In my job as Editor of the Ultimate MotorCycling print magazine, I spend much of my time riding the crème de la crème of motorcycles. As much fun as that is – and it is more enjoyable than you can imagine – I still enjoy the more elemental less-expensive bikes that I ride for tests on UltimateMotorCycling.com.
So, while they aren’t the most expensive or advanced motorcycles on the market, I present to you a dozen “ultimate” motorcycles that you can get for less than $10,000 – and in many cases, a lot less than $10k.
1. Honda Grom: Easily the least expensive bike on this list, the Grom is priced to be an impulse buy. For college kids, it’s an obvious choice at the Honda dealer, but experienced riders in urban areas can have loads of fun on city streets. In my experience, I can do undocumented things on the Grom with a nod and a wink from observers, that the same people would frown and give me the evil eye for doing on a full-size motorcycle. Who can’t love this fun little bike? MSRP: $3195.
2. Suzuki GSX-S750: Brand new this year, the GSX-S750 takes an old classic motor (so old that this is a 49-state bike) in a capable chassis (inverted KYB forks, for example) with modern upright ergonomics to create a truly fun street bike. Blasting through the twisties, you’ll be impressed by its willingness to dive into turns with abandon, and the power of the 749cc motor to send you into the next corner in no time flat. The front brakes are fairly soft, but that’s easily fixed with a more-aggressive pad compound. Otherwise, be prepared to humiliate lots of people on supposedly faster bikes. MSRP: $7999.
3. Ducati Scrambler Icon: Forget all the hipster marketing surrounding this retro bike – it is a fantastic sport bike out in the real world. The air-cooled 803cc L-twin is spunky – almost too much for the neophytes the ads seem to be aimed at – so you can make serious time in the canyons on the Scrambler. You might not expect much from the adventurous Pirelli tires, but they are sticky and predictable, despite the aggressive tread pattern. Don’t underestimate the Scrambler Icon. MSRP: $8495.
4. Kawasaki KLR650: This bike is a certified legend, and one that can take you around the world. Almost two decades old and still using carburetor (a 40mm Keihin), the single-cylinder motor is absolutely bulletproof, and fairly sophisticated with DOHC, dual counterbalancers, and liquid-cooling. Handling has improved over the years, and latest edition has the best suspension since the bike’s debut in 1987. If you’re skilled enough, you can take a KLR650 on some insane single-tracks (though not especially fast), and that makes this a truly epic adventure bike. MSRP: $6599.
5. KTM 690 Duke ABS: Rightfully, the new 1290 Super Duke has been getting all the attention, but don’t overlook the appeal of the 690 Duke ABS! The big single has incredible torque throughout the rev range, plus a peak output of 67 horsepower. That may not sound like too much, but keep in mind that the 690 Duke weighs around 350 pounds will a full tank of gas. Agile doesn’t begin to describe the handling, yet the Duke isn’t spooky to ride thanks to a rake of 26.5 degrees. WP suspension gives you a settled, confident ride, making this a great bike for going fast in tighter confines. MSRP: $8999.
6. Harley-Davidson Iron 883: Stay away from the Street line – this is the real deal if you want an entry-level Harley. Sure, the ergonomics of the Iron 883 are a bit awkward with the narrow drag-style handlebars, but you will look cool and you can still ride it reasonably hard (the peanut tank will make sure you stop fairly frequently for fill-ups). Here in LA, the narrow bars work for lane splitting, and there’s enough cornering clearance in the chassis and grip in the Michelin Scorcher tires to ride hard in the twisties. Whether in-town or out, you will appreciate the 883cc Evolution motor that puts out a solid 54 ft/lbs of torque at just 3750 rpm. MSRP: $8399.
7. Triumph Street Triple ABS: While the natural inclination may be to covet the R version of the Street Triple, the standard edition may be the right bike for most riders. Although the lower-spec KYB suspension isn’t quite up to the R’s standards, only the most experienced and perceptive riders will notice a significant different. The more relaxed, but still aggressive, 24.1-degree rake makes the standard Street Triple easier to ride, as does the more manageable non-radial front braking. At 414 pounds wet (claimed), the Street Triple is more than agile enough in all riding situations. The good news is the standard Street Triple gets the same enormously fun 675cc motor. MSRP: $9399.
8. Star Bolt: Everything is right about the Bolt, from its air-cooled 942cc 60-degree V-twin, to the dual shocks and clean styling. With a 19-inch front wheel and 16-incher in the back, shod with Bridgestone rubber, the handling of the Bolt is nicely balanced. If you’re the kind of cruiser rider who likes to go fast in the canyons, the Bolt’s chassis is ready to indulge you without complaint. Urban riders will love the ability of the 540-pound bike (wet, claimed) to scoot through any situation, and keep you comfortable and stylish while doing it. MSRP: $7990.
9. Beta 500 RS: If you want near-race performance from you dual-sport bike, the Beta 500 RS makes it possible for you to get serious on both open trails and challenging single-track. Sachs suspension is fully adjustable (including low- and high-speed compression damping in the rear), while the excellent fueling of the Keihin 39mm FCR carb shows that you can still get by without EFI, especially when you have a Kokusan CDI with variable ignition timing. Separate oil for the motor and clutch helps guarantee a long life for the 478cc powertrain, and the included Trail Tech Voyager GPS will even direct you home. MSRP: $9799.
10. Aprilia Shiver 750: Featuring a potent V-twin motor with selectable power modes, a purposeful trellis frame, inverted forks, radial front calipers squeezing on petal rotors, and cleanly angular underseat mufflers, the Aprilia Shiver 750 brings Italian exotica to the masses. Pumping out 60 ft/lbs of torque at a lowly 7000 rpm, in the right hands, the Shiver can show-up much more powerful bikes in the tight twisties with a potent combination of handling and smart power delivery. MSRP: $8699.
11. Moto Guzzi V7 Stone: Looking good is a big part of the appeal of the Moto Guzzi V7 Stone, but it doesn’t end there for this retro sport bike. The air-cooled, fuel-injected V-twin puts out beginner-friendly numbers at 50 horses at 6200 rpm and 43 ft/lbs of torque at 5000 rpm, but an experience rider will enjoy the vibe and the traditional Italian handling. When someone talks about a bike being more than the sum of its parts, the V7 Stone is a perfect example. It’s not outstanding in any single way, but when you put it all together, this is a fun bike to ride and be seen riding. MSRP: $8490.
12. Yamaha FZ-07: Naked and narrow, thanks to a parallel twin motor, the FZ-07 puts out plenty of usable torque (peak is 50 ft/lbs) thanks to the Crossplane Concept crank. The FZ-07 is smooth, making it easy for anyone to ride as fast, or as conservatively, as desired. It makes a great commuter bike that can also take on the canyons with confidence with its 24-degree rake. Weighing less than 400 pounds with a full tank of gas, and a manageable seat height below 32 inches, the FZ-07 delivers even more than it suggests. MSRP: $6990.