Consider this list your introductory guide to commuter motorcycles. No, it’s not an official motorcycles segment per se, but it’s worth looking at; after all, if you’re zipping into, out of and around an urban environment, a motorcycle is just about the best way to get from A to B.
The five motorcycles we discuss here vary in size, style and price, but they all have one thing in common: they’re all perfect for dealing with busy streets, angry traffic and tight spaces.
What Makes a Great City Motorcycle?
Surviving the forces that make up city traffic on a motorcycle requires patience, quick reflexes and steel nerves — and it’s crucial that the motorcycle can keep up. A compact, slender bike is a good place to start. Dodging potholes and traffic and shooting for narrow gaps between cars is the norm when cruising down a crowded street; a good city motorcycle needs to be lightweight and flickable, two qualities delivered well by smaller bikes.
Power is important, but only if it’s usable. There’s no use having chart-topping power and torque if you have to be flirt with the redline to see it. The motorcycles that work best on city streets have accessible power when you’re pulling away from a stoplight or puttering around at low speeds.
When dipping and diving and weaving your way through town, your attention needs to be on the road ahead, not how uncomfortable you are — so good ergonomics are key. That’s not just about the seating position; though it’s important that you’re not stuffing yourself onto the bike, riding comfort also comes from a good suspension setup. A super-stiff suspension that relays every rut, rock and crack can not only be bone-shatteringly uncomfortable, but can lead to a nervous, twitchy and unsettled bike.
It’s a tall order to build a bike that’s versatile enough to handle city streets and still have the capabilities to hop on the highway. But when manufacturers nail the formula, they create motorcycles that can be an incredible asset for fighting back the daily grind.
The Best Motorcycles for City Riding
Ducati Monster 821
The 821 risked falling into obscurity as the middle child of the Ducati Monster lineup. The 797 is prized as the approachable, entry-level Ducati; the 1200 might look almost identical to the little 797, but if you look closer, it’s a tech-laden superbike with no fairings and serious power. The 821, however borrows supersport-level tech from the 1200 and brings it down to an approachable level. It’s the best of both worlds — the controllable and lightweight nature of the 797, and the extra shove the top-of-the-line tech and control systems from the 1200.
Engine: 821cc V-twin
Torque: 63 lb-ft
Triumph Bonneville T100
Our very own Steve Mazzucchi has been riding a Bonneville around New York City for some time, so he’s able to vouch firsthand for its capability as a city bike. The combination of reasonable seat height and the placement of the pegs right under your feet give it great ergonomics and visibility, he says. The latest models add ABS and heated handgrips for added livability, without losing the classic looks. “The fact you can pretend to be Steve McQueen racing away from Nazis is just a bonus, really,” Mazzucchi adds.
Engine: 900cc parallel twin
Torque: 59 lb-ft
Zero Motorcycles SR/F
With their instantaneous torque and lack of a clutch or gears, electric motorcycles are practically tailor-made for city riding. (Also, unlike internal-combustion machines, they get better mileage around town than on the highway.) Zero’s SR/F — one of our most notable vehicles to go on sale last year — goes 161 miles on a charge in the city (or 200, with the optional Power Tank) and recharges in as little as an hour, yet still rips off a 0-60 mph run of well under three seconds. It’ll top out at 124 mph, too…should you find a city street that allows it.
Engine: 14.4-kWh lithium-ion battery and permanent magnet AC motor
Torque: 140 lb-ft
Hope you like matte blue, because that’s the only color Honda’s delightful little bike that lands between a naked standard and a sportbike comes in for 2020. (We do, for what it’s worth.) But if not, a can of Krylon is all that’ll be between you and one of the most delightful city motorcycles out there. Its compact size means even its small motor provides plenty of pep for around-town riding, while features like ABS and a 31.5-inch riding position make it friendlier for around-riding. Plus: it’s cheap, and it’s a Honda, so you know it’s built well.
Engine: 286cc single-cylinder
Torque: 20 lb-ft
Kawasaki Z650 ABS
In the middle-weight naked category, the bikes are so closely matched, any scrutiny requires a microscope. But the Kawasaki is one of the more affordable options compared to its Japanese rivals (even on the ABS model that starts at $7,649), and edges out the competition on styling. The Z650 really shines in mid-range power, though, delivering it right where you need it for passing traffic.