Motorcycles have long appealed to speed freaks on a budget—but not all bargains are equal. No matter what your favorite discipline of motorcycling is, there are certain bikes that are criminally undervalued.
The letters APRC stand for Aprilia Performance Ride Control, and when the system was launched as part of a special edition in Europe in 2010, it was a revelation. Seemingly plucked straight from Max Biaggi’s WSBK racer to make you a better rider, the suite included a quickshifter, traction control, and two firsts for street bikes: launch and wheelie control.
For 2011, Aprilia made it standard fitment on the RSV4 in the U.S., and ever since, the glorious-sounding V-4 motor hasn’t just been powerful, it’s also been easy to ride at the limit. Look for a 2013 or newer model, because that’s when Aprilia added ABS to the APRC package. Spend a measly $7,000 and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most exciting sportbikes ever built.
If your definition of performance is finding maximum velocity, then you need a Suzuki Hayabusa in your life. Faster motorcycles have been built since, but the Hayabusa was an instant classic when it was released in 1999 with a claimed top speed of 194 mph. That number terrified European legislators, and it led to a nearly decade-long gentlemen’s agreement between most Japanese motorcycle manufacturers to cap top speeds at 186 mph (300 km/h). That means you want a ’99 or ’00 model; otherwise, you’ll have to turn to the aftermarket to defeat an electronic governor that Suzuki installed on later bikes.
Fun fact: Hayabusa is Japanese for “peregrine falcon,” a predator of the blackbird. The name emphasizes that this bike took over the top-speed title from Honda’s CBR1100XX—also known as the Super Blackbird. If you want to carry luggage or a passenger, source a steel rear subframe from 2001-on models. You’ll pay a 10-pound penalty, but the aluminum subframes from 1999 and 2000 have a reputation for having a hard time with more than their own weight.
The Hayabusa may be all about speed, but you’ll have to exhibit patience to find an example that hasn’t been modified. Once you do, you should be able to put it in your garage for about $5,000. There aren’t many cheaper ways to flirt with 200 mph.
If your thrills require a mix of street and dirt, consider KTM’s 990 Adventure. Introduced in 2007 as an evolution of the 950 Adventure, the 990 (actually 999cc, but who’s counting?) played the foil to BMW’s R1200GS, showing that big adventure bikes did not have to be street-biased. The KTM was more than competent in the dirt thanks to a 21-inch front wheel, fully adjustable WP suspension, towering ground clearance, and light weight (for the category). With a seat height of 34 to 36 inches, depending on model year and specification, only tall riders need apply.
Still, the 990 Adventure set the standard for adventure-bike performance in the dirt while barely giving up performance on the street. The combined aptitude makes it an excellent platform to see sights thousands of miles away while carrying all the gear you’ll need for weeks spent away from home, no matter how you get there. Pay special attention to the water-pump shaft seal and clutch slave cylinder, and you should be good to go.
Throughout the years, there was a base model and a top-of-the-line model (S or R, depending on the year), and near the end of the run, a Baja and a Dakar. Base-model early bikes can be easily sourced for $5,000, or budget another $500 for the S with the better paint scheme—just know that you’ll lose ABS and gain taller, stiffer suspension in the process.
If your focus is 100 percent dirt, look to Yamaha and its two-stroke YZ250. In 2005, Yamaha introduced an aluminum frame, and has scarcely touched the bike since. The 2015 model came with new plastics, but they fit on machines going back to 2002, so cosmetic updates can be made cheaply.
The YZ250 has a long and successful race history, with multiple national AMA championships in motocross and Supercross. It may not be winning titles today, but it’s still a competent machine that’s well-suited for beginners and experts alike. Plus, it’s just a few mods away from cross-country duty as well.
The MSRP for a brand-new YZ250 motocrosser currently retails for $7,399 (add $100 for the cross-country YZ250X). As always, maintenance is key, but you can snag a two-year-old example with low hours for around $4,500.