What’s the best first bike?
That question is the one most asked of experienced riders, more than “don’t you get hot wearing all that stuff?” or even “have you ever crashed?” We all have opinions, but what’s the right answer?
Then right answer is…it depends! There is no such thing as a universal best first motorcycle for beginners, but there are plenty of guidelines to help a new rider make a good decision. A good decision for him or her, not you! Sometimes partners, friends or family members want their new rider to make a decision contrary to the new rider’s interest for the purposes of brand loyalty or ego. Let them make their own choices – including the one not to ride.
If you’re a noob, here are some things you should consider.
You’re buying your first motorcycle, new rider, not your last one. The idea is for you not to be instantly and permanently ensconced in your chosen moto-niche – cruising, commuting, sport-riding, touring, off-road – but to learn how to ride. Taking an approved safety course like MSF or Total Control is a good first step, of course, but you’ll only get about 15-25 miles of experience during that weekend, so your first bike is a training tool, not an investment: don’t spend a lot! A second-hand bike will do fine; let someone else take the depreciation hit on a shiny new ride.
“Light” refers to weight, but it can also mean more. Your first bike should be light enough so you can pick it up off the ground (d’oh!), but also have a “light” power output – under 20 horsepower is great for learning – and be light on your body. That means it should fit you ergonomically: your arms in a comfortable position, elbows slightly bent and your feet able to easily operate the foot controls. It’s also important to be able to get both feet firmly flat on the ground when stopped.
Finally, get a motorcycle that’s not just easy to ride, but easy to fix. Motorcycles aren’t cars: they wear out and break more easily, which means you will wind up getting your hands dirty. Learn how to wrench on something simple, with a solid, reliable and relatively modern design. It won’t have a lot of bodywork or high-performance features, but if you can work on a basic, air-cooled, single-cylinder motorcycle, you will be confident working on most anything. Try it the other way around and you may be scared away from picking up a wrench ever again.