When it comes to long-distance riding, the best motorcycles need to offer two things: rider comfort and the ability to maintain highway speeds. A bike that forces you into an uncomfortable or aggressive riding position won’t allow you to ride for more than a few hours without aching, and a bike that strains its engine to reach higher speeds will make you numb from the waist down even before that happens.
Buying an aftermarket touring seat or replacing your risers can improve ergonomics somewhat, but performance is another matter—and modding out a bike gets costly very quickly. It’s far simpler and cheaper to just buy a motorcycle intended for touring. I listed my favourite touring bikes for new riders on a budget below, so you can enjoy the open road for hours without going into too much debt.
What to Look For in a Used Touring Motorcycle
First, it’s worth noting that touring bikes aren’t usually aimed at beginner riders. If you just passed your parking lot test last week, you’re probably not ready for your first cross-country excursion. You might want to think about an entry-level sport bike or naked bike for city riding instead.
But if you’ve spent enough time in the saddle to get comfortable with the idea of a longer journey, there are a few things you should consider when looking for your first touring bike. Here’s a quick breakdown:
Make sure you’ll be comfortable sitting on your chosen bike. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all motorcycle (although the ERGO-FIT system in the Kawasaki Vulcan S series is doing its best to change that), so try using the motorcycle ergonomics simulator to get an idea of how you’d fit on different bikes.
4 speeds might be fine for riding around town, but you’ll find yourself searching for a 5th (or 6th) gear very quickly once you hit the highway. To avoid high revs and intense vibrations at higher speeds, make sure the transmission in your touring bike has at least 5 speeds.
Newer riders should avoid bikes with too much power—but if you’re ready for touring, you’ll need more than what a small engine can offer. Generally, we recommend staying around 650cc for sport or adventure touring bikes, and under 1000cc for cruiser-style models.
There’s not much point in going for a long ride if you can’t bring essential supplies with you. Make sure any motorcycle you buy for touring purposes has at least enough room to pack snacks and a change of undies somewhere.
And now, without any further ado—here are 5 amazing touring motorcycles you can buy used for less than $5000.
Best Light Sport Tourer
The Suzuki SV650 has a more upright riding position than most standard sport bikes, making it a winner for longer journeys. Depending on what model you buy (and where), you can get it with a half fairing or as a naked bike, though you may want the fairing to improve aerodynamics at highway speeds.
Ergonomics: The relatively low seat height and high bars prevent riders from needing to hunch over as much as they would on most other sport bikes. The stock seat is pretty comfortable too (although you might want to consider switching it with an aftermarket seat from Corbin or Sargant).
Transmission: The SV650 has a 6-speed transmission, giving you plenty of RPM for highways without pushing the bike too hard. Suzuki also gives this bike a low RPM assist feature, which automatically boosts your revs during sloppy starts to avoid stalling—an excellent feature for new riders.
Engine Displacement: The 645cc DOCH V-twin engine in the 2021 Suzuki SV650 comes in a 90° L-twin configuration, giving it excellent primary balance. With no need for a counter balancer, all that power gets delivered straight to the bike when you need it most—during those long rides at high speeds.
Luggage: There’s no stock luggage on the SV650, but plenty of aftermarket soft motorcycle luggage is available and will fit on it nicely.
Choosing a single cruiser-style touring motorcycle for beginners on a budget seemed impossible, so I put two on this list. Either of these are excellent options you can get used for well under $5000; choosing between them will mostly come down to your preferences and abilities.
Via Total Motorcycle.
Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic LT
The LT (Light Touring) version of the Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic comes with (very stylish) leather saddlebags and a surprisingly good stock windscreen, which provides clear vision and does much to reduce wind at high speeds. It also offers more than enough power for the highway while remaining versatile and user-friendly enough for newer riders. Just watch out for the weight; at 657 lbs, it’s not a bike you want to have to pick up off the road by yourself.
Ergonomics: With a seat height of only 26.8 inches, even shorter riders will find their feet touch the ground easily. The stock seat is pretty comfy as well, although the Mustang Wide Touring Seat is a popular upgrade. Decently high stock handlebars and a relatively long wheelbase mean riders with long limbs should find plenty of room to stretch out, too.
Transmission: The Vulcan 900 only has a 5-speed transmission, but you’ll find that 5th gear is more than enough for most highways. Of greater interest to you should be this transmission’s positive neutral finder, a feature Kawasaki added to help newer riders flip up into neutral easily when stopped instead of accidentally shifting into 2nd. Newer riders who don’t want to maintain a death grip on the clutch through every red light will appreciate this feature greatly.
Engine Displacement: With a 903cc liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, SOHC 8-valve V-twin, you’ve got plenty of power to work with here. It’s a big engine for a new rider, but it’s not a big engine for a touring cruiser, and the 50hp it provides should be enough to let you keep up with traffic without feeling overwhelmed.
Luggage: Unlike the other touring cruiser on this list, the Vulcan 900 comes with stock leather saddlebags that offer plenty of room for your extra gear and supplies. You won’t need a backpack when you’re riding this beast.
A smaller and lighter cruiser, the Honda Shadow Aero 750 is nonetheless very capable of letting you ride long distances in comfort and style. The 2022 version doesn’t come with touring amenities, but plenty of aftermarket windscreens and saddlebags can be fitted to it easily, making it much more practical for touring (and giving it a classic look).
Ergonomics: An even lower seat height than the Vulcan makes this a beginner-friendly cruiser for smaller riders, as well as anyone seeking a low centre of gravity on their bike for extra stability at slow speeds. Like the Vulcan, the stock seat on the Aero is fairly comfortable—but upgrading to an aftermarket seat might be a smart decision if you’re planning a cross-country trip.
Transmission: The transmission in the Aero is a pretty standard, no-frills, 5-speed manual affair. It’s functional and reliable—no fancy bells and whistles here, but you won’t be disappointed with it, either.
Engine Displacement: A 745cc liquid-cooled engine gives you a bit less power than the Vulcan, producing 44.6hp instead of 50. It’s not a huge difference though, so you probably won’t notice it unless you’re really trying to open up the throttle—which you’ll rarely need to do, even outside city limits.
Luggage: One of my only real complaints about the Aero is that it doesn’t come with any luggage. However, you can buy plenty of aftermarket saddlebags for this bike, and many used models are likely to come with bags or other accessories purchased by previous owners.
I faced the same dilemma with adventure touring bikes that I ran into with cruisers—there are at least two excellent options out there, and the one you’ll likely choose depends on various subjective factors. Here are both of them:
Via Motorcycle Daily.
Suzuki V-Strom 650
Many riders who aren’t beginners still ride their V-Stroms, so this is a bike you can have fun with for years after you buy it. It’s a reliable, comfortable, and versatile dual-sport that’s as capable of long(ish) highway trips as it is of spending serious time off-road. The 2021 V-Strom 650 also has Suzuki’s low RPM assist function and comes with ABS, making it fairly forgiving for riders whose inputs are still a little jerky from time to time.
Ergonomics: As an adventure bike, the V-Strom has a higher seat height than other bikes we’ve discussed so far, coming in at 32.9 inches. However, the telescopic forks used for suspension in this model give that seat plenty of room to travel when you hit bumps on (or off) the road, so you’re going to end up being grateful for it.
Transmission: A 6-speed constant mesh transmission gives the V-Strom plenty of shifting ability while reducing wear and tear on the gears. This feature is vital for off-roading, but it also helps the V-Strom avoid transmission problems on long trips, which is very practical for touring.
Engine Displacement: The 645cc liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90° V-twin in the V-Strom 650 is the same as the one in the SV650, but it’s tuned to deliver more power in the 4000–7000 RPM range. As a result, the V-Strom 650 offers more linear and predictable power delivery, which helps out newer riders who may want to venture off the asphalt for the first time during their trip.
Luggage: Suzuki offers plenty of optional luggage for the V-Strom 650—as well as engine guards, heated grips, and other touring-friendly features. As with the other bikes on this list, you’ll find tons of aftermarket bags and cases available, too.
Not content to have made one of the best light touring cruisers out there (yes, I really love the Vulcan, y’all), Kawasaki also produced an adventure tourer for the ages. The 2021 Kawasaki Versys 650 ABS LT comes standard with several accessories ideal for long-distance riding, including handguards for wind protection and the Kawasaki Hard Luggage System, which has quick-release mounting points.
Ergonomics: Putting riders in an upright position more commonly associated with standards than sport bikes, the Versys is surprisingly comfortable during long trips. You won’t even mind the seat, which offers more comfort than is fair for any bike that looks this sporty.
Transmission: You get a 6-speed transmission here, too—but because this is a Kawasaki, it also comes with the positive neutral finder feature. Want more gears than the Vulcan but afraid of that accidental 2nd-gear-shift when you’re stopped? This might be the bike for you.
Engine Displacement: You get a slightly bigger engine than the one in the V-Strom here, although it doesn’t produce as much horsepower (68hp vs. the V-Strom’s 70hp). However, the Versys does deliver just a tad more low-end torque, at 47 lb-ft vs. 46 lb-ft for the V-Strom.
Luggage: The LT model of the Versys comes with nice-looking factory panniers, giving it quite a lot of room to carry items. Just remember that the LT models didn’t come out until 2015 when you’re shopping for a used one—older models won’t have luggage or handguards unless previous owners purchased those accessories themselves.
It’s fairly easy to buy any of the bikes listed above for under $5000, as long as you’re willing to go back a few years. Light touring cruisers like the Vulcan and Aero have changed little in the past decade, so versions from the early 2010s will have many of the same features as current models. Sport and adventure tourers listed above may be a little different if you wind back the clock too much, so keep that in mind (i.e., if you want stock luggage on your Versys, make sure it was made after 2015).