Best Beginner Motorcycles

April 30, 2019
With spring finally upon us, it marks the informal start of motorcycle riding season. These unique machines provide stylish looks, excellent fuel efficiency, and a feeling of freedom that cars simply cannot equal. But if you’re looking to joins the ranks of America's 8.4 million motorcycle riders (and tens of millions more riders around the world), you’ll have to make several key decisions that will directly impact your experience. Factors like insurance rates, storage, and choosing a bike are all considerations you’ll have to go over if you’re serious about becoming a motorcycle owner this riding season. Choosing the right bike for you will be one of the first, and certainly one of the most important decisions you make. It can be an overwhelming process sifting through forums, message boards, and dealer lots to find the bike that speaks to you. Manufacturers are in tune with the market, however, and releases like Kawasaki’s Ninja 300, Yamaha’s WR250X, and Honda’s Grom minibike show their commitment to providing some great options for the first-time rider. Let’s take a closer look at these and more to help you find the perfect first bike.


The Suzuki SV650 is one of the most oft-recommended beginner bikes of any class. Featuring a 645 cubic centimeter 90° V-twin engine, the SV650 makes enough power to easily handle everything from city driving to highways, with plenty of torque to spare. The SV650 is in a class of bikes called streetfighters, meaning motorcycles which toe the line between true sportbikes and standards (otherwise known as naked bikes). This means you get similar performance to a sportbike, but with the fairings removed and with a more comfortable, upright seating position. These characteristics are just a couple that make the SV650 a great beginner bike, in addition to its stellar reliability and low price: US $7,500 for a new model and well under US $5,000 for a used example in good condition.


The debut of Kawasaki's Ninja 300 in 2012 marked a new era in Kawasaki’s commitment to producing motorcycles for the beginning rider, replacing the brand’s iconic Ninja 250R. The Ninja 300 is an entry-level sportbike just like its older sibling, but has some advantages up its sleeve, mainly an increase in power and the introduction of fuel injection as compared to the 250R’s old school carburetor. What you get for US $5,300 is a capable, stylish sportbike with sportbike looks, but without the uncomfortable riding position of a true supersport or superbike. Alternatively, a non-ABS (anti-lock braking system) equipped version is available for US $5,000, but we recommend saving up for the slightly more expensive ABS-equipped version, especially for beginners.


Supermotos, also commonly referred to as sumos, are a class of motorcycles originally used for competition on specialized racing tracks combining packed dirt obstacle sections with more conventional asphalt. While superficially similar to dirtbikes, sumos, like Yamaha's WR250X, come complete with street-legal tires and brakes and suspension made for the road. The WR250X is a particularly compelling package, offering ample power, riding comfort, and naturally, the ability to take on asphalt and light offroad trails alike. Although discontinued several years ago, good examples can still be found well under US $5,000. If you want a beginner bike with the versatility to do it all, take the WR250X into consideration.


Minibikes are another unique segment of the motorcycle industry, with Honda's Grom being one of the most modern examples. Although a little down on power compared to other beginner options, the Grom’s 125 cc engine provides plenty of power for commuting around the city and traveling over short distances. Its lack of power belies its canyon-carving ability too, with its light weight and peppy motor contributing to the Grom’s prowess in these conditions. Whilst endearing and fun to ride, the Grom may not be the best option for you if you intend to do most of your riding on the highway. There, its relative shortcomings will be made apparent, no matter how endearing the little bike is.


If these bikes don’t quite scratch the itch, don’t worry, there are plenty of other options on the market. Looking for a powerful standard with an aggressive riding position? Check out KTM's 390 Duke, starting at US $5,500. Want a cool cruiser? Honda's Rebel 300 might fit the bill, with Yamaha's V Star 250 being an excellent contender as well. As for standards, the Kawasaki Ninja 650R stands as one of the Suzuki SV650’s top competitors. When it comes down to decision time, you should evaluate what you need and expect from your bike. While standards and cruisers will be best for commuting, sportbikes and sumos will be some of the quickest and some of the most versatile, respectively. There’s a niche for any type of rider and this is the perfect time to get into the hobby, so what are you waiting for; find your perfect bike, stay safe, and get on the road!
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