In North America, a lot of the focus in terms of motorcycles is put on the big displacement, torque monster cruisers, or the 600cc or greater sport and supersport bikes. And that is also with reason, as those two markets are targeted as that is where the most profit is to be made, putting it in brutally honest terms.
However, due to a lot of European countries having graduated licenses with restrictions of the displacement of the motorcycle you can ride before moving up to the next 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 our 2020 list, the 2021 Suzuki GSX250R is a superb bike for those wanting to start out their riding careers on a street-friendly, decent powered, and new-rider-friendly sportbike. Featuring one of the smallest parallel-twin engines on the market at 248cc’s, it will still develop 24 HP and is geared to get you moving at a decent clip.
While much more a sport standard than a supersport lite, it still does have the pedigree and history of racing in the early 2000s, when both MotoGP and WSBK ran with 250cc and 300cc bikes respectively. Suzuki dominated those early years, and it shows with them still producing an excellent, bulletproof sport bike to get the new rider interested in the handling, braking, and dynamics associated with much more powerful bikes up the model range.
7: 2021 Kawasaki KLX 300 / KLX 300 SM
Kawasaki has had a string of great small-displacement bikes in the past, however it seems that their main street offerings are moving decidedly to larger engines. Then you look at their dual-sport offerings, and can’t help but grin at the choices presented.
Both the KLX 300, 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.
This may not seem like much, but both bikes are extremely light at just about 300 lbs. This means the power-to-weight ratio of over 10 HP per 100 lbs will have that silly grin of fun plastered 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 competitors. New for 2021 is the 300cc variation of the dual-sport Rally model, with a 286cc liquid-cooled, four-stroke single thumper.
That thumper develops 27 HP and 20 lb-ft of torque, giving the lightweight CRF300L Rally enough power to have a ton of fun, but not outright throw the rider off a bucking bronco of a motorcycle. It is also designed with the exhaust shielded and tucked up under the tail and subframe of the bike, allowing for owners to fit the optional pannier lockers and 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 be the rally dual-sport adventure bike of choice for many years to come.
5: 2021 Yamaha YZF-R3
If the Suzuki GSX250R in 8th place was the gateway drug, the 2021 Yamaha YZF-R3 is the full-blown experience. It is the only small-displacement sportbike that can quite literally be called a supersport lite, because its DNA, its power, and its handling are distilled 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 to give it an incredible 50 HP, double that of most sportbikes in this displacement class. The bike itself is slung low and tight, with the seat almost in line with the clip-on handlebars, and it just screams aggressiveness from the first moment you lay eyes on it.
While it is an entry-level bike, we recommend this bike to the more mature new rider, and we’re not meaning in age. This is not something 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.
4: 2022 Honda GROM
Although listed as a 2022 model, the newly revamped GROM will go on sale nearer to the summer of 2021. Coming with the new GROM is the addition of an extra gear, making it a five-speed, and its 124cc single now pushes out 10 HP and 8 lb-ft of torque due to being 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 just how silly and fun this mini-moto is. For many riders, it’s their secondary or even tertiary bike, the one they will hop on to do a run to the corner store for a quick snack, while their main commuter or serious bike sleeps in comfort.
Much like most things Honda in recent years, the primary design focus was not as much practicality as much as it was having a reliable little smile-inducing toy that could still hit 50 MPH. Going downhill. With a mild tailwind.
3: 2021 Yamaha V-Star 250
The 2021 Yamaha V-Star 250 is the perfect starter bike for the lighter rider that wants to get into the more laid-back long-distance cruiser but doesn’t have the finances to get into the introductory Indian or Harley-Davidson models. It is also much more relaxed than the next bike on this list, a sport cruiser in beginner’s clothing.
The V-Star gets its name from the tiny 249cc, 60-degree, air-cooled V-twin that sits in the mostly steel alloy frame. With a gutsy 15 lb-ft of torque, it is more than enough power to get this five-speed little 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. And while this may be the last of the carbureted V-twins, it is 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, it is sure to give even the most dubious of riders a grin after a mile.
2: 2021 Honda Rebel 300
Placing 4th in our 2020 list, the Honda Rebel 300 has shifted up to 2nd because of one simple change to the bike itself. While the 2020 and 2021 models are essentially 99% the same bike, the engine management has been reworked to follow Euro5 emissions regulations.
So why does this move the bike to 2nd place? As part of that reworking, the spark has been advanced slightly, the intake is more free to breathe, and the exhaust has had better cats and less restriction. This gives the Rebel 300 a nicer induction sound, a great exhaust sound from the 286cc single, and better fuel efficiency, up to 80 MPG with a 2.9-gallon tank.
Basically, it’s become an even more new rider-friendly bike, with a better soundtrack and greater efficiency!
1: 2021 Honda Trail 125
As one of the most anticipated small bikes since, well, ever, the 2021 Honda Trail 125 could not be placed anywhere else other than first. This list is mostly Honda-dominated as it is, 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.
2021 sees the 125cc four-stroke single powered adventure bike return, with a powerful 9 horsepower. Designed more for actual off-roading than being a street bike, the Trail 125 has ABS on the front wheel, but not the back, and has 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 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 the trail on one 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 the important luggage, and have an entire weekend of fun in the wild!