Updated June 17, 2022
I’m still riding my first motorcycle, a 2006 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic LT (which you’ll find on our list of best touring motorcycles for new riders). It’s been incredibly reliable, even though it’s now over 15 years old and has racked up over 32,000 kms.
I also paid less than $3500 for my bike—which is pretty great, considering the shape it’s in. Apart from a scratch or two that I put on the thing while I was still learning to ride, it’s a sharp-looking piece of heavy machinery. People have rolled down their windows next to me in traffic to yell compliments at me about what a beautiful bike it is. It scared the bejeezus out of me the first time, but now I kind of get a kick out of it.
The point is, you don’t have to break the bank to get a great motorcycle—there are plenty of terrific bargains on used bikes out there, and even a few new models that offer tons of value for riders. Here are a few of our favourites.
Bargain Bikes Don’t Win Beauty Contests
Let’s just get this out of the way: when you set out to buy a cost-effective used bike, you typically have to accept some compromises. Cosmetically, your motorcycle is likely to have its fair share of scratches, dings, scuffs, and other minor-to-moderate problems.
When you shop cheap, what you’re really wanting to find is the “unicorn”—that rare bike that is cosmetically and mechanically excellent. I got extremely luck with my bike, which I’d say qualifies. But remember: unicorns are creatures of myth and legend, so you shouldn’t expect to stumble across one. It’s far more likely that you’ll find a lot of bikes with well-maintained brakes, suspension, and engines, but also with cosmetic blemishes and a black eye or two.
5 Tips for Getting a Great Deal on a Motorcycle
These are the rules that I live by when I’m window-shopping used motorcycles. While I don’t want to break the bank, I still want to get the most value possible—but there are certain places I won’t compromise, like safety and mechanical stability.
To narrow down my options and hone in on the right bike, I always abide by these five rules:
#1: Don’t Buy a Motorcycle More Than 10 years old
Okay, I know—I started this article by singing the praises of my touring bike from 2006. But remember, kids: unicorns! My Vulcan is very much the exception that proves the rule (although it also helps that the big 4 Japanese bike brands, especially Kawasaki, and especially especially the Vulcan series, have a reputation for longevity).
Generally speaking, though, the older something is, the more likely it is to break. This is especially true when there are engines involved.
As much as I love vintage bikes, they’re more likely to need routine motorcycle maintenance (and leave you stranded if you’re not diligent about doing it). My baby is no exception. I had to replace the front brake pad just a couple of months ago because it was almost down to the rotor, and the back one doesn’t have long left.
The sweet spot for most beginner bikes is 7-9 years old. If you shop for a bike in that range, you’ll be looking at entry-level standard and sport bikes, as well as some smaller displacement cruisers. You might even find a few bikes with ABS and traction control.
If your budget gets to $5,000, there are also plenty of great brand new bikes perfect for beginner riders. You just can’t beat that new bike feeling.
#2: Look at Both Really Popular & Unpopular Models
This is classic supply and demand at work: the cheapest motorcycles will be the ones with a huge surplus of supply, or the models nobody really wanted in the first place.
Example: early model-year Suzuki SV650’s. The SV650 wasn’t an immediate sales sensation, and you can find early versions for a great price. Per the Kelly Blue Book, a 2004 SV650 averages $2,575. Meanwhile, a 2004 Suzuki GS500F—a model that wasn’t as popular as other entry-level sport bikes—averages $2,175.
Apply the same concept when shopping new.
#3: Look for Motorcycles With Under 40,000 Miles / 64,000 Kilometers
While a car with 40k miles / 64k km’s is practically brand-new, the same is not true for your bike. Motorcycles are ridden harder and are more exposed to the elements, so 40k for a car is like 90k for a bike (think: human vs. dog years).
This isn’t a “hard” rule, as you’ll often find cruisers and touring motorcycles with higher mileage that still run extremely well. I use this as a rule-of-thumb, since I can handle minor maintenance (like cleaning the chain, oil changes, etc.) but don’t yet have the wrenching skills for the serious touch-up jobs higher-mileage engines often require.
#4: Know the Fair Market Value (& Don’t be Afraid to Look Outside of Your Area)
People think lowballs are the way to get a great deal, but they’re not generally well-received and are likely to start the conversation off on a sour note. The best way to get a great deal is to know what a fair market price for the bike you want is, and then be prepared to pay it for the right bike.
If you can’t find an offer that feels right in your area, look at sites like eBay to see what’s nearby. Shipping a motorcycle is surprisingly affordable if you find something that is only a few hours away.
#5: Shop the Person, Not Just the Bike
When I’m shopping, it’s the owner that makes or breaks the sale. I want to buy a bike from someone that has kept up on maintenance and invested in keeping the motorcycle in good shape. Here are some signs you’re buying from someone trustworthy:
- They have service records, parts receipts, etc.
- The bike looks good aesthetically—there may be small dings, scratches, etc., but all the fairings and the trim should be in generally good condition. If there have been repairs, they should have been performed well and shouldn’t take away from the overall look.
- They are direct and forthcoming with information about the bike (I won’t even consider buying from someone that is evasive or noncommittal when answering questions).
- They are organized and generally seem to have their shit together. Trust your instincts.
If you find yourself talking to someone that ticks all those boxes, it may even be worth it to pay a bit more for their motorcycle. After all, that’s more likely to be a bike you can trust.
5 Awesome Brand-New Motorcycles Under (or Around) $5,000
2022 Yamaha TW200 (Dual Sport)
- MSRP: $4,799 (USA) / $5,499 (Canada)
- See the TW200 in the 2022 Yamaha motorcycle lineup
- Manufacturer website
If you live somewhere with mild/easy trails, gravel paths, or other light off-road areas for riding, you’ll appreciate the novelty and utility of a dual-sport motorcycle. If you want a brand-new one for an affordable price, the TW200 is one of the better picks.
While it may only have 11 horsepower and is relatively unchanged from original 1987 model, the TW200 is surprisingly capable at light off-road riding and feels great on paved roads as well. It won’t win any races, but it will unfailingly start, get great gas mileage, and get you where you need to be (even when the road isn’t paved).
2022 Yamaha V Star 250
- MSRP: $4,599 (USA) / $5,499 (Canada)
- See the specs for the 2021 Yamaha V-Star 250
- Manufacturer website
The V Star 250’s classic style and a capable 249 cc v-twin has proven to be an enduring combination. One of the first bikes I ever rode was an early 2000’s V Star—the riding school I went to had a bunch of them for the class. Thanks to its low center of gravity, this entry-level cruiser is great for riders that are still learning how to ride a motorcycle.
The V-twin makes about 21 horsepower and 15 ft-lb of torque, and it has a top speed of around 85 mph (140 kph). The V-Star can comfortably cruise at 70 mph (110 kph), though its light weight of just 326 lbs is both a blessing and a curse: while the light weight makes the V Star maneuverable and responsive in the city, it also makes it easier for wind to blow the bike around (especially at highway speeds).
With a range of about 200 miles (320 kilometers), the V-Star 250 is probably one of the best bare-bones commuter bikes you can buy.
2022 Honda Rebel 300
- MSRP: $4,699 (USA) / $6,149 (Canada)
- More About the 2022 Honda Rebel 300
- Manufacturer website
With 27 horsepower on tap, Honda’s smallest cruiser is a lot of fun to ride. Responsive controls, LED lighting, and great brakes make the Rebel an excellent daily riding machine. It’s a superior bike to the V Star in just about every way, but it’s also about 40 lbs heavier. Give and take, right?
The naked heritage/cruiser styling works, but the 286cc single-cylinder engine looks pretty wimpy compared to the V Star’s chromed-out V-Twin. Like the V Star 250, the Rebel 300 gets an impressive 78 mpg and is endowed with a range of 200 miles (320 kilometers).
2022 Kawasaki Ninja 400
- MSRP: $5,199 (USA) / $6,599 (Canada)
- See specs for the 2021 Kawasaki Ninja 400
- Manufacturer website
Okay, so it’s not quite under $5000, but the non-ABS version comes pretty darn close—and for newer riders who still want an exciting sport bike experience, the Ninja 400 delivers plenty of bang for your buck.
A compact 399cc parallel-twin engine produces 44 hp at 10,000 rpm and 28 lb-ft of torque at 8,000 rpm, giving you access to a lot of get-up-and-go on the street or for your first few track days. You also get an assist & slipper clutch to make your slow rides smoother, Kawasaki’s useful ergo-fit feature to accommodate riders of different sizes, and their economical riding indicator to help offset the crazy price of gas these days. Zoom zoom!
2022 BMW G310R
- MSRP: $4,995 (USA) / $5,695 (Canada)
- See it in the 2022 BMW motorcycle lineup
- Manufacturer website
Want a BMW for (just) less than $5000 USD? It’s possible, thanks to the G310R, which is powered by a hardworking 313cc single-cylinder engine putting out 34 hp and 20 lb-ft of torque.
No, it’s not the kind of Beemer bike you tour North America with, but it does make a great little daily commuter. And like any other BMW, you can count on the reliability of that German engineering.
The Best & Cheapest Used Beginner Motorcycles to Buy for 2020
If you aren’t keen on going brand new and want to keep the budget as low as possible, the 10 bikes listed here are all great options. All the bikes mentioned here are reliable and affordable (prices checked via eBay, Kelly Blue Book, and Auto Trader).
- 2015+ Yamaha R3 – $3,500
- 2010-2014 Suzuki SV650 – $3,500
- 2010+ Suzuki DRZ-400 – $2,850
- 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 250 – $2,500
- 2009 Kawasaki Ninja 500 – $2,500
- 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 500 – $2,215
- 2010+ Kawasaki Vulcan 900 – $4,000
- 2005 Yamaha V-star 650 Classic – $2,965
- 2006 Honda Rebel 250 – $1,880
- 2008 Suzuki GS500F – $2,175
Use these prices as a guide and a starting place for negotiations, but expect some variance based on where you’re looking. Depending on your circumstances, you maybe be able to get some of these bikes for even cheaper than the prices I listed.
Don’t forget: Save Money for Motorcycle Gear & Training!
Now that you know where to start searching for a motorcycle to buy, it’s incredibly important to save money for gear. Motorcycle gear is what keeps your skin on your body, your brain in place, and your bones together.
Finally, a motorcycle and gear are both useless without proper training. I always recommend people get in-person instruction on how to ride. There are courses offered by MSF, Harley Davidson, and STARS (depending on where you live). Often those training courses cost between $100-200 and last a weekend.
The skills you learn during a course, however, will last a lifetime—and set you up for a safe and healthy motorcycle career. What I learned about lane positioning and emergency braking in my MSF course has literally saved my life more than once.