Top 10s

Top 10 BEST Small-to-Middleweight Naked Motorcycles of 2020 (sub-650cc)

Sub-650cc Naked Motorcycles may not get the pulse racing but their value and versatlity mean they're big business for brands... but which are the best?

Simple, unfaired or ‘naked’ bikes – and by that we’re not including retro-style roadsters, trailies or customs – have never been more popular, at least until before the 1980s when bikes in their birthday suits were all we had.

We’re not talking about ‘Super Naked’ (or so-called Hyper) performance bikes or ‘first big bike’-style middleweights, here, nor A1 class 125s, either, no siree….

But if you want something simple, affordable, straightforward to ride and sub-650cc – the sort of easy to ride but hopefully still invigorating roadster machine that you might want as an A2 choice or to move up to after your 125, there’s actually more to choose from currently than you might expect.

They’ve got a lot going for them, too. Conventional, comfortable, uncluttered riding positions make them both accessible for all body shapes and easy to ride. What they lack in fancy they make up for in value and versatility, which for manufacturers also means voluminous sales.

But what’s currently out there and which are the best? Here’s our pick of the latest crop to help you decide…

10. BMW G310R (from £4670)

Along with its shock move into scooters in 2012 another surprise move by BMW in recent years has been the launch of its new, lightweight, small capacity G 310 series, which - fittingly - has just been given a refresh for 2021. 

The first of these (it’s since been joined by a junior adventure G 310 GS) was the G 310 R naked roadster in 2016. Aimed at novices and intended to attract newcomers to the BMW brand, it’s actually made in India by BMW’s partners TVS – but don’t let that put you off. 

It’s lacking some oomph compared to its main rivals with thanks to a liquid-cooled single producing a modest 33bhp, but it has a slim, lightweight, easily manageable chassis, decent design touches including inverted front forks and a four-piston, radially-mounted front brake from, not Brembo, but Bybre. 

Best of all, of course, although fairly budget and built down to a price (hence the India link), the G 310 R is also a ‘proper’ BMW, with the styling, quality and back-up you’d expect of its bigger bikes and the same kudos you get from having the blue and white badge.

9. Honda CB300R (from £4629)

The 300cc capacity class has become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly among the ‘Big Four’ Japanese manufacturers, for it being able to serve A2 licence holders and be a ‘stepping stone’ bike in a fun and affordable way. Honda is the latest example of this with its new CB300R. 

Introduced in 2018 as part of Big H’s revamped, ‘Neo Café’ family (along with the CB125R and CB1000R) it’s another simple, straightforward, single cylinder naked but one that has enough sparkle to make it stand out. 

So, in addition to its respectable 31bhp performance and nimble, easy handling provided by its inverted forks and monoshock rear, it has sharp, classy styling set off with LED lights all round, a smart, ‘reversed LCD’ digital dash plus typically good Honda ergonomics and build quality – even though it’s manufactured in Thailand and not Japan. 

Or, to put it another way: the CB300R has all the Honda quality and familiarity you’d expect from a novice-friendly bike but with (just) enough performance and style to rival the likes of KTM and Yamaha – and all for a brilliant price!

8. Honda CMX500 Rebel (from £5799)

Another Honda, but this time coming at the lightweight ‘naked’ theme from a different angle entirely. The CMX500 Rebel was the final addition to Honda’s all-new, purpose built, A2-licence family of 500cc twins first introduced in 2014 in CB500F (naked), CBR500R (sports) and CB500X (adventure) forms. 

The CMX was a slightly belated, low-seat, semi-cruiser addition, in 2017, due largely to requiring a different frame to its siblings. All are powered by a soft and friendly but 47bhp 500cc which immediately sets the family apart in the A2 class by being both a twin (when most rivals are singles) and a full, legally-permitted 47bhp (when many rivals produce less). 

Those two facts have been key to the CB500 family’s success, aided more than a little by typical Honda user-friendliness and quality and decent value by virtue of being built in Thailand. The semi-cruiser CMX (we’re including it here despite that as, really, it’s more roadster than cruiser) shares all those attributes yet is even more novice-friendly thanks to its ultra-low 690mm seat and has also been re-tuned to be slightly gruntier at the cost of two peak bhp. 

It was further improved with uprated suspension in 2019, Euro5 engine tweaks, LED lights and more. If you’re particularly short or fancy your affordable naked to have a cruiser flavour, no offering is easier to get on with – it’s good fun, too.

7. Husqvarna 401 Vitpilen (from £4299)

If you think the name is tricky enough to comprehend/pronounce, check out the back-story: The Vitpilen/Svartpilen (below) were introduced in 2018 as two new, funky, affordable, style-conscious naked roadsters. The historic Swedish off-road company was bought from BMW by KTM in 2013 and these are their first releases since. 

Unsurprisingly, therefore, they’re based on KTM’s Duke roadsters but on the surface are very different propositions, coming in two different styles and two different capacities (401 and 701). Both use the punchy, KTM engines, with the 401 - oddly rebranded from KTM’s 390 single cylinder motor - here producing 43bhp. 

The Vitpilen is the more roadster, café racer style version complete with lower, clip-on style bars and street tyres, with a look that while maybe be a little divsive (one man's trendy minimalist is another's 'where's the rest of the bike') at least stands out in a relatively generic field. It’s a decent, engaging ride, too, as long as you’re not too big, and has bags of style. The low bars, though, are quickly uncomfortable and the lack of an in-depth Husqvarns dealer network is an issue. 

Thankfully, however, another of the initial bike’s issues – price – has now been addressed. Originally priced a whopping £4799 now it’s been cut to the same as that of the Duke.

6. Husqvarna 401 Svartpilen (from £4299)

The ‘Svartpilen’ 401, meanwhile (‘Svart’ means black in Swedish, ‘Vit’ white, and ‘Pilen’ arrow, you’ll get the idea) is the more ‘street scrambler’ version of Husqvarna’s two newcomers, with higher, cross braced bars and semi-knobbly tyres fitted to its alloy-rimmed wire wheels but otherwise sharing exactly the same sharply-styled bodywork, tubular steel trellis frame, 43bhp KTM single-cylinder motor and decent quality suspension and brakes. 

It, too, has a slipper clutch, Bosch ABS and radial brakes, again putting it in the better-equipped, more sporting bracket of bikes here. Instead the main difference is the Svartpilen’s mildly more rugged look and certainly more comfortable, more upright and roomy riding position. 

Both are good fun, punchy, fine-handling and will certainly stand out from the masses, but they’re also not at their best over any sort of distance and, although should be reliable by virtue of their KTM underpinnings, with less convincing aftersales you have to wonder why you’d buy one over a KTM. But if we did, we’d go for this one.

5. KTM 390 Duke (from £4299)

The father of the two Huskies above is now considered as something of a hooliganistic, nimble-handling, brilliant fun nutter classic – and with good reason. 

First introduced in 2013 powered by a punchy, 373cc, 44bhp engine held in a slim and lightweight tubular steel chassis holding quality WP suspension and brakes at each end with meaty, grippy tyres – and not a lot else, truth be told – the 390 Duke manages to be both, light and easy to ride and, if the mood takes you, a total, traffic carving nutter which spends most of its life on the rear wheel. 

The original was then overhauled and improved for 2017 with anew LED headlight and tweaked styling, 5.2in full colour TFT dash, novel illuminated switchgear and improved quality all round. The result is not just loony fun, it now also has the classy quality to match, elevating it to be arguably one of the very best of all A2 bikes. That said, it’s not for everyone.

The Duke is more toy than transport; it’s dinky proportions will put off some riders and largely rule out touring-style travel and that whole testosterone-fuelled, orange KTM image isn’t liked by all, either. But if you do, the Duke’s a hoot.

4. Kawasaki Z400 (from £5099)

Despite their huge popularity in the 1990s, due largely to a specific Japan-only licencing law which favoured the 400cc capacity class, today ‘400s’ are very few and far between – unless, that is, your name is ‘Kawasaki’. 

The green, Japanese giant has been slowly growing its introductory, A2-class bikes over recent years, growing the Ninja 250 first to 300 in 2019 then 400 in 2018 and the following year ‘de-frocking’ that bike to create the naked, unfaired, Z400 you see here. And as the Ninja 400 sportster was already so good and proven, it should be no surprise that the ‘Zed’ is one of the better lightweight nakeds, too.

Its 44bhp parallel twin is impressively strong; its sportsbike-derived, lightweight chassis is impressive and agile; like most recent Kawasaki roadsters its sharply-styled and well-finished, and the Zed is also very novice-friendly thanks to its low slim seat, decently equipped and not bad value, either. 

On the slight downside, its motor is a little raw and unrefined compared to, say, the slick, sophisticated Honda CB500; its proportions are a touch on the ‘dinky’ side and may put off larger riders and its handling hasn’t quite the finesse of the three bikes above (below?) it here.

3. Yamaha MT-03 (from £5198)

Forget the oddball, single-cylinder MT-03 of the early Noughties, this twin-cylinder roadster debuted as recently as 2016 as the naked version of Yamaha’s YZF-R3 A2 sportster which had come out the preceding year. 

And, with a brilliant blend of light and novice-friendly yet sharp and nimble handling; an incredibly flexible yet free-revving, 321cc twin cylinder engine; plenty of neat design cues such as a stylish dash complete with a useful gear indicator and fuel gauge, all wrapped up in stylish, comfortable upright bodywork and built to Yamaha’s usual good standards, the result is genuinely excellent. 

Better still, it was improved further in 2019 with fresh new styling, revised forks, a new LCD dash and tweaked rear shock. In simple terms, it’s difficult what more to expect from a lightweight naked. 

In truth, the only things counting against it are a price that’s crept up over the MT-03’s life from £4500 when originally launched to well over £5K today. That, and the fact that Honda’s even more brilliant CB500F, offers just that little bit more…

2. CCM Spitfire Six (from £9995)

A bit of a ‘swerve ball’ out of ‘left field’ this, but the Spitfire’s unique appeal, and the fact that it fits so neatly into the ‘sub-650 naked bike’ brief means we had to include the hand-built CCM here. 

In truth, the Spitfire is out of Bolton, the home of former off-road, single-cylinder MX and enduro specialist ‘Clews Competition Motorcycles’ since the late 1960s.

The first Spitfire was unveiled as a limited run bike in 2017 and conceived to exploit the then fashion for retro scramblers by turning CCM’s hand-built frame and enduro single cylinder motor expertise towards funky street bikes. That first bike proved such a hit it’s spawned a whole family of variations since, the latest being the Spitfire Six. 

All, however, are made to the same recipe: a BMW enduro-derived 600c single-cylinder engine producing a punchy 55bhp; A hand-made tubular steel lightweight frame; a sprinkling of quality cycle parts including suspension, brakes and wheels; minimal bodywork including a single seat and small 14-litre fuel tank and… not a lot else. 

It’s that very minimalism that’s at the heart of the Spitfire’s appeal: aggressive, lightweight performance; nimble handling; striking styling; a loud exhaust and… 10 grand please. If that’s your bag, you won’t be disappointed and you’ll draw crowds everywhere. 

But as a practical, distance or two up machine, with ultra-short service intervals, limited comfort and short run appeal only, it’s in some ways more an ornament than a motorcycle.

1. Honda CB500F (from £5599)

If the CCM Spitfire is a sub-600 naked motorcycle at its most extreme then there’s an argument that the Honda CB500F is the same type of bike – but at it’s most sensible. Actually, on second thoughts, that’s too harsh – the twin cylinder Honda is much better than that.

Launched, like the CMX500 Rebel, as part of Honda’s new A2-licence friendly 500 twin family, the CB-F was always the purest, easiest to get on with and, inevitably, cheapest of a family which also includes the faired CBR500R sportster and CB500X adventure bike. 

It’s also evolved repeatedly since to develop an appealing style and character, with increasing refinement and practicality as well, ever since. 

It’s a Honda so its ergonomics are perfect; it’s a doddle to ride and is quality and durable. It’s a full A2-compliant, 47bhp parallel twin so is smoother and more flexible than rivals’ singles and is more powerful and faster than Kawasaki and Yamaha’s smaller twins. 

Being built in Thailand helps keep its price respectably low while two updates since, most recently in 2019 getting a slip-assist clutch, more refined suspension, extra performance via a combined weight loss and midrange boost, plus sharper, slicker styling and improved build quality have all helped keep it head and shoulders above the rest. 

If you want the best, sub-600 naked, this really is it.
 

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