New motorcycles are pricey investments. But that doesn't mean there aren't great affordable bikes out there; and as the riding season winds down in some parts of the country, you'll probably find some deals at your local motorcycle dealer. Here are our picks for ten great bikes that won't break your budget.
The 10 Best Buys in 2012 Motorcycles
Ducati Monster 696Price: $8,495
The 696 might occupy the lowest rung on the Monster ladder, but it's a tremendous value for the rider who wants to swing a leg over a legendary Ducati for not a lot of dough. Just looking at this bike makes motorcycle geeks weak in the knees. The exposed trellis frame and the classic naked style of the Monster have inspired countless bikes.
The 696 produces 80 hp, and though it's the least expensive bike in the line, you still get Brembo brakes, Marzocchi forks, and that quintessential Ducati motor music. Newer riders won't fear this Monster; it rides smaller than it is and feels incredibly tight and nimble where others might seem cumbersome. Here is a great bike to slice through snarled traffic or the tightest canyon road you can find. Best of all, the list of accessories is long, so you upgrade your Monster 696 later and make it your own.
2011 Aprilia Shiver 750Price: $9,499
If Ducati is the two-wheel equivalent of Ferrari, then Aprilia is Lamborghini's equivalent. For less than $10,000, the Shiver 750 delivers the Italian riding experience, and plenty of tech, too, like the multimode throttle-by-wire system so the rider can select varying performance levels from the 95-hp 750cc V-twin.
The Shiver 750 is a tyke compared to Aprilia's 1000cc superbikes. But it doesn't ride like one. And like its rival, the Ducati Monster, the Shiver has an upright riding position that makes it a great commuter bike, and a comfy one for even longer trips, too. The difference here is that taller riders will appreciate the Aprilia's roomier ergonomics. The downside? That size makes it a bit heavier. Still, this is a versatile machine one that a newer rider can grow into and an experienced one will appreciate.
Harley-Davidson Iron 883Price: $7,999
Even for a manufacturer like Harley-Davidson, which trades on its old-fashioned reputation, the Dark Custom series is like a time machine back to when motorcycles were the transportation of rebels. Back then, custom bikes were more raw and less flashy than today's chrome-plated luxo-cruisers. These new bikes ape that look with bobbed fenders, a hunkered-down stance, and flat paint finish. They've got blacked-out trim and lots of retro touches, too. But if you want the top dog Blackline, which is based on the Softail, it'll run you close to $16,000. Woof.
Instead, try the Iron 883. It's got all the hooligan style of its bigger brothers, the 1200cc Nightster and Forty-Eight, but packs the standard Sportster's less potent 883cc V-twin. There's still enough power to have fun; there's just a little less punch off the line. After some time in the saddle, the old-school simplicity of this bike makes you feel tough riding it and forget about the smaller motor. Best of all, when gas prices spike, your mean two-wheel machine delivers a combined fuel economy of 51 mpg. Keep in mind, though, that this is a smaller Harley. Those over 6 feet might need a roomier bike.
Honda Shadow RSPrice: $8,240
In recent years, Honda has launched an onslaught of cruisers that have probably caught the attention of the Harley-Davidson boys in Milwaukee. First came the Fury chopper, then the Stateline and Interstate custom cruisers all 1300cc big boys. So what about something that takes on the smallest Harley, the Sportster?
The Shadow RS aims right for the 883-size Sportsters with its classic style and 745cc V-twin. On paper it's a clone of the rough-hewn Harley. But in practical use, the Honda is tailored more for twisty roads than solely for boulevard cruising. This would be an excellent bike for the beginner cruiser rider because it's one of the least intimidating bikes on the market, and yet large enough to accommodate taller riders. And the Shadow would make for a great commute, delivering 56 mpg.
Triumph BonnevillePrice: $7,699
The Triumph Bonneville is the classic British motorcycle. It looks just like the machines the coolest Brits were riding way back in the 1960s. Often, classically styled retro bikes are hideously expensive. Not the Bonnie. Here's all the old-school style for less than eight grand.
Despite its large size, don't expect the air-cooled 865cc twin to rocket the Bonneville off the line. This is a more relaxed motorcycle with just 67 hp. The Bonneville's suspension is soft and comfortable, as is the seat.
Those riders looking for some serious nostalgia can opt for the matte-green Steve McQueen Bonneville SE, a bike that takes for its inspiration the Triumph Trophy TR6 that the king of cool rode in the classic film The Great Escape.
Yamaha Star StrykerPrice: $11,090
The Star Stryker is the most expensive bike on this list, but when it comes to long and low chopper-style cruisers, this one is a bargain. It undercuts Honda's Fury by more than two grand and competitive Harley-Davidsons by thousands more. The Stryker's big torque, which comes courtesy of its potent 1304cc, liquid-cooled V-twin, allows it to lope easily away from the line. And though it has some serious rake (40 degrees), the Stryker feels better connected to the road than most in the class.
With only a few inches of suspension travel at each end, the ride won't be cushy. But hey, bikes like the Stryker don't entice buyers because of their smooth ride quality. You buy them because they look tough. This Star looks mean and has the power to back up the looks. And shorter riders will have an easy time maneuvering this big guy, because the seat is less than 27 inches off the ground.
Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABSPrice: $8,299
Motorcyclists who pile on the miles, either on a daily slog to the office or a blast through the mountains on a weekend tour, appreciate a more upright riding position. There's less pressure on your tailbone, you've got better visibility, and it's easier to thread the bike around tight corners or a pesky taxicab.
The V-Strom 650 has been the bargain-priced adventure touring bike since it launched in 2003. We were smitten then. For 2012 it's been updated with an improved 645cc V-twin, with more low-end and midrange torque. It's more comfy thanks to a revised windscreen, slimmer fuel tank, and a seat that has "high" and "low" positions. Smart. The bike has also dropped some weight and wears much more stylish bodywork. Best of all, antilock brakes are part of the package, so less experienced riders will have more confidence if their commute typically includes some rain. That's a lot of bike for barely more than eight grand.
2012 Kawasaki Ninja 250RPrice: $4,199
In terms of thrills per dollar, the Kawasaki Ninja 250R is one of the best bargains of them all. This little guy is really fun to ride. The tiny 249cc parallel twin spins to a ludicrous 10,000 rpm and sounds sweet doing it.
Okay, so it's not fast. But it will hit 60 mph in about 7 seconds, so it's not exactly slow either. On the twisty roads, this bike handles beautifully it's willing to play hard just like larger sportbikes. But beware; it's not a relaxing ride. The pocketsize Ninja is buzzy on the freeway.
Unlike most beginner bikes, the Ninja is a lot of fun, and you'd want to keep it in your stable even after you buy a bigger bike. And like all small bikes, it's tremendously efficient. In a PM mileage test we saw a Ninja 250R average nearly 60 mpg.
2012 Yamaha FZ8Price: $8,690
Last year, with the launch of the FZ8, Yamaha put the established players in the naked-bike (sportbikes without bodywork) field on notice. The FZ8 was originally designed as a motorcycle for the European market, where riders prefer sporty handling dynamics. So this one will happily loaf along a backcountry road or flick its way up a tight canyon at speed. Basically, you're riding a Yamaha sportbike chassis with less bodywork and more upright handlebars.
The 779cc four-cylinder makes over 100 hp and provides plenty of grunt to move the 467-pound machine. This is one reasonably priced bike that looks cool, too. It's even tough enough to make Ducati and Aprilia owners take notice.
2012 Zero XUPrice: $7,695
Electric bikes provide all the benefits of electric cars, are much more fun to ride, and don't have to be excessively expensive. Zero's XU, for example, is the least expensive street bike in its lineup. The bike has a redesigned powertrain for 2012, with an extended range of 42 miles, and quicker charging, too.
Now, don't expect this bike to perform like a traditional gas-powered bike. It's obviously not meant for the long trips. But the battery is said to last for more than 3000 charges, or around 100,000 miles. Speaking of charging, the XU's 2.6-kwh pack is removable, so you can charge it in your office if you can't park near a plug. This feathery 221-pound bike isn't a rocket, but it will let you hit 65 mph. And if you cruise at 55 mph, that battery charge will last for 28 miles. Not too shabby.