A smart way of choosing a motorcycle is to vet best-selling models before buying. After all, if it’s good enough for most of “them”, it’s likely to be good enough for you! But this is only a valid signal when you look at the fastest-selling bikes in the category you’re interested in.
For example, while the BMW R 1250 GS, a monster adventure motorcycle, has been a perennial top seller for over a decade, it’s not much use if you’re looking for a 500cc or less sport, standard, enduro, or naked bike.
That’s where we can help! We want to make certain that you select a motorcycle that fits you like a glove. And these are the models we hand-picked for the crème de la crème most popular motorcycles under 500cc:
- KTM 200 Duke (2012-Present)
- Kawasaki Ninja 400 (2018-Present)
- Suzuki DRZ400SM (2005-Present)
- Yamaha R15 V4 (2008-Present)
- Royal Enfield Classic 350 (2009-Present)
- Honorable Mention: Honda Super Cub (1958-Present)
Let’s dive deeper into the reasons these models are the preferred choice for most riders today.
The 6 Most Sought After Motorcycles Today
1. KTM 200 Duke
Yes, that’s right, it’s KTM, the biggest-selling motorcycle company in Europe. The Austrian maker delivered 261,787 of its uniquely orange machines last year alone, not counting its Husqvarna and GasGas subsidiaries, which sold 60,450 and 10,694 units respectively.
Add these up for a grand total of 332,881 bikes (an impressive 23% increase). That’s why you can’t think of motorcycling without thinking of KTM, in particular the famous light heavyweight KTM 200 Duke, the cheapest KTM motorcycle in the U.S. market.
Now making 26 hp from the ultra-compact FI DOHC engine coupled to a lightweight tubular chassis, the 200 Duke not only delivers amazing acceleration but also everyday rideability. This small and powerful bike will keep you running long after the paved roads have stopped, making it ideal for commuters and even venturing out a bit deeper into the wild.
Despite being naked, the 200 Duke relies on KTM’s rallying experience to guarantee it can handle short tough terrain, with the efficiency of, say, KTM 250 Duke Adventure, the lightweight entry into the exciting world of adventure motorcycles. The inspiration extends beyond the design to simple needs for ergonomics and user comfort. The seat isn’t the most comfortable one for long rides, though.
Overall, this is the best-naked bike for 200cc. And every beginner’s big dream.
2. Kawasaki Ninja 400
Kawasaki sells at least 370,000 motorcycles worldwide every year (2014-2021). And the legendary Ninja family—starting with the GPZ900R in 1984—is the company’s top-of-the-series motorcycles. The aggressively styled road-legal machines are the image that most people have when we mention sportbikes. That starts with the smooth & powerful Kawasaki Ninja 400, the best beginner sport motorcycle, by far.
Kawi has been gradually increasing the size of this entry-level A2-speedster over the last decade, first increasing the Ninja 250R to 300 in 2012 for the 2013 model year, then launching the 400 in the U.S on December 1, 2017.
Now, you can have the 400 as either the standard, ABS version, or the ABS-equipped KRT version with a bit more umph for racing and an athletic sportier look, somehow similar to the most popular Kawasaki Ninja ever made, the true-champion 998cc Ninja ZX-10R (successor to the Ninja ZX-9R).
The low-cost Ninja 400 continues to draw in a cult of followers, prompting Aprilia, as well as Honda, Yamaha, and Suzuki to develop direct competitors for every release. The impressive success has even influenced the green Japanese motorcycle powerhouse to derive the Ninja DNA in its aggressive streetfighter and battle-scarred appearance Z models, such as the naked Kawasaki Z400, which have also seen great success.
Even so, the Ninja 400 is dominating the new and resale market. It’s almost a 3:1 ratio of Ninja to other bikes.
3. Suzuki DR-Z400SM
In the FY 2021, Suzuki’s global annual sales were around 1.7 million—up about 20% during the first few months and as much as 33% in the months that followed-after an unprecedented year for the business due to the pandemic and difficulties in matching direct competitors’ innovation, especially when it comes to Suzuki’s DR-Z line of bikes.
These and the KLR’s are like the German VW Beetles with millions produced with no change in design forever. However, they have stood the test of time and now everyone wants one.
I recently browsed through eCommerce websites for DR-Z400SM and found more wanted ads than ones for sale. The Suzuki DR-Z400SM, the best dual-sport motorcycle for the money, combines exceptional horsepower and low-rpm torque from its 398cc four-stroke engine to take you through the Manhattan commuter traffic, around the Bryce Canyon tight corners, and down the Sooke twisty forest roads in a uniquely exciting ride.
It features the DR-Z400S supermoto style and meets all legal requirements (headlights, brake lights, and turn signals) for use on ordinary roads like the 1982 DR125S, the world’s first street-legal dirt bike.
The SM is also light in weight—than the widely acclaimed “unkillable machine” Kawasaki KLR650 (first released in 1987)—which has helped exert its dominance on the world market. The SM and KLR650 are among the most reliable bikes ever made.
It’s available in Solid Special White No. 2 and Solid Black bodywork with angular graphics to compliment the styling.
4. Yamaha R15 V4
Yamaha leads the pack of the top four most reliable Japanese motorcycles (The Big 4), which also dominates the world market. In fact, out of all makers of motorcycles, Yamaha might boast the biggest following, with over 4 million units sold every year.
Valentino Rossi, the famed MotoGP racer, has been the face of the Yamaha team since 2004, and many of his devoted followers will only touch Yamaha blue, starting with the living legend Yamaha R15 V4.
With respect to year-to-date sales, the gorgeous-looking R15 V4 is still Yamaha’s best-selling bike, thanks to its redesigned front end (now resembles the pricey and influential limited edition YZF-R7), the VVA single-cylinder engine, and the USD forks, something that was missing on the V3.
The fairing gets a new bi-functional LED headlamp with daytime running lights (DRLs) on each side, reminiscent of the ones we find on the now discontinued insanely powerful Yamaha beasts of the 90s, V-Max (VMAX) & YZF-R6, and a new YZF-R1-inspired digital instrument console with Yamaha’s Y-Connect app.
The fourth generation of R15 also sits in a sweet spot between the KTM RC 125 and KTM RC 200, racy road bikes with amazing handling and power. And in that sense, it’s a great buy and tool to sharpen your braking, turning, and swerving skills.
It comes in three variants: Metallic Red, Racing Blue, and Dark Knight.
5. Royal Enfield Classic 350
Royal Enfield is the oldest motorcycle company in continuous production in the world and the best well-known Indian manufacturer with over 90 dealerships in the U.S. and Canada alone. In the last calendar year, the North American sales stood at 3,820 units, up 15% from 3,322 units sold the year before.
Global exports grew by 135%, from 23,667 to 55,695 units, on YoY basis. The 350cc segment (Classic, Bullet, Electra, and Meteor) accounted for 85% of the total sales.
The Classic 350 is the largest-selling model among them all, thanks to its massive fan-following. Overall, this bike has contributed 63% to Enfield’s total sales and is still going strong. It continues to embody the past traditions and artisanship as it is reborn with a 41mm non-adjustable fork & twin emulsion rear shocks with adjustable preload for better ride quality and a dual-cradle chassis for better dynamics.
Like the fastest-growing Meteor 350, the Classic is a team effort by Royal Enfield’s design engineers in the U.K. and India. The Meteor replaced the Thunderbird 350 and 350X series and is the lighter but pricier of the two bikes. It has a soul too, with superior braking hardware, more ground clearance, and better suspension setup and turn-by-turn navigation.
6. Honorable Mention for Top Motorbike: Honda Super Cub
Honda has risen from humble beginnings to become the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer that has sold approximately 300 million units since its founding in 1948. And, thanks to popular models, like the Honda Super Cub, the company’s underpinning motorbike with an air-cooled engine ranging in capacity from 49 to 124 cc, sales of all Honda models in the United States have been floating above 1 million annually since the year 2000.
A defining moment in Honda’s history was the coining of the Super Cub’s U.S. advertising slogan, “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda,” which had a long-lasting impact on Honda’s image and American attitudes on motorcycles. It’s frequently cited as a marketing case study.
Besides being the most famous motorbike, Honda Super Cub is the most popular motor vehicle of all time. It has been in continuous production since 1958 and having been sold in over 160 countries in the excess of 100 million units, it’s a natural winner.
In fact, the Honda Super Cub is the most produced automobile in history, and it’s going anywhere any time soon as it is still in production in over 15 countries with variants like the C70, C70 Passport, C50, C90, C100, and C100EX, as well as the Honda Trail series.
Simply put, when it comes to reliability and low maintenance, you should probably first think of the Japanese motorcycle brands (Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, or Yamaha), the European (KTM, Aprilia, and Ducati) for style and speed, the Indian (Royal Enfield) for a lasting impression, and the American motorcycle brands (Harley Davidson) for a strong statement.
About the author: Michael Parrotte was the Vice President of AGV Helmets America, and a consultant for KBC Helmets, Vemar Helmets, Suomy Helmets, Marushin Helmets, KYT Helmets, Sparx Helmets. In addition, he is the founder and owner of AGV Sports Group.