Best Motorcycle for Beginners – The Ultimate Guide to find the perfect fit!
Some common questions new motorcycle riders have when they start to contemplate purchasing their first motorcycle are – What’s the best motorcycle for a beginner motorcycle rider? Are there any specific types of motorcycles that are better suited as a starter bikes? What qualities should I look for in a beginner motorcycle?
If you are looking for answers to the above or similar questions, then you have come to the right place! And, it is a good indicator that you are going to be a responsible rider because you must know that there are a lot of “wrong motorcycles” out there for beginner riders and want to avoid making a mistake for this key step in your journey as a new motorcycle rider & owner.
Or, maybe you don’t really know for sure if some motorcycles are inappropriate for new riders but you’ve heard some stories or know some riders who blindly jumped into buying the first motorcycle only to greatly regret that choice later.
Either way, we’ve developed an extensive guide and collection of the information below that will get you on track to choosing a motorcycle specifically appropriate for a beginner motorcycle rider.
Why is it very important to choose the right beginner motorcycle?
Choosing the wrong beginner motorcycle can really put that vulnerable/new motorcycle rider in some areas of heightened risks:
The wrong beginner motorcycle can really put a new and inexperienced beginner rider at heightened risks of having an accident, injury, or worse!
Purchasing the wrong beginner motorcycle may not only affect the rider’s health but also can be a disaster for the rider’s financial health too!
Negative Training Risk
The experience can get so bad the beginner rider learns bad riding habits or may even cause them to give up on motorcycling.
To understand why the wrong motorcycle for a beginner can have such a negative impact, you need to realize that there are many, many, very different motorcycles out there and some of those are simply not appropriate for beginner riders for a variety of reasons. Maybe some of those motorcycles are simply too large (size and/or weight), too awkward of a configuration (i.e., think of a niche design like a “chopper-style” motorcycle) for a beginner to drive in a comfortable or safe manner, too fast or even too slow, or even just plain impractical for a rider looking for a daily commuter motorcycle or too boring for a beginner looking for a specific look/feel of a motorcycle.
Also, the process of simply learning to ride a motorcycle is challenging enough due to the significantly different way a motorcycle is operated in comparison to an automobile that most riders will be familiar with. The infographic below shows 5 key ways riding a motorcycle will be different than say driving an automobile.
Whatever the many reasons are, a certain motorcycle can be bad or good for a beginner motorcycle rider and so we want to help you find that right bike or at least narrow in on a couple of good solid recommendations that will help prevent elevating safety risks, help protect you from a bad financial decision, and help you find a nice “two-wheeler” to put under you that in the end will help you truly figure out if the motorcycle riding lifestyle is a good fit for you!
Before we begin making any specific recommendations as to the best motorcycle for beginners, we need to take the very important step of helping you take stock of your very personal and very specific situation. Meaning, that a wise choice for that first/starter motorcycle cannot be made unless you understand some key aspects about you and your situation. These attributes play a huge role in not just determining what the best motorcycle for a beginner is but instead, the best motorcycle for beginner riders specifically for YOU as that beginner rider.
As you probably realize, there are many different beginner riders out there that come in all different shapes and sizes, with different strengths, weaknesses, and experiences, and in different financial situations and so a perfect beginner bike for one rider may be a terrible choice for another beginner rider. So rather than BestMotorcycleForBeginners.com making vague recommendations based on generic/average new riders, we think the best approach is to walk you through four key questions to help you understand what you need to know in order to choose the BEST BEGINNER MOTORCYCLE FOR YOU.
Ideally, the best motorcycle for beginners will be the right size, the right power level, be the right type based on the riders coordination and mental maturity, fit within the rider’s budget, and be of the right type of motorcycle to fulfill the style of riding the beginner motorcycle rider is planning to do.
4 Must Answer Questions Before Choosing A Beginner Motorcycle
- What Are The Beginner Rider’s Physical Attributes?
- What Is The Beginner Rider’s Readiness Level for Riding?
- What Is The Beginner Rider’s Financial Situation Like?
- How Does the Beginner Rider Intend to Use the Motorcycle?
1. What are the beginner rider’s physical attributes?
Rider Strength to Motorcycle Weight Ratio:
The reality is that motorcycles are heavy in general (on the smaller end of the spectrum at 300 lbs and on the larger end at 800 lbs or more) and choosing something that is too heavy for a beginner rider can be a big mistake. This is because beginner riders are just learning how to properly balance and maneuver the motorcycle and there will probably be times where they make a mistake and the motorcycle will start to lean over and they will need to write it.
If the motorcycle is particularly heavy, then this will make that more difficult and it is not uncommon for a beginner rider to “lay the bike down” after making a mistake at say a stop sign, in a parking lot, or other stops or slow speed maneuvers. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, maneuvering a motorcycle at slow speeds actually takes more balancing finesse than what is needed for simply balancing that motorcycle as you drive down a road. In fact, at many motorcycle rallies, as silly as it sounds, a common/popular contest is what they actually have what they call Slow-Speed Motorcycle Races.
Also, the reason a motorcycle’s weight is such a big factor to new riders is that they are more likely to make mistakes at stops and slow maneuvers and as a result, to keep the bike from falling over, they are going to have to use good old fashioned brute strength to keep the bike from falling over. Ask any experienced motorcycle riders about this and they will tell you that it’s not uncommon to have a motorcycle start to lean one way or the other, and it then becomes a test of strength to keep that bike upright …
if you lose the contest and gravity win, that bike may end up laying over on the pavement and or on your leg as it comes to rest on the street. Although serious injuries are rare (yet not impossible by any means – for example if the motorcycle’s hot exhaust or engine ends up pressing against part of your body as the bike has you pinned down), most likely you’re going to damage your motorcycle and definitely damage your pride as all the automobile traffic points and captures smartphone video of your mishap that is sure to be uploaded to social media profiles.
So choose a motorcycle that’s weight is simply is not going to be unmanageable should the bike start to lean over by using our general guide to an appropriate weight for a beginner motorcycle in the infographic above. You’ll see there is no magical weight number applicable for all riders but a general weight of say 400-500 lbs is probably going to be where you want to stay. Lastly, if you want more info on this important motorcycle safety topic, check out our extensive blog article on avoiding choosing a beginner motorcycle that is too heavy.
The most practical way for beginner motorcycle riders to figure out the motorcycle weight they would be comfortable with is to go down to a local showroom and sit on the many different sizes of motorcycles you’ll find there. You can ask what the weights are of the ones that feel like they are about as heavy as you would be comfortable trying to push back into balance if it started leaning one way or another (you’d better have a friend or a sales associate standing by to help make sure the bike doesn’t fall over … they tend to park those bikes in a showroom very close together and you wouldn’t want to be “that guy” that started a domino effect of motorcycles’ laying over in a showroom … you may end up with HUGE financial crises to deal with).
Now another way of gauging what size of a motorcycle you want to aim for is to go by the motorcycle’s CC size (or engine size) because in general, the larger the motor’s CCs the heavier the motorcycle. This is because much of the motorcycle’s weight is simply due to the engine which is going to be the heaviest single component of a motorcycle’s weight. Above we provide an infographic that lays out some rule of thumb type guidance on what CC size motorcycles are generally appropriate for a beginner which you’ll see is in the range of about 400-600 CCs.
Note: CCs are a popular way of referring to a motorcycle’s engine size and stand for “cubic centimeters” and are used to measure the (what they call) displacement of a motorcycle’s engine. Displacement is a technical term for the measurement of the volume of an engine’s cylinders (it’s a little complicated but if you are interested, here is an article explaining the science of motorcycle engine “CCs“)
Rider Arm Length to Motorcycle Handle Bar Location Ratio:
Obviously, not all riders are of the same height, weight, and arm length. So, some motorcycle handlebars may in some cases, for riders with shorter than average arms, be basically too far away to either comfortably ride or worse, too far away to safely operate the motorcycle. This can be the situation, particularly with cruiser-style motorcycles if they have had aftermarket handlebars installed.
You see, cruiser-style motorcycles are commonly customized with aftermarket parts such as handlebars, running boards, different mirrors, and even extended front forks. All of this is because cruiser motorcycles can be configured in so many different ways to obtain certain looks (e.g. a chopper-style motorcycle, a drag bike, a bobber).
Aftermarket handlebars to obtain these look often come at a price in terms of sacrificing comfort and or control/safety. One example is handlebars sometimes referred to as “drag bars” which are handlebars that have very little “bend” to them and in some cases look like they are nearly straight across which is very different from normal/stock handlebars that traditionally are bent to allow the rider to comfortably grip them.
Another style handlebar that can be outright dangerous is what is often referred to as “ape hangers.” Ape hangers are made to give an extreme chopper-style look by placing the rider’s hands in a very “high above the tank” position. These edgy style handlebars may get a rider the attention they are looking for but they are typically uncomfortable and almost always unsafe for beginner riders and should be avoided. Lastly, if you want more info on this important motorcycle safety topic, check out our extensive blog article on avoiding handlebars that are simply unsafe for beginner rider motorcycles.
Rider Inseam Length to Seat Height Ratio:
When a motorcycle is the right “height” for a given motorcycle rider, when that motorcycle comes to a stop, and the rider places their feet out to steady/balance the bike, both feet will be firmly placed on the road surface. But, if a rider chooses a motorcycle that is too tall for them, then when they come to a stop, both feet can not be placed on the ground because the motorcycle is simply too tall (technically it is the height of the seat that is the key factor).
And so, the motorcycle must lean to one side of the other making it impossible to safely place both feet on the road surface and placing the rider in a situation where if the rider’s foot slips on rocks or road grease, the bike can begin to go down. If the proportion is really bad, this means the motorcycle will have to lean at a very risk angle and the risks are all the more increased. This unsafe motorcycle rider situation is depicted in the infographic below.
To avoid this situation, particularly for riders who are on the shorter side of height averages, it is important the beginner motorcycle rider determine an ideal motorcycle seat height by testing out the height of a variety of motorcycles and determining at what height (the rider can manually measure this height with a tape measure or simply look up the seat’s height online as motorcycle seat heights are standard measurements that manufacturers post) the bike simply becomes too tall.
Once that limit is established, the rider needs to stick to that height as the upper limit and stay away from motorcycle models that exceed that as they simply are not a good beginner motorcycle for that rider. Lastly, if you want more info on this important motorcycle safety topic, check out our extensive blog article on choosing the right motorcycle seat height for your beginner motorcycle.
2. What Is The Beginner Rider’s Readiness Level for Riding?
Rider Maturity Level Considerations:
Simply put, motorcycle riding has some inherent dangers but those dangers get greatly amplified if a rider is simply not mature enough to drive in responsible manners. And, some styles of motorcycle that have a track record of their riders riding dangerously and some good ways to avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations. So, this is where you need to ask yourself a question that may save your life – “Can I trust myself to consistently drive safely particularly for the beginner rider years?”
If you have some hesitation or are not quite sure you have the maturity or discipline to consistently drive safely, then you need to think twice if riding is for you. If you still decide you are moving forward and going to buy a beginner motorcycle, then you need to really avoid two risk compounding factors that will greatly increase the already high risk of learning to ride a motorcycle for you:
- Avoid at all costs, riding with groups of similar like-minded risk-takers like you
- Avoid at all costs, purchasing a style of beginner motorcycle that has a proven track record of being associated with fatalities: sport and supersport bikes
The first compounding factor (riding in groups of other risk-takers) will likely result in you driving over your abilities (which as a beginner rider, will not take much) and putting yourself at an even higher risk of accident, injury, and worse. It is so extremely dangerous to have a group of motorcycle riders, riding aggressively whether in an urban or rural environment, riding together and in essence pushing each other to drive in a manner that is doomed for tragedy.
Do yourself a favor, and don’t even put yourself in this situation as the chances of you making a mature – “hey, I’m just not comfortable with the way we are riding” decision to let them go – is so slim that you really just need to avoid you getting sucked into that situation in the first place.
Secondly, avoid choosing a sportbike or supersport bike as these bikes have proven to be a common factor in motorcycle fatality statistics … statistics that you want no part of. For an objective understanding of just how bad these statistics are for these styles of motorcycles, see the infographic on motorcycle rider fatalities above.
And, also keep in mind that insurance companies do know what risk they are taking on when a new/young motorcycle rider comes to them wanting to ensure a sport or supersport bike and so they are going to make you pay to cover that risk big time with a significantly higher motorcycle insurance costs (not uncommon for those style motorcycle to cost double what some other styles will cost in motorcycle insurance).
So beginner motorcycle riders beware of these styles of motorcycles … ESPECIALLY if you are a rider that “has some growing up to do!” If you want more info on this important motorcycle safety topic, check out our extensive blog article on factoring in a rider’s maturity level when it comes to choosing a good beginner motorcycle.
Despite if you are a mature or less than mature beginner motorcycle rider, you really need to also stack the deck in your favor by investing in some very crucial motorcycle rider safety PPE. For a list of some of the most common and important items, refer to our infographic above spelling out common forms of rider PPE which are all going to be particularly highly recommended for beginner motorcycle riders.
Rider Coordination and Relevant Experience Considerations:
Motorcycle riding simply takes more motor skills than driving a car. Their motorcycle must be balanced while moving, you have to operate a clutch, select gears must balance how much you apply the front brake in comparison to the back brake, you need to lean the motorcycle when you take turns, etc., etc.. In fact, we’ve described all the unique and different challenges of riding a motorcycle in the infographic below to give you an idea of just how many things you are going to have on your mind as a (new) beginner motorcycle rider.
Considering all these different factors you’ll be mentally juggling, to understand an appropriate beginner motorcycle for you, you’ll need to think about other times you’ve had to operate a vehicle (different than an automobile) that perhaps can give you some insight as to how well, or not well, you will be able to manage to learn to ride a motorcycle.
To determine essentially if you are up from (up for from the standpoint of being able to handle riding/operating a vehicle that is new and different) learning to ride a motorcycle you can assess your coordination level by reviewing previous experiences that are relevant to the same skill set. Some such relevant experiences are represented in the “Relevant Experiences” infographic below.
Do you have any such experiences with vehicles like ATVs or watercraft? If so, think back on how you handled those. Did you pick up the operation of those quickly or did it take you a while or did you make mistakes? Asking those questions and reviewing the answers can let you know how it may go during your beginner motorcycle riding phase.
Having explained this, and particularly if you have some concerns with your ability to safely operate that beginner motorcycle, then you should consider perhaps requiring that your beginner motorcycle have some advanced safety or additional features that could make the learning phase on your starter motorcycle go that much better. If you want more info on how relevant past experiences can help you make a wise beginner motorcycle selection, check out our extensive blog article on how relevant past experiences can help you choose the right beginner motorcycle.
Note 1: What about advanced safety technologies? Should I make sure my beginner motorcycle has some of those? Advanced technologies (e.g., ABS, automatic transmissions) can definitely reduce your risk level as they will either make it easier to learn by giving you fewer things to focus on (e.g., going with a beginner motorcycle that has an automatic transmission ) or by using technology to manage motorcycle riding aspects that can be particularly tricky (e.g., balancing the application of the front vs. the back brakes can be a challenge for some beginner riders). If you’d like to learn more about these advanced technologies, visit the bottom of our article on assessing relevant past experiences for beginner motorcycle riders.
Note 2: If I’ve looked back at my past relevant experiences and I have some doubts about my ability to safely learn to ride a motorcycle, what options do I have? Lucky for you, today’s market really offers you some nice alternatives to motorcycle riding that will still get the wind in your hair and get you into a sporty alternative to automobiles. These alternatives are vehicles like the newer 2-in-the-front vehicles out there or slingshots vehicles and the like. They offer some great sport-style riding all with fewer challenges such as balancing the vehicle and with more bodily protection. You should consider one of these options to buying a beginner motorcycle if you just think that perhaps riding a motorcycle is not something that you are cut out to do.
3. What Is The Beginner Rider’s Financial Situation Like?
As discussed in this article, there are many considerations for selecting a motorcycle for beginner riders that are identified because of their potential impacting the rider’s health/life. Now we will look at different considerations of a beginner motorcycle purchase that could significantly impact a rider’s financial health. This is because riders who are considering plunking down their hard-earned money or taking on a loan to purchase their first starter motorcycle, really need to make a smart decision because the reality is, there are a lot of mistakes that can cost the rider financially either the short term or long term.
Along these lines, one key point we’d like to make is that purchasing a new motorcycle, like any new vehicle purchase, is going to pull you into the “depreciation curve.” What this means is that new vehicles simply lose a lot of value very quickly the moment you drive/ride them off the new car lot. And so, if by chance you realize you’re not happy with your purchase and want to switch to a different motorcycle later when you go to sell that formerly motorcycle later, the value will have dropped rapidly.
If you took out a loan, then chances are you still owe more on the loan than you can get for the motorcycle in resale and so you’re going to have to deal with that (pay money out of pocket to get out of the loan or roll that balance into yet another loan). If you paid cash for the new motorcycle, now you’re going to be very disappointed when you realize how much you lost for the thrill of riding away on that new motorcycle. To show you a visual of the depreciation curve, check out our very hypothetical infographic below.
To learn more about this important topic, check out our extensive blog article on the financial considerations of choosing that beginner motorcycle. And, if you’ve decided to go with a used motorcycle, we suggest you read our guide to finding good used beginner motorcycles by clicking on the image below.
4. How Does the Beginner Rider Intend to Use the Motorcycle?
Last but certainly not least is the consideration of what the intentions of the beginner rider are for this first motorcycle. For this article, we need to disclose that our philosophy regarding a beginner motorcycle is that it needs to maintain a balance between two primary purposes:
1) it needs to be the right kind of beginner motorcycle that allows you to learn how to safely operate a motorcycle and gain the experience necessary to eventually move on to a follow on (non-beginner focused) motorcycle
2) it would be nice if this first motorcycle gave you a bit of a sampling of the type of motorcycle you see yourself riding in say a few years, so you can go into the hunt for the follow-on motorcycle with a strong feel of what would be the best bike for you (e.g., type, power, size, type, etc.)
So to plan this aspect of your beginner motorcycle, you need to have a good vision for how you plan to use this motorcycle because that will determine the style/type of motorcycle you want to pursue (of course keeping in mind the beginner rider’s physical attributes, readiness for riding, financial situation we’ve covered in the sections above).
For example, will this motorcycle be used for getting to/from work, or enjoying scenic drives, or riding with other rider friends? Or will it be for some of all of those purposes? So this vision will determine which type of motorcycle you will be pursuing for the first beginner motorcycle.
Note: Reality is that although you may be convinced you know what type of motorcycle you want to ride (ex. sport bike, cruiser, dual-sport, etc.) but until you’ve had some real motorcycle riding experience, learning the ropes, and truly learning what you enjoy (and perhaps don’t enjoy) about motorcycle riding, your beginner bike phase is where you can test the waters in a certain genre of motorcycle and have a much much more educated opinion when you are through that phase.
Again, our recommendation is to be conservative and choose a beginner motorcycle within the class/type of motorcycle that you gravitate to and use this beginner motorcycle riding phase to figure out if that’s what you would like to “graduate to” after you’ve gained the necessary motorcycle riding skills and experience. Having said that, there may be some of you who really don’t have a good feel or strong opinion on what type (aka genre) of a motorcycle you think you’ll move into later and so with that we’re going to provide you with a brief rundown of the key highlights/differences of the various motorcycle typesbelow.
The above infographic illustrates the 6 basic motorcycle types/categories: cruiser, touring, sport, standard, adventure-touring, sport-touring
When you’ve answered the above questions, now you need to choose which type of motorcycle is right for you. The most common motorcycle types are as follows:
Cruiser style motorcycles are the dominant type of motorcycle on the roads in America today representing 47% of the registered motorcycles on the road today (*1) and slipping a bit in popularity as younger riders enter motorcycling and choose different styles yet cruisers still account for 40% of average sales of new motorcycles (of all street (non-off road) type motorcycles).
The popular qualities of cruiser-style motorcycles are that they are well, built for cruising. You may not know what we mean there but “cruising” is like it sounds … a relaxing style of riding where the highlights are taking in the scenery or riding with other friends for recreational purposes (as opposed to riding for a specific purpose such as commuting to work or in an aggressive sport style riding).
Riders in this genre are often those riders who enjoy the social aspects of motorcycle riding like taking scenic drives with groups of other riders, going out for a day or weekend trips, or even just a little evening jaunt to a restaurant, or movie, etc.). One of the reasons these motorcycles are popular for this is that they are specifically designed to place the rider(s) in a comfortable and relaxed position.
Being built in this manner also generally makes them excel when it comes to long-distance travel, so cruiser-style motorcycles also do quite well in the touring genre of motorcycle riding. Yet another positive aspect of this style of motorcycle is that they have a robust used market and so for most areas of the country, you will have access to a lot of cruiser bike choices on the used market and generally these motorcycles are owned by older more mature riders who are less likely to have driven the bikes hard (remember these motorcycles are cruisers so racing these bikes hard/fast is just not something that people buy these bikes for) so there is a better chance the motorcycle will be mechanically sound and save you the expense of repairs (as opposed to sport bikes who are generally owned by younger and more aggressive riders).
And for the fact that the used market will be robust for this motorcycle, you will be able to get some “deals” if you are patient as the supply and demand axiom is likely to be in your favor. Now having said that, the supply and demand axiom can work against you if/when it comes time to sell. Particularly if you purchase a new or nearly new motorcycle where the motorcycle simply will quickly be in those early years of a vehicle’s value curve when depreciation is the most profound.
So, if you want to minimize the chance of a financial hit, stay away from buying any new or say less than 3 or so year old cruiser style motorcycles as a starter motorcycle and lean towards the motorcycles that are say 4 or more years old. The reality is that these motorcycle mechanical components (engine design, suspension, brakes, etc.) don’t change that rapidly so you’re going to be getting a motorcycle that is probably just as mechanically capable as a new, more expensive ancestor yet at a significantly lower price.
Regarding the size of a beginner motorcycle in the cruiser style, this category of motorcycles has a wide variety of sizes (in engine sizes … aka “CCs”) to choose from. For example, there are cruisers down in the 250 cc range and all the way up in the 1800 cc range. For an average size/maturity/coordination beginner rider, a general recommendation would be to look in the 500 cc – 800 cc range.
The reason we don’t recommend going with a lighter/cheaper 250ish cc range is that if you’re an average or larger than average size rider, a motorcycle with that small of an engine can either feel or even just sound a bit underpowered at times. Why would that be a problem? Well, particularly if you are planning on using this motorcycle to commute and/or travel on crowded and fast-moving urban roads, you may feel like the bike is not powerful enough to safely operate in these environments as you’ll have to tax the bike’s engine to get it up to speed quickly enough and/or these bikes tend to rev (sound like they are straining) the engine a lot.
I can tell you that the sound of a screaming motorcycle engine below you on the way to work or just driving down say an interstate, can be a real buzz kill experience and for some riders, that will get old quickly and they will regret their choice … hence the reasoning for recommending a higher cc bike. Again, though, you need to keep in mind all the factors above (e.g., intentions for this beginner motorcycle, size, and coordination of the rider, budget), etc., and choose the appropriate engine size.
Lastly, and it feels like a bit of a cheap shot against cruisers, but as far as cons of this genre for beginner motorcycle riders go, if you see yourself wanting to ride a motorcycle to enjoy quick acceleration and leaning into curves, etc., cruisers are not going to fit the bill nearly as well for this as a sportbike and so, if that describes your tastes, so you should aim for a starter sportbike (see the section below).
The second most popular (in terms of registered motorcycles in the USA) is the touring motorcycle segment sitting at about 24% (*1). These types of motorcycles are designed specifically to enhance the enjoyment of longer motorcycle trips by providing the rider(s) with good wind protection in the form of plastic fairings and windshields (similar to sport bikes but sacrificing aerodynamics for increased wind/rain protection), luggage and storage solutions generally designed specifically for the model of the motorcycle, seats that are built wider and having more cushion, handlebars and there positioning that is shaped for comfort, often offer amenities such as stereos and speakers, heated handlebar grips, cruise control, and engine sizes that are preferred for long-distance travel.
Regarding the touring segment of motorcycles and how/if it is a good/bad type of motorcycle for a beginner motorcycle rider, I would say this particular segment would be where a lot of mistakes can be made as there are a lot more models of motorcycles in this segment that are NOT good for a beginner rider. The reason being is that most touring bikes are larger than the average standard, cruiser, or sportbike. In each of those categories, smaller motorcycle models are very common. For example, 250 cc options (or even smaller) are not uncommon offerings in the standard, cruiser, or sportbike line of motorcycles.
However, touring bikes, because they are built to excel at long-distance travel, normally have significantly beefier engines and come in substantially heavier configurations which are areas that can be a real challenge for a less capable beginner rider. There are some exceptions, for example, there are some lower ends (from a cc perspective) touring bikes in the 700-cc range out there in the new and used market but there are by far fewer choices out there than in the standard, cruiser, and sportbike models.
What this means is either the beginner rider will have to make some compromises and perhaps go with a heavier than ideal motorcycle (if they went with a more common bigger/heavier touring style motorcycle) and also the available options on the market (both new and used) will be fewer and far between. So, our general advice is to stay away from this segment for a beginner motorcycle unless you are convinced this is where you will eventually end up (after you are done with the beginner rider phase).
And if that is the case, then be ready to be patient as you look for the rarer smaller cc/weight/size touring motorcycle for your beginner bike. Lastly, keep in mind that touring motorcycles are often simply called “baggers” because they are characterized by all the “bags” (aka luggage installed on the motorcycle) and so it is possible to basically configure a smaller motorcycle with all the bags/luggage you would want to in essence turn that says cruiser style motorcycle or sport style motorcycle into a touring motorcycle.
So you can basically “make your own” touring motorcycle from a smaller more beginner-friendly motorcycle. Yes, it’s true this approach will not include the normal characteristics of a touring motorcycle (larger engine, longer chassis for smoother and more comfort accommodating riding positioning, etc.) but you’ll be able to get a feel for what motorcycle touring style riding is while driving a motorcycle that is of a size/weight appropriate for a beginner rider.
3) Sport bikes
Sport bikes style motorcycles currently make up the 3rd most popular segment (in terms of registered motorcycles in the USA) and over recent years have been one of the fast-growing motorcycle segments yet sit at around 13% of registered motorcycles in the USA (*1). This style of motorcycle emulates that of racing style motorcycles and therefore has aggressive looks including a lot of plastic fairings designed to increase aerodynamics, engines that emphasize acceleration and speed, high-performance brakes, and a leaned forward rider seating configuration that is ideal for racing.
The advantages of this genre are obvious as these motorcycles are the fastest and most nimble motorcycles on the market and have a look and mystique that only a sportbike can offer. However, advantages in this area can be a very dangerous combination when you put an immature/risky rider on top of such an incredibly powerful vehicle. If you by chance are a new motorcycle rider and when you read through the section above that covered “Rider Maturity” and had the honesty to admit that some of the examples and adjectives used to describe riskier motorcycle riders (e.g., young and wild, prone to risky behavior, not impervious to peer pressure, etc.) applied to you than we highly suggest you do not go into this style of motorcycle for at least for your beginner bike phase.
For reasons already covered, the number one combination of demographics and motorcycle styles for serious and/or fatal motorcycle accidents are high-risk/immature riders and sportbikes. So, if you have related doubts as to your health and safety if you select a sportbike for your beginner motorcycle, take a deep breath, let the more rational side of your thinking win the day and make the right choice and stay away from this style of motorcycle for your beginner years.
If you go with something “tamer” like a nice standard style motorcycle, then in two or three years you’ll be just that much more mature, just that much more experienced, and just that much more sure what style of motorcycle you want to move into at that point and then perhaps, getting into sport bikes is something that is not “an accident waiting to happen.” I personally entered into street motorcycle riding by starting out on sport bikes when I was about 20 years old and, in the military, (two factors that normally don’t bode well for an injury-free beginner motorcycle riding phase) but I was, I think a tad more mature than your average young service member in my day and looking back, and I am happy with my choice and only drove “stupidly” a handful of times.
If, however, you are a new rider who feel strongly that you can trust yourself with what is essentially a replica race motorcycle, then the advantages of this style of motorcycle are that they certainly are attractive, fun to drive, and generally have a decent used market from which to choose from. A couple of points about that used market. One, you can get some good deals on these bikes because to put it lightly, you have a lot of young people out there making rash decisions and buying new sport bikes, and either they get too many tickets, get in an accident, or have a couple of close calls, or for whatever reason decide to sell the bike often only a short amount of time (months to a year or two after purchasing) when motorcycle values are in the middle of their common free fall of resale value due to the depreciation curve.
So, in this case, these riders’ losses could be your gain as you can likely find yourself in a position for some really good deals on relatively new sport bikes. However, keep in mind that the flip side to this dynamic (new/young riders buying new motorcycles that they will sell shortly later) is that these immature riders often drive these bikes pretty hard and also don’t perhaps have the most mature/long-term appreciation for necessary preventative maintenance and so there could be some mechanical issues that you’ll inherit (I will say though that these bikes are almost always made by Japanese motorcycle manufacturers that have a well-earned reputation for near bulletproof mechanical build quality and durability so chances are that they will still be sound mechanically even if they were not responsibility driven and maintained). One quick note regarding the comfort or lack of comfort when riding a sport bike.
As mentioned above, most sport bikes prioritize performance over more practical aspects of a motorcycle’s design such as things like rider comfort concerns. And so, sport bikes have a “bad reputation” when it comes to motorcycle touring (i.e., using a motorcycle to take extended trips (hours or days long) to tour various parts of your state or nearby states). The prevailing opinion is that sport bikes are uncomfortable due to the aggressive/lean-forward riding position and therefore would be a bad choice of motorcycle touring was one of the styles of riding you plan on trying. I heard this a lot when I was young and would talk with others regarding my sport bike and yet I never found that be very true as I took many multi-hour/weekend trips on my sport bike and rarely found myself complaining about the positioning of the bike and wishing I would have gone with a touring or cruiser style motorcycle for the sake of enjoying those trips more.
I enjoyed the performance aspects to the bike on back twisty roads and the moments of squirming in my seat and regretting not going with a more touring-oriented bike were few and far between. So, keep that in mind if you are on the fence between trying say a sportbike and a touring focused motorcycle.
4) Standard motorcycles
Standard style motorcycles have seen a bit of resurgence in popularity in the USA and are at about 7 (6.9%) to be exact making them the 4th most popular type of motorcycle (*1) in the USA. They are the most basic style of the motorcycle as they most closely replicate the style and configuration of the very first motorcycles ever made (BTW, the first motorcycle is believed to have been invented in around 1885). This category by far engenders the most confusion as the motorcycles in this group are often mistaken for different styles of motorcycles as the category tends to go in a lot of different directions (in terms of the look and feel of its motorcycles).
Motorcycle manufacturers have added to the confusion as they continue to evolve this style of motorcycles in a variety of different directions: naked bikes that feature muscular, futuristic, aggressive looks and then on the other extreme are a wave of retro bikes that bring in old school motorcycle elements. And, making matters worse, motorcycle manufacturers a further muddying the waters by giving this segment different category names like: roadsters, monsters, street, etc..
Setting the type/category associated confusion aside, these motorcycles are a bit of a unique segment because unlike almost all the other motorcycle styles we’re covering here that aim to be very good at one type of motorcycle riding (e.g., touring, cruising, sport riding, on-off road, etc.) and have some major shortcomings when it comes to other styles of riding, standards, on the other hand, don’t really aim to be good at any particular style of motorcycle riding.
For example, if you plan to do a lot of long-distance traveling, then a standard bike is not going to be ideal for that. Yes, you can/will make it work and most of these motorcycle types can still be used for a style of riding that is outside of their forte (e.g., I used my sport bike for a lot of long-distance touring and it suited me just fine) but my point is that it’s not ideal and if you have a niche type of motorcycle riding in mind (e.g., long-distance travel) then this style of motorcycle should only be looked at as a temporary phase of your motorcycle riding journey that is intended to get your ready to move on to another genre of motorcycles later when you’ve mastered the basics.
Standards excel as a great utility bike for running errands and commuting to/from work as they have a nice upright and moderately comfortable sitting position which is ideal for congested road situations or navigating through tighter urban settings. Today’s standard bikes focus on making a splash when it comes to looks and with looks that stand apart from the other segments. One sub-style of standards is the “naked” bike segment. The reason they get this name is because they are generally devoid of the common plastic fairings that are routine on sport bikes and touring bikes so to some they appear to be “naked.”
Decades ago, sales of standard style motorcycles bottomed out as sales of the “more exciting” and specialized style motorcycles (e.g., cruisers, sport bikes, and touring motorcycles) become the dominant style motorcycles being sold. Yet, these more intricate and complex cruisers, sport bike, and touring motorcycles models also drove up the average cost out of the range of a significant number of would be motorcycle buyers. Motorcycling manufacturers got creative and came up with ways to tweak their standard style motorcycles designs and looks in order to “spice up” their standard motorcycles and the “naked motorcycle” genre of motorcycles was born.
And, ironically, as the naked bikes push to stand out with aggressive styling, another sub-style of standards is growing and generally referred to as retro bikes. These bikes, aim to recreate the look of mostly classic standards from yesteryear and are also growing in popularity and availability. Note: a truly “plain vanilla” standard style motorcycle is becoming more difficult to find as manufacturers have nearly abandoned this segment of motorcycle type and gone to “naked” and retros.
5) Dual sport
Dual sport motorcycles are also a growing segment (currently at 6.8% of registrations just behind standard style motorcycles (*1)) in the USA and world as motorcycle manufacturers have worked hard to breathe new life into what used to be known as the Enduro segment which are on-off road style motorcycles (“dual sport” is an accurate term as it captures the two key points that motorcycles in this segment can use these bikes for dual sports – as in on or off-road motorcycling.
Despite that generic label, a more common label for the direction this segment has gone is the term Adventure Touring. You see, Enduros or dual-sport motorcycles of yesteryear really were essentially dirt bikes with some turn signals, brake, and headlights stuck on them along with a speedometer to make the street legal. Adventure touring bikes however have really focused on developing machines that are much more capable on the road and comfortable on longer rides.
Think of these motorcycles as something you would take on a longer trip and be able to travel on gravel/dirt roads that no street bike would dare try to navigate. Some of these machines are also quite capable on rougher surfaces that previously only a dirt bike would be appropriate for. So there really is a lot of variation between the different models within the dual-sport/adventure touring segments in terms of the on/off-road focus of their suspensions, tires, and other features that will allow them (to different degrees) to excel in both on and off-road environments.
These could be great beginner bikes if, you feel you at some point in your future want to be able to do take on some either “no kidding” off-road riding (e.g., through woods, on/off trails, even over ramps and jumps, etc.) or some milder yet still considered a form of off-road riding on saying gravel, dirt, or even very rough fire service roads.
Keep in mind, some of these on/off-road models are less off road capable than others, and for those models they would struggle in many of the rougher or taxing off road environments that really only a true dirt bike should be traveling (e.g., very rough terrain, or sandy environments, heavily wooded where many obstacles will need to be navigated). And also keep in mind, that some of the design elements they put into the motorcycle to make it capable of off-road travel, will make it less capable in terms of on-road travel.
For example, a more off-road oriented dual sport bike would include some degree of knobby tires that are necessary for many off road environments but NOT very good for paved or concrete on road surfaces and will therefore provide poorer handling and braking. Also, off road bikes tend to need to have suspensions with greater clearances (for absorbing dramatically more taxing bumpy terrains and not bottoming out like a street bike would if it were traveling over say rocks or deep holes common in many off-road terrains).
So, these off-road suspensions generally make the bike height higher for the rider which at some point can exceed what is a safe level for beginner riders who are of either an average or less than average height. And so, with this, in general, if you have a strong desire to go with an adventure bike for your beginner bike, you need to make sure you’re not putting yourself in an unsafe position with a motorcycle that is taller and perhaps has less than ideal tires designs (e.g., some form of a knobbier tire) for common road surfaces.
6) Sport touring
The last basic motorcycle type that we’ll cover is a style known as a sport touring motorcycles and this segment currently accounts for about 2.5% of street motorcycle registrations (*1). This style is referred to as Sport Touring, and as is obvious from the name, is a hybrid style in that it combines some style and functionality elements of both the sport bike and touring bike segments.
So essentially you get a sport bike that is tamer than the straight sport bike models out there meaning less of a focus on speed, handling, and aerodynamic as the fairings will be taller, seats wider, the bike will be heavier, and include built-in luggage options.
With those changes, however, you generally have a motorcycle that is (typically) smaller in terms of weight and engine size than your traditional touring bikes. For these reasons, this could be a good choice for you if you want to use this starter motorcycle phase for kind of testing the waters on both of these genres of motorcycles so when you are ready to graduate to the post beginner motorcycle phase, you know which direction to go – sport bike or touring … or maybe you’ll learn that you don’t like either and want to go into cruisers.
Either way, this is a style of motorcycle that could be right for a beginner if you, just like with the touring bikes, avoid getting a bike that is simply too much bike for you to handle as a beginner.
FIND Good Used
Finding a good used motorcycle as your first and beginner motorcycle makes a lot of sense as we’ve discussed above as not only will it require smaller and less risk financially risky investments but also when it comes down to it, You often simply aren’t going to know what type of motorcycle you’re going to be happy within the end. And so the amount of money and risk you take purchasing a used motorcycle is going to be significantly less than if you purchase a new motorcycle.
For these reasons, we’ve created a guide that is going to help you find a good used motorcycle as your starter bike if you decide to make that more practical choice.
Last updated on April 13th, 2021
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