125s can be a bit on the small side, but for many riders the 500cc and up segment can be a little overwhelming too. The obvious solution is a 250cc motorcycle, which offers the perfect blend of small-capacity simplicity but with enough grunt to tackle the job in hand. While the 250cc motorcycle market has a big presence all over the world, it’s kind of under-represented in the United States.
Thanks to our big, wide roads and fast moving traffic, many riders prefer bigger engines to help keep up with the rest of the traffic safely. It’s because of this reason that many manufacturers have upped the cubic centimeters from 250 to 300 for many of their models, and Kawasaki are now taking it a whole step further by enlarging their successful Ninja 300 into an even more beastly 400. But if you want something a little tamer, what options have you got?
Unless you’re willing to take a gamble on an unknown quantity, your 250cc motorcycle quest is usually going to bring you to the most popular manufacturers. Be warned though, many of these manufacturers don’t offer small capacity motorcycles in the USA, if they offer them at all. Brands like Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Indian, and many others don’t manufacture small bikes.
Some companies are starting to offer smaller sized motorcycles, like BMW Motorrad, while others like KTM have always had small machines on their books but in far too many shapes and sizes to count. For this list, we’re going to look at the big four: Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki. And because the 250cc motorcycle segment has been enlarged somewhat to cover models up to 300cc, expect to find a few 300s sneaked in too.
Lastly, don’t feel like going small is a bad thing. Learning to ride on a small bike generally makes you a better rider in the long run – and don’t be fooled or intimidated by other riders who brag about horsepower and performance specs, because the vast majority of those riders with 1000cc motors that boast 200 horsepower have never even come close to using all of the power those bikes offer. We’ve always been a firm believer that it’s much better to ride a small sized motorcycle and push it to the limit rather than riding around on a top-of-the-range performance bike that will never be able to unleash its full potential. So, with that in mind, let’s go shopping for your first 250cc motorcycle.
The Best Of Honda’s 250cc Motorcycle Range
Honda is one of the most prolific manufacturers of small-capacity motorcycles in the world, but their list of 250cc motorcycle models available in the USA is a little limited. For most of their road bikes, Honda have already abandoned the 250cc engine in favor of a slightly larger 300cc unit to help keep up with other manufacturers. When we were looking for a top 3 from Honda, we had to include two 300s, but the difference between a 250cc motorcycle and a 300cc motorcycle is barely noticeable – so they still count on our list.
#03. The Honda Rebel 300
Kicking off with something that isn’t a 250cc motorcycle (but might as well be) we have the all new Honda Rebel 300. The Rebel has always been a great entry-level motorcycle but the new generation has had a styling overhaul. Powered by a smooth 286cc single cylinder engine with 24.4 hp and 19.9 lb-ft of torque, and great fuel economy, the Honda Rebel 300 has enough guts to get you from A to B, and do so in style. And the Honda Rebel 300 top speed? A very handsome 85 mph.
Also, it makes for an easy gradation to the Rebel 500 if you ever feel like you need more power. The 2018 model currently has an MSRP of $4,399 making it quite an affordable option. It’s a little larger than a 250, but Honda are pushing 300s at the moment, and if you’re in the market for a Honda cruiser in that size bracket, then this is as good as you’re currently going to get.
#02. The Honda CB300F & CBR300R
Again, we’re going for a 300cc rather than a 250cc motorcycle, but that’s Honda’s modus operandi at the moment. To make thing more confusing, we’re giving you two for one: the road focused Honda CB300F and the more sports-oriented CBR300R. Both come powered by the same engine: a peppy single cylinder engine that produces the same 30.5 hp and 19.9 lb-ft of torque in both models – in fact it’s the same as the Rebel 300 too, but produces more horsepower – which is great for those in search of something small and reliable but with enough sports for a good rip on the weekend.
The CB300F is a lightweight naked bike ideally suited to commuting and urban riding but with enough punch for long rides if you need to stretch your legs. The CBR300R is a more performance focused machine with an aggressive riding stance, fantastic handling, and beginner friendly controls. Both are available with or without ABS too. Which one is best? Well that depends on what you want – but both are great choices regardless. The CB300F has an MSRP of $4,349 for the base model, while the CBR300R has an MSRP of $4,699 for the base model.
#01. The Honda CRF250L Rally
Now for a genuine 250cc motorcycle from Honda: the CRF250L Rally. The Rally is a lot like the base model CRF250L but comes with awesome Paris-Dakar styling and revised riding ergonomics, and in our opinion it’s worth it. Essentially you’ve got a dual purpose motorcycle which offers exceptional performance both on and off-road. Powered by a 249.6cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke engine that makes 24 hp, the CRF250L Rally is a great choice for riders who want something versatile that comes with a commanding road presence, but don’t want a heavy, over-powered ride.
Unusually, the CRF250L Rally comes equipped with a lot of top-shelf features that aren’t usually found on small bikes like these, such as LED lights, trail-focused dual sport tires, useful hand guards, and other little accessories. The Honda CRF250L Rally also comes with optional ABS too. For the base model Honda 250, there’s an MSRP of $5,149 – which is a great price considering what you get for it.
The Best Of Yamaha’s 250cc Motorcycle Range
Yamaha offer some of the best small capacity motorcycles in the world, but sadly most of them never make it to the United States. With models like their SR250 Sports Heritage models consistently selling well in Europe and Asia, here in the US we have to deal with a smaller selection. While we might not have the likes of the SR250 to play with, we do have three exceptional Yamaha motorcycles to take advantage of: a 300cc sport bike, a cool 250cc cruiser, and a utilitarian 250cc dual purpose machine.
#03. The Yamaha YZF-R3
Again, Yamaha have turned their back on the 250cc motorcycle designation for their sports range and opted for a 300cc variant instead. Their YZF-R3 model is one of the most popular small-capacity sports machines on the market and has been winning fans ever since it arrived in 2015.
Powered by a 321cc twin-cylinder motor that produces a hearty 41 horsepower, it’s a little more potent than the rest of the bikes on this list, but it makes it an ideal candidate for riders looking for an actual sport bike, rather than just small engine’d motorcycle wearing sports clothes. Ideal for urban commuting, fun in the twisties, and a formidable force at a track day, the R3 isn’t a bad choice. It’s not particularly versatile but what it lacks in obvious practicality it makes up for in excitement. ABS is an optional extra, but if you can go without then Yamaha list their 2018 Yamaha YZF-R3 with an MSRP of $4,999.
#02. The Yamaha V Star 250
The Yamaha V Star 250 is a great choice for riders looking for a small, nimble 250cc motorcycle wrapped in classic styling. Yamaha know how to build a comfortable 250cc motorcycle and they’ve got a wealth of experience behind them, and that’s why the V Star 250 is one of our favorites – it’s an approachable machine with easy ergonomics and an un-intimidating ride posture, but don’t be fooled by its welcoming nature.
It’s got enough poke to put a smile on your face, with an estimated 22 horsepower and 15.2 lb0ft of torque being produced from its little v-twin 250cc motorcycle engine – enough to allow you to ride on the freeways if you’d want to, but we think you’d be better off swapping the fast lane for gentler, more scenic (and more fun) small roads instead. Wrap that kind of performance and ride experience into an elegant and timeless cruiser shell that’s got retro-cool written all over it, and you’re on to a winner. Yamaha sells these for an MSRP of $4,349. If you’re looking for a cool cruiser or a 250cc chopper motorcycle, then this could be the best 250cc motorcycle for sale for your needs.
#01. The Yamaha XT250
For the last Yamaha entry on our 250cc engine list we’ve got the XT250. Currently in its third generation, the XT250 has been the small-capacity dual purpose weapon of choice since it first rolled on the scene in the early 1980s. This small dual sport machine is a light and nimble 250cc motorcycle with easy-to-use ergonomics, but comes with quite a dominating road presence. The engine itself isn’t particularly powerful but what it lacks it straightforward power it makes up for in usability.
The 249cc single cylinder engine is good for about 16.2 horsepower (depending on who’s doing the talking) and 12.9 lb-ft of torque, but it can reach top speeds of around the 76 mph marker, which is pretty impressive. Still, the power output might seem small, but that’s the trade-off that you have to make if you want a motorcycle that can handle well on the roads but also become a dirt-riding demon when you turn down that rugged laneway. Reliability has never been an issue with the XT250 throughout its lifetime and it requires little in the way of maintenance, so it’s a sound investment. Yamaha list the XT250 with an MSRP of $5,199.
The Best Of Kawasaki’s 250cc Motorcycle Range
Kawasaki has had a long an illustrious history in the 250cc motorcycle segment, however, they’re slowly turning their backs on the old 250 in favor of larger engines to help them pass strict emissions tests. That being said, the 250cc-300cc models that they’ve got on offer are some of the best in the industry and definitely worth looking at.
#03. The Kawasaki Ninja 300
Kawasaki has long abandoned the 250 in favor of a 300 for their small-capacity sports model, and now the Kawasaki Ninja 300 has already been replaced by the Ninja 400! So let’s enjoy the smallest Ninja before it gets too big to even be remotely referred to as a 250cc bike–even though it’s essentially a 300cc motorcycle. As one of the most popular small sport bikes on the market, this sporty little number ticks plenty of boxes. It comes with aggressive, sports inspired styling, boasts a neat 296cc straight twin engine that produces a max power figure of around 39 hp and a max torque figure of 20 lb-ft at 10,000 rpm, and has a top speed of around 112 mph.
Yes, it’s quite a lot of bike for such a small capacity engine – and that’s what makes it such a popular motorcycle. Aside from the engine and performance, the Ninja 300 comes with a respectable fuel economy of 66 miles per gallon, a comfortable (not overly-aggressive, rather) riding position, and an easy riding experience. Kawasaki list the Ninja 300 with an MSRP of $4,999, or $5,299 with ABS.
#02. The Kawasaki Versys-X 300
Still a 300 rather than a 250cc motorcycle, the Versys-X 300 is a new comer on the scene. Designed a smaller version of the already successful Versys models, the Versys-X 300 comes powered by the same 296cc engine found in the Ninja 300 listed above, but tuned for a very different riding experience. Thanks to the lightweight frame and long travel suspension, the bike is now geared towards touring and mild off-roading. The engine has been tuned to provide better torque in the mid and low range, making the Versys-X an ideal choice for those looking for something strong and powerful but less focused on top speeds.
With regard to the lightweight chassis and long suspension, the Versys-X 300 is also a decent off-road bike providing that you’re not overly ambitious about its ability, and it thanks to that versatility, comfortable riding position, and general utilitarian nature that we rate the Versys-X 300 so highly. It’s not a 250cc motorcycle, but it’s still worth considering. Kawasaki have given the Versys-X 300 an MSRP of $5,399 or $5,699 with ABS.
#01. The Kawasaki KLX250
And now for a genuine 250cc motorcycle from Kawasaki. While Kawasaki have quite a few 250cc dirt bikes in their arsenal, their road-legal and more practical offerings are pretty thin on the ground – but who needs variety when you’ve got the KLX250? Kawasaki refer to this 250cc motorcycle as an adventure bike, and while it’s true that you can get into some adventurous situations with it, it’s probably more of a dirt bike that you can adventure on, rather than an adventure bike that you can go off-road on.
Thanks to its useful dual nature, the KLX250 is as at home weaving through busy city streets as it is bashing its way through off road trails. The KLX250 comes with fully adjustable suspension, a nice and accessibly low seat height, aggressive styling, and easy ergonomics. If you’re in the market for a versatile street-legal dirt bike then the Kawasaki KLX50 is worth investigating. The KLX250 has an MSRP of $5,349 – or $5,549 if you like it in this awesome digital camo finish.
The Best Of Suzuki’s 250cc Motorcycle Range
Unlike the rest of the big four, Suzuki actually has quite a few models in the 250cc department, and their sport bike variant is only relatively new too. While many other manufactures have long since abandoned the 250 in favor of the 300 and up, Suzuki are still flying the 250cc motorcycle flag with pride, and we’re glad that they are. While Suzuki have some decent 250cc dirt bikes, we’ve decided to focus on their more road-oriented 250cc motorcycles instead.
#03. The Suzuki GSX-250R
Fairly new on the small-capacity sport bike scene we have the Suzuki GSX-250R. Unlike the Honda CBR300R, Yamaha R3, or Kawasaki Ninja 300, the GSX-250R is the only 250cc motorcycle in the sports department. With that in mind, it makes it harder to compare it to its larger sized brethren, because the smaller engine doesn’t make for a truly fair measure. On the outside, the Suzuki is a fully faired machine that gives it a sporty look, and it comes with quite a smart aesthetic. The controls are easy access and straightforward, it has a nice and low seat height, and the riding position is aggressive but not at all back breaking.
This Suzuki 250 motorcycle isn’t as powerful as it could be, but power isn’t everything. With 24.7 horsepower and 17.25 lb-ft of torque on offer, its way behind its competition, however, it’s a nice, light and maneuverable machine that is a lot of fun to ride despite its shortcomings. If you want to keep up with the competition on this, you’ve got to become a better a rider – and that is the whole idea behind small sport bikes. Suzuki have given the GSX-250R an MSRP of $4,499.
#02. The Suzuki GW250
If you don’t want to be labelled as a sports rider but were quite taken with the ride experience offered by the GSX-250R then you should give some thought to Suzuki’s un-faired 250cc motorcycle offering: the GW250. Essentially, it’s the exact same engine as mentioned above but wrapped in the body of a contemporary naked street bike. The 248cc twin-cylinder engine has been tuned to provide better low-end and mid-range power, making it a practical runner for zipping around the city streets.
It might not look as aggressive as its sports-focused sibling, but the GW250 has its own unique edge which shows off its naked curves in a pleasing way. We’re not crazy about the headlight cluster but that’s a personal objection. Looks aside, the GW250 is a nice and nimble, lightweight and highly maneuverable machine that offers efficient fuel economy, making it a decent choice for everyday city riding. Economical, attractive, reliable – what more do you need from a full size but small capacity street motorcycle? Suzuki’s GW250 prices start from $4,099.
#01. The Suzuki TU250X
Unfortunately, our favorite small-capacity Suzuki isn’t available in California, but that’s California’s loss. This classic looking 250cc motorcycle is actually one of our favorites on the entire list thanks to its retro-themed aesthetic that isn’t too over the top. The TU250X looks like a 70s motorcycle but comes powered by modern technology. The aesthetics rely heavily on the bike’s sleek tank, spoked wheels, round headlight, old school exhaust, and more than a liberal amount of chrome. And while we like a bit of chrome plating, a bit of polish and a vintage themed paint scheme, the Suzuki TU250X has more to offer than good looks alone.
Unlike the other two Suzukis, this is powered by a fuel-injected 249cc single cylinder engine rather than a parallel twin, but the tuning is pretty much the same, with the focus being on low-end torque for a superior urban riding experience. The engine is quite predictable, but that’s a good thing. The handling is great though, and the TU250X offers smooth, agile and confident steering, making it an excellent choice for new riders. It’s our favorite classic themed 250cc motorcycle, and just one look at it should tell you why. If you’re interested, Suzuki list the TU250X with an MSRP of $4,599.