It’s a question we’re asked all the time: “What’s the best motorcycle for a new rider?” It’d be great if we could give the same answer every time, but in reality the answer depends on many factors – rider size, competency, wants, needs, and desires among them. Small displacement bikes are generally a good place to start, but read enough forum commenters and before long you’ll find someone who shares their tale of how they started on a literbike and lived to tell the tale.

Hence the subject of this poll. If you’ve read MO long enough, you’ll know we think new riders should typically start small and work their way up. But what about you? Which of these motorcycles would you recommend? Click on the up or down arrows beside each bike to rank them and have your say as to which beginner bike is best. Don’t see your preferred machine on the list? Tell us what it is in the comments section.

  • JMDonald

    If you aren’t starting out on a mini bike or small dirt bike I would say the CB300F.

  • Daniel Benjamin

    Middleweight cruiser; low seat, torquey, no high speed shenanigans. Sportser, Bolt, Shadow, Vulcan S (if you want more oomph). With ABS if you can. Definitely used. Buying a 250 will almost guarantee that you’ll be buying again in a year (if not sooner.)

  • JerryMander

    Darwin says Hayabusa.

    • Mark Vizcarra

      A Turbo Busa is your best beginners bike

  • Gruf Rude

    Too many variables – size, age, maturity, etc. – between beginners to pick any one bike. My approach for my own son was to put him on an old 100cc dirt bike and let him develop the operating skills he needed to control a motorcycle, particularly in low-traction conditions. He was 18 at that time and once he was really comfortable in the dirt, he moved up to a used FZR600 and eventually a Honda 919.

  • Dougalicious

    CRF250L – light, economical, can take it anywhere, not too expensive to drop. The only thing it’s missing is power, but most guys who are worried about that are typically trying to start on a 600 anyway

  • Born to Ride

    Like you say, it really depends on a wide variety of factors. I’m not gonna recommend a 250 to a dude that is 6’3″ 220lbs. But in the same token, I was not an completely inexperienced rider when I bought my first street bike which was a “middle weight twin”. Despite my years and years of dirt riding experience, I still binned the damn thing like 3 times in my first two years pretending I was Rossi. I can’t help but think that a slower 300 class bike(which didn’t exist then) might have saved me a cracked rib and a couple dollars…
    I vote KTM RC390. That’s what I would by now if I was starting out fresh.

    • Russ

      After riding many larger motorcycles I’m now just riding my TU250x and loving it. I’m close to 300 lbs (but only 5’8″) and don’t have any problems. Another advantage of a smaller machine is being able to put your feet down flat. Do you really want a newbie trying to learn while also on tip toe trying not to fall over on a machine too tall and too powerful. For the first year keep it smaller and slower. Learn the basics for the first year! (It’s cheaper too.)

      • Born to Ride

        If the power of the motorcycle comes into play while you are trying to put your feet down, you’re doing it wrong haha. I think weight and balance of the bike play more into learning than seat height. Flat footing is nice for backing out of a parking space and stopping on uneven surface, but my 30 in inseam doesn’t flat foot very many bikes and I got by alright.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    I find it interesting that I end up going slightly faster on my half-faired cb400sf, than on the liter Fazer. Because of how smooth and quiet that CB is, there is no way you can tell if the engine is running or not until VTEC kicks in. And the wind protection on it, despite half-fairing, is amazing. Fazer, on the other hand, likes to remind me that i’m a mere mortal with vibes, noise, and massive engine braking. Worse wind protection works like an additional speedometer too.

  • Michael

    The 390 KTM naked bike… (can’t recall the designation – Duke?). Seems the right style and size for a new rider.

    • Born to Ride

      Yup, Duke 390. Great looking little bike and very lightweight. 40 hp is enough to keep it fun for a while and not so much I’d imagine that you’re hitting 70-80 mph through fast sweepers.

      • Kevin Duke

        I rode a 390 Duke at a trackday and had a blast on it! There’s a special feeling you get when using just 373cc to pass a literbike on a track.

  • Russ

    The Suzuki TU250x is the best starter bike. Simple and competent and not too fast. Let them learn the basics without practicing dreams of racing or Sturgis. There’s plenty of time for that after they’ve proved (to themselves) they are still alive a year later.

  • John B.

    The only smart advice to give is to recommend a bike with a small displacement engine to start. People with the wherewithal to learn safely on a bike with a large displacement engine and the desire do so will figure that out for themselves, and will ignore your advice.

    Equally important, new riders should take a motorcycle safety course and read a couple motorcycle safety books. David Hough’s books definitely put a new rider’s head in the right place.

    • Jie Geesaman

      There’s a police officer that puts out training videos as well. He, his wife, and his son teach maneuvering, balance, and slow tight turns as well as the proper and improper way to lift up a downed bike. There’s much more to his videos than just that though. They can be easily searched and found on YouTube. One of the biggest pointers you could ever give a new rider is the importance of how to brake and which brakes to use and when.

  • spiff

    If it is an option, dirtbikes are the way to go. You can crash and laugh about it. With proper gear, a soft (relative) field, and sane speeds crashing is learning. Plus you can buy a bike big enough for your frame that is still mild.

    • Douglas

      Yep, 125-250 dirt or dual purpose, preferably used, to keep costs down. But then…A HARLEY!!! An 883 can be picked up relatively cheap, easy & cheap to personalize, easy to handle & flatfoot, and unlikely to get away from a newbie if too much wrist applied. Easy to shift smoothly, too.

    • Jie Geesaman

      I have to agree 100% That’s how I learned. 5 years old on an old Honda 50. I’ll never understand the thought process behind “It’s my first bike! It has to be super fast!” That’ll get ya killed. I know of a teen. Fresh from getting a driver’s license. Never ridden a day in his life and barely driven a car. 16th birthday present mom buys him a GSX-R 1000. Not too bright imo.

    • Born to Ride

      While I agree with you wholeheartedly, I think Troy was trying to get a gauge on what we thought the best beginner “street” bike would be.

    • Ric The Duc

      Must say you are right on. I learned on a Suzuki RM-125 (the good old days). I crashed on the ground, on ice, in the snow. I was running it all year round. I could not do this today but it always bring good memories.

      • spiff

        We used to ride in the winter too. I had a DR100, and my buddy had an old (at the time it was old) Yamaha 175. With his big front tire he would roll over the snow banks or drifts. I’d come chasing and stuff my little wheel right in the damn thing. You only do that 5 or 6 times before you get cautious. God that was fun.

    • Emptybee

      Another vote for this choice. In addition to what’s already been mentioned, there is nothing better than a dirt bike for learning where the limits of traction are and how to react when you cross those limits. It’s a lesson better learned in the dirt than on the street.

    • Tecson John Lim

      I completely concur. despite the advent of technology such as abs and traction control that makes riding safer, a bike that would allow one to truly concentrate on the basics so as to master the same would be best. While I was used to racing cars, Admittedly, I had a hard time with having to shift gears and properly mixing it in with the throttle so as to perform a really smooth gear change. While the first bike I bought was an intruder VS1400, I actually learned the basics off a kawasaki 100 dirt bike that dropped twice and whose headlights I burned at least 5 times hahaha

  • John

    V-star 650, If I were a bit smaller and it was a bit faster I would have almost no problem keeping it for a long while.

  • http://rumblestripradio.com rumblestrip
  • Branson

    The best riders I know all started on off-road bikes. Since that isn’t one of the options, I had to choose “something else.”

  • BDan75

    Until recently I’d found myself leaning toward somewhat larger bikes (e.g., 50-60hp) when answering this theoretical question, at least for anyone of above-average size who already knew how to operate a manual transmission. Then I actually watched someone who met those criteria try riding for the first time, and it sorta changed my mind.

    When you’ve been riding a long time it’s easy to forget that all the things you now do by “feel” once had to be learned.

  • Kevin Polito

    I believe the best beginner bike is the one provided when you take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Beginning Rider Course. After two days of training, including a day spent developing balancing, slow maneuvering, and braking skills on a closed course, you are in a better position to (1) decide whether you want to pursue further riding and (2) sit on bikes in a showroom, lifting them off the stand and seeing which one is a good fit without being intimidating. Without training, even a small bike will be intimidating. But after a day of hands-on training on a little bike, you may have the confidence to buy a larger bike that you won’t soon outgrow.

    • c w

      dingdingdingdingdingding!!

      #winner.

  • ColoradoS14

    I am definitely someone who believes that there is a difference in skill, confidence and rider awareness between new riders. I saw this all the time when I lived in the city and owned a 70cc 2-stroke Piaggio scooter. I would let friends take it for a spin and half would get on it and blast away and do just fine, others were nervous and much less skilled. While both types were “new” riders I would never recommend the same machine for them if they were getting into motorcycling. I am sure many of us remember this from our MSF classes too, a third of the class were “naturals” a third did pretty well and there was a third that you literally cringed when they had to complete the obstacle course.

    I bought an Aprilia Shiver 750 for my first bike. Much bigger and more powerful than most would recommend for sure but it has been perfect for me.I was coming into it with some riding experience off road, a few rides on buddies bikes on road and lots of cycling experience. I am also a huge car guy and have done auto-x and road racing in the past, so there was no “thinking” when it came to which gear to be in or shifting in general. So, for me I felt comfortable going with a more substantial bike, being 6′ tall, 235lbs and living at a mile of elevation also made smaller bikes a turn off. I rode a TU250X for all of my MSF course and it was a great little bike but I do think I would have “outgrown” that in very short order trying to put in 400mi days over multiple 12,000ft passes in Colorado. I am happy with my decision and now 4 years in I am starting to think about a new bike with a bit more power and modern electronics.

    Ultimately it comes down to money and which type of new rider you are. If you are on a budget and someone who is very green I think a used 250 is a great starting place. For budget riders with more confidence and a better skill base I think a used SV650 could be tough to beat. If you have the money for a new bike I think new greenies would be well served by one of the new 300s with ABS. Again I think the better rider could bump up to a 500-650 sub 75hp bike with ABS, something like a Versys 650 or CB500F/X ABS.

    • Jie Geesaman

      Very interesting points. Climate would have a huge impact. Like you I too think and have seen the difference between those that you’re sure will turn out alright and those that you cover your face the moment they get on the seat! I don’t think crotch rockets are good starters neither. Not even in the 250-300 class. Something like a Rebel 250, 450 if ya can find one, is a great start at learning balance and control. Once you’re able to rip through the corners and feeling quite confident, not over confident, then it’s probably a good time to step up into the throttle happy sport bikes.

      • Born to Ride

        I spent all of my first MSF day on a Honda hawk 250 “Crotch-rocket” and had a blast, was 100% confident and comfortable. The next day the Hawk wasn’t running, so they put me on a Rebel. I damn near ate crap during the first maneuver when I buried the peg into the ground and levered the front wheel off the pavement. The instructor actually gave me a high-five for saving the bike. For many riders, cruiser ergonomics and geometry are awkward and unbalanced. I don’t see how riding in an upright position with proper ground clearance and weight distribution is a detriment to a learning rider.

      • ColoradoS14

        I can tell you that altitude plays a major role, when compared to sea level, Denver at a mile of elevation drains a naturally aspirated engine anywhere from 18-22% of its power. So that 300cc Ninja with 35whp at sea level is only putting down about 28whp in Denver and when you are at the top of lets say Squaw Pass Rd., only 35 minutes outside of Denver, you are now down to about 22hp. That is just not a lot of juice… Colorado is a real double edged sword in that regard, you can go buy a GSX-R 1000 and by the time you get to the top of the pass you are only putting down GSX-R 600 power… But man the views and the twisties sure make up for it.

  • john burns

    How about FZ-07 or CB500F? those are the two I’d recommend for just about anybody who can walk and chew gum. didn’t they win MO Best ofs last year, dad?

    • ColoradoS14

      I agree with both, I just wish the FZ-07 had ABS for new riders. I think the 500F for normal sized people and the 500X for tall people both with ABS are great first bikes and you won’t “outgrow” them.

    • Born to Ride

      Would those not both be “Middle weight Twins”?

  • JoMeyer

    Learning to ride and being a new rider not always the same thing. Spend us much time as possible on the bike of whatever learning academy you use to learn how to ride a motorcycle. Once you have reached a level of street riding proficiency and have a permit (if necessary) go and test ride bikes of various types and engine sizes. Start with smaller displacements but also try larger bikes. Only you can determine what the best first bike will be for you.

  • Mahatma

    A dirt cheap used one you can crash around on until you learn the ropes

  • Kevin Duke

    Duke 390…

  • Zach

    KTM 390 Duke

  • SRMark

    All those bikes with pretty body work in the hands of a newbie. Get a scuffed up used bike and drop it all weekend long in the parking lot. Then go learn how to slide a dirt bike around off road. Then go buy the new bike with pretty body work.

  • Zentradi

    I think the CBR500 and CB500 twins should be on this list.

    • Jaime Berrones

      i think middleweigth twins include them

  • john phyyt

    Many countries have introduced arbitrary limits 250 as learner bikes. Data showed little difference in road injuries. Then Learner approved motorcycles with limits on horsepower weight etc. This is better but unsurprisingly both young and older returning riders still make up bulk of statistics. 1) should old riders be restricted? 2) at least make helmets mandatory for new and returning riders.

  • reysys

    The factor of Euro 4 must be considered for this year, user weight, destined use by the new rider. In my case daily use morning-night, 70Km, city/road, commuter, gas tank important 1 charge per week. Factors to add comfort, 3/4 position, ABS. Electronics aids as traction control, stability control, suspension control, throttle control are appealing to me. I think a middle bike with hp limiter could be helpful. Many of actual bikes came with riding modes to limit capabilities. I like a lot MvAgusta Stradale & Turismo VeIoce, Triumph 800 recent models too. I’m going to rob a phrase from someone else “what great time to be a rider”. I’m not young 45. So buy 2-3 bikes in the learning process is my limit. But my tendency is thru Touring. Not race track.

  • ‘Mike Smith

    My first bike was a 2002 Ninja 250. I had it for less than a year and put 7,000 miles on it. Ten years later I bought my second bike, a used ’09 R1. I wanted a 600 sport bike, but R1 was offered at the same price as the 600’s I’d been looking at. I couldn’t say no, so I bought it. First few times on it, I rode really slow. It was scary. Slowly I adjusted to it, and now I’ve put 10,000 miles on it. So, althought a liter bike wasn’t my first, it practically was because of the 10 year gap in riding.

  • http://batman-news.com Vincent

    My first bike is a 97 Yamaha Virago XV1100. It’s a big, heavy cruiser, but it’s all I could afford. I respected the bike, practiced a lot in my neighborhood at low speeds and learned how to handle it. Now, 7 months later I’m riding on the highway and to work. This fall I’m selling it and getting a Harley-Davidson. Probably the V-Rod.

    Learn the clutch and respect the throttle are two things a new rider needs to understand. That will help them be safe on whatever bike they have.

  • KLRJUNE .

    I would rank the CB 300 near the top also. I bet it is a easy to like.

  • Jason Clawson

    I think the size of the rider should be considered too. Have known a few ppl who started off on something too small for there size and hated being chrunched up on it. I’m 6 ft 220 lb, bought a NC700 as my first bike. Been 16 months and 23000 miles and no problems. The DCT tranny made it real easy learning to ride. I will admit the 500 lb of weight that the bike is took a little getting used too.

    • sgray44444

      DCT is definitely a great idea for learning. You can focus more on riding and staying alive than shifting.

  • sgray44444

    For someone that doesn’t have the property for a dirtbike or only wants a streetbike, a middle displacement twin is not a bad way to go. I would say that the 500cc twins are great for those who take quickly to riding and aren’t physically small. Someone smaller or more timid, go with a 250 or 300. As a bigger person, I think the limited torque on the small sport bikes like the Ninja (of which I’ve ridden both the old and newer generations) make them more difficult to handle at low speeds. I personally started on a Honda CB350, although the first bike I ever rode was a BMW R90/6 that belonged to a friend.

  • Robert Schultz

    Man, I wish the 390 Duke was around 30 years ago, but even then it would’ve been too expensive and the nearest dealer 200 miles away. My first bike was essentially the SR400, except the 1978 electric-start twin-cylinder version (XS400), that teenage me painted three shades of red (oh gawd). Of the modern crop, most of the 250-300cc bikes are too small for most average people to be satisfied for long, so the next size up is what I usually recommend (other than the 600cc supersport class). Kudos to KTM to really nailing it with their two 390’s!

  • Brian Clasby

    How about a raked out chopper with ape-hangers?

  • Gabriel Owens

    KTM Duke 390, can’t believe it’s not on the list.

  • Nick George

    I have a CB500F, and it’s my first bike. Couldn’t be happier with it, and I’m glad I chose it over the 300.

  • benswing

    The best starter bike is an electric motorcycle, a Zero S or Zero FX for example. No clutch or transmission to deal with so the rider can focus on handling the bike and paying attention to traffic instead of thinking about shifting. They are more expensive, but the prices are coming down and the range is going up each year. But nothing beats the simplicity of an electric motor.

  • Jaime Berrones

    to me small bikes are the way to go, but when you are big and heavy like me (240 pounds 6 2″) i think a middlewight twin is the best option not only for begginers, FZ 07 SV 650 CB500 etc can do well with experimented ones too.
    I have a FZ1 and i want a second bike for conmmutig even for an ocasional trackday.
    the problem with small displacement bikes and big people is the lack of torque, (power is ok), they suffer breaking inertia, beside that they are great fun bikes.
    the picture below is the proof of this

  • http://www.johnsibley.com/ John Sibley

    I’ve been riding for more than 18 years, and I currently ride a Ninja 300 full-time in NYC. It’s a blast and an ideal city rider, would be great for newbies too. The only thing I’d like more is a naked version.

  • l33tster

    I went with a 2007 Kawasaki Vulcan 500 as my first bike, haha. I’m a 6’2″ skeleton at 145lbs with a real heartache for cruisers, and I’ve heard no shortage of amazing reviews about the 500 being a great beginner bike. I really wanted to get into cruisers– if only to experience them before settling on something else as a second (or third) bike down the road, and it took me ages to find something that would fit my lanky frame. It was a toss-up between a 1986 Honda Nighthawk 650 and the Vulcan, and while they were both amazing bikes and fit me amazingly (got to sit on a friend’s Nighthawk since the one I was looking at was on the other side of the provice) what sold me on the Vulcan was the better condition, comparative newness, and proximity. It was only an hour away from where I lived, which was just about as good as I could find haha.

    Doing my intro course a month from now and I’m really looking forward to grinding out the miles on this baby. A damn beautiful bike, and in stellar condition. I’ve not ridden anything but bicycles before picking this thing up, so it’ll be an experience. Thinking about the Vulcan S and then the Victory Octane as my next steps if I don’t end up going SV650 or FZ-07 or something crazy different, hahaha. Anyone here been in the saddle of a Vulcan 500?

  • Adam Brown

    I still have my ninja 300 even though I have gone to a bigger bike. It has 14k on it now. It got me comfortable with a sport bike and was forgiving enough for me to learn. I’ll still take it out in the mountians and lead 600 all day long.

  • Jeff Bushnell

    I have know a couple of people who started out on a klr 650. Low entry price, larger size but not too much power, easy maintenance, exposes rider to many styles of riding. Klr is not best street or dirt bike or touring rig but can do it all. After owning a klr most riders will know what they want in their next mount.