10 Best Beginner Motorcycles
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2017. Since then, a number of other good beginner motorcycles have hit the market, so we’ve decided to update this post with some of the newer options available for new riders. The list of is available below.
It really is an ill wind that blows no man good: One positive upshot of the dearth of buying power for so many millennials and middle-classees, in the aftermath of recession, was a blossoming of great little inexpensive motorcycles, which has now almost become a superbloom. The collective memory jog those little bikes gave us re., less can be more, has even led to a few great smallish bikes that are now less inexpensive, but then one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor when it comes to dollars. Here’s our picks for best starter bikes (several of which can be considered best bikes, period).
Royal Enfield Continental GT and Interceptor 650 – $5,999/$5,799
The Indian manufacturer’s completely modern new 650 parallel-Twin engine runs great, makes a newbie-friendly 47 horsepower, and looks fantastic inside its also all-new Harris-designed chassis. Produced in its all-new huge factory in Chennai, India, and displaying a remarkably high level of quality, these machines hereby serve notice that Royal Enfield is no longer a builder of novelty antique motorcycles. Ergonomics are friendly, seat heights are low… and the price is ridiculously right at just around $6,000, depending on which cool paint job you choose.
Kawasaki Z400 – $4,799
In the beginning, there was the Ninja 250, which begat the Ninja 300, which begat the Ninja 400 – which finally had enough power (like, 44 hp or so) – and now there’s the Z400, which is just excellent. This one is for riders more interested in commuting and around-town riding than it is for intense peg-scraping mountain climbs and high-speed riding, but it can handle that stuff too. Potential Z intenders surveyed by Kawasaki liked words such as: “cool, hooligan, unique, flying, happy, freedom, serene, superhero, and badass.” They also liked “$4,799.”
PS: We’d throw Kawi’s Versys 300X adventure bike onto this list also, but you know Versys 400X can’t be far behind.
KTM 390 Duke – $5,499
It wouldn’t be right to pimp the Z400 without including the bike that just beat it in a fun little two-bike comparo: the KTM 390 Duke. MSRP is about 13% more than the Kawi, but the orange bike from Austria, we decided, does nearly everything about 7% better than the Kawasaki, while even being a skosh more comfortable doing it. Also we’re suckers for shiny objects, and the KTM’s TFT display, orange/white trellis frame, inverted fork, etc., just inflames our not-so-juvenile passions more than we’d like to admit. Lots of people pay more than $5,499 for a bicycle.
Husqvarna Svartpilen 701 – $11,999
Not everyone new to motorcycles is necessarily impecunious, and if you’re able to come up with a few dollars more – about $12k – there’s no finer beginner bike than the nimble, 349-pounds svelte new Svartpilen. Light weight and controllability are really what it’s all about when you’re learning to ride, and the Svartpilen has plenty of both. Its 692cc KTM-sourced single-cylinder engine is a torquey-smooth delight that’s easy to ride slow or fast, its automatic quickshifter and light clutch make gear-changing second-nature, and longish-travel top-shelf suspension bits make mincemeat of urban decay. The only caveat is that suspension also makes the seat a tad tall, at 32.9 inches. Great if you’re a beginner 5’10 or taller; not so much if you’re sawn off. This is a “beginner bike” you could ride forever.
PS: The Svartpilen is about 90% KTM 690 Duke in disguise. Now that the 690 has been usurped by the new 790 Duke, there are mad deals to be had on left-over 690s. See also: Svartpilen 401.
BMW G310 GS – $5,795
Is “adventure” biking’s 15 minutes of fame up yet? I don’t think it is. If you want to join the rugged GS crowd, may we suggest starting out on the smallest member of the family, whose 380-pound curb weight you’ll be much happier with when it’s time for a little pick-me-up. Eighteen pound-feet of torque and 30 horsepower are completely non-threatening but entirely sufficient for learning the riding ropes, and if you’re more interested in naked biking than ADVing, we like the sister ship G310 R every bit as well; its seat height and price both undercut the GS by a lot. How’s $4,845 sound for a brand new BMW? Almost unbelievable.
Triumph Street Twin – $9,300
This spunky little bike was an overnight success when Triumph introduced it in 2016. For 2019, we’ve got even more goodness in the form of updated engine, suspension and detailing. No, the 900cc Twin isn’t too big for a beginner. Triumph now claims 65 hp from the happy 270-degree engine, but it’s so tractable and easy to deploy (thanks in part to the super-light slip/assist clutch), it never feels like too much. It nearly always feels like plenty as your confidence grows, though, and the new 41mm cartridge fork in front adds a level of control the first-gen bike didn’t quite have. Add classic looks, a low seat, excellent all-day comfort, and that certain intangible something all great motorcycles have… again, this is one of those bikes veteran riders can appreciate just as much as a beginner.
PS: Taller people who like dirt roads should have a look at the Street Scrambler.
Honda NC750X DCT/ABS – $8,899
Nine out of 10 civilians surveyed, when asked what keeps them from riding, say it’s fear of learning to shift gears. Why more manufacturers don’t build automatic motorcycles, I know not, but the NC is an excellent one. The Dual Clutch Transmission means you push the buttons and go, and once you’ve got your sea legs on the road, learning to shift later on a different bike will be a snap. Then there’s the convenience of the big locking storage compartment where the gas tank should be; it’ll swallow your XXXL full-face helmet or a big bag of groceries no problem. Boring people will project a lack of personality onto the Honda’s torquey but low-revving parallel-Twin, but it’ll do 100 mph easy and get well over 60 mpg all day long. Eminently lovable and practical. Even American Honda gives the NC750X no respect; they don’t even have a pic of the US model on their website.
Yamaha XMAX – $5,599
And speaking of things you don’t have to shift, those urbanites secure in their own sexuality should not overlook the scooter. Nearly everybody who climbs on one for the first time climbs back off and asks, “why do I not own one of these?” Yamaha’s new XMAX was the latest to fall into our extended possession, a 292cc liquid-cooled Single with enough power to do almost the Ton while returning 70 mpg consistently. Fifteen and 14-inch wheels make it stable and ridiculously sporty-fun to ride… and there’s plenty of room under the seat for backpacks and several bags of groceries; it locks using a remote fob like expensive bikes and cars now use – but the whole excellent shebang sells for a measly $5,599.
Why do I not own one of these?
Indian Scout Sixty – $9,499
Actually there’s a lot to be said for starting off on a cruiser, especially if you’re a shorty, for the simple reason you’ll be able to put both feet flat on the ground. On the Scout Sixty, mother earth is only 25.8 inches away. Also, torquey American-style V-twin engines with heavy crankshafts make learning to use a clutch pretty simple. The Scout Sixty is the discount bin version of the Scout, with a 60-cubic inch engine (999 cc) instead of a 69-inch one, and five speeds in the gearbox instead of six. When we tested it a few years ago, we didn’t really miss the 9 cubes or fifth gear (the one they removed) much at all. Sadly, the price has crept up a bit: She starts out at just $9,499 in black, but do yourself a favor and spend the extra $800 for ABS.
Ducati Scrambler Icon – $9,395
Conventional wisdom might advise you to start out on the 399cc, $7,995 Scrambler Sixty2, but I think that would be a mistake when the 803cc Icon is only $1400 more. For one thing you’re not going to outgrow the Icon anytime soon (if ever), and for another, the bigger, torquier engine is probably actually easier to learn on, since it needs less clutch-slipping and revs to get moving. And heck, even the bigger engine is rated at just 73 horsepower. The Icon is a kick to ride, with a low seat, low weight, high handlebar for maximum control, and even lean-sensitive ABS and optional Bluetooth connectivity – things you won’t find on the other nine bikes on this list. This one must be a loss leader for Ducati, and a smart move by the crafty Italians. Once you’ve sampled desmo V-Twin power, it’s hard to go back.
Editor’s Note: Here’s the original story, with beginner motorcycles selected from the 2017 model year. While these bikes aren’t brand new, they’re still great options for new riders, with the added bonus of being available used at a good price.
10 Best Beginner Motorcycles (2017)
Let’s face it. Learning to ride a motorcycle isn’t easy. If it were, everyone would be riding them. So, by simply wanting to start riding a bike, you’re already a cut above the rest of the road users out there. By looking here for our choices of the best beginner motorcycles, you’re also showing that you’re approaching the selection of your first bike in a smart way. Kudos to you for not succumbing to the siren song of the latest, hottest high-performance machinery. There will be plenty of time for that. Right now, you want to focus on learning how to ride properly.
Here at Motorcycle.com, we’re big proponents of starting with smaller bikes before moving up to more advanced machinery. For example, I have written many times about how my first bike was a Kawasaki EX500 which I bought in 1989 when the small-bike options were relatively slim. Now, the manufacturers have realized that there is a market for smaller motorcycles – as long as they are built with the same care and attention as bigger, costlier bikes.
What follows is a listing, in alphabetical order by manufacturer, of the best beginner motorcycles we think budding MOrons should consider as their first motorcycle.
CSC Cyclone RX-3
Although at one time the only 250cc adventure touring bike on the market, the CSC Cyclone RX-3 is beginning to face some competition in the form of the Honda CRF250 Rally and Kawasaki Versys 300-X (though without standard bags). Perhaps this is a segment that is set to come alive. Regardless, the Cyclone RX-3 would make a good beginner motorcycle for $3,895.
No matter what your styling preferences are, Honda has a 500 Twin for you in the form of the CB500F and the CBR500R. Delivering 43 hp on the MotoGP Werks dyno, the CB and CBR give you a choice of naked fun or sportier styling (for $500 more). Both bikes feature ABS options for $300 and a 30.7-in. seat height for confidence-inspiring operation. The CB500F retails for $6,099 and the CBR500R for $6,599.
Nobody ever said a first bike is required to have a small displacement. What is necessary, though, if a friendly demeanor. The NC700X comes in two varieties. The first has your traditional manual motorcycle transmission; the other, Honda’s cool Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT). When tooling around on the DCT version, riders have the choice of letting the bike choose the gear or taking control with the paddle shifter. Burns would scold me if I didn’t mention the capacious trunk where the gas tank normally resides. Yours for $7,699 ($8,299 DCT).
Honda Rebel 300
Gone are the days of the Rebel being the red-headed stepchild of Honda’s cruisers. The 2017 Rebel 300 has tons of style and a winning personality. Our review ends with a perfect summation of the Rebel 300’s character: “The Rebel 300 is a great package for new riders looking for a tame, comfortable, and maneuverable cruiser to gain their confidence on.” See your Honda dealer with your $4,399, or step up to the nearly identical Rebel 500 (except for its larger engine) for $5,999.
Kawasaki Ninja 300
Remember way back in 2015 when the Kawasaki Ninja 300 won our lightweight sportbike shootout? Well, it did, and it remains an excellent entry-level sportbike. If you’re a budding rider who enjoys sporty machinery, you won’t go wrong with the Ninja 300 and its smile-inducing 34.6 hp. Along the way, you’ll get a bike that is easy to ride – and ride quickly if that’s what you want. Good things come in small packages for $4,999 ($5,299 ABS).
If you’re attracted to naked bikes, the Kawasaki Z650 has a lot to offer a newer rider – aside from being part of the style-of-the-moment. The Z650 shares its 649cc parallel-Twin engine with the Ninja 650, but it is tuned for more bottom-end and mid-range power which is right where newer riders want it. The riding position is ideal for urban use, as is the 30.9-in. seat height. The Kawasaki Z650 retails for $6,999 (add $400 for ABS).
Kawasaki Versys 300-X
If you’re a new rider with adventure riding dreams, take a look at the just released Kawasaki Versys 300-X. Weighing a claimed 386 lbs with its 4.5-gallon tank full of fuel, the 300-X delivers the bulk of its power in the bottom end where you’ll need it if you take it off-roading. This is a friendly bike for learning to ride both on and off the pavement for $5,399 (+$300 ABS).
KTM 390 Duke
The KTM 390 Duke has been impressing riders – both newbies and old hands – with its balance of style, performance and value for years. The updates KTM made for 2017 adds to its refinement and performance. It’s styling belies its $5,299 MSRP. It even has a TFT display! Then there’s its performance which can humble larger-displacement motorcycles. Take a look at the shootout link below to see how it compares with another one of the bikes on this list.
If the MO staff had a dollar for every experienced rider that got their start on the Suzuki SV-650, we could probably retire. Offering a special balance of functionality, performance, and styling is hard to pull off, but the SV is more than capable. With its 2016 update, the SV is back in the thick of the middleweight battle for a MSRP of $6,999 ($7,499 ABS).
Every time we throw a leg over a Yamaha R3, we come away impressed with its strong but manageable power. Riders of all levels will get a kick out of it – which might explain its popularity in lightweight racing classes. A low seat height and nimble chassis sweetens the deal for newbies. The R3 is a great place to begin your sport-riding journey for just $4,999 or $5,299 with ABS.
More by John Burns