Yamaha Virago 250
Yamaha's smallest Virago falls afoul of our admittedly arbitrary $3000 limit by 10 percent, but it's the least expensive bike the company has to offer. We think the Virago is actually worth the extra cash. We expected the Ninja, with its higher-technology credentials, to kick the cruisers into the weeds on engine performance. What a surprise, then, to see the Virago holding its own. The undersquare (49.0mm bore, 66.0mm stroke), 60-degree V-twin lands shy of the Ninja's peak output, but makes up for it with a broad torque curve and exemplary manners. Next to the Kawasaki, the tiny Virago acts most like a genuine, full-scale motorcycle, easily pulling away from traffic and making its way to highway speed. As a relatively tall-geared V-twin, the Virago's engine feels far more relaxed than any of the other 250s.