When it comes to motorcycle handling and manageability less is most definitely more – less weight that is. As any racer knows – and as Honda reasserted on the street with an almighty bang when it launched its ultra-lightweight superbike, the revolutionary first FireBlade way back in 1992 – less weight is definitely a Good Thing. It not only improves the aforementioned handling and manageability, it also, for any given power output, improves acceleration, as the power/weight ratio is improved. It boosts its braking performance, too, as there’s less bulk for a bike’s brakes to stop…
In reality, of course, any performance benefit light weight brings to a motorcycle is secondary – of more importance is their improved manageability. Motorcycles can often be dauntingly heavy and imposing machines to control, especially at low speed or in traffic – and particularly for inexperienced, smaller or less physically strong riders. It’s no coincidence that learner bikes often have low, slim proportions and are usually built to be as light as is practical. It’s not uncommon for women or shorter riders to have a preference for lighter bikes, ideally with low seat heights, too. And nor is this appeal restricted to less experienced riders: older types who might have been riding all their life, often find that as they enter their 50s and above many conventional big bikes become too much of a handful and switch to smaller, lighter models instead.
But which should you go for? What’s out there? How much do they weight and what do they offer? Our expert riders have been looking across the whole range of bikes available in 2023, across all categories of machines ranging from sports to touring and from learner to retro and have come up with the following. Here’s our pick of the 10 best across 10 different categories of machine to help you find the lightest – and best –one for you.
OK, we admit, all 50cc, AM-compliant (ie ones you can ride on the road at 16) scooters are light. With their small wheels, diminutive overall proportions and fairly weedy, 30mph-restricted 50cc engines, that’s largely inevitable. And in truth few actually weigh much over 100kg so, whichever you go for, you shouldn’t have any problem. The class-leading, full-sized (relatively speaking) Peugeot Speedfight, for example, is only 100kg while the now Indian-owned firm also offers the more basic, affordable and lighter Kisbee, as introduced in 2019 and which weighs just 97kg (thanks to its fairly basic spec and smaller 10-inch wheels). But the lightest – and most popular – of all is the ultra-affordable, best-selling Lexmoto Echo 50. It’s sports-styled, Chinese-built to keep the price down, is a decent introduction to two wheels and, crucially, weighs just 78kg dry (or about 90kg with fluids and ready to go. Two wheeling doesn’t get more accessible.
When it comes to 50cc AM class motorcycles – proper, large-wheeled, geared machines which are the lightest and least intimidating introduction to motorcycling – the choice is not as easy as it once was. ‘Proper’ 50cc motorcycles are now, sadly, relatively few and far between with the previously popular – and lightweight – Aprilia SX50 and Spanish Reiju range no longer available. But there is still hope. WK motorcycles, the British-based, Chinese built brand, offer the Scrambler 50 which is a ‘proper’ retro-styled, full size Scrambler style machine that weighs just 128kg ready to go while Bluroc, the similarly set-up Belgian/Chinese brand (which was formerly known as Bullitt) has not one but two 50cc offerings – the 50 Heritage, which is a classic monkey style mini-bike inspired by the 1970s Honda’s Dax which weighs just 80kg, although we’re discounting it here as it's not a full-size machine, and the Bluroc 50 Hero, which is a very stylish, full-size retro scrambler powered by a five-speed, 49cc four-stroke single and weighs just 110kg
The main reason 50cc bikes are now so few and far between is largely because, if you wait until you’re 17, you’re eligible for an A1 class 125. And a learner bike capable of around 75mph is always going to win over a 30mph-restricted 50. As a result, there’s a huge choice of light, A1 class 125s. There’s your basic, rudimentary, Chinese-built roadster 125s that weigh very little. It would also be remiss of us not to acknowledge the recent fashion for 125 ‘monkey bikes’, such as Honda’s MSX 125, which, by virtue of their dinky size are also dramatically light. But assuming you’re after a combination of light weight, quality, proven performance and all-round ability we reckon you can’t beat the offerings from KTM and Honda. The sporty Austrian firm’s punchy 125 Duke roadster is rightly popular and weighs in at just 137kg. Its full sports RC125 is racier still and actually undercuts it by 2kg. While Honda’s stylish CB125R as introduced in 2019, at a featherweight 130kg undercuts them both and is a classy all round package. The lightest of all, however, is Big H’s ultra-sensible CB125F commuter. The solid, reliable, easy-to-ride and ultra-economical 125cc single might not be as sexy as the R but is a doddle to ride, a deserved mainstay of rising schools, a great commuter and weighs just 117kg.
Historic Swedish off-road brand Husqvarna is now owned by KTM so, considering its bikes use many KTM parts and the Austrian parent is so damn good at lightweight performance machines, it should be no real surprise to see ‘Husky’ here, too. The revived marque’s first offerings were the wacky-styled, single cylinder Vitpilen and Svartpilen roadsters, both in 401 and 701 forms. The Vitpilen is the drop-barred café racer while the Svartpilen is the slightly more expensive roadster. Both use KTM’s 373cc single from the 390 Duke, with the 701s having the more powerful 690 Duke version, housed in identical tubular steel trellis frames and… not a lot else. The result, as you might expect, is very KTM ¬– pure, light and punchy – but with a style all its own. The 401s both produce 43bhp so are A2-compliant and are arguably the liveliest, most stylish and certainly most exclusive bikes of that breed you can buy. Of the two, we go for the slightly cheaper Vitpilen here – a meagre 148kg of stylish (and A2-compliant) city roadster. Even the 390 Duke weighs more (just).
By ‘street bike’ we mean bigger than A2 class, ie over 47bhp, unfaired roadsters of the type that make a great ‘first big bike’ after passing your full test. As such, there’s an impressive choice. Yamaha’s MT-07 lightweight twin has been a big success for its combination of easy, manageable performance, fun and value. While Honda has for 2023 jumped on the same bandwagon with its all-new and impressive CB750 Hornet which produces even more punch at 91bhp, costs even less at under £7000 and weighs just 190kg. But the lightest of all comes from Austrian off-road maestros KTM who unsurprisingly know a thing or two about making lightweight motorcycles – it’s a vital factor for competing in the dirt, after all. Introduced in 2020, its 890 Duke roadster twin produces 119bhp and, in this ‘R’ trim, with top spec WP suspension, lighter components and full suite of electronic rider aids, is even lighter still – at just 166kg. Yes, CCM’s single-cylinder Spitfire is lighter still, at 139kg, but it has nowhere near the KTM’s power/weight ratio and sheer performance. While Langan’s new ultra-lightweight Two-Stroke 250 uses GP technology to beat them all at just 125kg but, considering its £33K price and limited availability, that may not be a realistic choice!
Another category in which we’ve had to apply a heavy dose of common sense. Yes, you can get retro-styled, Chinese-built 125s that, due to their very simplicity, are also ultra-light in terms of weight. But if licence restrictions aren’t a consideration and you want as authentic a ‘retro’ experience as possible, riding a meaty, old-styled bike with, ideally, a big air-cooled single or twin cylinder motor, 125cc simply isn’t enough. In that context, Triumph’s 198kg Street Twin is a great, affordable, novice-friendly retro roadster with a brilliant badge and quality reputation. But Ducati’s similarly impressive V-twin Scrambler 800 is lighter still, at 186kg, but is arguably a bit too ‘modern’. There’s also French-styled (but Chinese built) firm Mash’s Dirt 650, with its air-cooled 650cc single-cylinder trailie. But our pick of the bunch is retro-specialist Royal Enfield new-for-2023 HNTR 350, a classic, retro roadster based on the all-new 20bhp 350 single from the 350 Meteor cruiser, idiot-proof, easy-to-ride manners, surprisingly high-quality build and finish, an easy-to-manage for all light weight of just 191kg and, best of all, a price under £4000!
As with adventure bikes, lightness has traditionally never been a strongpoint for cruisers or customs. Instead, these laid back, long and low American-style machines, as best characterized by leading brand Harley-Davidson, are all about classic style, low-revving sunshine cruising and solid authenticity. With no performance agenda they’re crafted from hefty lumps of metal and whatever awkwardness that might create is often offset by ultra-low seats most types could manage. Or, again, at least it was. While Harley rivals such as Triumph’s Bonneville-based Bobber are far lighter and more manageable than most and Honda’s deliberately novice-targetted 500 Rebel is about as easy to ride as a 125cc+ custom gets, Britain’s CCM in 2020 redefined what a light cruiser could be with its new, fat-tyred ‘Bobber’ version of its ultra-lightweight and whippet-like Spitfire roadster. With an enduro-derived 600cc single good for 55bhp, a lightweight tubular steel frame and not much else, the Bobber, at just 135kg (or over 100kg less than the lightest Harley), is as light as cruisers come, is über-stylish in its own right and a punchy, sweet handling performer, too, that’ll draw a crowd at any custom meet. No good for pillions or long distance, though…
Sports bikes are all about performance, so we’ve discounted learner 125cc sportsbikes and even A2 category and the like here. What that left us with, however, was not one but TWO hugely mouthwatering choices. In the blue corner, Yamaha has its new-for-2022, MT-07 based sportster twin, the 74bhp and 185kg R7. But even better (and, crucially, lighter) as far as we’re concerned is the RS660 from Italian exotica experts Aprilia. It’s based on an engine which is basically two cylinders from the RSV4 1100cc V4, produces an impressive 99bhp, comes with a quality array of electronic riding aids (as any true sportsbike should) including cornering ABS and traction control, handles gorgeously, looks even better and, best of all, weighs just 183kg and costs just a smidgeon over £10K. For a lightweight sportster with more than one cylinder and not restricted to the A2 class’s 47bhp, there’s none better.
The upright, half-faired, punchy-performing yet value original Tracer 700 was already a great all-rounder, as was perhaps inevitable considering its MT-07 roadster roots. But its uprating into GT spec in 2018, with accessory luggage and more shifted it into a genuinely credible, lightweight, entry-level tourer. In 2020 it was improved further with a sharp new look, Euro5-compliant engine and improved weather protection while the GT variant, from previously being merely an accessorized version, now had a factory high touring screen (which also, like the base version, was easily adjustable), touring comfort seat and colour matched panniers offering 40 litres of capacity. Finally, both have been updated further for 2023 with new 5in TFT dash along with Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, improved switchgear and larger front discs. At 197kg dry they remain the lightest sports tourers in their class, probably the best and, at still under £9000, among the cheapest.
The idea of a ‘lightweight adventure bike’ used to be something of an anathema. Fully-loaded giants such as BMW’s own R1250GS Adventure or Triumph’s equally mammoth Tiger 1200 placed little importance on lightness and instead prioritized touring comfort, size that could dwarf continents and equipment lists that included everything up to the kitchen sink – often resulting in kerb weights approaching 300kg with all the imposing awkwardness that goes with it. Not any more. While giant adventure bikes still exist and are rightly popular, in recent years there’s also been a growing trend for smaller capacity, lighter and more manageable versions that are less off-putting to smaller, less experienced riders. BMW started this back in 2008 with its first F800GS followed by Triumph with its hugely successful Tiger 800 but in the last couple of years this trend has gone further still. 2019 saw KTM’s impressive 790 Adventure and also Yamaha’s hugely versatile, MT-07-derived Ténéré 700, while for 2020 KTM has gone further still with the 172kg 390 Adventure derived from the single-cylinder 390 Duke roadster. But the lightest credible adventure bike of all (excluding the 125cc Sinnis Terrain which, in truth, has limited true adventure ability even if its style appeals) is another BMW – the Indian-made, G310GS which, with 34bhp from its 313cc single, all the BMW adventure accessories and style you’d expect yet just a £6K price, is a great, accessible, reasonably versatile and ultralight (just 169.5kg) introduction to the breed.