In this article we dive into the topic of what makes the best motorcycle for the beginners starting out.
The focus here is not on what particular brand or model is best. Instead we want to discuss the needs of a new rider and what types of bikes fulfill those needs. There are plenty of articles out there that review beginner motorcycles. Here we want to explain why it’s important for new riders to choose the right bike
At this point, hopefully received proper training through an accredited motorcycle safety course. Maybe you’ve even bought some protective gear as well. Now you have been anxiously thinking about what your first motorcycle will be.
The topic of what makes a good first bike for beginners is possibly the most opinionated and contentious in all of motorcycling.
Everyone has an opinion. Talking to friends and anyone who rides will get you numerous convictions usually preached as gospel. Everything thing from “Bro, I had a buddy who rode a gixxer 1000 as a first bike and he’s fine” to “Starting on a 250 is the only way to go”
The information out there is confusing and can get frustrating. I myself have seen things online that make my head shake in disbelief on the topic.
Who do you trust with such a big decision? This is a decision that affects your safety and your finances.
By the end of this article, you should have enough information to make an informed decision that’s right for you.
A good first step is to get an understanding of motorcycle displacement.
What is Displacement?
Engine displacement is the size of a motorcycle’s motor.
Most manufacturers use the metric system for their motor sizes. You will see the size displayed in CC’ which stands for cubic centimetres.
Other companies such as Harley Davidson and Indian will use the imperial system of measurement on some of their bikes. They will display their motor sizes in cubic inches.
Street bikes on the road today will range in displacement from 125cc all the way up to 1800cc and bigger
How this relates to a new riders decision on what bike is best for his or her skill level is important.
The size of a motorcycle’s motor does not necessarily represent how fast or powerful a bike is.
What’s important to understand here is that different size motors perform very differently depending on the class the motor falls into.
A 600cc superbike such as Suzuki’s GSXR, has the same amount of horsepower as Honda’s 1800cc Goldwing. The Suzuki is half the Goldwing’s weight thus much faster off the line. The point here is, engine displacement only tells part of the story. Any discussion of a beginner bike centered only around displacement is misleading
Motorcycle Class Categories
Motorcycles fall into about five different classes. These are
- Super sport
This is a basic outline of the types of bikes manufacturers offer.
Recognizing the different classes is important for new riders. A motorcycle will perform differently based on the class it’s in.
This is a good time to mention motorcycle geometry. Without getting into too much confusing technical jargon, a bike’s geometry relates to how it is built or laid out. Some bikes are long and lower to the ground. Others are very compact with short wheelbases and aggressive. Others fall somewhere between the two. Weight and height can also vary due to a bike’s geometry. Add all this up and a motorcycle’s geometry directly relates to its handling characteristics. This is an important thing for new riders to consider. Some bikes or classes of bikes will handle much differently than others. The list of advantages and disadvantages between each class of motorcycle is too long to get into here. It all comes down to what riding style you prefer. Do you prefer the sharp handling and stiffer suspension of sport riding? Or do you prefer the plush comfort of a cruiser or touring machine? Maybe a little bit of both? These are personal choices and will help a new rider narrow down his or her selection options.
Let’s briefly break down each class of motorcycle.
These bikes are what the name implies. They don’t have any body work. The geometry is more relaxed or neutral. They have a more upright riding position. Think of the triumph Bonneville or other retro bikes when you think of this class if motorcycle
These bikes are sporty in nature. Their geometry and style are geared towards sport type riding. Shorter wheelbase and upright to aggressive rider positions. Some have full fairing while others are naked or street fighter style.
For beginners, the sport class is where you will likely find the most options to suit your needs. There are plenty of bikes here with 250 to 650cc’s.
Bikes here are usually bigger with larger engines. Designed for long haul riding, these bikes have larger fuel tanks, wind protection and sometimes bags or panniers. Displacement is usually high to allow for more comfortable highway cruising.
These are typically long and low. Their geometry is towards straight line cruising. They are usually heavy but with a low seat height. the motors here tend to be larger but there are a couple models suitable for new riders
These are the state of the art purpose built missiles. Their geometry is hyper aggressive. This allows for superior handling and control. Here is where you see that displacement is not representative of power or lack of. These bikes have incredibly strong breaks and throttle response. It will shock you if you’ve never been on one before. This is the most powerful class of motorcycle regardless of displacement.
What To Choose?
The question now becomes, which bike is right for the new rider just starting out?
Let’s set some objectives here. What are the needs of a new rider?
Confidence. Confidence is the number one thing a new rider needs when he or she is on the road. If you are not confident in your ability to handle a motorcycle in all situations your growth will suffer.
We gain confidence by practicing. With time in the saddle we slowly get more comfortable and things begin to flow better.
Therefore we need a bike that will nurture and support our growth in gaining confidence.
Let’s get something out of the way.
Can a new rider ride a 600cc super sport?
The answer is yes.
Going in a straight line isn’t difficult.
Hitting a corner really slowly isn’t too difficult either.
Is that all we are trying to do here?
Let’s ask other questions.
Can a new rider get the most out of a 600cc super sport?
That bike, now matter how you cut it, is more than most riders could get the most out of. Some new riders will end up getting in big trouble with that amount of power and breaking ability. That bike will hinder your growth as a proficient rider. Don’t believe me?
Look at MotoGP riders. Think they start at the 600 or 1000 class and go from there? No. They all start in the 250cc class and learn until they can no longer grow as a rider. At that point they move up to. It’s the same for us.
As we head out onto the roadway for our first miles, we have an enormous amount of variables to constantly be aware of. Lane position. Traffic flow. Entering intersection. Cars entering from driveways and parking lots ect. Our attention needs to be multitasking in many different directions. In the begging, learning to handle these situations is what’s most important
Lighter, less powerful motorcycles are perfect for riders to gain skills and abilities. On these bikes we can learn. We can learn to use much more of the bike. We can accelerate out of a corner without getting into trouble really quickly. They give us a feel for what it’s supposed to feel like to use a bike’s motor, its breaks, all of the bike.
A fast bike will get you to the next corner quickly. It’s the riders skill that will get you through the corner quickly and efficiently.
Here is a video to demonstrate this. The rider filming is on a ninja 250. He’s on a track with 600cc super sports. Notice how the bigger bikes have no problem overtaking him in the straight. Once the riders enter the corner, it’s the 250 pilots superior skill that allows him to become faster in those sections.
Learning to ride this proficiently is impossible on a more powerful, heavier motorcycle. You will likely learn more bad habits than good. You are in survival,not learning mode.
The notion of outgrowing a motorcycle too quickly is put to rest in this video. Once you can ride a smaller bike this quickly I’d say you are ready. At the same time look at the fun this guy is having!
Bigger and faster may stroke your ego more on meet ups but it won’t do much for your skills development.
Types Of Bikes To Consider
New riders today are very Fortunate. There are beginner friendly options in every class of motorcycle. Outside super sport obviously.
There was a time not long ago where a new rider’s only choice was the vulnerable Ninja 250. Fantastic bike but now the choices are much more plentiful. This is a really good thing. It gives new riders a reason to start small. There are beginner friendly bikes out there that any rider would be proud to throw a leg over. Pick a class and there will be a suitable bike for you.
Anything listed by the manufacturer with 65hp or less is a great starting point for a first bike. The more ponies, the higher the cost and insurance premiums as well so take that into consideration.
Without becoming a buyers guide , I’ll list some bikes to consider in each class. You could find any of these new or used. From there you can do your own research on any particular model that interests you.
KTM RC 390
KTM Duke 390
Honda CBR/CB 300 and 500
Kawasaki Ninja 250 300 400 650
Yamaha MT 03
Yamaha MT 07
Suzuki SV 650
Suzuki GSXR 250
Triumph Bonneville T100
Ducati Scrambler 400
Harley Davidson Street 500 750
Harley Davidson Iron 883
Yamaha Vstar 250
Yamaha Vstar 650
Honda Rebel 300 500
Honda Shadow 750
Kawasaki Vulcan S 650
Honda CRF250L Rally
Kawasaki Versys 300 650.
Royal Enfield Hymalayen
There may be more. As you can see there is a bike for everyone who is just starting out no matter what style of riding you choose.
All these bikes are great for learning. They allow you to keep your focus on safety and the potential obstacles ahead.
I see no reason any of these bikes can’t keep a new rider satisfied for years to come.
Choosing a bike that is big and powerful as a first bike will at the very least, make your learning curve long and drawn out. At worst it could cost you your life.
Choosing a bike mentioned above will allow you to become an excellent rider. They will help you build the confidence you need. They will keep you learning and progressing in your skill development.
On a personal note, I started riding on a 250cc motorcycle as my first bike. I rode it for two seasons and figured I was ready to step up. I purchased a Yamaha R6. My riding became less enjoyable. I loved the clout it gave me at the coffee shops but I couldn’t ride the bike the way I could the 250. That’s when I learned it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow. Recently I purchased a KTM Duke 390 as one of my bikes. Even after many bikes and many years and miles in the saddle. I get a kick out of riding it. I feel in complete control when I’m on it. It’s so much fun to use all a bike’s potential. I grin from ear to ear every time I’m on it.
This is an exciting journey to be on. With a clear goal, knowledge of the choices available to you, you can now make a more informed decision on your first bike.
Once you have chosen your first bike, you ca start to search for your safest helmet options.