The turning of the weather means the motorcycling season has kicked in. Motorcycling is truly liberating, and just because most folks are intimidated by the notion of cruising down the highway on two wheels with no crumple zone, airbags, or metal surrounding them doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy skill to learn and a great hobby to pursue. The open air, the sound, the speed, and the control all make motorcycling a distinct pleasure. Riding a motorcycle, however, is also very different from driving a car, and there’s rather steep learning curve.
First Things First: Learn Safe Motorcyle Riding
If you want to ride a motorcycle with both skill and safety, you’ve got to get the proper training via places like The Motorcycle Safety Foundation that has numerous chapters across the country and provides a strong base of motorcycle riding fundamentals, as well as guidance on how to protect yourself while riding. I did the MSF course, myself, twelve years ago, and the skills have stuck with me on numerous rides on Harleys, Ducatis, Royal Enfields, Buells, Hondas, Kawasakis, and even a couple of Urals. Don’t get a moto riding buddy to teach you. Do it the right way through a bona fide motorcycle safety course, and you’ll learn how to ride properly and safely, as well as develop situational awareness that’s imperative while on two wheels, which is vastly different than on four.
Assuming you take the course and pass the written and riding tests, you’ll get a certificate which you can then take to your local DMV to get licensed as a motorcyclist in your state. Your next step might be to actually purchase a beginner motorcycle in order to develop your skills and actually put to use what you’ve learned. Remember, just like hot sauce, you can’t just start out with the most “en fuego” version right out of the gates, but you also don’t have to start with the tamest one, either. That’s where some key knowledge about good beginner bikes is a great place to start, versus just going to your local motorcycle dealer to see what appeals to you.
How to Pick Out Your First Motorcycle
Conventional wisdom says a lighter, less powerful bike is the way to go. While that’s a very typical approach, there’s a lot more to consider: your height and weight, your comfort level on a motorcycle, motorcycle type, and of course, price. If you get a motorcycle that’s too small for your physique, it could be more dangerous to ride than a larger one. If you’re a big guy, 200ccs of displacement might not be enough to move you out of harm’s way quickly. Here are some important aspects of the motorcycle to take into consideration as you shop.
Here are a few considerations to take into account if you are in the market for your first motorcycle:
- Try to keep the weight of the motorcycle around 400 or so pounds to ensure easy handling and maneuverability.
- Under 650ccs of engine displacement will provide sufficient power without getting out of hand.
- If you can get anti-lock braking, go with it because it will make the motorcycle easier to manage.
- Choose a bike type that best fits where and how you will ride.
The Best Motorcycles for Beginners
Yamaha V Star 250
The V Star 250 looks more powerful than it is, and it remains a great choice for beginners with its entry-level V-twin engine. It weighs a mere 324 pounds, and its seat height is 27 inches. The 250cc isn’t mindblowing, but that’s good for beginners who don’t want the bike to get away from them. The riding position is relaxed, and it actually looks like a bike a seasoned rider might own. The affordable price of this classic street bike should be a huge draw, as well.
Suzuki SV650 ABS
The SV650 sportbike looks like a poor man’s Ducati Monster. But that’s a high compliment because its blue trellis frame, blue wheels, and black body make it look like it can take on just about anything. The 650ccs of displacement are at the top end of power for beginners, but that shouldn’t intimidate because the SV650 ABS is controllable and comfortable. It weighs 437 pounds, and the seat height is 30.9 inches. The extra $450 more for anti-lock brakes over the standard SV650 is totally worth it.
KTM 390 Adventure
The KTM 390 Adventure does so much so well that it’s not just a great beginner motorcycle. It’s a great bike, period. Made for both pavement and dirt, this adventure bike has it all, including ABS, ride modes, a potent 373cc single-engine, and a great riding position. The TFT display is clear and puts all the relevant info front and center. Weight is more than manageable 348 pounds, and the seat height is 33.6 inches.
Kawasaki KLR650 ABS
We adore the KLR650 for so many reasons. Not only does this dual sport look as tough as nails, but it’s also a truly excellent bike to ride for beginning, intermediate, and advanced riders. The upright riding position is one of the best in the business, and it now boasts ABS for excellent braking and riding control. 652cc of displacement is more than sufficient power to get out of trouble, but it won’t eclipse your skill level, either. Throw in some heated grips, and it’s three-seasons ready. ABS is a mere $300 more than the non-ABS version. The bike weighs about 460 pounds, and the ride height is on the high side at 34.3 inches.
Some bikes look like beginner motorcycles, and that’s okay because the motocross-style TW200 has fun written all over it. In fact, this is very moto I learned on, and many MSF courses choose it because it’s just so easy to manage at low speeds and tight spaces. The TW200’s 196cc displacement is perfect for beginners, and its big knobby tires can handle street and the dirty stuff. It weighs just 278 pounds making it easy to maneuver, and the ride height is 31.1 inches.
Honda CRF300L ABS
Who says your first motorcycle shouldn’t be a blast of a dirt bike? The CRF300L ABS might just be the perfect beginner version with its excellent balance of 311-pound weight, 286cc cingle cylinder power, and an upright riding position. Designed like an off-road rally bike, it’s actually easy to ride and super-fun to ride thanks to excellent suspension travel, 11.2 inches of ground clearance, and the perfect amount of grunt. The 34.7-inch ride height is better suited for riders with a taller inseam.
Royal Enfield Classic 350
If you want a beginner motorcycle with vintage attitude, then look no further than the new Classic 350. Made to look like a post-WWII motorcycle, it has a teardrop tank, casquette headlamp, big wraparound fenders in front and rear, and a well-cushioned single seat for long rides. The British style is evident via its downplayed colorways and handsome Royal Enfield tank lettering. The 350cc power is perfect for beginners, as is the 429-pound weight and 31.7-inch ride height. You can also get ABS, and the starting price is within reach for most.
Kawasaki Versys-X 300 ABS
The Versys-X is an adventure/touring bike that can take you from street to trail easily, and it can also keep intermediate and advanced riders happy while providing beginners with a safe and fun riding experience, as well. The manageable size and ride height equate to one of the most manageable adventure bikes out there, but the potent (but not overpowering) Ninja-derived 296cc hits the sweet spot. The bike’s curb weight is 410 pounds, and the seat height stands at 32.1 inches. The ABS option is the right one to tick for just a few hundred extra, too. While it might be on the slightly heavier side for an ADV, it’s actually quite nimble in traffic, so a beginner can certainly handle it.
BMW G 310 GS
The fact that there’s a beginner-friendly Beamer on this list is remarkable. The rather affordable G 310 is both street and off-pavement ready with its approachable power and ride height. The 313cc single-cylinder engine power is more than sufficient for highway speeds, but the windscreen is small. The trellis frame is stunning, as is the overall aesthetic of the 310 GS. We love the fact that the forgiving suspension lets beginners manage bumps and a bit of mild off-roading. The standard ABS should put new riders at ease, and the 373 pounds of dry weight keeps things light. Seat height is 32.9 inches, which is better for taller riders.
We’d be remiss for not including a racy-looking sport bike in this group, and the GSX250R is the right one for moto newbies. The 248cc, parallel-twin engine provides excellent low to mid-range torque, so it’s plenty of fun while remaining controllable. While it looks like its bigger GSX-R brothers, it’s smaller and tamer without sacrificing fun. The 31.1-inch ride height and narrower frame are better for smaller riders, and the weight stays under 400 pounds. There’s no ABS, but the brakes are strong and confident.