In the used motorcycle world, some years are buying years, some years are selling years. It’s the true circle of life.
For me, it’s a buying year and my throttle hand is getting itchy, paging through Craigslist and Cycletrader ads. If you are considering a “new” used bike this year, here are my suggestions for a few affordable favorites under $5,000 to keep on the lookout for. You won't find high-maintenance exotics on this list. Just solid, proven models that don't cost a fortune to buy or maintain.
Honda Superhawk, 1997-2005: Known by many as the “poor man’s Ducati,” the Superhawk was doing Ducati better than Ducati in the late 1990s. A 90-degree, V-twin sportbike, this was one of my favorites from Honda. The baby brother to the built-for-Superbike-racing RC51, the Superhawk was geared more for the street than the track. This was the first sportbike I ever rode and it still holds a special place in my heart. Gas mileage and range are weak points, but there's little else to complain about. Prices have been slowly increasing over the past few years, but if you keep those peepers peeled you can find a nice example for around $3,000.
Kawasaki ZX-6R, 2003-2006: This bike is usually referred to simply as the “636” because of its "cheater" displacement boost. Kawasaki also built a 599cc ZX-6RR for those needing a race-legal supersport, but the 636 was king on the street, with more midrange power and an extra 10 to 15 ponies up top. The 2005 to 2006 models offer up a few more horsepower and an increased redline, but any version of this four-year run will have you grinning like a goon. A “good find” will set you back about $4,000.
Suzuki SV650, 2003-2008: This bike was redesigned in 2003 with a long list of upgrades, including fuel injection and a modified frame. The SV is so much fun, it’s not fair. It is the perfect all-around motorcycle. You can use it in town to pick up the groceries, on Sunday mornings to tear up your favorite back roads, or throw on a set of clip-ons and take it to the track. Everyone should own one of these bikes at least once. Seriously, buy one. You may have to shop awhile, because many of these have been converted to track-day bikes or pressed into duty for amateur racing, but if you pay more than $3,500, you have spent too much money.
Yamaha FZ-1, 2001-2005: The FZ-1 continues in Yamaha’s lineup to this day, but the first-generation carbureted versions are going to be your best chance for finding a “Craigslist steal.” All you give up by buying a first-gen instead of the newer model is the latter's abrupt fuel injection. The FZ-1 can be ridden as a sportbike or equipped to make a killer sport-touring mount. There is a huge “bang for your buck” factor here, considering you are getting about 125 ponies. Clean examples can be found for $2,500. The black-and-yellow “bumblebee” version is my personal favorite.
Triumph Sprint ST 1050, 2005-2009: This bike sells itself with a test ride. I rode my first one in 2006, the Caspian Blue version with the performance Triumph silencer installed. I was sold. The 1050 Triple is one of the most balanced engines you will ever ride. All the torque of a V-twin with the high-end push of a four-cylinder. Color-matched hard bags came standard on 2007 to 2009 models, as well as a taller screen and raised handlebar for improved touring. I have seen motivated sellers letting these bikes go for as little as $4,500 fully loaded.
Kawasaki KLR 650, 1987-current: The KLR has been the gateway drug for adventure riders looking to get dirty since 1987. Other than a facelift in 2008 with a few performance tweaks, these bikes have remained relatively unchanged. Parts are available anywhere around the globe and there are plenty of riders to help you out if you get stuck, because almost everyone has owned one. Prices vary, but if you have a limited budget you can find a decent pre-2008 version for around $2,000.
Triumph Tiger 955i, 2001-2006: Not the most adventuresome of the adventure bikes out there, but for someone looking for more power than a single-cylinder can offer, the Tiger makes a great alternative for a cheap ride. With saddlebags packed up and a full tank of gas, it's not light, but a good rider can still go (almost) anywhere on this bad kitty. You can find a road-weathered example for under $4,000.
Kawasaki Vulcan 1500FI Classic, 2000-2007: In 2000, the Vulcan Classic 1500 was upgraded with fuel injection. Older versions are available dating back to 1996, but the fuel injection works so well it's worth the price. With bulletproof reliability and a comfortable, all-day riding position, this is a fantastic option for someone looking to upgrade to a larger cruiser for a mid-sized price. Well accessorized earlier versions can be had for around $3,500.
Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 and 1200, 1986-current: Some people want a domestic motorcycle, regardless of their budget. I had spent some time on my buddy's 2004 Sportster 1200 back in the day, and I remember that it had all of that Harley vibe without the Harley price tag, but for this particular selection I deferred to Lemmy, our resident Harley expert. He said as long as you stick with an example from the Evo years, you can get a decent mid-sized cruiser for under $5,000, depending on the year and condition.
Honda Nighthawk 750, 1991-2003: We will wrap up this list with the Nighthawk. With an air-cooled engine and hydraulic valves that never need adjustment, it is inexpensive, simple and low-maintenance. Whether you are learning to ride, adding a reliable and low-cost daily commuter to your collection, or you just want something to keep in your garage for when Uncle Bob comes to visit, the Nighthawk wears many hats. I have personally taught two of my closest friends to ride on this bike and for many riders it is all the bike they will ever need. You can find one of these bad boys for $1,500 and ride it like you stole it, because you pretty much did.
What's your favorite used bike buy?