After years of KTM owning this class with its 390 Duke and (390 Adventure), there’s a new kid in town – new in the US, anyway – in the form of the CFMoto 700 CL-X. It’s only fitting, really, since CFMoto’s Chinese manufacturer and KTM have a decade-long history together. That same Chinese OEM had a pre-existing relationship with Kawasaki also, and if CFMoto’s 700 CL-X isn’t powered by an engine eerily similar to a Versys 650 parallel Twin, I will eat my cat. In fact, the 700 CL-X is powered by a Versys twin that’s been stroked by 4mm, to 83 x 64mm dimensions – a thing Kawasaki’s never had the decency to do. That takes it to 693 cubic centimeters, and a claimed output of 74 hp at 8,500 rpm (and 48 lb-ft at 6,500 revs). Which makes this one a tad larger than our usual Lightweight winners, but for $6,399, how can you not supersize it?
If you’re tired of hearing us gush over KTM’s second-smallest Duke, imagine how tired we are of gushing. The 390 Duke took its first Best Lightweight title following its 2015 introduction, and it’s won the class every year since except 2018, when we gave the award to Kawasaki’s new Ninja 400. And okay, last year the award went to the KTM 390 Adventure, which is almost just a longer-legged Duke. That 373 cc counterbalanced single-cylinder just keeps shining through. The Duke’s engine is light, compact, torquey, powerful – and most importantly, it’s smooth-running enough that you’d never know it’s only got one cylinder. We used to call them “thumpers” for good reason; that descriptor really doesn’t fit the 390 Duke, or the 690 either.
Aprilia has updated its RS 125 and Tuono 125 for 2021, making them Euro 5-complaint and tweaking the styling of the entry-level street bikes to resemble their respective 660 models. The two 125 models are designed to serve beginners with Europe’s A1 license, which unfortunately also means they are unlikely to be imported to the U.S.
The Duke 390 has almost owned this class since its 2015 introduction, with a brief interruption by the new Ninja 400 Kawasaki two years ago. So it was nice of KTM to make it easy for us to mix things up a bit this year, by giving birth to the KTM 390 Adventure. It, of course, makes use of that same amazingly ingratiating little 373 cc Single-cylinder as the Duke but places it in an all-new ADV-style housing, adventuring being all the rage lately.
Honda‘s entry-level Rebel cruisers are getting updates for 2020, including a new assist-and-slipper clutch, updated suspension and LED lighting. Both 500 and 300 versions of the Rebel are getting the same updates, while Honda is also introducing an S version of the Rebel 500 for Europe which comes standard with several factory-fitted accessories.
Out of all the categories on our MOBO roster, the Lightweight/Entry Level division was actually one of the easiest to fill out. That’s because, as you might remember, we’ve already put these two machines against each other. In the winner’s category, we’re talking about the KTM 390 Duke (which means you can likely guess what the runner up will be). A powerhouse of a little motorcycle, the 390 Duke continues to prove that big fun does come in small packages. Starting with the 373cc Single, the dyno says it puts out 26.9 lb-ft and 42.3 horses. While not much, the Thumper pulls cleanly from the bottom and gives just enough up top to easily distance itself from traffic. Slow is not a word we’d use to describe the 390 Duke, but you do have to shift a lot, which isn’t so bad thanks to its slick (not to be confused with quick) shifter.
What’s the sweet spot for small displacement motorcycles? Is it 250cc? Perhaps 400cc? Ask any internet forum and you’ll likely hear some BS like, 600cc sportbikes are the smallest I would EVER recommend for a beginner. Idiots. Darwinism at its finest. What do we think? We think there are a lot of variables to consider for this question, but the 300cc category is still filled with solid options of bitchin’ motorcycles. Many look at these small-displacement bikes as great options for beginners as well. Which motorcycle is best for a beginner? It all depends on what kind of riding you’d like to do. Any of the options on this list provide a great starting point for new riders. What’s even better is that there are plenty of great bikes in this category that spans multiple genres of motorcycling such as sportbikes, adventure motorcycles, and naked bikes. If you’re interested in entering the world of two wheels check out these great starting points.
KTM has changed the way we look at small-displacement naked bikes with the 390 Duke. No longer is it just a learning tool for new or inexperienced riders, but now, no matter who you are, if you can’t find a way to have an ear-to-ear grin riding the baby Duke, you probably don’t have a pulse. If it’s not clear by now, we love the 390 Duke around here – its 373cc Single is anything but boring, it handles surprisingly well, and its looks are sharp enough to convince you to park it where everyone can see.
Having grown up around motocross, and with a couple of years on the road on two wheels some 13-plus years ago, throwing my leg back over a motorcycle this past summer was anything but starting from scratch (thankfully). Sure, I was a little rusty to say the least, but the essence of riding isn’t something easily forgotten. After a few quick jaunts, I was back in the swing of things. Though the mechanics and principles remain the same, the new motorcycle market for more novice riders is a completely different beast than it was the last time I was on two wheels. A veritable boom of larger, and frankly more appropriate “starter bikes” is well underway in the form of the 300cc class. These more approachable and rookie friendly rides aren’t like the undersized and underpowered 125s and 250s that have been around for decades, which is a fantastic thing – a serious win for new riders who are on the taller side. Throwing my 6’1 frame over a CBR 125, well, can you picture the bear riding a minibike in a Russian circus? You get the idea.
Suzuki showed off a GSX-R150 model at AIMExpo to gauge consumer interest in the small-displacement sportbike. The bike is already being offered in other markets, introduced in Asia earlier this year, and derived from the GSX-R125 that’s being sold in Europe. As it’s competitors push their entry-level sportbikes into larger displacements, Suzuki is considering going smaller and creating its own niche.
Prior to the company’s presentation at AIMExpo, Yamaha released details of a revised 2019 Yamaha R3. A welcome upgrade for the smallest R in the lineup, as the model hasn’t undergone any major revisions since its inception in 2015. Though we weren’t surprised to learn Yamaha had stuck with its 321cc Twin, rather than going nose-to-nose in the displacement wars with its green rival. Thanks to our staff super sleuth, we were expecting the R3 to undergo some significant changes for the new model year.
The Lightweight category of motorcycling is growing like a wildfire, with tons of cool bikes that offer style and performance that’s readily accessible for a new or inexperienced rider. But to us, the motorcycle topping the list of all those competent performers is the Kawasaki Ninja 400. Some May claim that the “small-displacement” moniker no longer applies, but to get hung up on 100cc is a waste of time for what’s otherwise an excellent motorcycle. The increase in size from the previous Ninja 300 brings with it a modest bump in power suitable for newbies, but also entertaining for experienced riders. Combine that with styling inspired by its bigger Ninja siblings, and new riders no longer have to feel self conscious about their beginner bike looking dated and ugly. This, in turn, helps keep riders from graduating to bigger, sexier machinery they may not be ready for.
The Kawasaki Ninja 400 will soon be joined by a naked version, as the California Air Resources Board has certified a model bearing the designation ER400DK for 2019. Kawasaki has long used “ER” code for its naked Twins, and the new model will likely be sold as the 2019 Kawasaki Z400.
Honda’s all-in when it comes to the small-displacement category, perhaps more so than any other manufacturer out there. With the popularity of the Grom, CBR250R, CBR300R, CB300F, and Rebel lines – and recent introductions of the forthcoming Monkey and Super Cub – it’s no wonder Team Red is proud to introduce its latest addition – the 2018 CB300R.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, we – err, at least I – really love the Kawasaki Ninja 400. Ryan came off the bike at its press intro and was happy as could be. He’s such a fan that he pointed out the 10 things he specifically likes about it. Then, once we stacked it up against the KTM RC390 and Honda CBR500R in our 2018 Lightweight Sportbike Shootout, the Ninja 400 came away a winner, yet again. As far as lightweight sportbikes go, this one is sweet. It’s a great entry-level motorcycle for the new or returning rider, but has plenty of performance for the experienced rider to exploit.