The search for the right beginner bike can be a frustrating one, because there are really a lot of different right answers. Ultimately there might be no “right” beginner bike – you just need to find the right one for YOU. Here’s what you need to think about as you shop, and a bunch of great recommendations based on your needs.
Anyone whose ever embarked on an internet search looking for advice on “what the best beginner’s motorcycle” would be has probably gone down a very similar-sounding journey: you start off reading through a bunch of internet listicles with a dozen different takes on what the “Top 10 Best Beginner’s Motorcycles” are (half of which you wouldn’t be caught dead on anyway), then eventually you end up on a motorcycle forum, where everyone tries to shame you into starting on a 250, no matter what your needs or riding style are.
Unfortunately, the search for information on what your first bike should often goes from exciting to frustrating really quickly. That’s because there’s not only a million different opinions on what the “best starter bike” is, but there are actually a lot of different “best first motorcycles” – but it all depends on what your specific needs are.
So in this article, instead of just telling what your first bike should be, we’ll tell you what kinds of things you should be thinking about when you choose one, then make some helpful recommendations depending on what direction your journey takes you. Sure, the most important thing about your first motorcycle is to not die on it – but we want to make sure you enjoy it and get the most out of it too, so riding becomes a lifelong passion for you, like it is for us!
Four Things You Should Consider When Choosing A Bike For Beginners
Sure, the Internet is telling you to start on a used 250 for your first bike (probably a Kawasaki Ninja or a Honda Rebel) but while that’s not necessarily bad advice, it might not be right for you. The ideal first bike for you is going to depend on a combination of things you need to consider: we’ve narrowed them down to four, and here they are.
1) What’s your style, and where do you want to ride?
All motorcycles are NOT created equally – not even for beginners. A Ninja 250 might be someone’s perfect “first bike,” but that won’t be appealing to you at all if cruisers are your style; and neither of those will sound appealing if you’re just as excited about hitting the dirt as you are about cruising the streets.
First and foremost, determine what style of bikes you prefer: sportbikes, cruisers, or dual-sport/adventure bikes are the basic categories. If you don’t have a strong preference, look at standards, which are “all-around” bikes that are about generic as two wheels and an engine will get. Determining your preferred motorcycle style upfront will guide the rest of your search for the perfect starter bike.
If you don’t know what your favorite style is, here’s another way to look at it: what’s the ideal ride to you: a long cruise down the highway, carving through a twisty mountain road, or riding on roads only as long as it takes to get to a trail where the real fun begins? Based on your answer, the “right bike” will be completely different (hint: cruiser, sportbike, and dual-sport, in order.) Cruisers are made for long-distance comfort and tend to be heavier for stability on the highway, while sport bikes are lighter and more “flickable” for quick handling. But neither of those will take you off-road; you’ll need the knobby tires and tall suspension of a dual-sport for that.
2) Consider difference in size, age, and gender.
Many people giving advice on the web make the mistake of assuming every “beginning rider” is a young male in his late teens or early twenties, and give advice accordingly. But the truth is that both men and women take up riding for the first time at all sorts of different times in their lives, and the “right first bike” will be completely different between one rider and another. (Example: many people will say something like a tall dual-sport like a Suzuki DRZ-400SM is a perfect first bike for anyone; but a shorter female in her 50s would probably beg to differ!)
Consider your personal style, your own height, and the dimensions of the bike you’re looking at as you do your research, to find something you will be comfortable on. Physically sit on as many bikes as you can to get a feel for the height and riding position; some bikes that look great on paper will be ruled out immediately if you can’t put both feet on the ground!
3) Differences in Cost and Budget
Money is always an issue, and right after considering the style of bike you want, you need to consider what you can afford. The big debate here is usually “used vs. new.”
With used bikes, you typically get a lot more for your money. But more importantly, you get a bike you probably won’t mind dropping or damaging as much – and chances are, as a new rider, you probably will drop it at least once. Many people recommend getting a used bike under the assumption you’ll damage it making a few rookie mistakes, and that you’d be better of moving up to a new bike once you’ve really gained some skill and confidence on two wheels.
On the other hand, new bikes tend to have more financing options, more technology that can help you stay safe (like ABS and traction control) and will have fewer maintenance concerns. If you can afford it, new might be the way to go for you, but weigh the pros and cost of both, and decide what you’re most comfortable with.
And don’t forget this often overlooked component of cost – insurance! This can vary widely based on your age, location, riding experience, and model of bike; but generally, sportier, fully-faired bikes are more expensive to insure than standards or dual-sports. No matter what you choose, get insurance quotes before you pull the trigger on a bike to make sure you don’t get a nasty surprise!
4) Do You Really Want a “Starter Bike,” Or Something You Can Actually Grow With?
A huge part of deciding what will be the “right first bike” for you is determining if you’re really looking for a “starter bike” (in other words, something you plan to move up from as soon as you’re ready) or if you want a bike that’s beginner-friendly, but will also give you room to grow as you improve your skills.
Most riders will move up from their first bike anyway, so starting with one you plan to get rid of is definitely not a bad idea. You can focus on learning and improving your skills, make your mistakes on it, drop it and not care too much, and probably sell it for close to what you paid when you’re done with it. Not only that, you’ll probably learn a lot more about what you do and don’t like about your first bike as you go, so your second bike will be a lot better-suited to you.
But if you do want a bike you can grow with, the first thing you’ll probably want is more power, so you’ll want to go with something that has some grunt to begin with. The key is that the power be manageable – as you start, you want something that wont freak you out when you twist the throttle, but has enough power in the top end to give you a few years of satisfaction as your skills improve. For this, a single or two-cylinder engine between 500-650cc will fit the bill nicely.
(Tip: stay away from 600cc inline-fours, because they tend to be very high-performance engines and are NOT good choices for beginners!)
A Few Great Starter Bikes For You
With all that said, now we can get into some actual recommendations. We’ve broken them up by category based on the criteria we discussed: Good First Sport Bikes, Good First Cruisers, Good First Dual Sports, and Good First Bikes You Won’t Outgrow Quickly. Check them out and see what you think!
Good First Sport Bikes
Kawasaki Ninja 300ABS
Long a favorite of new riders, the Kawasaki Ninja 300 is sporty looking, easy to handle, has a great engine, and can be ordered with ABS, which is a great safety feature especially for new riders.
Yamaha’s new entry-level sport bike is beginner-friendly and affordable with a low seat height, but also a little sportier than most others in the class, with sharp looks and a revvy 321cc engine.
KTM Duke 390(or RC 390)
Probably the most fun bike in the beginner sport bike class, even veteran riders are flocking to get their hands on this light, powerful, fun beginner bike. The Duke is more of a street fighter/naked model, but the RC390 is the fully faired sport version of the same bike, and equally as awesome.
Good First Cruisers
If you’re on the small side and dig the cruiser aesthetic, the light and inexpensive Honda Rebel will be a great place to start. With a 234cc engine, they don’t pack much punch, but they make a good stepping stone to bigger cruisers you won’t get tired of later.
A 250cc might be too small, so a jump up to something like the 650cc V-Star will make a much better starter bike for many riders. 650ccs gives you enough power to enjoy riding without getting yourself into trouble, and the bike has a beefy, traditional cruiser design that doesn’t scream “I just got my learners permit.”
Harley-Davidson Street 500/750
Harley-Davidson’s Street line is their purpose built starter bike, and the bike they hold all their learners courses on. Streets are stylish, with lots of matte black and a club style fairing, but the small engine, low weight, and low seat height make it very approachable for new riders.
Good First Dual-Sports
An affordable dual sport strongly based off Honda’s CRF250 dirt bike, the CRF250L is a reliable, off-road ready starter bike if you know that there are dirt roads in your riding future.
A favorite of novice and experienced riders for decades, the DR-Z400S is a solidly performing dual sport with plenty of power to get around town or shred on the trails, and you probably won’t outgrow it quickly. Suzuki also makes the DR-Z400SM, a supermoto version of the same awesome bike.
Good First Bikes You Won’t Outgrow Quickly
Indian Scout Sixty
The Indian Scout is one of the hottest bikes in the cruiser market, but it’s a little over-powered for beginners; so they built the Sixty, with a more manageable 999cc engine, one less gear, and a price tag that’s $2000 lower. The Sixty has more than enough power to entertain you for years, with smooth enough delivery that it won’t freak you out as you’re getting started.
If you love supersports, but are sensible enough not to jump straight to a 600cc inline-four powered bike (as so many do), then the Honda CBR500R is a great compromise. It has the sexy, fully faired look of a supersport like the CBR600RR, but with 120 less ccs and a two-cylinder engine instead of four. This is a sport bike you can ride for years.
Kawasaki Vulcan S
The Vulcan S is more of a power cruiser than a traditional cruiser, with a sportier, more aggressive look, and a lot more black than chrome. The 649cc parallel twin is powerful enough to keep you entertained for years without freaking you out, and it can be had with ABS, which is a confidence-inspiring feature every rider can benefit from.
And of course…the Suzuki SV650
The internet’s favorite motorcycle has finally returned in all-new form for 2017 with ABS, but the iconic motorcycle can also be found used just about anywhere. Many call this the all-around perfect bike; brand new riders love them as much as people who have been riding for 20 years, and with good reason.