Buying a Used Street Single Motorcycle

Single cylinder motorcycles and why they're great

Honda GB500TT
Honda GB500TTMotorcyclist

The term "thumper" used to be inextricably associated with British one-lungers that bled oil from every orifice and ran out of spark for reasons as mysterious as a change in humidity. But the basic goodness of single-cylinder motorcycles still rings true—good torque, good fuel economy, low weight, and delicious simplicity—and there are lots of good options out there. In the words of the Four Stroke Single Cylinder National Owners Club, "Keep it simple, keep it single."

Melding the best aesthetics of vintage Brit bikes with legendary Honda durability, the little-known Honda GB500TT may be the holy grail of classically styled street singles. Available in America for just two years—1989 and 1990—the GB was praised for its build quality, attention to detail, and beauty. Its air-cooled, 498cc engine churned out about 33 hp and an inspiring exhaust note. A cult-like following means most GBs have been meticulously maintained, but that affection also means this rare bird doesn't often come up for sale, and when they do the price is dear. It sold for $4,200 in 1989, but clean examples command upward of $7,000 in today's market.

Yamaha's SR500 never enjoyed the GB's cachet, but it's similarly styled, similarly capable, far more abundant, and typically available for just $2,800 to $3,000. Sold in the US from 1978 to 1981, the SR has long been a popular choice among the café-racer crowd, so finding an unmolested example may be tricky. Powered by the same 499cc, air-cooled, two-valve thumper as the TT500 and XT500 off-roaders, the SR's engine has proven just about bulletproof in stock form. With no electric start, the kickstarting procedure can get old, especially if the bike is out of tune. And given that the youngest specimen you will be able to find will be nearly 40 years old, locating an SR that doesn't need some amount of rehab is likely a tall order.

The SR400 is such a throwback that you still kickstart it. EFI ensures it starts easily.Motorcyclist

Or you can buy a modern SR400. Yamaha restarted the SR production line in 2015 and began building bikes again, albeit with a smaller 399cc engine as a nod to Japanese licensing laws. The SR400 is a living fossil (kickstarter and all, though the bike is now fuel injected) and is the spitting image of the SR500. The only real drawbacks are feeble performance and a high price: Used examples tend to run between $4,200 and $4,800, due largely to a high initial MSRP of $5,990.

Continental GT
Few modern bikes can compete with the Continental GT's classic styling.Motorcyclist

Another modern-retro one-lung option is the 2014–2016 Royal Enfield Continental GT ($4,555–$4,910). It looks fantastic, the sort of café racer you’d spend a year assembling out of some other bike, but it’s about as refined as many such projects turn out to be, which is to say not very. Handling is crisp bordering on twitchy, build quality is iffy, and the 29-hp, 535cc engine performs like one half its size. Still, no other bike sends you so convincingly back to the golden era of gentlemanly or gentlewomanly motorbike riding.

The CBR300R isn't fast, but it handles well enough to deserve its name.Motorcyclist

“Just because you’re new to motorcycle riding doesn’t mean you have to look that way” is what Honda said about the CBR300R (2015–present). With 37cc more displacement than the CBR250R it replaced and revised, CBR600RR-inspired styling, the 300R is less beginner bike and more baby sportbike, and you can snag an early model for around $3,200. Not into sportbikes? Honda makes a naked CB300F version as well. A low seat (30.7 inches) and strong low-end power make it easy to ride in traffic, and the claimed 26 hp is enough for short freeway hops. Everything about the CB300R and CB300F—ergonomics, control feel, handling—is puppy-dog friendly, and ABS is an option. Certain 2015 and 2016 models were affected by a crankshaft recall, so make sure that any bike you’re interested in buying is in the clear.

The S40's exhaust note isn't very V-twin like, but the 652cc single has great torque.Motorcyclist

Not into café racers or sportbikes? Along with Honda’s new Rebel (page 38)—which uses the CBR300’s single—there’s the age-old Suzuki Boulevard S40 cruiser. Formerly known as the Savage, the S40 has used a burly, 652cc jug to thump from spot to spot since the mid-1980s. Older models are plentiful, but even for a brand-new bike the price is a reasonable $5,700.