Best Motorcycle for Beginners

If you are a newly converted motorcycle enthusiast or a lifelong one who has finally reached the age or means to purchase your first bike, you have an enjoyable and possibly daunting decision to make—which motorcycle will be your first?

As with any major purchase, there are a lot of factors that go into the decision of which motorcycle to buy. If you are new to riding, you may want to start with a smaller investment. There is a lot of gear to get, not to mention the safety course, license, and insurance. Arguably the bike itself is the most critical decision and the costliest. Let’s break down the decision process to help you look at and sort through the options.

The experts at advise first deciding if you will be using the bike mostly for city travel or rural rides. A city bike will be smaller, more agile, and have better fuel economy. It is also wise to look closely at the safety features since city driving means traffic and more chances of being involved in an accident. By contrast, if your ideal is long, solo highway rides, you may want a bigger, more comfortable frame and more horsepower, although you still want the fuel economy for those longer drives.

Next, choose between the basic types: sportbike, cruiser, dual-sport and touring bike (dresser).

What are the options in motorcycle style?

Sportbikes are like sports cars—stylish, aggressive, and powerful. Sportbikes are sometimes referred to as “crotch rockets” because of the way you sit on the bike as well as the performance. On a sportbike, riders lean forward, knees nearly touching their chest, with feet balanced on a pair of footpegs towards the rear. This type may not be the best choice for a new rider and not the go-to for long leisurely rides in the country. These bikes make a statement and insist on being seen. Sportbikes a beginner might consider are:

  •  Suzuki SV650
  •  Honda CBR 500
  •  Yamaha FZ-07
  •  Kawasaki Ninja 250
  • Yamaha YZF-R3

There is a sub-type of sportbike, referred to as a “naked” bike, with a more upright seating configuration and some other minor differences. Often a naked bike lacks a windscreen as well.

If sportbikes are like sports cars, then cruisers are classic muscle cars. They are bigger and more comfortable than the sportbike, and thus a better rural ride. The ultimate example of a cruiser is a Harley, although every major manufacturer has several in its lineup. Cruisers support a relaxed riding posture, easy to maintain on long rides. Some popular cruiser models include:

  • Harley-Davidson Street 500
  • Harley-Davidson Iron 883
  • Harley-Davidson Street 750
  • Kawasaki Vulcan Classic
  • Yamaha V Star 250
  • Honda Shadow
  • Honda Rebel 250

Dual-sport bikes are like a crossover SUV, a mix of sport bike and dirt bike. You can ride it in the city and take it off-roading as well. Dual-sport bikes are light and agile enough for beginners, but they can be top-heavy, and if you are short, you may find them a bit on the tall side. Consider these models:

  • Suzuki DR 200
  • Kawasaki KLX250S
  • Honda CRF230M

Finally, touring bikes, or Dressers, compare to RVs in the car world. This bike will have wide suspension, a low frame and, thick tires and may have luxury extras including audio systems, GPS, heated seats, and ABS brakes. While a nice beginner bike, it can be challenging to balance at first. Options include:

  • Kawasaki Versys-X 300 ABS
  • Honda CB500X
  • BMWG 310 GS

What should the beginner look for in a bike?

Once you have the style and function of your dream bike settled, consider some parameters recommended by The Motorcycle Legal Foundation:

Engine Size. Consider sticking to a bike around 600 cc as a first bike size. Consider this a general rule which can vary depending on the size and weight of the bike and rider.

Windscreen. While the feel of the wind may be exhilarating, it can be exhausting. Particularly on a long ride, you will tire more quickly if you are fighting the wind and weather. The windscreen will also protect you from rocks and bugs. 

ABS. As a new rider, you may be more likely to apply the brakes too hard and lock them up. Look for a bike that comes with ABS to keep the tires and brakes from locking and skidding if you do.

Seat and handlebar height. Make sure you have the precise height of seat and handlebar so that you can comfortably reach the ground, but aren’t too close, and that you aren’t at an uncomfortable angle on the seat or stretching to reach the controls. 

Should I Buy New Or Used?

For the beginning rider, many experts lean toward recommending a new bike. There are several reasons for this, including the advanced technology found on new models, such as anti-lock brakes, which can keep the inexperienced rider safe. Also, since motorcycles are generally less expensive than cars, the barrier to buying a new one isn’t as high. Because most motorcycles are going to crash at some point, it isn’t easy to get a realistic idea of the actual condition of the bike you buy used. And of course, if you buy from a private party, you will be paying cash and assuming all of the risks that the bike may fall apart. 

Dave Booth, with Auto Trader, cautions that if you go the used bike route, make sure that you take a knowledgeable friend with you to examine the potential purchase. Look at the brake pads for wear, check the tire treads, ask for any maintenance records, look over the condition of the sprockets and chain, and check for scrape marks under the footpeg muffler that will indicate the bike has been dropped.

If you are mechanically gifted, then a case can be made for buying a used first bike as a project. Spending time working on the bike can be as rewarding as riding it if you have the expertise and the time. If you are paying someone else to fix your cycle, then factor in the high cost of repairs and parts as you weigh the decision between a new or used bike. 

If you decide to buy used, take some precautions. Remember to take a friend with you (safety first) even if you know your way around a bike. Check the VIN on the bike to make sure it matches what is on the title. Scams are everywhere. Check to make sure the owner owns the motorcycle—when you see the title, make sure that the name on the title is the name on the identification the seller shows you. Write up a bill of sale, and have the seller sign it. You may also want to check with your local police department to find out if there are any concerns or complaints about the seller, or if they have other recommendations.

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