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Top 10 BEST Budget Conscious 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

Royal Enfield Meteor 350

There’s no more obvious ‘middle point’ in bike capacities than 500cc and while most motorcycles seem to fall either side of the magic marker, the line right down the middle represents some of the most keenly-contested - and big selling - segments.

With tiddlers being 50s or 125 and ‘big bikes’ traditionally 1000cc or more, the magic 500 marks the crossroads between starter and learner bikes and ‘full fat’ motorcycling. 

For this Top 10 we’re going sub-500cc, 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 £5,299)

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. 

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 75th Anniversary (£6,650)

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, in 300cc form its an impressively able and classy all-rounder, and, to mark its 75th birthday, they’ve just brought out this Anniversary model in unique golden colour, 75th anniversary graphics, metal plaque and more – not that it needed any more. 

Yup, at £6,600+ it’s anything but cheap, but sub-500cc scooters simply don’t get classier.

8. Honda CRF300L (£5,149)

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 CRF, 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 (£4,785)

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 (£5,300)

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 now deleted 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 CB500R, but it’s a great sub-500cc roadster which won’t leave you disappointed.

5. Royal Enfield Meteor 350 (from £3,879)

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 put you off, cos really, Royal Enfield’s new ‘cruiser’ single is a sweetie. 

Sure its meagre 20bhp won’t get anyone excited (by comparison, Yamaha’s 350LC of 40 years ago produced 47bhp), 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 is a huge advance over previous Enfields and it costs mere pennies. Want a cheap, sorta-cool, sub-500cc (but 125cc+) commuter? This is the one you need…

4. KTM Duke 390 (£5,099)

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 it’s ‘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 401 Svartpilen/Vitpilen (£5,049)

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. A major price cut now sees both actually undercutting the brilliant, base KTM and their style (and exclusivity, it has to be said) makes them stand out from the crowd. 

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

2. Fantic Caballero Scrambler 500 (from £6,499)

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, its 39bhp from its liquid-cooled, 449cc single is more than sufficient.

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

1. Honda CB500F / Honda CBR500R / Honda CB500 X (from £5,749)

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) have just been updated again (for the fourth time) and are now better than ever and, almost without argument, the best bikes in the sub-500cc class. 

For our money the taller, roomier X 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 2022 they get uprated suspension with Showa Big Piston forks, new radial brakes and slightly tweaked styling and, really, they’re beyond criticism. Over 100,000 have been sold in total making it the best selling 500 of all – and we can easily see why