While you might use your 2021 Yamaha Star Venture to eat up the miles on the trans-country expressways (or perhaps dig into the nearest anthill on your new 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R), there’s something to be said for a cheap, wee-sized rolling ripper that can pack a punch and still dart through traffic without having to suck it in.
There’s a more politically-minded reason why we’re going for smaller bikes for this list, too. We’ll just leave the wise words of Happy Gilmore from YouMotorcycle here:
“The brand Hummer is dead, Lincoln doesn’t offer the Mark LT, and Range Rover is moving towards a more car-like vehicle for their flagship ‘SUV.’ Just as car buyers are beginning to sacrifice vehicle size for better mpg, bike riders are looking to smaller bikes to handle their two-wheel fix… [and] with the release of KTM’s all-new RC390, Honda‘s new CB500X, CB500F and CBR500R, and Kawasaki’s Ninja 300R, the winds of change are clearly in motion.”
Besides, whoever said bigger bikes were better is fibbing—at least for urban shiftwork. That’s like saying you should get a tiger if you like cats. But would you rather stay in the lower two gears on a Suzuki GSX-R1000R for the next hour or rip around on something a little easier to slap through the gearbox?
With that being said, let’s dive into it—who knows, maybe I’ll have converted a few of you before the end of the list.
Honda Grom (MX125): Piles of Fun in a Pint-Sized Package
We couldn’t not put this one at the top of the list, guys.
Meet the Honda Grom—also called the MSX125, though a lawnmower already took that name in America, so Honda had to get creative.
The result? A bike that was nicknamed after the British slang term for hooligan—and it’s grown a helluva reputation to match that term since.
The Honda Grom has a massive cult following in the motorcycle community, and with good reason. With its high maneuverability and pea-shooting power for days, the Grom’s vibe is pure, slap-your-grandma sun-silly FUN—and you’ll find it on every pertinent motorcycle list we have, thanks to its versatility as a bike, combined with the heaps of stupid grins it’s caused with most of the motorcycle community proper.
Best bike for learning? Grom.
Best bang-for-buck small-displacement motorcycle? The Grom, bless you.
Short of stature and want a peppy engine that is virtually impossible to ruin? Grom again.
Want something you can mod out without breaking the bank? The Grom’s aftermarket potential is unending.
The sweet spot of this stylin’ scoot comes mainly from Honda’s clever play with weight, balance, and power. An air-cooled 124.9cc SOHC single-cylinder engine thumps out 9.7hp @ 7,250rpm, with 7.7 lb-ft of torque @ 5,500rpm (10.5Nm), capable of a punchy start and a top speed of 62mph.
A small chainsaw produces three times as much power, but we guarantee the Grom will take you farther (and if you need a light-hearted break from that Indian Roadmaster or Honda Gold Wing, try riding this thing without grinning in glee—we dare you).
The Grom is available at a base MSRP for a beautiful $3,399 USD, with a $200 destination charge and four colors to choose from.
Air-Cooled SOHC Single-Cylinder (124.9cc)
9.7 HP @ 7,250 RPM (7.2kW)
7.7 lb-ft @ 5,500 RPM (10.5Nm)
227 lbs (103kg)
29.9 in (760 mm)
Kawasaki Z125 Pro: Kawi’s Response to Honda’s Gromeranian
How does it feel to stand in somebody’s shadow? Don’t ask this wee streetfighter too loudly, or it’ll get offended.
The Kawasaki Z125 Pro was created in response to Honda’s wild success with the MX125—and many think Kawi hit the nail on the head when it comes to competition in the mini-moto racing category.
If we’re comparing the Z125 to the Grom, she’s a bit lighter, a bit narrower, and a bit taller—but the lighter weight and adjusted power ratios settle everything up to make the Z125 a mean addition to Team Green’s fleet.
Smaller even than the Grom, the Z125 boasts an air-cooled fuel-injected 125cc SOHC single-cylinder engine, with its wee heart pumping out a strong 8.3 hp @ 7800 RPM (6.2 kW) and capable of 7.1 lb-ft of yoink @ 6,000 RPM (9.63 Nm).
Given it’s been blessed with a one-size-fits-anywhere aesthetic and cheap-to-fuel, cheap-to-insure qualities (not to mention the bargain-basement price of $3,799), this sturdy tootle is a great option, whether you’re riding for the fun of it or as a city commuter in need of a more nimble creature to tackle the city streets.
KTM Duke 200: The Austrians Want to Have Fun, Too!
We are so glad this dude made it to America.
Having been confirmed for the colonies back in August of 2020, the KTM Duke 200 might not yet be a common sight on the streets, but based on the intoxicating acceleration and unbeatable rideability, we’re betting your grandad it’ll be up there with the Z125 Pro and MX125 when it comes to making aeroplane sounds as you deak in and out of traffic.
Since it has been blessed with the proper-sized 390 Duke-based trellis frame, this 6-speed bit of joy straddles the bridge between the mini-moto category and the lightweight beginner motorcycle class (the one with well-known machines such as the Kawasaki Ninja 250R and the Honda CBR250R).
For power, the 200 also has the highest cc we can technically have on this ‘sub-200cc’ list, with the Duke 200 housing a 199.5 cc liquid-cooled, four-stroke, 4 valve, single-cylinder engine capable of a claimed 26hp (19kW) and 14 lb-ft (19.5 Nm) of torquedos.
KTM has been rather silent about seat height on their website, though we can guess by the Duke 390 frame (and identical 17 inch tire size) that the seat height will be somewhere around 32 in (820 mm). Keep in mind the Duke 200 is a tad bigger and heavier than the Z125 Pro and the MX125, so low-end torque might feel a bit thin by comparison.
The long and short of it? It’s solid, it’s decently priced, and it’s fun, that’s why it’s on this list. Throw the Duke 200 around, and you’ll instantly feel the great combination of suspension and ergonomics—and with a pocket-friendly price of $3,999 USD, you’re basically guaranteed the very best of budget-hooning capabilities.
Not provided by the manufacturer, but we’ve guessed for you: 32 in (820 mm)
Honda Monkey: The Cult Classic, Retro-fied
As if it weren’t enough that Honda’s Grom has been stealing the scene in the mini-Moto category, Big Red has also, for the past 60 years, been catering to small-bore hooning adventures for the retro-minded with the Monkey—the real reason for the Grom’s original hype.
We’ve an excerpt from RideApart that sums up the little banana-thrower’s unique history beautifully:
“Back in 1961, Honda opened an amusement park in Hino, Japan (a Tokyo suburb). It was called Tama Tech Park and primarily featured motor vehicle attractions for the public to come to ride, touch, and experience in person. One of those attractions involved a 49cc Super Cub engine stuffed into a completely new, tiny little bike.
“It was called the Z100, and it was so tiny that it actually rolled on five-inch wheels. Granted, they and the tires they were wrapped in were considerably fatter than other tires of the day, but that’s still absolutely minuscule.
“Of course, the 1961 Honda Z100 was actually meant for children to ride—not adults. Did adults ride them anyway? I think you know the answer.”
From there, the Honda Monkey evolved into a public mini motorcycle for the masses with a huge following—and given that Honda’s good at solid bikes with fun reputations at a good price, we think this little chimp will be sticking around for a while yet.
The Honda Monkey is a solid beastie, sporting the Grom’s 124.9cc air-cooled SOHC single-cylinder engine capable of 9.7 HP @ 7,250 RPM and 7.7 lb-ft of torque @ 5,500 RPM.
While the current-day tire size is now 12 inches (a far cry from the original 5-inch chuckle machines of Tama Tech Park), the 30.6-inch seat height still keeps the Monkey in fine working order for the mini-moto category; and at a below-the-belt bargain of $3,999 USD, you really can’t go wrong.
Air-Cooled SOHC Single-Cylinder (124.9cc)
9.7 HP @ 7,250 RPM (7.2kW)
7.7 lb-ft @ 5,500 RPM (10.5Nm)
231.5 lbs (105 kg)
30.6 inches (777 mm)
Suzuki VanVan 200: Funkalicious Just Made Its Entrance
When Suzuki hit on the magic balance for the VanVan 200’s revival back in 2017, they weren’t gunning for a two-wheeled Fast & Furious contender—nor did they give a nod to the VanVan’s components with a ‘bigger is better’ mindset. Instead, they opted for something that wouldn’t take itself too seriously—which is why, despite the size of the bike’s chassis, we’ve decided it’s perfect for this list.
As a small-displacement bike blessed with a basic-benjamin 199cc air-cooled, SOHC, single-cylinder thumper (similar to the Honda Monkey) punting out 16 pretty ponies (11.7 kW) @ 8000 RPM and flaunting 11.1 ft-lbs of yank @ 6500 RPM, the VanVan 200’s strength lies in the low-to-mid end of the power band.
This (combined with the neutral-as-it-gets ergonomics and snappy acceleration that soaks up the potholes) kicks the machine nicely into the category of streetwise Funday finessing—and don’t say we didn’t tell you when you get on the thing and give it a tootle to see for yourself.
Suzuki hasn’t updated this bike recently, but that hasn’t stopped the crowds from flocking to the nearest marketplace for a gander at the available machines—and having been available as a brand-new bike in 2019 for an MSRP of $4,649 USD, they’re decently budget-friendly.
Air-Cooled SOHC Single-Cylinder (199cc)
16.00 HP (11.7 kW) @ 8000 RPM
11.1 lb-ft @ 6500 RPM (15 Nm)
283.3 lbs (128.5 kg)
30.3 inches (770 mm)
CSC City Slicker: It Runs On that Sparky Stuff
I know, I know.
The name looks funny, and it runs on that sparky stuff—how could I possibly put it on a list against the Gromarita and the Z125 Pro-hooner?
Price, size, performance. It always comes back to the holy trifecta of tech specs and how they balance out; and based on CSC’s recent bike builds, we’re thinking there’s at least SOMETHING to be said for an eco-friendly scoot that can still punch past your typical urban Prius without saving up your pennies for a year prior.
Besides, we’ve finally found an electric motorcycle that:
Is fun but won’t break the personal chequing account at $2,495 USD
Is common enough to make repairs or mods less of a headache
Is capable of a nice 62 mi (100 km) range, provided you’re not too keen on arriving early.
Purported by many to feel like a Grom in ergonomics, the Slicker is oddly nimble, even for a small-statured bike of its size. Handle brakes give the machine a more real-world feel, but the punch is there in the powerband, and you’ll find the ergonomics match the speed potential perfectly.
Essentially, it is what it is, and it’s good at what it does. Period.
Perhaps we should leave a comment here from Micah Toll of Electrek for reference. After riding the City Slicker in a test review, he mused the following:
“To put it in real-world terms, I rolled up to the CSC shop for my 2020 City Slicker test ride on a 2020 Zero SR/F—the most powerful bike in Zero’s lineup. And I still had a blast riding the City Slicker all afternoon.”
“So there’s fun to be had even with a power level that can’t quite pull a wheelie.”
Amen to that.
Swingarm-mounted belt drive motor
4.3 HP (3.2kW)
*A current mystery, though electric bikes have all their torque available on the yank, so it’ll feel zippy at the low-end for sure*
216 lbs (98 kg)
30 inches (762 mm)
Let us know what you think in the comments section below; we love hearing from you.
If you haven’t yet already, be sure to also subscribe to our newsletter Behind The Visor (it’s the good stuff, no fillers), and as always—stay safe on the twisties.