Top 10 brand new bikes under 500cc

There's no replacement for displacement... except with Visordown's favourite sub-500cc bikes

WHETHER it’s a backlash against the insane performance of the biggest bikes on the market, changes to the licence rules or a reflection of increasing awareness of fuel economy and spiralling insurance costs, the number of models on offer in the sub-500cc section of the market has ballooned in recent years.

Not long ago the natural progression would be from a 125cc single and L plates straight to something like a Bandit or Fazer 600, leaving little room for bikes in between apart from specialist off-roaders. A decade or so ago, anyone wanting a road bike in the yawning chasm between 125cc and 600cc would generally be limited to uninspiring relics like the Honda CB250 or CB500, the Kawasaki ER-5 or Suzuki GS500. However, the booming market for 400cc Japanese grey imports at around the same time suggested that the desire for smaller models was always there, it just wasn’t being catered for.

Now, the picture is quite different, with most manufacturers offering a selection of bikes in the 250cc-500cc zone, partly in response to the 47hp A2 licence regulations but also because there are plenty of people out there with full licences who simply want something smaller than the traditional 600cc starting point.

While the sheer range of machines on offer, in a mass of different classes, means that the idea sub-500cc bike for you might be quite different from our selection, here’s a snapshot of the best 10. We’ve left big scooters out on purpose – they’re due a top 10 all of their own.

10: Hyosung GD250N/GD250R

We might be getting ahead of ourselves here, since a hiatus in Hyosung imports to the UK means we’ve yet to sample either of these, but the firm’s latest 250s have had strong reviews elsewhere and promise a combination of modern tech, a massive improvement in styling and decent pricing. The naked ‘N’ and faired ‘R’ models both have water-cooled DOHC singles and around 28hp, with prices starting at just under £3k. As and when these things actually become readily available, they could even make their way further up the list.

9: Daelim Roadsport 250

Nope, it’s not the obvious choice, but the £2,800 Daelim is a 25hp single-cylinder, water-cooled sports bike that might look a generation or two older than some of its rivals but actually proves to be a surprisingly good value for money option. It’s £1,200 less than a Honda CBR300R, which is a massive different in terms of percentage, and you might be left wondering whether the Japanese bike really warrants all that extra cash.

We rode one last year and thought it was a 'well put together machine that offers riders a fun and reliable introduction to cheap motorcycling.'

8: Suzuki Inazuma

Naked or faired, the GW250 Inazuma is a bike that’s something of an unsung hero. Yes, it’s horribly ugly in all its forms, it’s slow and definitely built down to a price, but it’s a twin at a price that would normally only bag you a single and has a sort of back-to-basics appeal. It’s the sort of bike that will be thrashed in all weathers, get put away dirty and allowed to become decrepit before its time. It’s cheap, but not disposable – one imagines that years down the line the classifieds will be full of mangy-looking Inazumas, cosmetically knackered but still champing at the bit to give their 8th owners the same step up in motorcycle ladder as they did when new. Even its ugliness could be seen as a boon, since it means there’s no way you could be criticised for having one for the image – it’s a motorcycle as transport, not as a statement or an accessory.

7: Yamaha SR400

Anyone throwing £5,200 at an SR400 is probably not in the market for any of the other bikes on this list. On paper, they’re not easy to justify in terms of technology or performance, but as a retro machine with a massive scope for customisation they’ve gained a serious following and enough demand to warrant their UK reintroduction after years of unavailability.

6: Honda CBR300R

At £4k the CBR300R is pricier than some similarly-sized singles but it’s a good looking bike, with decent technology, ABS and the Honda reputation to back it up. It might cost more than a similar-performing Daelim, but we know which one we’d rather be trying to sell on in a couple of years’ time. That means the overall cost of ownership might actually undercut some apparently cheaper rivals.

5: Kawasaki Ninja 250SL/Z250

Newer, cheaper and slower than the Ninja 300/Z300 twin-cylinder models, Kawasaki’s Ninja 250SL and Z250 singles arguably make more sense than their siblings as a new purchase. The prices are a tad lower than the Honda CBR300R (£3,849 for the Ninja, £3,649 for the Z) and the reassuring Kawasaki name on the tank means they’re going to hold that value better than something from a lesser brand.

4: Honda CB500 (all versions)

After all that, we come to the number one choice. And it’s not one bike, or even two, but a whole range. The CB500 line up – including the sporty CBR500R (£5,499), the  adventurous CB500X (£5,499) and the naked CB500F (£4,999) – have a capacity and performance advantage over most of the bikes here, plus the Honda name to help with confidence and resale value, a massive dealer network for backup and designs that are effectively tailor made for A2 riders. Yes, it’s an obvious choice, but that doesn’t make it a bad one.

Visordown spent three weeks on a CBR500R and was impressed.

3: KTM Duke 390/RC390

Want performance from your sub-500cc single, look no further than KTM’s RC390/Duke390 range. As with so many others on this list, the faired and naked models are effectively identical under the skin, but they’re a league above most of the other singles on the market both in terms of performance and price (£5k for the RC, £4.5k for the Duke). The difference is the capacity – at 375cc they hold a convincing edge on the competition, which translates to power and performance. Throw in the usual KTM lightweight design and great handling and they’re hard to argue against as entry-level sports bikes.

2: Kawasaki Ninja 300/Z300

The Ninja 300 was one of the pioneers of this sub-500cc class, tracing its roots right back to the GPz250, and now it’s joined by the naked Z300 version to bolster its appeal. But its being pushed into the background by newer rivals that either undercut its price or beat its performance. As a twin, it’s sportier than most of the single of this size, but its price (£4,349 for the Z300, £4,899 for the Ninja) makes it an expensive choice. Hard to criticise directly, it’s being slightly overshadowed these days.

1: Yamaha R3

The 321cc Yamaha is slightly behind on capacity, but two cylinders mean lots of revs and power. Yes, the price is fairly high at £4,799, but it’s cheaper than an RC390 and currently has the extra appeal of being the latest-and-greatest in its class. It’s a looker, too, without quite the divisive styling of the latest R1 but still with a bold shape that sets it aside from all its rivals

When we rode the Yamaha R3 at its launch earlier this year we said sub-500cc haven't been this exciting for years... this top ten backs up our statement in spades.

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