They might be giants

Published: 08 April 2017

This article is taken from the Spring 2017 issue of What Bike? which is on sale now, packed with new models, new gear and bags of buying advice.

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There was a time when small bikes were cool. A perfect storm of social acceptability and pure economic pressure meant that an entire generation had a three-way choice of walking, getting the bus, or hopping on a 125 (or less) for the daily commute.

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Push a generation of immortal youths onto a class of ill-handling, underpowered and poorly constructed bikes and you have a recipe for home-brewed specials, illegal tuning, and endless hours of slipstreaming down the local dual carriageway. But that all changed as cars became cheap, and the allure of being warm and dry pulled the masses from their mopeds. In response, manufacturers walked away from trying to make fun and engaging small bikes – helped by the environmentally driven creeping death of the two-stroke.

But the cool small capacity bike is back – and 2017 is saturated with them. So here are the new sub-400cc funksters grabbing our attention this year.

  Suzuki GSX-S125, £3699 (est)
It might just be the naked version of the new faired GSX-R125, but the S could easily end up being the bigger seller. With really attractive proportions, it makes Yamaha’s MT-125 look like it’s been in a shunt, and the increased practicality of being sat more upright in the saddle will certainly appeal to traffic dodgers – while the R will be more fun out of town. With keen pricing and strong performance, this could be a best-seller in 2017.
  KTM 125 Duke, £4099
An uncompromising sporting company like KTM were always going to make a sharp and fun 125 – and that’s exactly what happened when the Duke debuted in 2011. Now there’s a new one, and it’s even sharper and more refined. While it nudges over the £4k mark, we reckon the aggressive styling, punchy engine, spec and brand values make this one of the hottest 125s you can buy. They’re popular secondhand, too – meaning good resale values, which helps you to your next bike.
  Husqvarna Svartpilen 401, £tbc 
It’s so good to have Husqvarna back in the road bike market. Using sister company KTM as a resource, they are stealing all the engine platforms, and using them as the basis of their own range of bikes. This one takes the 390 Duke engine, and marries it to a scrambler aesthetic. It’s a striking looking piece of kit, with its knobblie tyres, impossibly short seat unit, big headlamp and tank-mounted rack. A pure Action Man accessory for the urban warrior. 
  Husqvarna Vitpilen 401, £tbc
On the flip-side of the Svartpilen’s grungy styling, the Vitpilen (it means ‘Silver Arrow’) is serene simplicity. The lines are so minimalist that you could park in Ikea and it wouldn’t look out of place. It’s not retro, nor particularly futuristic, but sits very much in the here and now – a design statement for the iPhone generation, driven by solid engineering and an engine that's guaranteed to entertain you.
  Suzuki GSX250R, £4199 (est) 
This isn’t an RGV250 for the modern market – sadly those heady two-stroke race-rep days are well behind us – but don’t be too disappointed. Using the engine from the old Inazuma, the attractive GSX should be a fabulous commuter bike, weekend scratcher, and light tourer. High bars and a plush perch mean that it won’t be too wrist-heavy or tough on your posterior, while the decent fairings will deflect the worst of the elements. Looks a lot more sporty than it really is.
  BMW G310GS, £4900
The firm’s R1200GS sits atop the sales charts year-after-year, selling the allure of global travel to hordes of weekend bimblers. And now there’s a version for people who accept that country lanes or the local High Street is as wild as their adventure will get. This 313cc reverse-cylinder single gets big-bike styling, comfort, and a commanding riding position. 
  Honda CRF250 Rally, £5329 
This Dakar-aping 250 borrows heavily from Honda’s 450 dressing up box, and has turned their worthy trail bike into seriously hot property. Longer travel suspension helps with its stance, but really it’s all about that asymmetrical face. And you just know you’ve got one of the most bullet-proof quarter-litre bikes on Earth. Go explore.
  Suzuki DL250 V-Strom, £4199 (est) 
Park the fact that it looks like a Minion from the front, and this addition to the V-Strom family is well worth your attention. Just like the Versys-X, it resides at the more roady, rather than rally, end of the spectrum and could be the most comfortable of this whole batch. A generous seat, wide bars, and decent screen combined with a bullet-proof 249cc single.
  Kawasaki Versys-X 300, £5149
What a great little package this is. Veering deftly away from trying to look like a mini Dakar offering, it will appeal to anyone looking for comfort and sophistication, but without a big engine. Classy paint finishes, a comfy seat, grown up proportions, a nice dash, and factory luggage options make this the ideal daily do-it-all and lightweight tourer.

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