The North American motorcycle market loves its plus-sized bikes. From the big-bore Beemers to bulky baggers, the Interstate Highway System necessitates a modicum of touring ability for most motos. While V-twin cruisers and Heavyweight ADVs still dominate the market, platforms like Yamaha’s CP2 line (MT-07, Tenere 700, etc) and Honda’s MiniMoto range prove that you don’t need a liter-plus engine to sell well in the Colonies.
Buoyed by models like the Honda Grom, KTM Duke 390, and Kawasaki Ninja 400, the sub-500cc market is benefitting most from this shift. Recent growth in the segment led manufacturers to bring back models such as the Honda Monkey and introduce platforms like the Royal Enfield Himalayan. In 2021, we’re seeing even more interest in the small-displacement category and we’ve compiled a list of the new and updated models that are poised to meet the demand.
2021 Honda Trail 125
Starting at the bottom of the displacement totem pole, Honda’s Trail 125 mixes equal parts practicality and retro-cool. Harking back to Team Red’s CT110/Trail110 line, the new member of Honda’s MiniMoto family nails the vintage aesthetic while catering to those with an adventurous spirit. Despite the styling departure, the Trail 125 shares much of the MiniMoto DNA. With the Grom’s eighth-liter, air-cooled mill hanging from the Super Cub’s donor frame, the Trail still forges its own identity in the MiniMoto brood.
The high-mounted exhaust, skid plate, and engine crash bar suit the Trail 125 for light to moderate off-road work while the 17-inch wheelset does an admirable job of surmounting obstacles. We were lucky enough to test Honda’s new trail bike in November, 2020, and the little red thumper surpassed our expectations. The Trail 125 is the smallest bike on this list, but at $3,899, it certainly deserves a look in 2021.
2021 KTM 200 Duke
KTM is known for its grin-inducing power delivery and razor scalpel-sharp handling. While veteran motorcyclists may enjoy the ever-playful nature of Team Orange bikes, the package could be a handful for beginner riders. Entering the KTM range as the new naked bike entry point, the 200 Duke brings new motorcyclists into the fold while avoiding sticker shock.
At just $3,999, the 200 Duke retains premium features like the 43mm WP USD fork, WP Apex rear shock, and Bosch dual-channel ABS with Supermoto ABS mode. The liquid-cooled, DOHC 199cc single generate 25 horsepower and 14 lb-ft of torque, which is just enough poke for novice riders. While many consider the 390 Duke a great starter bike, its smaller sibling may just steal that title in the years to come.
2021 Kawasaki KLX300SM
Not all sub-500cc riders are beginners, and Kawasaki’s new KLX300SM appeals to all the seasoned hooligans out there. Based on the KLX300 dual-sport platform, Team Green’s new street-legal supermoto elects 17-inch wheels and IRC Street Winner tires to attack the tarmac. The 300mm semi-floating disc and two-piston binder at the front also equip the KLX300SM for pavement performance.
Aside from those crucial supermoto mods, the new KLX shares the same 292cc single found in its off-roading counterpart. The liquid-cooled thumper mates to a six-speed gearbox and delivers power to the rear wheel via chain drive. The chassis spans both models as well, with a high-tensile steel perimeter frame mounting to a 43mm USD fork and gas-charged shock absorber. Built on such a proven platform, the $5,999 supermoto should assure buyers of the KLX300SM’s reliability and parts support.
2021 BMW G 310 GS and G 310 R
BMW needed to update the G 310 GS and G 310 R models to meet India’s BS6 and Europe’s Euro5 emissions standards for the 2021 model year. While the brand delivered a cleaner liquid-cooled 313cc single-cylinder engine, it also used the occasion to upgrade the platform with LED lighting, anti-hopping clutch, ride-by-wire throttle, and adjustable levers. Both bikes also share the same output at 34 horsepower and 21 lb-ft of torque.
However, the two Beemers depart in styling, color options, and pricing. The G 310 R retails for $5,045 and features refined bodywork with a new, angular headlight nacelle. BMW offers the updated naked bike in Polar White, Cosmic Black, and Style Sport liveries. The G 310 GS does sport a 19-inch front wheel, 17-inch rear, and skid plate to handle off-road terrain and the price stands at $5,945. The little adventurer comes in Rallye Style and Polar White liveries, but the 40th anniversary GS edition bumps the MSRP up to $6,195.
2021 Royal Enfield Meteor 350
Though Royal Enfield’s Meteor 350 sits at the top of our list’s displacement range, the beginner cruiser is more of an easy rider. The comfy cockpit and heel/toe shifter promote a laidback demeanor and the air/oil-cooled, 349cc single rated at 20.2 horsepower and 19.1 lb-ft of torque only supports sensible riding. With a 30.1-inch seat height and 421-pound wet weight, the Meteor 350 will also suit a wide range of novice riders.
We were fortunate enough to spend some time with the Meteor 350 and found the nimble handling, accommodating ergonomics, and engine as highlights of the package. Of course, the entry-level cruiser did have some shortcomings, but at $4,399, Royal Enfield’s new cruiser is still a great value in the small-capacity segment.