When thinking about making your next motorcycle purchase, there is always the obvious first hurdle that must be overcome for the process to really commence – am I buying a new or used bike? Though most of us wish that the former was always the go to choice, reality and our wallets can be quick to remind us of the diamonds in the ruff that exist in the second hand market, especially when sleuthing for gems under $5,000.
There is an endless stream of used bikes out there in the world, some with questionable history, and others that had that magic potion that make owning and riding a motorcycle so enjoyable. When picking out your next slightly worn set of wheels, remember that there is a reason why some bikes live in infamy to become fan favorites for generations, and others piddle out without ever making so much as a blip on the radar. But don’t be worried, we’ve scoured the earth to bring you the best used motorcycles under $5,000 from each category:
Often thought of as the stereotypical motorcycle, Standards are the go to choice for beginners the world over. With an upright riding posture that is fostered through riser handlebars, mid foot controls, and usually a flat two up saddle with plenty of room for a passenger, Standards are comfortable for almost any shape or size person.
Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster
There is really nothing like a Harley – either they disgust you, or they are the only bike that can quell your desire for American made iron. The 883 Sportster gets its name from, you guessed it, the 883 cc V-Twin that powers the spritely hog. With no end to the amount of customization that a Harley may see, it’s hard to put a figure on their value, but there are always plenty of available examples on the used market for sub $5k.
Displacement: 883 cc
Desirable Model Years: 1986-2009
Low End Ballpark: $2,300
Honda CB750 SOHC
One of the originators of the term Universal Japanese Motorcycle, the Honda CB750 is as generic as they come, but with no limit to their customization. At the time of their production, these were the biggest motors Honda offered and some of the fastest machines on the road. Leagues of fans still live and breath classic CBs, scoring their experiences on countless forums specific to the model, which is an excellent resource for any home spun mechanics.
Displacement: 736 cc
Desirable Model Years: 1969-1978
Low End Ballpark: $2,200
Possibly the collective beginner bike of choice when asking any two wheeled veteran, the Suzuki GS500 is the perfect bike for someone looking to dip their toe in the sport. Comfortable ergonomics foster a great upright posture, giving the rider excellent field of vision on the highway, and making them more pronounced to be seen by other drivers. Though don’t expect to get a lifetime of pleasure out of the GS500, as most owners would attest that this bike wet their whistle, but a higher performing machine is required after you’ve got some miles under your belt.
Displacement: 487 cc
Desirable Model Years: 1988-2000
Low End Ballpark: $1,700
They see me rollin
For those looking to do a little bit of lounging out on the road, the Cruiser category is just the right balance of comfortable accommodations and flashy chrome to keep any gear head happy. Foot controls are out in front of the saddle, but the handlebars are brought back towards the rider for an unextended reach, keeping things cozy for any length ride. Built with plenty of torque and enough grunt to wake the neighbors, Cruisers are the staple biker’s bike.
Though BMW is not traditionally known as a manufacturer of the cruiser variety, they sure knocked it out of the park with the very relaxed R1200C. The large displacement boxster style twin provides excellent low end torque, while the cockpit features high, sweeping riser bars, forward controls, and a passenger seat that converts to a driver’s backrest. As with all BMWs, there is much shorter service intervals than you would see on a comparable Japanese bike, but by default this means there are more BMW mechanics worldwide than any other make.
Displacement: 1,170 cc
Desirable Model Years: 1997-2004
Low End Ballpark: $3,000
Kawasaki Vulcan VN1500
When making the decision of what is the perfect cruiser, it is usually described as a battle between head and heart, with the heart wanting a Harley and the head opting for any other option. For those stuck in this conundrum, the Kawasaki Vulcan VN1500 Classic is the perfect balance of a bike that has traditional American cruiser styling, but with the reliability of a Japanese made machine. Kawasaki also opts for a liquid cooled version of a V-Twin, so you won’t have to worry about melting your rig in the summer sun.
Displacement: 1,470 cc
Desirable Model Years: 1996-2008
Low End Ballpark: $3,500
Grip it and rip it
If you are looking to push your limits when behind the handlebars, Sport Bikes pack a whole lot fun into their aerodynamic race shells. With the ability to accelerate faster than anything on the road, and the brakes to get stopped on a dime, there really is nothing that can compare for those looking to get wild in the twisties. Remember that large displacement isn’t necessary to have fun in the tight turns, as the more nimble mid-sized bikes are the cream of the crop here.
Honda has made more motorcycles than any other manufacturer on the planet, and the CBR600F4i shows how the brand can change the wrapper without diminishing the sweet candy that lies within. Built at the same time as the hugely popular Race Ready variant of the sporty 600, the F4i stays city trim as opposed to its track ready sibling. A nice two up saddle has plenty of room for a passenger, but you will hardly see dubs on the F4i as it continues to be a very popular option for stunters and wheelie riders across the country.
Displacement: 599 cc
Desirable Model Years: 2001-2006
Low End Ballpark: $2,200
Building bikes that can be fun for all experience levels can be next to impossible for some manufacturers, with polarizing models making the beginners feel meek and experts overwhelmed. Suzuki has figured this puzzle out with the SV650, a sporty bike that is tons of fun for anyone gripping the throttle. With heaps of aftermarket accessories and upgrades still available for the frisky twin, this is sure to be one bike that doesn’t get old quick and continues to supply smiles for miles.
Displacement: 645 cc
Desirable Model Years: 2003-2012
Low End Ballpark: $2,400
Built at the same time as its successor was being launched as a completely redesigned model, the Yamaha YZF-R6S is a lineage model that Yamaha wasn’t quite ready to part ways with. Receiving several years of R&D as it is based on the original Yamaha 600 sport bike, the R6S has about as much technology that could be packed in race level bike of the era without breaking the bank. Killer suspension, a super tuned engine, and ergonomics that yearn to go fast and drop knee, the R6S is a powerful punch for those looking to keeping their spending under control.
Displacement: 600 cc
Desirable Model Years: 2006-2009
Low End Ballpark: $3,600
Even the kitchen sink
If your trip on two wheels takes you beyond the county line, than the generous accommodations provided by the Cruiser category might be the right fit for you. Large windshields keep the rider from being fatigued from highway gusts, and cushy seating makes all that saddle time feel like nothing at all. Equipped with radios, passenger seating, and storage for all of your belongs, these are the behemoths of the motorcycle world.
For those looking to spend an extended amount of time in the saddle, the BMW R1100RT is a fully equipped touring bike with amenities a la mode. Often the choice of highway cops during its heyday, the R1100RT has more storage capacity and wind shielding area then you will know what to do with. Plush suspension and a girthy boxster engine give plenty of lavish comfort when the cruise control is engaged, though don’t think this bike is a slouch, as it still embodies the sporty soul that BMW is known for.
Displacement: 1085 cc
Desirable Model Years: 1996-2001
Low End Ballpark: $3,000
Honda Gold Wing GL1500 Aspencade
The Gold Wing name and long distance cruising have been synonymous for decades, and the GL1500 Aspencade is a top notch variant in the model line. Propelled by a massive six cylinder power plant, the American assembled Aspencade is all about living in luxury. Decked out with ultra comfy ceast for the driver and passenger, a killer sound system that can be heard over road noise, and enough storage to smuggle a hefty load of whatever you please, the Gold Wing is basically the living room couch on wheels.
Displacement: 1,520 cc
Desirable Model Years: 1996-2000
Low End Ballpark: $3,900
A little bit dirty
If you have a hard time choosing between playing in the sandbox or running laps around the track, Adventure bikes might be just the right fit for you. Part long distance touring rig, part single track ready rippers, Adventures bikes often fall right between designation for a category. Long travel suspension is offset by large wind covering fairings to produce a half breed that looks out of place everywhere while being in just the right spot all the time.
BMW F650GS Dakar
Building from a long line of mid sized single cylinder adventure bikes, the BMW F650GS in special Dakar trim is a super fun bike for riders of all experience levels. Built to perform well on long jaunts to choice backcountry locals, the Dakar package offers a larger front wheel and increased suspension travel, which are both welcome comforts once the tires leave the tarmac. Not an overly powerful bike, the F650GS is lightweight and has nimble handling characteristics, guaranteeing you will have fun on the saddle no matter where the wheels are planted.
Displacement: 652 cc
Desirable Model Years: 2000-2008
Low End Ballpark: $3,300
KTM 640 Adventure
Sometimes finding an adventure bike that has just the right ratio of on to off road capabilities can tough to find. For those dirt demons that are yearning for a bit more sand in their teeth, the KTM 640 Adventure fits the bill by being as close to a motocross bike as you can put a plate on. Long travel suspension, full size 21 and 18-inch wheels, and a large capacity fuel tank are all characteristics befitting other models in the KTM line, but they all work together well on the 640 adventure bike.
Displacement: 620 cc
Desirable Model Years: 1998-2007
Low End Ballpark: $3,800
Suzuki V-Strom 650
Being a jack of all trades can be a tough juggling act, but for the Suzuki V-Strom 650, fitting into any environment is all in a day’s work. High mounted pipes and plenty of suspension travel have the 650 poised for off-roading, but the full coverage windshield and fluffy two up saddle provide great comforts for the long distance road warrior. Billed as one of the most versatile packages on the market, the V-Strom 650 is the perfect bike for weekend adventurers, daily commuters, newbies, old timers – really anybody that wants to have fun on two wheels.
Displacement: 645 cc
Desirable Model Years: 2004-2011
Low End Ballpark: $2,900
50/50 for your pleasure
If you spend all day looking off the shoulder at the side of the road imagining how each terrain feature could be a jump that leads you into the next berm, then Dual Sports are the hot ticket for you. Being as close to a purebred motocross stallion that the department of transportation will allow on the highway, these long travel, knobby tired beasts scream to slip and slide off the beaten path. Not the best for daily commutes or long distance trips across country, these are definitely the little rascals of the bunch.
As the saying goes, if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Honda has a long reputation of sticking to their guns once they feel they have made something great, and the XR650L is one of those products. Largely unchanged for over 25 years, this dual sport worthy off-roader has been a staple of 50/50 riders everywhere. Squishy long travel suspension, aggressive street knobbies, and stock handguards scream dirt riding, but the large displacement single cylinder engine packs enough punch to get you to the trail head quickly.
Displacement: 644 cc
Desirable Model Years: 1993-2017
Low End Ballpark: $2,800
Remember the saying that it’s not about the size of the tool, but more importantly how you use it? Well, Suzuki takes this old proverb to heart with their tried and true DRZ400S dual sport bike. Not the largest displacement available option, the 400 does a great job of providing enough power to have fun, but not being overly weighty in a way that would hinder performance in the dirt. Equipped with semi knobby tires, long travel suspension, and even a small cargo rack, the DRZ400S packs just the right amount of punch to keep you from getting into too much trouble.
Displacement: 398 cc
Desirable Model Years: 2000-2017
Low End Ballpark: $3,100
How To Buy Your First Motorcycle
If you are in the market for your very first bike take a look at our guide for buying your first motorcycle to get caught up on the ins and outs of the purchase process.