Ask 10 different people why they’ve chosen to buy a used motorcycle rather than a new one, and chances are you’ll receive 10 entirely different answers. Some don’t have the credit score necessitated by the lending institution, others don’t like to be the “guinea pig” for new technology, and several actually see the good in honing their skills aboard a bike that’s not shiny, new, and still owned by the bank. Buying a used motorcycle isn’t without its own set of complexities, however, not the least of which include the time it takes to sort through various ads and the risks that go along with buying preowned machinery. Remember, not everyone who thinks they’re a mechanic is a mechanic. In an attempt to circumvent some of these hurdles, we’ve compiled a list of 27 inexpensive used bikes that are worth looking at if you’re ready to head down the pre-owned path.
Bear in mind that this used-bike buyer’s guide is not an attempt to steer you in any one direction but rather a way of shining some light on a few standout options; there are bikes for every skill level, wallet thickness, and category of enthusiast, and our hope is that this level of diversity will help guide you toward your next purchase—be it any make or model.
The 27 models that we’ve chosen are listed in order of suggested retail price, which was calculated by averaging the retail prices provided by Kelley Blue Book and NADA guides, the latter of which provides a “low retail price” and an “average retail price.” Kelley Blue Book is different from NADA guides in that it offers suggested trade-in value for a motorcycle in addition to a retail value that assumes the bike is in excellent condition. We’ve used the retail value price in our calculations, but understand that not all the used bikes you come across will be scratch-free. KBB also takes mileage into account and bases retail price on “expected accumulated average mileage,” a number that KBB admits can vary drastically.
Worth mentioning also is that we’ve divided the bikes up into three separate categories based on price calculations; the first section lists bikes that cost less than $2500, the second shows bikes less than $4000, and the third depicts those that cost less than $6000. A gallery of “honorable mentions” succeeds the front-runners and gives a price for each of the used bikes that we’d also recommend to interested parties.
The suggested retail price of a used motorcycle will vary depending on location, your ability to haggle, and on how badly the owner’s wife wants the garage cleared out. Keep in mind then that the prices listed here are just a well-rounded belief of what you can expect to pay for a particular model. Buying at a dealership versus buying private party will play a role, but each offers advantages unrelated to costs. At a dealership, for instance, you can assume that a trained mechanic has run his eyes over the bike and made sure that it won’t leave you stranded 20 miles down the road.
Finally, understand that these are the 27 bikes that we would recommend to anyone in the market for a used bike. You might—and are more than welcome to—disagree. We think, however, that you’ll find the list to be full of some rather exciting and practical bikes. Scroll down and find out for yourself. See also our tips for buying a used bike.
1997 Yamaha YZ F600R
Average retail price: $1640
Although not quite the performer that the Honda CBRF 2 was, the YZF600R was a very good sportbike that was overlooked by the public. Known as the Thundercat outside of the US, it boasted a midrange-strong engine and stable handling with its Deltabox frame that put it light years ahead of the old FZR600. Its tall fairing provided excellent wind protection, and a comfy seat and large fuel tank combined to make the YZF600R a much more capable long-distance mount.
The good: great starter bike, solid handling | The bad: second gear can go bad if abused
2000 Suzuki GSF600S Bandit
Average Retail Price: $1800
Practical motorcycles might not move you the way a current-gen superbike does, but the Suzuki GSF600S Bandit proves that there’s still a place for them in the market. As a budget-based middleweight bike, the smaller Bandit performs as an all-rounder should; the engine is not perfect but flexible, the chassis stable, and the design modern enough to please wide-ranging tastes. The 2000 model benefits, more specifically, from modest updates like new steering geometry and Nissin brakes. But the biggest benefit? You can pick one up for less than $2000.
The good: comfy ergos | The bad: out-of-date engine
1994 Honda CBR600F2
Average retail price: $1850
The second-generation CBR600F2 basically started the middleweight Honda’s legacy of dominating performance in the 600 class. It dominated the category on both the street and track for almost a decade, and Honda sold a bazillion of them. The engine was a solid performer with good midrange and top end, and its handling was nimble without being twitchy. Full-coverage bodywork means that you’ll be hard-pressed to find one in good condition though, and regulator/ rectifiers were a known weak spot.
The good: bullet-proof engine | The bad: hard to find in good condition
1996 Suzuki GSX-R750
Average Retail Price: $2000
Sportbike technology has advanced at an alarming rate over the years, but that progress doesn’t make the ’96 GSX-R750 any less appealing a motorcycle. This, after all, is the bike that ran the competition out of the 750 category by way of massive weight reduction and increased power, and it sells now for around $2000 on average. Fuel injection and added horsepower came two years later, but the ’96 model is an undoubtedly good place to start your search if looking for an affordable slice of history.
The good: more power, less weight | The bad: it’s, well, 17 years old
2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R
Average Retail Price: $2460
The 2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R’s redesigned body panels ushered the little Ninja into the 21st century and turned the already-popular beginner bike into something most riders could stand proudly behind. Compared to its outdated predecessor, the ’08 model also boasts a small amount more low- and midrange torque, larger front wheel, and similarly upgraded brakes. Carburetors were used to keep costs down on the US-bound models but proved easy to tune, making the ’08 250R a still very practical motorcycle.
The good: new-rider friendly | The bad: still carbureted
1998 Honda VFR800
Average Retail Price: $2500
Honda’s VFR has worn many hats over the years, but in recent years the Japanese manufacturer has paid greater attention to the latter half of the bike’s sport-touring design brief. That wasn’t the case with the 1998 model, however, which was updated with a longer-stroke engine that provided more midrange power, gear-driven cams, pivotless chassis, and fuel injection. Together, these updates turned the VFR 800 into a tech- and character-driven bike that was still sporty and light enough for serious enthusiasts to enjoy. And that formula stands true today…
The good: smooth, character-rich engine | The bad: poor linked-brake system
2002 Ducati Monster 620ie
Average Retail Price: $2630
Ducati’s smaller-displacement Monsters are a relatively cheap and accessible avenue into the world of Ducati ownership, and the 620 possesses all the same benefits that you’d see in a Japanese-made beginner bike: a low seat height, unintimidating power delivery, and nimble chassis. As for the 2002 model, its biggest advantages come from a 35cc bump in displacement (over the Monster 600), fuel injection, and twin disc brakes.
The good: an entry-level Ducati | The bad: cost of ownership
2004 Suzuki SV650S
Average Retail Price: $2690
The second-generation SV650 was introduced in 2003, and while its new looks and larger dimensions didn’t receive immediate praise, the bike would go on to become one of our favorite middle-displacement twins; there was something about the SV’s ability to satisfy riders of all skill levels, its impeccable engine and aptitude in race trim that won us—and the industry—over with relative ease. The 2004 SV650S, in particular, is a standout thanks to its lower subframe and narrower seat, which turned the twin into a slightly more idealistic bike for newer riders.
The good: easy to upgrade suspension | The bad: bulkier than first gen
2003 Yamaha YZF-R6
Average retail price: $3430
The ’03 R6 was the first to get fuel injection and still used the original configuration engine, so you actually had a decent upper-midrange punch to go with the top end (the current engine configuration is even more oversquare, killing midrange). The second-generation R6 transmission also featured second-gear wheels with five engagement dogs instead of three to get rid of the first gen’s dreaded second-gear issues. Engine responds well to modifications, and it’s the lightest of the R6 bloodline.
The good: fuel injection, actually decent midrange | The bad: some second gen had TPS issues
2004 KawasakI ZX-6R (636)
Average retail price: $3670
The first-generation 636cc ZX-6R Kawasaki was offered from 2003–2004, and although the ’05 version featured upgrades to the engine and chassis (including an underseat exhaust), that model also picked up nine extra pounds. The ’04 model sells for well less than $4000, and it has close to the same amount of power (and with less weight you could call it even) with basically the same brakes and suspension package. We definitely hated the all-LCD dashboard (including the circular tachometer), however.
The good: stomping midrange, sharp handling | The bad: a little overweight
2004 Yamaha FZ1
Average retail price: $3830
We picked the ’04 model because it’s the newest that sells for less than $4000, but the ’01–’05 models are all basically the same. The first-generation FZ1 used the original longstroke R1 engine, so it had much better midrange acceleration than the current secondgeneration model. Yes, it still used carburetors, but the fuel capacity was much larger (5.5 gallons versus 4.8 gallons) and as usual for early models of this type, it responded well to minor engine modifications.
The good: original long-stroke engine, bigger fuel tank | The bad: heavier, still used carbs
2002 Yamaha YZF-R1
Average retail price: $3830
The third-generation R1 was the first to get fuel injection, with Yamaha’s version utilizing a vacuum-operated slide similar to a CV carburetor to smooth throttle response. Top-end power was the same as previous models, but midrange was stronger. The Deltabox III frame and swingarm were not only lighter but more rigid as well, and numerous suspension changes improved handling. A host of upgrades including lighter wheels also dropped some weight, making the ’02–’03 models the lightest in the R1 family.
The good: fuel injection, Deltabox III frame | The bad: lacking top-end power of later versions
2003 Honda CBR954RR
Average retail price: $4050
The CBR954RR was the last of the Tadao Babadesigned CBRs, and it had the best attributes of that series—lightweight, agile handling, midrange-strong power—with upgrades to make it better than the porky ’04 CBR1000RR that followed, in our opinion. Fuel injection, 17-inch front wheel, and revised steering geometry that came with the CBR929RR in ’00 were bolstered with more power and a stronger chassis in the 954. The engine also responds well to modifications such as exhaust, etc.
The good: the best of the early CBR generations | The bad: cam chain tensioners tend to wear out
2005 Triumph Speed Triple
Average Retail Price: $4700
The Triumph Speed Triple has seen bigger overhauls in its time (namely in ’97), but the redesigned 2005 model garnered the most attention thanks to its larger-displacement 1050cc engine, updated fuel-injection system, Showa inverted fork, radial-mount front brake calipers, and more aggressive styling. Redesigns and the introduction of a Speed Triple R have since catapulted the Speed Triple to an even higher status, but the ’05 model still stands as the launch pad for that newfound success.
The good: torque, torque, and more torque | The bad: transmission woes
2003 Aprilia Tuono
Average Retail Price: $4830
It’s nearly impossible to find a bike more exciting than the current-model Aprilia Tuono, but a $14,999 naked bike isn’t for everyone. Enter the first-generation Aprilia Tuono, which was modeled heavily around the RSV Mille and responsible for turning the naked-bike category on its ear. There might be more to love in the newer models (the ’06 model was heavily updated, and the ’11 model takes influence from the heartstirring RSV4 superbike), but a little research suggests that the ’03 model offers one hell of a bang for your buck.
The good: not described by words like “detuned” | The bad: expensive then, expensive now
2004 Suzuki Hayabusa
Average Retail Price: $5670
Suzuki made very few changes to the Hayabusa between 1999 and 2007, which renders all of the aforementioned models high-ranking on any used-bike list. So why choose a 2004? Simple. It’s the most current model to cost—based on our price-calculating formula—less than $6000. The Hayabusa’s benefits go without saying and come in the form of exhilarating power, a competent chassis, and larger aftermarket. Oh, and did we mention power? As for the negatives, good luck finding one that’s not been overrun by “installed-at-home” bling.
The good: expansive aftermarket | The bad: difficult to find one in stock trim
2005 Suzuki GSX-R1000
Average retail price: $5810
There are now six generations of Suzuki’s venerable GSX-R1000, but most Gixxer fans agree that the K5 model was the one to have. Bigger pistons provide 11cc more displacement, higher compression, and a big power boost over the previous generation, and a redesigned chassis with radialmount brakes and 310mm discs provided superb handling. The K5 basically stomped everything in its class, and it responded well to modifications. That it dominated racing during that time is testament to its monster performance.
The good: subsequent GSX-Rs aren’t much better | The bad: most owners know and won’t sell
2006 Yamaha FJR1300
Average retail price: $6780
Yes, we blew through our $6K ceiling here, but for awesome long-range performance on the cheap, it’s hard to beat the second-gen FJR. Numerous changes—including alterations to the suspension, transmission, alternator, radiator, and air management in the fairing, plus ABS—refined the big Yamaha to make it an even better sport-tourer. Our only real gripes are the five-speed transmission (but that hasn’t changed in 2013 either) and that the windscreen doesn’t stay put when the key is turned off.
The good: long-range performance on the cheap | The bad: five-speed gearbox, windscreen
Check the slideshow below for our nine honorable mentions: