More than any other category of motorcycle, the sport bike is the one that has undergone the most change in the past 50 years. In the early 70s, a sport bike was relatively unknown as a model in its own right. Bikes such as the Triumph Trident 750 or the Honda CB750 were certainly ‘sporty,’ but no manufacturer was making a motorcycle in the manner of today’s race-replica superbikes. By the 80s, things were changing and fairings were becoming the defining element of a sport bike, along with increased performance from 1000cc+ engines and improved chassis technology. In the 90s, Honda redefined the sport bike with the first of the CBR900RR FireBlade models, a recipe that every other Japanese manufacturer followed.
Today manufactures not only make sport bikes of every displacement, they also produce them as naked variants, which are more practical and street oriented machines. Top-of-the-range modern sport bikes can cost more than $20,000, and not everyone can justify spending that much on a bike. As an antidote, here is our list of the cheapest sport bikes.
Updated March 2023: Motorcycle manufacturers continue to update and introduce new, inexpensive sport bike models. To keep our readers up to date on these newer models, we will periodically update this article with fresh information.
Honda CBR500R - $7,299
Honda has been at the forefront of racing for a long time. One needs only to check in with MotoGP or Isle of Man TT to count how many wins they've racked up over the years. And their lineup of racing bikes certainly reflects that pedigree. And though they do offer an even more inexpensive model, in the CBR300R, we feel that the CBR500R will give you more excitement for your buck and for a longer period of time.
Its parallel twin won't blow anyone's mind, but it has enough low-end torque and horsepower to make your racetrack day as exciting as you want it to be. What's more is that it looks very much the part. Honda styled it aggressively, with Grand Prix Red paint and Sword Silver Metallic. It's also very approachable, with a 31.1 inch seat height, and practical, with a 4.5 gallon tank and estimated 72 MPG.
Yamaha YZF-R3 - $5,499
Even sport bikes can possess practicality, which, of course, is essential as they are often only a bike. The Yamaha YZF-R3 is a YZF-R1 miniature clone but has enough R1 DNA to make it a proper sport bike pocket rocket, and one of the best cheap sport bikes on the market. The R3 is a brilliantly dynamic motorcycle, the chassis, and suspension working in perfect harmony to give a true sport bike feel on the road or track. There’s a parallel twin engine, producing 41.4 smooth horsepower, giving the R3 enough performance to keep any rider happy.
What Yamaha has managed to do is make the R3 more comfortable than you would expect from an uncompromising sport bike, with a comfortable seat and easy reach to the bars. Being physically small, you might expect it to be cramped for taller riders, but Yamaha has worked magic to make it fit pretty much anyone.
KTM RC390 - $5,799
KTM might be known primarily for its off-road and adventure bikes, but that’s not to say they don’t know how to make a great sport bike: you only have to look at the RC8 and 1290 Super Duke R to see that. The secret to the RC390’s success is a good power-to-weight ratio, the single-cylinder engine producing 44 horsepower, and the whole bike weighing in at 342 pounds.
Like the R3, it has the looks of a liter-bike, but in a much more accessible package, which with a well-developed chassis and excellent WP APEX suspension, gives the best combination of sharp handling and suppleness over bumps. A great electronics package includes cornering traction control and ABS, while a ByBre caliper on the single front disc gives an excellent braking feel and power. It feels a little more cramped than the R3, thanks to higher-mounted foot pegs, but this just means more ground clearance if you have the confidence to push it to the limits on track.
Kawasaki Ninja 400 ABS - $5,699
One of the best, cheap "baby" sport bikes that money can buy, is the Kawasaki Ninja 400, which is a combination of the best bits of both the Yamaha R3 and KTM RC390. Kawasaki's 399cc parallel-twin pushes out a useful 44 horses, which is the same as the KTM and around 3 more than the Yamaha, while it weighs 370 pounds, more than the KTM but on a par with the Yamaha.
With top marks for build quality and reliability, the Ninja 400 is, again like the Yamaha and KTM, so easy to live with but exciting at the same time, with big-bike character and comfort, refinement, great performance (119 mph top speed) and great looks. Perhaps the performance is on the limit for a single front disc but how many riders are going to be pushing it that hard all the time anyway?
Honda CBR650R - $9,899
The CBR650R is another brilliant compromise bike for those for whom a full-on race-replica sport bike is just too extreme. Bikes such as the Honda CBR650R are sports bikes for the real world, when you might just as easily be heading to the shops as for the racetrack.
Yes, it’s softer than a CBR1000RR Fireblade, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less fun! Practical, with plenty of alluring character (which isn’t something you can always say about Honda), it will blow away the cobwebs on the open road with brilliant chassis and great suspension set-up by Showa as well as potter around town without complaint. It has the typical Honda build quality, although it’s not the best-equipped bike in this class, and the seat can get uncomfortable after an hour or so, but, typical Honda, it’s super-easy to get to know and live with.
Yamaha R7 - $9,199
The new R7, with its MT-07-derived parallel twin-engine, is the perfect illustration that power isn’t everything. A fantastic chassis will give you all the thrills you could ever need, it’s comfortable, very good-looking and well-built, and, most important of all, affordable. It might not have the highest specification, but the performance is on the right side of safe. To not need endless rider aids chiming in when you get too enthusiastic with the throttle is to enhance the purity of the riding experience. With enough of everything to satisfy expert and novice alike, the joy of the R7 is in winding it up and carrying plenty of corner speed, something the chassis and suspension set-up permits.
Suzuki GSX250R - $4,999
The smallest displacement model in this list is also the best cheap sport bike in terms of money, but don’t mistake low price or small engine for a lack of fun. The funky Suzuki GSX250R not only looks like a miniature sports bike but has chassis dynamics that match bikes costing four times as much.
The single-cylinder, 249cc engine produces 24.7 horsepower and 17.1 foot-pounds of torque and pushes along an all-in weight of 392 pounds, but the raw numbers don’t tell the whole story. There is something about using all of a bike’s performance 100% of the time that is just intoxicating. If you want to learn how to ride fast, then learning how to maintain corner speed is the key, and the less power your bike has, the more you have to learn to not scrub off too much speed going into corners.
Kawasaki Ninja 650 - $7,999
Much like its baby sibling, the Ninja 400, the Ninja 650's reputation precedes it. What a marketing dream this name was, when it was first introduced. And to think, it was the American division of Kawasaki that gave it its name.
In the 1980s, Tom Cruise drove many a young person to enlist in the navy after watching his latest blockbuster, Top Gun. But he'd also managed to inspire a different group of people to take up motorcycling, when he was seen riding a 900cc Ninja. Flash forward multiple decades, and here we are. Still talking about Ninjas. There's just something about its movie-star status and looks that'll make you want to ride it again and again, regardless of whether you're on a track or not.
CFMOTO 450SS - $5,499
Let's face it folks. Love them or hate them, Chinese bikes are here to stay. They're cheap and just as fun to ride. Priced to compete with the Yamaha R3, Kawasaki Ninja 400 and KTM RC390, this 2 cylinder CFMOTO sport bike comes with 50 hp, 29 lb of torque, a 31-inch seat height and weighs in at 370 lbs.
So it costs less than its competitors, has more power and comes with features like Brembo brakes, ABS, upside-down forks and a Bosch EFI fuel system. Chinese manufactures have a bit of a stigma in today's market, but these bikes will only get better and better with time. At some point we're going to have to start giving them a chance. And what better way to do so, than by taking a CFMOTO 450SS out on the track?
Kawasaki ZX-6R - $10,499
It is hard, uncompromising, uncomfortable, requiring the skills of a Schwantz or Hayden to get the best out of it, blisteringly fast and brilliantly dynamic, this is a bike for the experts It is the sort of bike the Japanese used to build and sell in their droves before their core market got too old to fold arthritic bones into a tucked position, and it represents fantastic value for money.
It will corner as if on rails, the engine will rev into the stratosphere, the chassis is top-spec, as are the electronics and, to top it all off, it’s well-built and (relatively) inexpensive. This is a bike for the right day, when you’re in the right mood, but when the day is right and so are you, there is little that will thrill as much as this lightweight rocket as it screams up through the revs, and you pitch into the first corner.
Q: What is the best sport bike of 2022?
The best sports bike of 2022 is the one you can afford! But seriously, there is such a wide choice and there is something for every pocket. Also, liter-superbikes are enormously fast and need a lot of skill to get the best out of them and are really only at their best on track, whereas smaller-displacement sports bikes can be just as much fun without the guarantee of hurting yourself badly when it all goes wrong.
Q: Which bike is best for sports?
All the manufacturers have a sports bike in their range. The best small sports bike is the Yamaha YZF-R3, while the best large sports bike has to be the Ducati Panigale V4S.
Q: Which is the No 1 sports bike in the world?
In terms of sales, the Kawasaki Ninja 400 comes out on top.
Q: Which is the best sports bike to buy in 2021?
How deep are your pockets? The best sports bike is purely subjective and most of them will have way more performance than you could safely use. But, if you want an answer, then the Ducati Panigale V4S is the best.