In North America, lots of bikers focus on either big displacement, torque-monster cruisers, or 600cc-and-up sport and supersport bikes. That makes a certain amount of sense, as those two markets have the most profit to be made (to put it in brutally honest terms).
However, since many European countries have graduated licenses with restrictions on how much engine displacement your bike can have in each grouping, small-displacement motorcycles are still quite prevalent. They may also be small in stature, with some mini-bikes qualifying as full-road motorcycles.
To make this list fair to all manufacturers, we’ve set the absolute limit of displacement at 350cc, with a soft limit of 300cc. This allows for some of the bikes with “300” in their name to make it to the list.
8: 2021 Suzuki GSX250R ABS
Returning from last year’s list, the 2021 Suzuki GSX250R is a superb bike for those who want to start their riding careers on a street-capable and rider-friendly sport bike with decent power. Featuring one of the smallest parallel-twin engines on the market (only 248cc), it will still develop 24 HP and is geared to get you moving at a fair clip.
While much more a sport standard than a supersport lite, it still has the pedigree and history of early 2000s racing, when both MotoGP and WSBK made use of 250cc and 300cc bikes (respectively).
Suzuki dominated those early years, and it shows—they’re still producing a bulletproof sport bike to get the new rider interested in the handling, braking, and dynamics associated with much more powerful offerings in their model range. There’s no 2022 version of this bike available yet, but if we find out there’s one in the works, we’ll be sure to let you know.
7: 2022 Kawasaki KLX 300 / KLX 300 SM
Kawasaki has had a string of great small-displacement bikes in the past, but it seems that their main street offerings are moving towards larger engines. Then you look at their dual-sport offerings and can’t help but grin at the choices presented.
Both the KLX 300R (which is more of a regular dual-sport that is happy cruising the street and running the trails) and the KLX 300 SM (which is designed to be a hooligan in KLX clothing) are powered by a 292cc four-stroke single that bashes out about 33 HP. The 2022 model years are virtually identical to the 2021 versions—although you won’t be able to get the KLX 300 SM in Ebony anymore.
Both bikes are also extremely light, at just about 300 lbs each. This means the power-to-weight ratio (over 10 HP per 100 lbs!) will put a silly grin all over your face in no time flat.
6: 2021 Honda CRF300L Rally
If one were to ask what one of the best small-displacement dual sports to ever exist was, it would be a real toss-up between the superb Honda Rally models and an extremely thin field of competitors. 2021’s 300cc variation of the dual-sport Rally model is still the best Honda in this category for our money, with a 286cc liquid-cooled, four-stroke single thumper.
That thumper develops 27 HP and 20 lb-ft of torque. As a result, the lightweight CRF300L Rally has enough power for you to have tons of fun, but not enough to outright throw you off like a bucking bronco if you make a minor error. It is also designed with the exhaust shielded and tucked up under the tail and subframe of the bike, allowing for owners to fit optional pannier lockers and a top box to the rear without worrying about clearance.
Based on the massive success of the previous CRF250L Rally, the CRF300L Rally is almost guaranteed to remain the rally dual-sport adventure bike of choice for many years to come.
5: 2022 Yamaha YZF-R3
If the Suzuki GSX250R was the gateway drug, the 2022 Yamaha YZF-R3 is guaranteed to keep you hooked. It’s the only small-displacement sport bike we know of that can literally be called a supersport lite—because its DNA, power, and handling are handed down from the now discontinued R6 and the glorious R1.
Powered by a 320cc parallel-twin, the engine is made of lightweight aluminum with specifically-designed internals that give it an incredible 50 HP—double that of most sport bikes in this displacement class. The bike itself is slung low and tight, with the seat almost in line with its clip-on handlebars, and it just screams “aggressive” from the first moment you lay eyes on it.
While it is an entry-level bike, we recommend the YZF-R3 for new riders who have had some experience on other bikes first. This is not a machine to be hopped on and taken to full speed on the first ride. It needs to be respected, because this little rocket is meant to teach you how to go fast on a track; how a bike feels carving a perfect apex; how powerful the brakes are at the end of a straight. It’s a supersport lite, after all.
4: 2022 Honda GROM
Although listed as a 2022 model, the newly revamped GROM went on sale in the summer of 2021. It came with an extra gear (making it a five-speed), and its 124cc single suddenly pushed out 10 HP and 8 lb-ft of torque (having been redesigned to be Euro5 compliant).
The GROM is not meant to be anything other than an absolute hoot. It’s a bike that is enjoyed by many, and you can even find GROM clubs in many cities around the US because of how plain silly and fun this mini-moto is.
For many riders, a GROM is their secondary or even tertiary bike; the one they will hop on when they need to head to the corner store for a quick snack, while their main commuter or serious bike sleeps in comfort.
Like most other things Honda in recent years, the primary design focus here was not so much practicality as it was having a reliable little smile-inducing toy that could still hit 50 MPH. Going downhill. With a mild tailwind.
3: 2022 Yamaha V-Star 250
The 2022 Yamaha V-Star 250 is the perfect starter bike for lighter riders who want to get into more laid-back long-distance cruisers but don’t have the finances to buy an entry-level Indian or Harley-Davidson. It’s also much more relaxed than the next bike on this list, which is essentially a sport cruiser in beginner’s clothing.
The V-Star gets its name from the tiny 249cc 60˚ air-cooled V-twin that sits in its mostly steel alloy frame. With a gutsy 15 lb-ft of torque, it has more than enough power to get this little five-speed beast chugging down the road quite nicely.
And we do mean chugging. Being a V-twin, you get that classic burble at idle, and the “chugga chugga chugga” roar as you accelerate and cruise. Furthermore, while this may be among the last of the carbureted V-twins, it is still a Yamaha—meaning you could literally hit the engine with a sledgehammer and it would just keep running.
The perfect small-displacement V-twin cruiser, this bike is sure to give even the most dubious of riders a grin after only a mile or two. The 2022 V-Star 250 is virtually unchanged from the 2021 version.
2: 2022 Honda Rebel 300
Placing 4th in our 2020 list, the Honda Rebel 300 has since shifted up to 2nd place because of one simple change to the bike itself: for the 2021 model, the engine management was reworked to follow Euro5 emissions regulations.
Why did that move the bike to 2nd place? The spark was advanced slightly, leaving the intake more free to breathe, while the exhaust got better cats and less restriction. This gave the 2021 Rebel 300 a nicer induction sound, a great exhaust tone from the 286cc single, and better fuel efficiency—up to 80 MPG with a 2.9-gallon tank.
Nothing so dramatic happened for the 2022 version of the bike—although you do get an LED lighting kit on the newest model, which can give your visibility a boost in low-light conditions. But that means this already-excellent bike is now even safer than before, so it holds its position on our list easily.
1: 2021 Honda Trail 125
As one of the most anticipated small bikes since, well, ever, the Honda Trail 125 could not be placed anywhere else other than first. This list is already mostly Honda-dominated, mostly because Honda does the fun-and-small bike concept extremely well. The previous generation of the Trail—the CT110—slowly disappeared in the 1970s, and many have been pining for the return of the tiny adventure bike.
The 2021 version of this 125cc four-stroke single powered adventure bike is still the most current—there is a 2022 version available in Japan, but the only difference seems to be a new color option, and we’re not sure that will ever make it to other parts of the world.
Everything else about this bike is the same—down to the 9 horsepower it delivers. Designed more for off-roading than as a street bike, the Trail 125 has ABS on the front wheel, but not the back, and a tractor-like torque curve for the single. This means the tiny Trail can lug the rider and luggage up hills, across dirt trails, and around rocks without fail.
For a mini-bike, it also has a massive 1.4-gallon fuel tank, with an estimated fuel efficiency of about 100 MPG. That will get you down the trail to the campsite for a night of roughing it, and then back up again on a single tank of gas. And since it has a built-in luggage rack, you could strap a couple of jerry cans on there, take a backpack to carry your important items, and have an entire weekend of fun in the wild!