Motorcycles come in endless varieties of styles, sizes, and features, and finding the best motorcycles for beginner riders can seem impossible. If you’re not sure whether you should even be buying a bike of your own at this point, check out our recent blog post here about the process of getting your motorcycle endorsement and when to buy your first bike. If you know riding is for you but you don’t want to end up with a first bike you hate, keep reading.
What style of motorcycle should I buy?
That depends on what you’re using it for and what you like. There is no “right bike” or even a right style. The style you choose is going to determine your riding position; on a standard bike your shoulders will be right over your hips, on a cruiser they will be laid-back behind your hips, and on a sportbike, your shoulders will be leaned over your hips. Try out as many bikes and styles as possible and see what you prefer. Also, consider what kind of riding you want to do and where you’ll be riding. If long, leisurely rides down the Bayou Nature Trail are your thing, a cruiser might be a good choice. If you’re using it to get to and from work, something lighter and nimbler might be more appropriate. If you want to mess around on the track, you’ll need a sportbike. No matter what, get a bike you like!
What size engine is best for beginners?
Many new riders think they should get something “in the middle”, meaning something between a bike that is light and has a low saddle height/power, and a superbike or fully bagged Harley. The idea is that they probably won’t get hurt while they learn on the “middleweight” but they won’t outgrow it. I disagree. I’ve found the sweet spot for new riders to be 250-400cc. You don’t want anything that’s too big, too high, or has more power than you’re able to control as a beginner, but you do need something that fits your size.
Keep in mind that a 600cc cruiser might have half the power of a 600cc sportbike because of the difference in weight and design, so it’ll be up to you to figure out what style you’re comfortable with. It’s a starter bike so you know you’re going to upgrade later so don’t even try and get a bike that’ll last you forever. Starting small will help you learn because you’ll be more confident on a bike you can control. Dropping 20k on a big, fancy motorcycle for your first bike is kind of like having a Lamborghini for your first car; it’s a terrible idea, you won’t be able to drive it, you’ll probably wrap it around a tree, and you’ll look like an absolute tool on a bike that’s too much for you to handle.
All beginner riders should get a used motorcycle, right?
Usually. I would definitely avoid buying the biggest piece of junk you can find thinking that you’re going to trash it anyway leaning it over while you’re learning. That’s what I did when I was starting out, but I came to regret it. Learning how to ride should not encompass learning how to deal with oil pouring out of the engine and onto the back tire or having to siphon gas from the tank and into the carb to start your bike. Nor should it cover pushing the bike a ½ mile home. That really takes the fun out of things!
I suggest doing what I did when my brother and wife expressed interest in learning how to ride. The first thing I did was begin shopping functional bikes in the 250cc range. Today, the smaller displacement bikes now approach 300cc or 400cc, but you get the idea. I found a nice Ninja 250 that a student used to get around the LSU campus. He was going home and could not take the bike with him. It needed a little bit of love, but it ran and did not leak fluids. The bike was NOT damaged at all. That is the ultimate beginner bike! Most folks call that bike a “Ninjette”, but don’t let the ribbing scare you away. I paid the guy $2000 cash for it, and the former owner tossed in a riding jacket, helmet, gloves, messenger bag, and some other goodies (tire pressure gauge, fuel additives, etc.).
That being said, I know bikes so shopping used wasn’t intimidating for me at all. If you’re really not the slightest bit mechanically savvy and don’t have a friend or relative who you trust to take with you to go look, you might be better off buying from a dealership. Most motorcycle dealerships have used inventory. You can usually check online to get a good idea of what they’ll have ahead of time. One of the benefits of buying from a dealership is that their mechanics have usually checked the bike out from top to bottom and if there are issues, you can bring it back to them. That being said, dealerships can be more expensive, they might not have the used inventory you’re looking for, and you might still get ripped off.
When should a beginner rider to buy a new motorcycle?
Occasionally. There are some great new bikes on the market created with beginners in mind you can get for around $5000. If you’re going to shop new, keep an eye out for anti-lock brakes. ABS will prevent the bike from locking up and skidding, which would be especially handy for beginners who are more likely to slam on the brakes in a panic. Some great smaller new bikes that come to mind are:
- 2022 Kawasaki Ninja 400 with ABS, MSRP $5399 TONS of power for such a small bike at a great price. Hard to beat the value for the money.
- 2022 Honda Rebel 500 with ABS, MSRP $6699 Great suspension for a cruiser, easy leg position for smaller riders, good looking, easy to shift, and smooth torque. Very easy for a beginner to handle.
- 2022 Yamaha YZF-R3, 321cc and has ABS, MSRP $5299 Beautiful riding experience, you can take it to a track and have a great time, doesn’t scream “beginner”, and it’s light and handles beautifully.
If money isn’t a huge concern, you want something that you know won’t have mechanical issues, and comfort is a priority, new makes sense. There’s always a market for late-model, low mileage, used bikes so trading up later is definitely still possible. Keep in mind that a dealership probably won’t let you drive off on a new motorcycle until it’s insured and you have your motorcycle endorsement.
I taught my brother how to ride in one weekend on that little Ninja. He is a big guy, so he looked like a bear riding a tricycle, but the bike served him well and gave him the confidence to hit milestone after milestone within hours, not weeks or months. My wife was up next and she too enjoyed the 29” saddle height and the light, flickable nature of the little bike. If she over-revved, it did not want to wheelie and throw her to the ground. The clutch was light to squeeze and the light frame made handling cones and turns very easy. Did either of them plan on getting that same bike as a “forever” motorcycle? Of Course not, but the deed was done. They learned how to ride without fear, and without injury.
If the goal is learning, then buy accordingly and don’t try and straddle both worlds. Bikes sell easily, and they come and go quickly. I sold that Ninjette after only 3 months of ownership. The price? $2000 cash, but without the other goodies. My brother kept the oversized jacket, I donated the helmet to a local kart track, I kept the gloves and still use them to this day, as well as the tire gauge. My wife kept the messenger bag and the bike went to a happy new owner that was thrilled by how easy it was to ride. That, my friends, is called a win, win, win, win… There is no best motorcycle for beginner riders, but you can definitely find the bike that is right for you. Go forth, buy a bike that makes you excited to ride, and call us if you need us!