10 Best Small Displacement Motorcycles In 2022

Small can be beautiful, not to mention fun!

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Small displacement motorcycles have many benefits: lightweight, frugal with petrol, cheap to buy and insure, great for beginners, and often with low seat heights suitable for shorter riders. But, none of that means they have to be boring, as our list of the top ten small-displacement motorcycles shows.

There’s a misconception that the bigger the engine in a bike, the better it is. While that might be true for experienced riders, not everyone has the skill or even the need to own a 1000cc monster. Another factor to consider is that, in general, the larger the engine, the larger the bike is physicaly. Not all of us are blessed with the height to make putting our feet on the ground when stationary a reassuring prospect. When that is the case, then ‘small’ bikes are a practical consideration.

Luckily, nowadays, there are some brilliant small-engined bikes on the market, which not only look like big bikes, but have performance and a fun factor out of all proportion to their cylinder displacement. What’s even more important is that they are often great fun to ride: riding a ‘slow’ bike as fast as it can go can be more satisfying than riding a ‘big’ bike in fast - and often terrifying - bursts.

Here are our top ten choice of small displacement - and physically small - bikes on the market today.

Yamaha V-Star 250 - $4,599

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If your cruiser simply has to have a V twin-engine, then your only choice is the Yamaha V-Star 250. Similarly, if your mini motorcycle has to be dripping in chrome and be fitted with spoked wheels, then again, this is your only choice.

The V-Star 250 is a perfect miniature of the traditional V-twin cruiser. The style is a classic cruiser, with a super-low 27-inch seat height and limited suspension travel. Although, with a relatively lightweight, the suspension won’t bottom too often.

A drum rear brake is a throwback to simpler motorcycling times, as is the surprising presence of a carburetor and not fuel injection.

Yamaha V-Star 250
Engine 60° V-twin
Displacement 249cc
Power 21 horses
Torque 15.2 pound-feet
Seat height 27 inches
Price $4,599

Royal Enfield Meteor 350 - $4,599

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Is a bike ‘retro’ if it hasn’t changed in 60 years? The Royal Enfield Meteor 350 might have been re-styled to cater to more modern tastes, but the overall recipe is one that RE has been perfecting for decades.

The single-cylinder engine is smooth and characterful, even if, at 17.4 horses, it isn’t particularly fire-breathing. The cruiser style isn’t as convincing as the Honda Rebel or Yamaha V-Star, but it offers the benefit of a low seat height.

Outside the normal city riding prowess, this compact motorcycle is at its best, taking the scenic route at a leisurely pace: the handling is safe and neutral, the seating position comfortable, and it feels as if nothing will fall off.

In that last respect, Royal Enfield has done a lot of work in recent years and it shows: the fit and finish are near-perfect and there is an air of quality that matches the name for appeal.

As honest as the day is long and something a little different to the hordes of Japanese entries in this list.

Royal Enfield Meteor 350
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 349cc
Power 17.4 horses
Torque 19.9 pound-feet
Seat height 30.1 inches
Price $4,599

Honda Rebel 300 - $4,599

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It might look like a cruiser, but the engine size really limits this to city and urban riding, rather than pounding out the miles on the Interstate and there’s no problem with that: it’s a bit of a different style for your everyday riding needs.

What the style does give is a super-low seat height - 27.2-inches - and also the benefit of a spacious riding position. The engine pushes the 364-pound weight along nicely and there’s an overall air of Honda quality about it.

While Honda might not be known for making the most characterful motorcycles in the lower price bracket, there’s no doubt that they do what they do with efficiency and will last forever if looked after. The Rebel 300 manages to add some character to the sub-500cc bracket along with the style.

Honda Rebel 300
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 286cc
Power 27.4 horses
Torque 19.9 pound-feet
Seat height 27.2 inches
Price $4,599

Suzuki VanVan - $4,649

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Suzuki leading where Yamaha followed. Visually and specification-wise, there’s little to choose between the VanVan and the Yamaha TW200. The VanVan is even older than the Yamaha - from the 1970s - but built to exactly the same recipe: fat tires, go-anywhere rugged ability, low seat height practicality, and unintimidating to ride, but yet possessing a personality all of its own.

Retro-styled only in that its original design hasn’t been altered in nearly 50 years. It’s definitely built down to a price, but, with Suzuki, that still means bullet-proof mechanicals and easy-going nature.

A little more power than the Yamaha, but less torque, and, even more importantly, a slightly lower seat height. Is it a toy or a genuine off-road proposition? It’s what you want it to be and it will do both equally well.

Suzuki VanVan
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 199cc
Power 12 horses
Torque Seven pound-feet
Seat height 30.3 inches
Price $4,649

Yamaha TW200 - $4,699

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The TW200 has been around since the late 1980s, which must mean that Yamaha got it the right first time. The fat-tire look is more practical than you might at first think: great, obviously, for messing around off-road - and particularly in the sand - but, also great for less-than-perfect urban roads, where there is often more pothole than the flat road!

Low seat height - 31.1 inches - combined with reasonable suspension travel and good ground clearance make this a realistic off-road proposition, while the 70 mph top speed means it won’t be out of step with city traffic, and it is light and maneuverable in tight, traffic-congested places.

Having been around for so long, there will be plenty of expertise to solve any issues, not to mention after-market parts to improve your TW200.

Yamaha TW200
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 196cc
Power 16 horses
Torque 11.1 pound-feet
Seat height 31.1 inches
Price $4,699

Honda CBR300R- $4,899

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If you listen to the manufacturers, the CB300R and its rivals are modern takes on the cafe racer style. What they actually are, in fact, is simple, affordable, enjoyable naked bikes, with no cafe racer pretensions whatsoever and that’s absolutely fine.

The Honda’s strengths, apart from typical Honda quality and design, are its light and compact dimensions which make it perfect for the busy urban jungle. Super maneuverable and nimble, the low seat height gives confidence while the engine is smooth and more punchy than you might expect, meaning that when you reach the edge of town, you don’t need to stop and turn back.

The whole bike is a useful step up from a 125cc machine in both chassis and engine terms, and while the KTM 390 Duke might be more exciting, the Honda does everything just as well but with a bit more class and style.

Honda CBR300R
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 286cc
Power 31 horses
Torque 20.3 pound-feet
Seat height 31.4-inches
Price $4,899

BMW G310R - $5,245

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BMW’s first foray into the sub-500cc category has been a great success, the bikes being definitely built to a tight budget but managing to retain all the BMW traits that have made them so successful, including good specification and build quality.

With a claimed 34 horses on tap, it has decent performance to go with the solid handling and looks a lot bigger than it actually is. Seat height is a useful 32.8-inches, but when sitting on the bike, it feels spacious and tall enough to prevent tall riders from feeling cramped.

It was updated in 2021 with span-adjustable levers, slipper clutch, and new color schemes, but retaining the same power and torque figures. For many, having the BMW roundel badge on the tank is a symbol of quality and dependability, and being built in India does not seem to have affected those qualities.

BMW G310R
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 313cc
Power 34 horses
Torque 21 pound-feet
Seat height 32.8 inches
Price $5,245

Royal Enfield Himalayan -$5,299

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Something a bit different in the sub-500cc adventure bike class. The Royal Enfield Himalayan 411 has surprised a lot of people by being a very real alternative to the established stars of the class.

It’s simple and basic which is exactly what you need if your intentions are to take off into the wide blue yonder in search of adventure. Having said that, it does have ABS front and back and a four-gallon fuel tank giving fantastic range.

Best of all, here is a tall adventure bike with good suspension travel and ground clearance, but a low seat height, making it not only suitable for the vertically challenged, but also so easy to negotiate tricky off-road sections.

Lightweight, good, punchy power, simple, good looking, competitively priced, and capable. What more do you need?

Royal Enfield Himalayan
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 411cc
Power 24.5 horses
Torque 23.6 pound-feet
Seat height 31.5-inches
Price $5,299

Kawasaki Versys X300 - $6,099

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The sub-500cc adventure market has blossomed in recent years with the BMW G310GS, KTM 390 Adventure, and so on. However, the adventure-sport class (adventure styling but with road wheels and tires) has been largely ignored by manufacturers, perhaps, because it is difficult to justify the ‘sport’ tag with less than 300cc.

Kawasaki is the exception to this rule and the Versys X300 is an interesting choice. Powered by a 296cc parallel-twin, it feels faster than its single-cylinder rivals on this list mainly because it is smoother, although it needs to be revved harder to access the performance.

Although missing the extra displacement that the same company’s Z400 engine enjoys, the 40 horsepower (claimed) is more than enough to give the Versys X300 sufficient performance to consider taking it out of the city on a longer journey.

It will tackle off-road situations, but rather think of this as a road bike with adventure styling and you won’t be disappointed.

Kawasaki Versys X300
Engine Parallel-twin
Displacement 296cc
Power 40 horses
Torque 19.2 pound-feet
Seat height 32.1 inches
Price $6,099

Aprilia RS250 SP - $11,750

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Just because we’re talking small displacement, doesn’t mean we are necessarily talking low-price or even practical! If a proper race-replica sports bike is your dream but 200 horsepower certainly isn’t and you still want to have fun on the track, then the Aprilia RS250 SP is the one for you, as long as you have deep pockets!

What Aprilia doesn’t know about small-displacement motorcycles, isn’t worth knowing: over 50 Grand Prix World Championships in 125cc and 250cc classes speak for themselves.

The RS250 SP might be track-only, but it’s worth it! What other 250cc motorcycle do you know that will do 140 mph and is fitted with the best of everything, from Öhlins suspension and Marchesini wheels to full race-spec Brembo brake calipers.

Small really can be exciting!

Aprilia RS250 SP
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 249cc
Power 29.9 horses
Torque 16.2 pound-feet
Seat height N/A
Price $11,750

FAQs

What are Smaller Motorcycles called?

You would still call a small-displacement two-wheeler a motorcycle, as opposed to a scooter or moped. All of the bikes in this list are motorcycles.

What is the smallest road legal motorcycle?

The smallest road-legal motorcycles currently on sale have a displacement of 125cc, although there are many 50cc scooters available.

What is the best motorcycle for a five feet-tall woman?

There are many cruisers with very low seat heights: the Yamaha V-Star 250 and Honda Rebel 300 are great beginner’s bikes with very low seat heights. Bikes like the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 and Sportster S have low seat heights but are much heavier than the Yamaha. Even the really big Harley-Davidsons have low seats but the weight cold be a problem.

Which bike is best for short height?

Cruiser-type motorcycles are always great for shorter riders as they have low seat heights. Adventure bikes are the worst because they are generally very tall, although suspension-lowering kits can be fitted, often by the factory.

Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
Motorcycling Contributor
Born and raised in England, he has lived in South Africa with his family since 2002. Harry has owned examples of Triumph, Norton, BSA, MV Agusta, Honda, BMW, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Kawasaki and Moto Morini motorcycles. He regrets selling all of them.  Read full bio
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