While many enthusiasts ride motorcycles for the fun, the sport, or the hobby of it, quite a few of us actually use them as urban transport. No long mountain drives, no highway cruises along the coast, just the simple point A to point B commute, or to the corner grocery when you need a pint of milk.
While there are many options out there for bikes in general, not all of them were designed with navigating the urban jungle in mind. That’s why after considerate research, talking with bike owners all over the US online, and dabbling through a few motorcycle forums, I’ve narrowed down a list of seven bikes that are great for the city and commuting.
For this list, the priorities I had in mind were fuel efficiency, agility, power, and comfort.
#7: 2020 Zero SR/F
The electric motorcycle revolution is truly upon us all. Much like what Tesla did for road cars, Zero is doing for motorcycles. Intelligent packaging, collaboration with a lot of different electronics specialists, an industry shattering 2 year drivetrain and 5 year power pack warranty, the SR/F is truly one of those pinnacles of engineering.
Producing the equivalent of 140 lbs-ft of torque at literally 1 RPM, with a rated equivalent of 110 HP, the SR/F may sound a touch scary. However, throughout every review, video, rider opinion, owner feedback, and the like, the truth is that the bike is one of the easiest bikes to ride in the market.
It has different rider modes that touch on different aspects of motorcycling, with the most insane being the sport mode, which gives you all the beans all the time. I would probably ride it more in street mode, as that is the mode that will let you have a little fun, but also kicks in stability control, ABS, some regenerative braking, and softens the suspension a little for the expectation of slightly rougher roads.
Hanging over the Zero SR/F, however, are the two reasons it is ranked as #7. First, it does need to be recharged, and if you get the standard model, expect 8 hours to fully charge from 0% to 95% off of a standard 120 V outlet, with a range of about 100 miles if given the full beans. There is a premium model that is capable of using supercharger stations and comes with a fast charge inverter that can cut that charge down to 4 hours, but it leads to the second issue.
Simply put, the Zero SR/F is expensive. The standard, bare-bones, long charging model starts at $19,500 before any taxes, delivery expenses, PDI, registration, or admin fees. The premium starts at $22,000 for only a few features more.
#6: 2020 Kawasaki Z400
Kawasaki has had a history of success with its Ninja and Z lines of motorcycles, and the Z400 continues to build on that success. While its bigger brother Z650 is definitely a capable standard naked, the Z400 wins in terms of being the more capable commuter.
Sporting a respectable 399cc parallel-twin producing 49 HP, the reason the Z400 punches above its weight class is that it is infinitely agile. A lower seat height, a lot of weight slung low and near the center of gravity, and a wheelbase of only 54 inches means that this bike can dance circles around larger, heavier nakeds, and then zip off into the sunset with a lovely parallel-twin burble echoing behind it.
With a decent tank that can hold 3.6 gallons, the Z400 produces a real-world average of 66 MPG, giving you decent range for a commute. It’s also very affordable, starting at $5,000.
The reason it places 6th, though, is that at higher RPMs and at freeway speeds, the 180 degree crankshaft in the parallel twin does lead to some vibration through the frame. It comes from cost-cutting, and with a little bit more buffering between the engine and the frame with less directly-bolted-on mounting would shoot this bike up the list.
#5: 2020 Yamaha MT-07
Yamaha gets the nod in this 2020 list because of one simple fact: Utility. The MT-07 is a bit of a hybrid child, taking most of the engine bits and suspension of a YZF-R6 supersport, but calming them down a lot to give the bike a very real-world useable powerband.
It might sound a bit much at the start, with a 689 cc parallel twin producing 75 HP, but Yamaha intentionally made the clutch takeup and throttle less sensitive than on the R6. What results is a very linear low-end torque delivery, which ramps up the more you crack the throttle open. It is a bit larger than most other bikes recommended on this list, but due to its narrow profile and no-nonsense grunt, it is quite capable of commuting, backed up by a 3.7 gallon tank and efficiency at a mind boggling 65+ MPG for the performance you get.
There are a couple of downsides, however. Firstly, due to the way the weight is distributed along the midline instead of down low, the bike doesn’t like maneuvers under 10 MPH that much. Secondly, it is quite pricey, starting at $7,600 MSRP and more around $8,500 after all additional fees.
#4: 2020 Honda CB300R
This list would not be complete without mentioning the CB300R. It may be a small bike, a hunched up little naked, but it is an absolute joy in the city. It has a 286cc single producing a hair over 30 HP, but it’s also a featherweight at 320 lbs wet.
So what does this mean to you, the commuter? It’s surprisingly quick, agile to the point of embarrassing supersports, and has one of the most comfortable cushions I have had the joy to plant my posterior upon. I don’t know what dragon tears and unicorn dust they used in the seat padding, but even with me tipping the scales at 260 lbs, that cushion was just magical.
It has a relatively tiny fuel tank at 2.6 gallons, but with efficiency tickling towards 80 MPG, you can realistically ride the snot out of the CB300R and it’ll easily get you 185-200 miles to a tank. That’s the true secret to this motorcycle. It’s an all-rounder. Weekday commuter with a weekend full of fun hidden in the engine and suspension.
#3: 2020 BMW G310 GS
The G310 GS is a little gem buried in the BMW Motorrad lineup, the quiet, unassuming small bike in the back corner behind the big tourers and supersports. Sporting a tiny 313cc single, the BMW still manages to punch out 34 HP and respectable torque that likes to sit in the mid to high RPMs.
What makes this bike a superb commuter is that unlike the G310 R naked, the GS adds a bit of adventure touring DNA to the bike. A slightly higher seat with a better cushion, small front wind deflector instead of pure naked, ABS as standard, and an integrated rear rack ready to have a cargo box installed straight out of the showroom. As well, slightly retuned suspension gives a much smoother ride, less aggressive and stiff than the R, but still capable of carving corners enthusiastically.
The G310 GS delivers up to 75 miles per gallon, from a 3 gallon tank, and can happily cruise at freeway speeds, with a maximum top speed of 90 MPH. And to top it off, the G310 GS starts at $5,800.
#2: 2020 Ducati Scrambler Sixty2
Yes. A Ducati near the top. While a name more known for fire breathing supersports and rough-and-tumble nakeds, the fact of the matter is that traffic in many Italian cities and towns can be… hectic, I feel is the best word. With that in mind, Ducati developed the Scrambler series to be able to handle the chaos of the city.
The latest edition, the Scrambler Sixty2, is straight down the middle a commuter bike. 399cc L-twin, 41 HP, 3.7 gallon tank, up to 55 MPG. It’s light, has a lot of grunt down low from the L-twin, and is narrow enough to be extremely flickable, but also wide enough to give stability and reassurance on Italian streets, some of which are original cobblestones from Roman times. From the ground up, this bike is not meant to be taken to the race track, but to survive traffic and commuting.
Due to the badge on the tank, however, there is a premium to pay, and the Scrambler Sixty2 starts at $8,000, but it has a pedigree behind it that makes that a value proposition.
#1: 2020 Suzuki SV650
You know that Suzuki builds a winner when it tops nearly every recommendation list across pretty much every comparison test you can think of. Best beginner bike, best sports naked, best day-tripper bike, and now, best commuter.
Sitting on the new SV650, it just somehow feels right. The cushion is supportive but has give to it. The suspension is stiff, but supple. Controls are light and easy, despite the 645 cc v-twin with 72 HP on tap. Power comes on in a linear fashion and doesn’t overwhelm you. It has a 3.8 gallon tank and real life reports of around 50 MPG.
It pretty much looks at the checklist of what a commuter motorcycle should be, checks off every box, and then goes and has a weekend of fun in the twisties. As well, as one of the most popular starter bikes in the world, parts are almost always in stock at service depots.
Like the Ducati, it is a bit pricier than the average commuter motorcycle starting a $7,100, but like the Ducati, it’s earned its price tag. It is quite literally the workhorse bike for the commuting world.