It’s tempting to believe that most sports motorcycles are out of reach for individuals with lower budgets based on the current superbikes, with their complex electronics and cycle components, mind-boggling 200bhp+ performance, and often, $27K price tags.
Among the best are some hotties like BMW’s new S1000RR, Ducati’s V4 Panigale, and Honda’s new £20K Fireblade. But there are still a lot of bikes with sporty attitudes and racy full fairings that can be great introductions to sports bikes and cost as little as $5K new.
We’re not even talking about 125s here. Still don’t trust us? Check these top 10 new budget sports motorcycles on the market right now.
1 Lexmoto LXR 380 (Starting At $5000)
The latest product from best-selling budget manufacturer Lexmoto, whose bikes are designed in Europe but constructed in China, is also their largest yet for a business that has made a name for itself by supplying low-cost 50s and 125s. The LXR 380 is Lexmoto’s biggest and most powerful bike yet, combining a new liquid-cooled, parallel-twin engine designed by Zongshen with the existing tubular steel trellis frame and sleek bodywork from the LXR 125.
As such, it sports sporty-looking inverted forks and dual wavy front discs, a six-speed transmission, and a claimed A2-licence compatible 40bhp at 9000rpm, which the company claims is good enough for a peak speed of 91mph and an average fuel economy of 80mpg.
That may not quite equal the performance of, for example, a Kawasaki Ninja 400, but with that bike costing about £2000 more, this is a decent entry point for people on a budget.
2 Suzuki GSX250R 9 (Starting At $6000)
The 2017 GSX250R is a little ‘all mouth and no pants’ if we’re being brutally honest. That’s because, while being a 250cc twin, it’s developed from the somewhat mediocre 250 Inazuma commuter and hence generates a very weedy 25bhp (remember when Suzuki 250 twins, like the RGV, caused approximately 60bhp? How times have changed.).
But, if your excursions don’t necessitate top-end oomph and you consider that the GSX costs well over a grand less than most rivals, it may not matter.
What the GSX does is:
- Look every inch of the mini-MotoGP bike in its Team Suzuki blue paint.
- Prove to be a doddle to ride for A2 beginners or those going up from a 125.
- Provide a credible introduction to sports bike handling and riding position.
- Return approximately 80mpg.
So, if you don’t even mind looking at the part rather than playing it, the Suzuki GSX250R is a solid addition to the class.
3 KTM RC390 (Starting At $7000)
We’re finally starting to converse. Austrian dirt-bike specialists KTM is nothing if not performance-driven. Despite their off-road and adventure pedigree, they are now beginning to take sports motorcycles by storm, as seen by their recent MotoGP victories.
However, after the unfortunate demise of the RC8, its sports bike possibilities have been limited to the RC390 – its complete version of the 390 Duke single-cylinder supersport bike – a motorbike that, while becoming old, is set for a significant revamp in the coming months.
Until then, the formula remains as enticing as ever: a snappy, 44bhp single-cylinder motor; an ultra-compact and light tubular trellis frame developed from the RC125; excellent quality cycle components (ie, wheels, brakes, and suspension); and… that’s about it.
As a result, the bike is Moto3-style tiny and compact (so taller riders beware), has ultra-light and snappy performance, and expeditious and agile handling. Smaller capacity, lightweight sports motorcycles don’t come any more agile, and if you’re fit, it’s an incredible blast to ride and an excellent start to sports riding.
4 Yamaha R3 (Starting At $7500)
There appear to be two schools of thinking for sub-500cc, A2-licence compatible sports bikes — super lightweight single-cylinder machines like the KTM RC390, or more meaty, substantial rev-hungry twins like Kawasaki’s Ninja 400 or, in this case, Yamaha’s R3. The R3 was released in 2015 alongside the MT-03 roadster, and it is designed as an A2-compliant stepping stone between Yamaha’s A1 YZF-R125 and the four-cylinder R6 600.
It also does an excellent job at that. It looks great, being every bit the ‘mini-Rossi replica’ without being extreme or impractical; It’s pretty simple to ride; its clean-revving, 321cc parallel-twin produces a solid 41bhp while producing a throaty roar; and the revised suspension and sportier riding posture provide an exciting, sweet-handling experience that’s a terrific introduction to sports motorcycles. There aren’t many better alternatives for getting your first taste of sports bikes.
5 Ducati SuperSport (Starting At $16,000)
OK, a 12 grand Ducati may be pushing the meaning of ‘budget bike.’ Still, because the SuperSport is meant as an introduction bike to Ducati sports machines – rather than sportbikes in general – we thought it was worth mentioning here.
The SuperSport debuted in 2017 as a real-world road sports machine and the most affordable sports bike in Ducati’s lineup. It’s driven by a retuned, 113bhp version of the Hypermotard’s 937cc V-twin, which is housed in a chassis that, although traditional Ducati, is also more upright and unintimidating than the Bologna company’s more hard-core sportsters. Unless you’re a track day or racer, this is probably all the Ducati sports bike you’ll ever need.
In actuality, it’s a typical Ducati. It’s quick and distinctive, with nimble handling that’s also practical, sporty while being comfortable – and, most importantly, reasonably priced. If you want something a little more, there’s also a S version with enhanced Ohlins suspension and a quickshifter for roughly £1500 extra.
Sure, it’s not a cheap Sportster for a first-time rider, but it’s an appealing entry point into Ducati’s massive line of full-fat sports bikes if your budget is in the five digits. Furthermore, an upgrade might be on the road, which means incredible deals could be on the way.
6 Kawasaki Ninja 400 (Starting At $7500)
The Ninja 400 has a long tradition in the junior sports bike class and an established track (and road) record, making it maybe even more coveted than Yamaha’s R3. The free-revving twin’s ancestors can be traced to the 2008 Ninja 250R. In 2012, the bike evolved into the Ninja 300, which immediately earned a reputation as a “little ZX-6R” due to its sharper appearance and increased performance.
That bike was thoroughly updated in 2018 to become the Ninja 400, replete with sharper-than-ever ZX-10R-esque looks, a power rise to 44bhp owing to the increased capacity to 399cc, a better chassis, and more.
It’s direct, compelling, brisk, and amusing, yet it’s also practical and straightforward. It’s sprinkled with high-quality details and appears to be the bee’s knees. Sub-500cc Japanese sports bikes don’t get any sexier than this.
7 Honda CBR500R (Starting At $8500)
Now for something a little more contentious, but stick with me. Honda’s all-new, A2-specific 500cc twin family debuted in 2014 with the CB500F roadster, CB500X adventure-styled bike, and this, the sporty model. All have been upgraded several times subsequently, most recently in 2019, and have proven to be enormously successful.
A large part of that is due to their shared 471cc 47bbhp parallel-twin powerplants, which, by fully utilizing the classification (the rival Kawasaki and Yamaha twins aren’t as big or consequential), make them the most outstanding performers — adaptable and straightforward for beginners, but with all the ‘high end’ regulations available.
The chassis, however, errs on the side of caution and beginner-friendliness. Still, the 2019 update sharpened its looks significantly to make it seem more like a mini-Fireblade. Its quality and specification were also upgraded. The handling is an effortless thrill that even experienced riders will appreciate through the twisties.
The CBR may not have the poster bike appeal of the Ninja 400, but it is a better all-around ride for a more comprehensive range of riders.
8 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R (Starting At $13,000)
This, like the Ducati SuperSport, is perhaps straining the meaning of ‘cheap.’ However, because the most recent iteration of Kawasaki’s supersport is also by far the most affordable of the surviving four-cylinder, 600cc supersport species, it has earned its spot.
Supersport 600s have traditionally been the more economical, practical stepping stone to full-fledged, 1000cc superbikes, and this remains true today. This current edition of Kawasaki’s long-lived ZX-6R (the model dates back to 1995) was last upgraded in 2019. At well under £10K, it is by far the best value of the remaining supersport 600s – Yamaha’s latest R6, for example, now costs more than £12K!
For that, you get roaring four-cylinder thrills, a full 128bhp, 160mph potential, top-tier fully-adjustable suspension and excellent brakes, a good selection of gadgets, including two riding modes, and more. The handling is superb, and the overall impression is of a ‘junior ZX-10R.’
On the flipside, £10K is still a lot of money, and it’s small and tight, especially for larger riders, with little usefulness. However, there is another choice if you want a less expensive alternative to the full-on superbike experience.
9 Honda CBR650R (Starting At $11,000)
If you’re looking for a cheap bike that’s both a competent Sportster and a practical all-arounder, look no further than Honda’s newest CBR650R, which was redesigned in 2019. Simply said, it’s the only four-cylinder sports bike available at a reasonable price.
Honda tried to recapture the spirit of the original 1990s CBR600F with the CBR600F, released in 2011 and based on the 90bhp Hornet roadster but had a full fairing and a more sporting attitude. It was a great mix of practicality, fun, and affordability, which is why it sold so well.
Even if ultra-focused, less compromising Supersports motorcycles like Yamaha’s R6 have elevated the sporting standard in the meanwhile, the contemporary version successfully recreates that formula. Further modifications followed in 2014 (to 650cc) and 2017 (more power and other refinements), and it was dubbed the CBR650R and acquired Fireblade-like design in 2019.
It’s also been a big hit, duplicating the original’s winning combination of fun, usefulness, and value. The difference now is that it has no four-cylinder competitors. So, even if the CBR is a tad soft and novice-friendly, if you’re on a budget and want a new four-cylinder refined sports bike, there truly is just one!
10 Kawasaki Ninja 650 (Starting At $9500)
If Kawasaki’s full-on, four-cylinder ZX-6R is still too much for you, both to ride and to buy, ‘Special K’ has an inexpensive, more laid-back option that nevertheless delivers plenty of sportbike thrills.
The twin-cylinder, novice-friendly but 67bhp Ninja 650 has been upgraded for 2020 and is the most recent iteration of what began in 2005 as the faired ER-6F.
Since it’s now practically a more mature, better equipped, and sharper-looking CBR500R, it’s received three significant improvements and a name change. Its 647cc dual cam twin loves revs, is relatively quick, and is the foundation for practically all TT mini twin racers. Its chassis, while not as radical or focused as the ZX-6R’s, may nonetheless be delightfully hushed while being practical and comfortable.
Best of all, this current upgrade gives it a more contemporary dash, redesigned appearance that resembles the ZX-10R even more, and a throatier exhaust. It doesn’t get much better than this as an approachable, inexpensive, and attractive step up the sports bike ladder.