Welcome to the world of motorcycles! Whether you are brand new to the scene, or if 2-stroke oil runs through your blood, navigating the huge market of bikes today can be a daunting task.
Don’t worry though because we are here to help. We will be covering all of the factors you need to consider, along with a list of our favourite beginner motorcycles for you to look into.
Why Shouldn’t I get my ideal motorcycle straight away?
It is very tempting to rush out and spend top-dollar on that brand new bike that you have been drooling over online for the past few months while you wait to get your motorcycle licence. However, you should definitely think twice before immediately parting with your hard-earned cash.
If you have just got your licence, and not taken part in any additional training, then it will take a little while to get used to riding a motorcycle on the road. Even simple things like stopping, or turning a corner slowly will take practice and you can quickly lose your balance and drop the bike.
New riders are also at the highest-risk of being involved in an accident, meaning you are much more likely to damage whatever you have chosen to ride, especially if you are on a higher-powered motorcycle.
So instead of scuffing up all of the fancy chrome from that new Harley you really wanted, take a good look at something a little more practical, easy-to-use, and affordable to get started on. That $18,000 Fat Bob will still be there, when you are truly ready for it.
Features to consider when choosing your first motorcycle
It isn’t just the style that you have to decide on when shopping for your beginner motorcycle. You will no doubt spend hours pouring over spec sheets, comparing CCs and MPGs, but below are some of the most important factors that will need to be considered in your purchase.
- Engine capacity – This can be a little mis-leading when you are looking for a beginner motorcycle as the capacity doesn’t directly correlate with the power of the motorcycle. Some 250cc sports or dirt bikes can be incredibly powerful for their size, and likewise a big capacity cruiser can have buckets of torque but not huge power. As a general rule, try to look at motorcycles up to around 600cc maximum. Your needs will vary depending on the type of riding (nipping around town, or long highway commutes), and the type of rider (if you are on the larger side, then a 125cc bike isn’t going to offer much).
- Seat height – Dropping a motorcycle while stationary or turning slowly, can be a big issue with newer riders. The seat height can be a huge factor in this, so make sure you find one that is comfortable for you. Ideally you want both feet on the floor while stationary, but one foot flat on the floor with the other on the brake, will also work.
- Weight – You’ve got to be able to move your bike around! This includes moving the motorcycle while standing and moving it while sitting on it. When a motorcycle leans over, it is easy to lose balance and drop it. A lighter bike will help avoid this easy accident.
- Insurance – There is no point buying your new motorcycle if you can’t afford to insure it. Remember, you will have no insurance history with a motorcycle which will put you on the back foot from day one. The more expensive and powerful a motorcycle is, the more the insurance is likely to cost.
- Fuel efficiency – While we are on the subject of costs, fuel efficiency should be factored in. Smaller, lighter bikes tend to get more miles out of the tank, unless you are eating up highway miles, where a larger capacity motorcycle will cruise at lower revs, saving fuel along the way.
- ABS – Anti-Lock Braking System. This wonderful piece of technology stops your wheels from locking up when you slam on the brakes in an emergency, which can be a common mistake with new riders. Having ABS on your motorcycle can save your life and so is highly recommended on a beginner motorcycle.
Should I buy a new or used motorcycle?
When you first visit your local motorcycle dealership, it can be very tempting to gravitate towards shiny new bikes, especially with attractive finance packages and low upfront payments.
There are definitely benefits to buying new, including the manufacturer’s warranty giving you peace of mind, less initial maintenance, and getting the latest onboard technology and gadgets.
But there are definite downsides too. The big one is the price tag, and then the initial depreciation of the value when you ride it off the forecourt! You can expect to lose up to 20% of the value in the first year, compared to around 5% per year for an older model.
Our advice would be to purchase something a few years old.
A lot of motorcycles will update on a 2 or 3-year cycle, so you can pick up basically the same model in some cases. If you are buying used, then it can be worth buying a warranty with the dealership (if you are buying from one). You can usually negotiate this into the total cost of the motorcycle if you are savvy.
What Type of riding will the motorcycle be for?
Why did you choose to get your motorcycle license? Are you looking to have a bit of fun on the weekends, driving to your favorite brunch spot? Are you looking to load up your steed and travel the world? Or are you simply looking for a practical way to commute to work?
Navigating the world of motorcycles is daunting, but narrowing down the reason for riding will seriously help narrow that search for you. In fact, we have categorized our motorcycle suggestions below by riding style, instead of bike category.
This is all down to how much you have and how much you want to spend. With a budget of around $5,000 you can pick up a quality beginner motorcycle. Whether it is a new small capacity bike, or a larger machine with a few miles on it, there is plenty to choose from without having to take out a massive bank loan.
Also don’t forget that you also have to factor your motorcycle gear into your overall budget. Our advice is to always dress for the slide, not for the ride. That means always have full protective gear on, no matter how good the weather may be. It can be beneficial to buy your gear when getting your motorcycle, as you can sometimes negotiate the cost as part of an overall deal.
Can I Test Ride a Motorcycle?
In an ideal world, you would be able to test ride every motorcycle on this, or your own list. Unfortunately, this is very unlikely.
As a new rider, dealerships will be very hesitant to let you out on a motorcycle by yourself. If you are lucky, you may be able to ride it around the parking lot or ride in the back with the salesman riding it for you.
If you are allowed to ride them, then you also have to be prepared that not every bike will be available as a demo at a dealership, especially with new bikes. Dealerships have a demo allowance which rarely covers the full fleet from a specific manufacturer.
Our Best Beginner Motorcycles
There is no perfect motorcycle, if there was then the market would be much smaller!
Instead, what we have included below are two bikes that do lots of things well. They aren’t perfect to any particular category, but would be used in most if not all of them. If you just want to be on two wheels all the time, no matter the occasion, then these might be for you.
New MSRP – $8395.00
OK, this may be out of budget for many beginner motorcycles, but the Triumph Trident is one of the best all-round motorcycles on the market today.
The triple-cylinder 660cc engine is an absolute blast, and can be tweaked by changing the riding mode to suit a newer rider if necessary. This, coupled with the geometry of the bike, makes for an exciting ride, no matter what you are doing.
While it is the most expensive motorcycle on this list, it offers plenty of bang for your buck. Already mentioned are the riding modes, coupled with ABS and switchable traction control, a TFT screen with mobile phone navigation to show turn-by-turn navigation, and a huge service interval of 10,000 miles (or a year)!
If your budget can stretch, definitely take a look at this motorcycle.
New MSRP – $7,899
Still going strong since its launch in 2013, the MT-07 is one of Yamaha’s best-selling motorcycles. And it’s easy to see why. The efficient and super-reliable 689cc CP2 engine is adored by riders and critics, the price is great, and it is an easy bike to get on and ride.
The MT-07 is a street bike mainly, but comes with a great lineup of accessories to suit your style, including comfort and luggage options.
If the larger engine size seems too much for you, then the cheaper MT-03 is available with an MSRP of $4,799.
Best Beginner Motorcycle for Commuting
Commuting is all about comfort and practicality. Your bike needs to be reliable and start every morning, be easy to ride either short or long distances, and be affordable to run.
The two options below tick all of those boxes and even a few more.
New MSRP – $5,799
If you are looking for a beginner motorcycle, then it can be easy to overlook the scooter market. That is why we have included the Yamaha X-Max in the mix. As a commuter you just can’t beat it. It is comfy, with a big seat and plenty of weather protection, along with internal storage. It is also a twist-and-go automatic meaning a smooth, easy ride, and is super cheap to run with the 292cc engine offering 76mpg.
No drive chain, or easily weathered chrome to clean and maintain means that there is very little labour involved with the X-Max.
New MSRP – £7,199
It proved difficult putting this bike into a category as it is such a versatile machine. Honda is notorious for top-notch build quality, and there is no exception for the CB500X.
Technically an adventure motorcycle, the CB500X has made it onto the commuting shortlist because of how easy and comfortable it is to ride, especially on long highway rides.
The fuel efficiency is on par with the Yamaha X-Max too, but the difference here is that the CB500X gives you a bit more excitement with a manual gearbox. The Honda is also a bit more versatile for the longer trips away from home.
Best Beginner Motorcycle for Cruising
Cruisers are the biggest selling motorcycle class in the USA with Harley Davidson claiming about 21% for themselves! So there is a good chance that you are here looking for one. Cruisers are notoriously big and heavy, with large engine capacities, so here are some that are a little more manageable.
Yamaha V-Star 250
New MSRP – $4,599
This is a perfect entry motorcycle if you are looking for a cruiser. The V-Star 250 has a low seat height (27 inches), and a lower weight (324 pounds) than other cruisers out there, making it much easier to manage while you are new to wheeling a bike around.
The engine won’t blow you away, but that price just might!
Royal Enfield Meteor 350
New MSRP – $4,799
Coming in slightly more expensive than the V-Star 250, the Royal Enfield Meteor is a slightly more modern cruiser, with more blacked-out components and cast wheels instead of spokes. This does however make it slightly easy to maintain, with less components to rust.
That extra money will get you a bigger, 349cc engine and ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System), which isn’t present on the V-Star.
Best Beginner Harley Davidson - Street 500
Used – $5,000
No longer available to buy new, the Street 500 was specifically designed for the beginner motorcycle market. With the new models having larger capacities and much higher price tags, Street 500 is a really attractive offer for those dead set on a Harley.
If you are looking for something a little bigger, then you should also take a look at Street 750, which you can also buy as a used motorcycle.
Best Beginner Motorcycle for Touring/ Adventures
The allure of the open road. It is addictive, and pulls a lot of new riders into the world of motorcycles. It is no wonder then that the Adventure market has all but wiped out the Sports Touring market.
The problem for a new rider though, is that most of these machines are big and heavy with tall seat heights. So here are a couple of friendlier options.
Royal Enfield Himalayan
New MSRP – $5,299
Royal Enfield shook up the adventure motorcycle market back in 2016 when it launched the Himalayan. There was finally a decent adventure bike that was cheap to buy.
Fast forward to today and the himalayan is still selling like hot cakes, and it is easy to see why.
The small single-cylinder 411cc engine is easy to ride and maintain, and the design is accessible to many riders. It isn’t overly heavy and has a low seat height, which can be an issue with adventure motorcycles in general.
The stripped-back design of the bike makes it a great base to accessorise with whatever you need for that first big trip on two wheels.
BMW G 310 GS
New MSRP – $5,695
BMW practically invented the adventure market with the GS model and the G 310 GS offers that heritage in a nice small package. It is no wonder why this bike is featured on a lot of Beginner Motorcycle lists.
This bike is as good in the dirt as it is on the city streets and would probably fall into some of the other categories quite nicely. We have put it here though, for the simple reason that it is a BMW GS. If you have your heart set on adventure or touring, then you will no doubt have come across this name already. If you are new to riding, then jumping straight on a big R 1250 GS Adventure probably isn’t advised. But the 310 GS is a great gateway drug!
Best Beginner Motorcycle for Track Days
Jumping on a high-performance, low capacity supersport such as a Yamaha R6 will be very tempting if you have a need for speed. But these machines take time to tame. There are a few great options with less horsepower to get used to track riding, before you move up to a proper supersport.
New MSRP – $4,499
A great little entry to get into the world of sports bikes. The GSX250R is small and light and will feel great on the road and on the track. The engine isn’t too powerful and is a light and flickable machine, ideal for learning to get your knee down in a corner.
Kawasaki Ninja 400
New MSRP – $5,699
If you are after something a little bigger or more powerful, then take a look at the Kawasaki Ninja 400. Not only is the engine larger, but the overall bike is too, making it more comfortable for both taller and larger riders.
The ergonomics of the Ninja 400 are less aggressive than its larger siblings, making it a more versatile machine if you are using the bike on the street as well as on the track. That being said, there are many features and details that have been brought down from Kawasaki’s racing pedigree, making this an excellent choice, albeit one on the pricier side.
Best Beginner Motorcycle for Brunch
Finally, you may just be after a bike that looks great and is nice to ride to a coffee spot, or somewhere nice on a Sunday morning. There is nothing wrong with that, and beauty is all in the eye of the beholder, hence why there is only one suggestion here, albeit a great one in our opinion.
Triumph Speed Twin 900
New MSRP – $9,695
Renamed from the Street Twin, the Speed Twin 900 has been a big hit for Triumph. Similarly to the Trident which we recommended earlier, this bike is simple, stylish and easy to ride.
The low seat height and ergonomics make this a popular beginner motorcycle for women in particular.
Not only is it a joy to ride, but the Speed Twin 900 looks incredible. With buckets of accessories from both Triumph and third parties, no bike needs to look the same. This will definitely attract attention at your favourite brunch spot.
There is a LOT of information to unpack when starting out in the motorcycle world. Hopefully this article has helped to break down this information to help you zero in on what will hopefully be the ideal beginner motorcycle for you.
Remember, that while your local dealership is there to sell to you, they are also there to help and will have a wealth of knowledge available to help guide you too. So head down and start sitting on some bikes!