Ten Best Used Motorcycle Buys

Big winners yesterday, small price tags today

With the economy just a heartbeat away from flat-lining, buying a new motorcycle is likely the last thing on your mind right now. Other pesky little matters—food, mortgage, keeping the lights on—probably take precedence.

If, however, you still have a few shekels floundering in your savings account or investment portfolio, now is a great time to pick up a lot of used motorcycle for not a lot of money. While sales of scooters and small bikes have skyrocketed as people look to maximize gas mileage, the demand for bigger motorcycles—new and used—has hit the skids. As a result, there are some wonderful "previously owned" full-size machines on the market for prices considerably below their usual market value.

To give you some examples, here are 10 great used motorcycles that have won Cycle World Ten Best awards in years past. And we aren't talking about bikes with price tags approaching the five-figure range, either; using the Kelley Blue Book as a guide, we've set a limit of just $3000. Depending upon your location and negotiating skills, those prices may be even lower. There are many other great used bargains out there, excellent bikes that have never won a Ten Best trophy, but these 10 represent a fabulous starting point.

1993 Honda VFR750 static rear side view
1993 Honda VFR750Cycle World

1993 Honda VFR750

Best 750cc Streetbike, 1993
MSRP New: $6998
Blue Book Price: $3000
Actually, the V-Four VFR was a Ten Best winner an amazing 11 times, including 10 straight years—from 1990 to '97 as a 750, then from '98 to '99 (and again in 2002) as an 800. The VFR won those accolades for good reason: It is one of the great motorcycles of all time. It's sporty enough to hold its own in the twisties, comfy enough for days on the road and practical enough to be an everyday commuter. The '90–'93 models all are valued at $3K or under, and you may be able to find a '94 at that price, as well.

1997 Suzuki Bandit on-road action
1997 Suzuki BanditCycle World

1997 Suzuki Bandit 1200S

Best Standard, 1997
MSRP New: $7099
Blue Book Price: $2800
The 1157cc, inline-Four Bandit 1200 was a screaming deal when brand-new, and it's even more so now. It offers all-day comfort, sporty handling, plenty of room for two, good mileage for its size and enough right-here, right-now torque to spin the Earth off its axis. The 1200 remained in the lineup until it grew to a 1250 in 2007, so you should be able to find slightly newer models at comparable prices.

1989 Yamaha FJ1200 on-road action
1989 Yamaha FJ1200Cycle World

1989 Yamaha FJ1200

Best Open Streetbike, 1989
MSRP New: $6399
Blue Book Price: $2360
Yamaha broke new ground with the perimeter-framed, 16-inch-wheeled FJ1100 in 1984, then enlarged it to a 1200 in '86. This air-cooled inline-Four is smooth-running, thanks to rubber engine mounts, and has a satisfying combination of bottom-end torque and top-end power. This allows it to serve as an everyday runabout, a playful backroader and, with accessory saddlebags, a competent sport-tourer. Even the 1993 models (the bike's last year in the U.S.) are going for around $3000.

1996 Yamaha YZF600R on-road action
1996 Yamaha YZF600RCycle World

1996 Yamaha YZF600R

Best 600cc Streetbike, 1996
MSRP New: $7499
Blue Book Price: $2785
This inline-Four, Supersport-championship-winning middleweight set the standard for its class back in its heyday, so much so that when the more race-oriented YZF-R6 came along in 1999, Yamaha kept the 600R in the lineup through 2007. It harks back to an era in which even race-winning sportbikes had to be versatile, and this one's all-around competence still wears well today. You should even be able to find nice '97 and '98 models priced under our $3000 limit.

1987 Kawasaki EX500 on-road action
1987 Kawasaki EX500Cycle World

1987 Kawasaki EX500

Best Streetbike, 1987
MSRP New: $2899
Blue Book Price: $1155
Chances of you finding one of these 22-year-old, 500cc parallel-Twins in decent shape admittedly are small, but here's the good news: The same basic bike has been in Kawasaki's lineup ever since, and even the 2003 models are valued at just under $3000. The EX500 (renamed Ninja 500 in 1995 and 500R in '97) is a remarkably versatile machine that, on one hand, proved to be an excellent club roadrace mount yet is perfect for everyday commuting and weekend fun rides.

1986 Yamaha Virago 1100 static side view
1986 Yamaha Virago 1100Cycle World

1986 Yamaha Virago 1100

Best Cruiser, 1986
MSRP New: $4499
Blue Book Price: $2060
Not interested in a 23-year-old cruiser? That's understandable, but you may like to know that '96-'97-era 1100 Viragos—updated versions of that 1986 model—can be had for under our 3K limit. These torquey, good-handling V-Twins have been Yamaha mainstays for decades, and the same basic machines are still in the company's lineup, though renamed the Star V Star 1100 models (see "Love at First Bike," page 57). That alone is evidence of the Virago's popularity, durability and all-around competence.

2002 Suzuki DR-Z400S off-road action
2002 Suzuki DR-Z400SCycle World

2002 Suzuki DR-Z400S

Best Dual-Purpose, 2002
MSRP New: $5449
Blue Book Price: $2975
For everyday commuting, general transportation and occasional off-road excursions, it's hard to beat a DR-Z400S. Even though it's based on a for-real dirtbike, the single-cylinder DR-Z is a pleasant street ride that easily outruns any normal traffic while being miserly enough to save big bucks in fuel costs. And because of its heritage, it has plenty of off-road proficiency that can take you just about anywhere you might want to go.

2003 Suzuki SV650 wheelie action
2003 Suzuki SV650Cycle World

2003 Suzuki SV650

Best Standard, 2003
MSRP New: $5899
Blue Book Price: $3500
Okay, we lied: An '03 SV650 exceeds the $3K price limit. But the '99 (first-year) model is tagged at $2885 and the 2000 a tick over $3000, and they're fundamentally the same terrific V-Twin machines as the two-time Ten Best medalist (also won in '04). The SVs somehow, almost magically, are able to put a smile on the faces of beginners and experts alike. They're utterly unintimidating to newbies and a barrel of fun for seasoned riders. You really can't go wrong with one of these middleweight jewels.

1998 Suzuki Katana studio side view
1998 Suzuki KatanaCycle World

1998 Suzuki Katana 750

Best 750cc Streetbike, 1998
MSRP New: $7199
Blue Book Price: $2785
The 750 Katana was built for riders who liked the GSX-R750 sportbike concept but didn't care for that bike's full-racing-tuck riding position or premium price tag. The '98 model was perhaps the 750 Kat's high-water mark. With its GSX-R-based inline-Four engine, swoopy bodywork, rugged steel frame and more-upright riding position, it offered much of the sport-riding fun and feel of the GSX-R but with more rider-friendly ergonomics and a $2100-lower buy-in. Look for '99 models selling for under 3 Grand, too.

1993 Honda XR650L off-road action
1993 Honda XR650LCycle World

1993 Honda XR650L

Best Dual-Purpose Bike, 1993
MSRP New: $4399
Blue Book Price: $1640
Don't let the age or the low price of this bike scare you off: The XR-L is still in Honda's lineup, having gone virtually unchanged since its introduction in 1992 (when it also was a Ten Best winner), and later models as new as 2003s can be had for $3000 or less. These big Singles are surprisingly adept on-road machines capable of close to 100-mph top speeds, but they also are unstoppable, practically indestructible off-roaders. Excellent fuel mileage and great inner-city maneuverability, too.

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