteor 350 [2021]

4. KTM Duke 390 (£5,699)

KTM’s supermoto-derived Dukes are rightly legendary: ultra-lightweight and nimble, powered by punchy, cutting-edge singles and with an aggressive style all their own. 

But, while at 17 you’ll go for the 125, the latest 890R is a wicked weasel of a motorcycle, and the big 1290 very much lives up to its ‘Beast’ nickname, it’s the midrange, 44bhp 390 which is arguably the best of all. 

Nimble, lively, sub-500cc bikes don’t get much better and, if you’re not convinced by its ‘naked’ style, the Austrian firm also offers the punchy 390 single in its 390 Adventure or recently-updated RC390 sportster as well…

3. Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 (£5,499)

When KTM-owned Husqvarna first unveiled its Duke 390 derived, restyled 401 Vitpilen café racer and its sister bike, the semi-scrambler/roadster Svartpilen in 2018 it’s fair to say they got mixed reviews. 

The style and base mechanicals were loved, the excessive, approaching £6000 prices, less so. Not any more. By now, the Vitpilen is out of production, but a major price cut compared to its earliest days sees the 401 Svartpilen coming in at the £5,500 mark.

If you want a lively, great performing – but different and more fashion conscious sub-500cc bike, the Svartpilen is more than worth a look.

Visordown review | Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 [2023]

2. Fantic Caballero Scrambler 500 (from £6,700)

You might think this is a bit of a curveball. We think it’s one of the most fun, stylish, entertaining and different ‘500s’ you can buy. 

Launched by the revived Italian off-road brand in 2019, the Caballero is a brilliant mix of retro style and modern mechanicals and performance with the result being one of the best ‘feel good’ bikes you can buy. 

Sure it’s a bit niche, dealers aren’t exactly everywhere and its base mechanicals are mostly Chinese. But the Caballero Scrambler also somehow feels just ‘right’, is one of the most natural 500s in this group, and the 39bhp from its liquid-cooled, 449cc single is more than sufficient.

The whole thing is an absolute hoot on a sunny Sunday afternoon, thus one of the best 500cc bikes of all. Period.

1. Honda CB500 Hornet / Honda CBR500R / Honda NX500 (from £6,199)

There wasn’t much wrong with them but… they’ve improved them again anyway. 

Launched originally way back in 2014 as Honda’s then all-new three-strong offerings for the A2 class, the CB family (comprising CB500F roadster, CBR500 sportster and CB500X adventure bike) has just been updated again. This has been a bit of a significant update, as the CB500X has become the NX500, the CBR500R has remained the same, and the CB500F has become the CB500 Hornet.

For our money, the taller, roomier NX is the best, but we’ve got no argument with any of them. All are based around the same frame and brilliantly willing, easy and versatile 471cc 47bhp twin. They’re also fine, neutral handlers, decently equipped, reliable and good value. 

For 2024, they keep the uprated suspension from the 2022 update, with Showa Big Piston forks and radial brakes. 

The name changes, though, have brought new styling, with the CBR gaining side pods, the NX moving further in the direction of the Transalp, and the Hornet adopting aesthetics that line it up with the CB750 Hornet and CB1000 Hornet.

There are also ECU updates improving acceleration and bringing HSTC, and new TFTs (in the case of the NX, taken from the XL750 Transalp) in place of old LCDs.
Pricing begins at £6,199 for the Hornet, while the CBR500R comes in at £6,699, and the NX500 at £6,799.