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: 2021 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 Zero 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: 2021 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: 2021 Kawasaki Versys 650
While the 2021 Kawasaki Versys 650 is touted more as a rough-and-tumble adventure bike, the truth behind the veil is that one of the single best touring motorcycles is hidden beneath all those adventure clothes. This, in turn, makes it a superb choice for a longer commute, maybe involving some freeway travel. But what qualifies it as such?
Firstly, unlike many other styles of bikes, ADVs sit you upright, in a standard position, in a comfortable seat meant to be used to partially absorb bumps and lumps, exactly what you might find on a slightly-less-than-well-maintained freeway. As well, that standard seating position has your head up high, able to see much better the traffic and flow ahead of you compared to being crouched over a sport bike’s clip ons.
The Versys 650 also has all the power you would need, with a 649cc parallel twin pushing out 68 HP and 47 lb-ft of torque. That’s more than enough to accelerate out of a blind spot, or get up to freeway speed without needing a mile-long starting run. And despite being a slightly heavy bike at 476 lbs wet, it is built upon a frame that itself was derived from the Ninja and Z bikes. It is effortlessly agile, and steadfastly planted to the road.
#4: 2021 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: 2021 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: 2021 KTM 390 Duke
It really was a toss up, deciding who would take the #1 spot for 2021, but we had to choose a winner and a loser. That loser, the 2021 KTM 390 Duke, only barely missed out, and it’s not to put shame on the bike. In fact, the 2021 version of the 390 Duke is one of the most enjoyable motorcycles we’ve seen in a long time.
Taking lessons learned from the 790 Duke and the 1290 Super Duke R, the 390 Duke gets a bevy of sports parts, including WP Racing shocks, brakes by Brembo with Bosch ABS, and a funky shape. What sells it as a commuter, however, is that for pretty much the first time in a decade, KTM has fitted something other than a concrete slab for a seat. The cushion isn’t as plush as many other manufacturers, but the fact that it could even be labelled as comfortable is a big step up for the Austrian manufacturer.
Add to that the barely contained hooligan hiding inside the orange frame of this bike. You have effortless power and agility to get yourself out of dangerous situations without having to worry if the bike will respond. You have a full-color TFT that gives you vital information at a glance. You have confident power with a light weight that almost (almost) qualifies this less as a sport standard and more as a supermoto. And that, the ability to put a little grin on your face during the dull commute, is why it’s #2 on our list.
(And for those wondering what put it in second, it came down to comfort of the seat and the fact that the 390 Duke is a bit harsher on the shocks than the winner)
#1: 2021 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.