Motorcycle Beginner: Buying Your First Motorcycle

The question on every newbie's mind: What bike should I get?

story by Dennis Chung, Created Jun. 16, 2011
Iíve got my license, Iíve got my riding gear, and Iíve been through a rider training program.

Now comes the fun part and one of the most frequently asked questions by new riders: what bike should I get?

Pete Brissette wrote an excellent article on this topic last summer, recommending five good starter bikes (and five alternate choices) covering a variety of motorcycle categories such as cruisers, and dual sports.

Pete also discussed a couple of key points that deserve repeating: the right bike for one person might not be the right bike for another, and a 600cc supersport race replica is not a sensible choice for an inexperienced rider.

The latter point is one frequently repeated by more experienced riders, and yet every now and then, a newbie comes along asking ďIím just starting out as a rider and Iím looking for a first bike. Should I go for the R6 or the ZX-6R?Ē

Josh Herrin Yahama R6

I can understand the appeal of these supersports. Theyíre fast, theyíre sexy, and they look like what you see racing the Daytona 200.

On the other hand, they are less forgiving than smaller bikes, cost more to own and insure, and truthfully, they offer higher performance than many people really need.

For this beginner series, our choice for a first bike was made from the outset. The 2011 Honda CBR250R is the shiny new kid on the block, a low-displacement thumper with a high-class finish and the winner of our 2011 250cc Beginner Bike Shootout. As of this writing, Iíve already put in a couple of weeks on the CBR250R, so look for a report on that real soon.

But for most new riders, the Honda CBR250R is one of many options available as an effective, manageable and affordable first bike. So for this segment of the Beginner Series, weíll take a look at some of the options on the market, and examine some of the factors to consider when shopping for your first motorcycle.

What Makes an ďEntry-LevelĒ Motorcycle?

Thereís no real industry-standardized definition for a beginner bike. Some models might be marketed as being good for new riders, while others may also be good options but a company might feel they would turn away more experienced riders by labeling them as for newbies.

Engine displacement is an easy way many people use to categorize bikes. Some countries have tiered licensing regulations, especially for younger riders, that restrict the size or power output of motorcycles they can legally ride. And while it's true larger engines produce more power, other factors such as engine configuration and tuning must also be considered.

KTM Duke 125

For the most part, we will be looking at the smaller displacement models in a given product segment, but we're not going to stick to a displacement limit. So while we are advising against 600cc Inline-Four supersports like a Honda CBR600RR as a first bike, an 883cc V-Twin Harley-Davidson Sportster is a different matter, despite having a larger engine.

Cost is also an important factor to consider. While there may be some pricier motorcycles that could serve as effective first bikes, a more expensive motorcycle will also be more expensive to insure. A new rider will already face higher insurance premiums than a more seasoned rider, so why add to that burden with a big-ticket motorcycle? Factor in depreciation and the likelihood of new rider dropping their bikes and it makes more sense not to spend too much on your first motorcycle.

On that note, a used motorcycle may also be a better option than a brand new bike. In this case, depreciation works in your favor as a used bike will be less expensive than a new one. There will also be a lot of newbie-friendly motorcycles on the used bike market as former beginners look to sell their own first bike as they upgrade to their second one.

The trade-off with buying a used motorcycle is you have to do some legwork to learn the history of the bike. How good a condition is it in? How many miles has it been ridden? How many owners has the bike had? Did the seller provide proper care and maintenance? New motorcycles straight from the dealership donít carry any baggage (unless you wanted panniers and a top case, that is!) but theyíll also come with a factory warranty.

Editor's Picks for Pre-Owned Starter Bikes

The most cost-effective way to get into motorcycling is to select a pre-owned bike instead of a new one. It's already suffered depreciation, so you won't take as big a hit when you decide to trade up to another motorcycle as your skills and capabilities improve. And pre-owned also often means pre-scuffed, so you won't feel so bad if you tip it over compared to a pristine new bike. What follows are selections from the staff about which used bike they'd personally recommend to a beginning rider.

To me the Suzuki SV650 is just about the perfect second-hand motorcycle one can get. First of all, the SV is darn near bulletproof. Very rarely do you hear of its V-Twin engine breaking down, even under extreme negligence. With just 65-70 horsepower, thereís enough oomph to keep things exciting for the newer rider without alarming the local authorities. Also, itís been around for long enough now that prices on the used market have stabilized. But to me, the real beauty of the SV is its versatility.

Stock, these bikes feature bottom-shelf components (suspension, brakes) to meet its intended price point. This is perfect for less experienced riders as their skills donít warrant anything better anyway. But as one starts to improve and find the limits of these components, there are a whole host of easy modifications available to upgrade the bike.

And this is why I still have a soft spot for SVs even after Iíve ridden just about every motorcycle under the sun. I learned everything I know about bikes from my SV. As I became a better rider, I upgraded the suspension, then I added an exhaust, and then rejetted the carbs (I have a first generation model). Being that it has very little bodywork, access to everything is straightforward. As time went on and my skills improved I eventually turned it into a full-fledged racebike, but Iíve seen examples modified into everything from streetfighters to cross-country tourers. The SV650 is so easy to ride and maintain, but best of all itís able to grow with you at every step of your motorcycle journey.

Ė Troy Siahaan, Associate Editor

Low seat heights are great for short newbie riders, as it gives them a better sense of control. But the diminutive size of many newb bikes makes them cramped for bigger and taller riders. For newbie riders my size and larger (5-foot-11, 185 lbs),I suggest looking into the world of enduro motorcycles.

Tall by default, bikes such as the Yamaha WR250R/X or Kawasaki KLX250S/SF provide ample legroom. Enduro bikes such as these are also lightweight, easy to maneuver and incredibly versatile. If, however, youíre a bigger guy, in excess of 200 lbs, these 250cc models may be somewhat underpowered. If thatís the case, stepping up to a Suzuki DR-Z400S, Honda XL650 or Kawasaki KLR650 may be a better option. Slightly heavier but with enough power to accelerate a meat-and-potatoes-eatiní male to freeway speeds with power to spare, these larger displacement enduros are both safe and satisfying for big, beginner riders.

Another advantage of owning an enduro bike is inexpensive insurance; theyíre one of the easiest street-legal motorcycles on which to complete a motorcycle training program and/or DMV test. Best of all, thereís not much to break in the event of a fall. Enduros are glorified dirtbikes and are built for off-road use with minimal bodywork and lacking other expensive-to-replace items.

Enduro bikes have existed for decades, so thereís a lot of cheap, used models from which to choose. Enduros are (mostly) powered by simple, single-cylinder, air-cooled engines where everything is exposed and easy to work on, so they also provide a terrific platform for learning basic motorcycle maintenance.

Ė Tom Roderick, Content Editor

The problem with so many beginner bikes is that they frequently lack a cool factor. Sure, we know a beginnerís ride should have docile but adequate power and comfortable ergonomics, but it would help our street cred if our newb-friendly machine had some style. Cruisers have style, but their ergonomics often feel unwieldy to new riders.

My solution is Kawasakiís almost-forgotten W650, a facsimile of a vintage Triumph Bonneville more authentic than even New Triumphís version. Powered by a 676cc parallel-Twin engine and produced in 2000-2001, the air-cooled W harks back to a simpler time yet provides more than enough punch for keeping up with freeway traffic. Nostalgic references include spoked wheels, fork gaiters and chrome fenders Ė not to mention an honest-to-goodness kickstarter! Itís really nimble and easy to ride, and it never fails to draw admiring glances.


When we tested a year-2000 version, the W650 retailed on the high end for $6499, and the bikeís unique attributes and limited production run has kept resale prices fairly high. NADA Guides listís a sub-$2000 price, but speculators often ask much more. Regardless, this is a terrific motorcycle that allows its rider to recreate a little of the persona of Marlon Brandoís character in The Wild One.

Ė Kevin Duke, Editor-in-Chief


Next Page... Different Strokes for Different Folks

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Another important factor to consider is the type of motorcycle to get. This may come down to a matter of personal taste and what kind of experience a new rider wants to have. But some motorcycle categories may be better suited to some riders than others. Letís take a look at different motorcycle types and see what entry-level options are available.


One of the more popular segments, especially in North America, cruisers offer a laid-back, feet forward riding position and hands placed at a comfortable level. Cruisers also tend to have low seat heights, with most saddles less than 30 inches from the ground, which may help inspire confidence for new riders, especially those with shorter legs. Perhaps itís for these reasons that manufacturers offer a lot of choices for entry-level cruisers.

SL-overall static

Harley-Davidson is almost synonymous with the cruiser segment for many people; for some The Motor Company is synonymous with motorcycles in general. For its 2011 lineup, Harley-Davidson offers two 883cc Sportster models, the Iron 883 and the SuperLow. As its name implies, the SuperLow has a low seat height at 25.5 inches, but the Iron 883 isnít much higher at 25.7 inches. Both models start at $7,999.

2011 Star V-Star 250

If youíre looking for a smaller cruiser, other manufacturers offer more options. Hondaís Shadow cruisers are equipped with 745cc V-Twin engines and are priced from $6,999-$7,999, and smaller yet is the 234cc parallel-Twin-engined Honda Rebel at $3,999. Suzuki offers a single-cylinder cruiser, the 652cc Boulevard S40 at $5,099 while Yamahaís Star Motorcycles brand offers the 649cc V-Star Custom at $6,840 and the V-Star 250, a 249cc V-Twin at $4,090. Korean manufacturer Hyosung also offers a couple of low-displacement V-Twin cruisers in the GV650 (MSRP $6,799) and the GV250 ($3,899).

Dual Sports

Another segment that offers plenty of choices for beginners is the dual-sport or on/off-road bike. Thatís because a lot of these dual sports are based on off-road models, only made street-legal with mirrors and lights and other modifications. The Yamaha WR250R (MSRP $6,490), for example, traces its lineage to the Yamaha YZ250F motocross bike.

The Kawasaki KLR650 is a popular dual-sport model and a viable option for large riders looking for a higher-displacement model. The KLR650 (priced at $6,149) has a large following with a lot of options for accessories such as windshields and bags.

2011 Kawasaki KLR650

Dual-sports might not be a good option for shorter riders, however, as their off-road heritage tends towards longer suspension and increased ground clearance. The Kawasaki KLR650 has a seat height of 35.0 inches while the smaller Yamaha WR250R has an even higher seat height at 36.6 inches.


The editors at are big proponents of standards, especially naked standards. With a neutral riding posture and minimum bodywork to damage they make good options for beginners as well.

2009 Suzuki TU250X FONZ6271

Pete wrote a glowing review for the Suzuki TU250X when it was introduced. A throwback to the Universal Japanese Motorcycle template, the 249cc Single is also fuel injected, unlike a lot of small-displacement models. The newbie Suzuki TU250X also comes with a bank account-friendly $3,999 price tag.

For a larger displacement option, thereís the Kawasaki ER-6n, a 649cc priced at $6,699. The Ducati Monster 696 is another option, though itís comes at a higher $8,495 price tag, but it is also available with ABS.


While experienced riders often caution against getting a 600cc or larger sportbike as a first motorcycle, new riders with the sportbike itch havenít had many entry-level options to choose from.

For years, the Kawasaki has dominated the small-displacement sportbike segment with the Ninja 250R. The Ninjette is a priced affordably at $3,999 by the manufacturer, but itís easy to find a slightly cheaper one used. Hyosung offers an alternative with its GT250R while Honda is entering the segment with the CBR250R. Both come with the same $3,999 MSRP as the Ninja 250R, though the CBR250R is available with ABS for $500 more.

061611-chris-blanchette-2003-suzuki-sv650f editors have had a longstanding love affair with Suzukiís SV650, as it has an unbeatable combination of user-friendliness and sporting capability at a reasonable price. Chris Blanchette, one of our video editors, is a new rider like me, and he just picked up a used 2003 Suzuki SV650S as his first bike. The 2009 Suzuki SV650F retails at $7,499, with ABS available for $500 more.

Aprilia is also introduing its new RS4 125 sportbike later this year. Looking like a mini-RSV4, the 125cc four-stroke will be available with a quick-shifter fom Aprilia's APRC bag of tricks.

Decisions, Decisions

Every rider, regardless of experience level or skill, has their own factors to consider when buying a first motorcycle.

For me personally, I value practicality and economy in a motorcycle. Iíll be looking for an urban commuter thatís good for stop-and-go traffic. Low-end torque and would be more useful to me than a lot of horses at the redline. I would also prefer a fuel-injected engine than a carbureted one, because they offer better fuel economy and I wouldnít need to spend as much time getting the engine to warm up

I may ride on the highway once in a while, so some wind protection would be nice. I donít see myself doing any off-road riding however, so a dual-sport doesnít appeal much to me.

As a larger rider Ė six-feet tall and weighing 230 pounds Ė a low seat height isnít an important factor for me. The Humber College Motorcycle Training Center where I received my rider training uses Yamaha Virago 250s, now known as the V-Star 250. I found the low seat on the Virago a bit uncomfortable, while lowering my feet from the forward-mounted pegs did not feel natural to me.

Based on these parameters, the Honda CBR250R seems like a good choice to start off with. As we saw in the beginner bike shootout, the Hondaís single-cylinder engine offers decent torque at the expense of horsepower. Though it has sportbike looks, the seating position on the CBR250R resembles that of a standard.

A Stop by a Local Dealership

061611-2011-honda-cbr125rI'm fortunate enough to get chance to ride a Honda CBR250R press bike for a few weeks, thanks to the people at Honda Canada.

Because of that however, I missed out on one important part of a new rider experience, the relationship with a dealer. I took a moment to visit local Honda dealer, Markham Outdoor Power, and asked the owner and general manager, Daniel Lawrence, to talk about the new bike.

Lawrence tells me demand for the CBR250R has been outpacing the supply. We've been a it lucky up here because Honda Canada has been offering a 125cc sportbike since 2008, the Honda CBR125R (CN$3,499), a popular entry-level model that has national spec racing series, so there is already an established appetite for small sportikes. In fact, the entry-level segment might even be more competitive in Canada than in the States. While American Honda has priced the base CBR250R at US$3,999 to match MSRP of Kawasaki's Ninja 250R, Honda Canada has upped the ante by pricing the ABS-equipped CBR250R to match the Ninjette's CN$4,999 price tag, with the non-ABS version priced at CN$4,499.

Keep an eye out in the video below for the ABS-equipped Honda CBF600S (CN$9,999), another model available north of the border.

[vs-jwplayer movieid="5HTN9vaT__w" width="450" height="286" autoplay="0"]

But there are question marks about how the CBR250R will fare on the freeway and whether the 22.6-hp (as tested) engine will suffice for a larger rider like me.

Weíll address those questions in the next part of our Motorcycle Beginner series.

Related Reading
Choosing Your First Motorcycle - A Beginner's Guide
2011 250cc Beginner Bike Shootout 2009 Suzuki TU250X Review
Motorcycle Beginner: I Want to Ride
Motorcycle Beginner: Buying Riding Gear
Motorcycle Beginner: Rider Training
Motorcycle Beginner Diary: What I Love About Being a Motorcyclist
Motorcycle Beginner: 2011 Honda CBR250R Newbie Review
2011 Honda CBR125R Review

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