Top 5 Affordable Motorcycles of 2023

by | Jan 26, 2024 | Kawasaki, KTM, MotoSocial, Triumph

Capable on-road or off, Kawasaki’s KLR650 has been a stalwart—and inexpensive—ADV companion for more than 30 years.

Capable on-road or off, Kawasaki’s KLR650 has been a stalwart—and inexpensive—ADV companion for more than 30 years. (Kawasaki/)

It’s probably no secret that frequently searched web posts usually have the words “affordable” or “cheap” in them. Maybe it’s a sign of the post-pandemic times or perhaps it’s always been thus, but seriously, price-consciousness seems to rule SEO these days, and any motorcyclist can tell you that MSRP is often a huge factor when making that final purchase decision. But don’t go looking just on the clearance rack; in the final analysis, things like power, riding style, quality, and long-term reliability matter too.

The good news is that the last few years have seen a rush of competitively priced light and middleweight models in a variety of genres as manufacturers have gone after that increasingly lucrative space. We’ve narrowed our faves to those close to or under $7,000, and tried to avoid low-power scooters, Chinese knockoffs, and narrow-focus beginner examples. We’re talking highway-capable, folks, so maybe they’re not the absolute cheapest… But perhaps Top 5 Affordable But Not Chintzy Bikes of 2023?

(We’re sure your list is totally different, so let’s hear it in the comments below.)

When you’ve been globe-trotting for decades like the KLR has, folks tend to call you the “Swiss Army knife of motorcycling world.”

When you’ve been globe-trotting for decades like the KLR has, folks tend to call you the “Swiss Army knife of motorcycling world.” (Kawasaki/)

2023 Kawasaki KLR650 S ABS | $7,199

Of course the Kawasaki KLR650 is on this list—and not just for price reasons. In simple terms, the globe-trotting single continues to exude competence, reliability, and staying power, and even with the overhaul for the 2022 model year, is still smaller, simpler, and lighter than lots of other bikes in the class. It’s also still bargain priced, even in up-spec KLR 650 Adventure trim.

All four trim levels of the 2023 KLR650 are powered by the same liquid-cooled and fuel-injected 652cc single, but we homed in on the S model for its 2.2-inch-lower seat height. The KLR650 S basically chops the suspension components and swaps in a 35mm-thinner seat that now sits 32.1 inches off the turf, making it more accessible. Up front, the 41mm nonadjustable fork is shortened 1.2 inches, while the spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustable Uni-Trak shock is cut by 1 inch, reducing suspension travel to 7 inches. And if you don’t need the lower seat, the base-model KLR rings in at the exact same price, even with ABS.

(Naysayers can opt for the $5,449 Royal Enfield Himalayan, and save a pile of cash for a bike that’s lighter and lower—but less powerful.)

Related: 2023 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Review

Respectable power-to-weight ratio, off-road capability, and an easy MSRP make the Scrambler 400 X an appealing option for newbs and vets alike.

Respectable power-to-weight ratio, off-road capability, and an easy MSRP make the Scrambler 400 X an appealing option for newbs and vets alike. (Triumph Motorcycles/)

2024 Triumph Scrambler 400 X | $5,595

Yes, we know we’re supposed to be talking about 2023 bikes, but Triumph’s new 400s are so alluring, well equipped, and well priced, there was no way to avoid them. Both the Speed 400 and Scrambler 400 X get an all-new fuel-injected and liquid-cooled 398cc single-cylinder engine that’s good for a claimed 39.5 hp and 27.7 lb.-ft. of peak torque, as well as ride-by-wire throttle with traction control, but we’re drawn to the slightly more expensive, scramblerized Scrambler 400 for its longer-travel suspension, larger 19-inch front wheel, and still-respectable 395-pound weight—making things easier to control both on road or off.

As a 400cc non-dirt-specific (but off-road capable) machine weighing under 400 pounds that’s punchy enough to stay ahead of traffic and is priced under $6K, the Scrambler occupies a narrow slice of the market, and once you add Triumph’s solid build quality, premium suspension, and a decent safety package, the result is a compelling choice—whether you’re a new rider or just looking for another bike in your garage.

User-friendly yet hooliganish at once, the super-capable 390 Duke practically guarantees you’ll have a thrilling ride.

User-friendly yet hooliganish at once, the super-capable 390 Duke practically guarantees you’ll have a thrilling ride. (KTM/)

2023 KTM 390 Duke | $5,899

The 390 Duke has carved out a sweet spot of sorts in the small-displacement category: It manages to be both an excellent beginner’s bike as well as a hoot to ride for more experienced pilots. Credit the ultracompact liquid-cooled 373cc single and a lightweight steel trellis frame, along with a wealth of quality components and standard features. We’re talking things like a WP upside-down fork, ride-by-wire, a slipper clutch, and standard ABS. Add in a 329-pound weight, 53.4-inch wheelbase, and a claimed 44 hp and beginners will be blessed with all the maneuverability and power they’d ever need but there’s also enough capability on tap to satisfy most any rider, no matter their skill level. To sum up, don’t sell the KTM 390 Duke short; even with a sub-400cc compact single, the wee Duke’s excellent power-to-weight numbers and well-sorted ride quality paired with a nice list of modern tech make it a great choice for most any rider.

Related: Get Into Motorcycles for $1000! | ON TWO WHEELS

Not the absolute lowest-priced light-middleweight naked out there, the Z400 nevertheless delivers perky performance and a solid feature set at a reasonable MSRP.

Not the absolute lowest-priced light-middleweight naked out there, the Z400 nevertheless delivers perky performance and a solid feature set at a reasonable MSRP. (Kawasaki/)

2023 Kawasaki Z400 ABS | $5,399

Kawasaki’s consistently reliable Z400 light-middleweight delivers stripped-down streetfighter styling, a fun-loving 399cc engine, agile handling, and sharp aesthetics, all for under $5,500. The best part of that liquid-cooled 399cc parallel-twin mill might be a broad, flat torque curve that won’t spook beginners, but can be cranked WFO when you absolutely need to for quick thrills. On the dyno, we clocked 44.1 hp at 9,830 rpm and 25.1 lb.-ft. of torque at 8,250 rpm, better than most of other similarly priced competitors. A assist-and-slipper clutch helps control the extra-smooth power delivery, and while the Z400′s natural environment is the on the mean streets, you can still wring it out on backroads or even a racetrack, though the ergonomics are more to the upright than racy. The bottom line here is a bike that’s lively, flickable, and lightweight yet unintimidating, and one that most riders won’t easily outgrow.

Retro but not stuffy style with simple controls and easy handling on Royal Enfield’s nicely priced Hunter 350.

Retro but not stuffy style with simple controls and easy handling on Royal Enfield’s nicely priced Hunter 350. (Royal Enfield/)

2023 Royal Enfield Hunter 350 | $3,999

A Royal Enfield? It’s inevitable on a “Most Affordable Bikes” list thanks to the continuing price-to-value proposition. Even within that depth of variety, the Hunter 350 still stands out, with its $4K price tag and a pretty damn impressive feature set: attractive, classic styling, easy handling, a neutral riding position, and a versatile, yet reliable 350cc engine. The Hunter uses the same SOHC two-valve air-cooled mill that appears in the Classic 350 and Meteor 350, but thanks to a 400-pound claimed curb weight feels more agile at low speed.

If the specs seem underwhelming—just 20.2 hp at 6,100 rpm and a 19.9 lb.-ft. torque peak—consider the fact that the Hunter’s neutral ergos, upright riding position, and relatively low seat height of 31.1 inches still suits a wide range of riders, and if you’re not necessarily pining for a performance-focused ripper but a solid bike full of character, the Royal Enfield Hunter 350 should be on your list.

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