Choosing the proper beginner bike is a fairly subjective thing. Some in the motorcycle community recommend the smallest bike possible to start with and work up from there. There is some sound logic to that, however, there is a growing movement to get people onto slightly larger bikes as beginner bikes.
Personally, I am in that camp. I have seen too many new riders buy a Honda Rebel or similar bike who outgrow the bike within a couple months. They ultimately get hit with depreciation of the beginner bike, unless they bought used, and have a delay while trying to sell that bike before they move on to a bigger motorcycle. On top of that, I have known riders who end up quickly outgrowing the motorcycle they are on. They want to ride on the freeway don’t feel like the bike can go that fast safely, or they want to ride twisty roads but feel the bike’s suspension holding them back. The reality is that there are more and more modern bikes that are perfect choices for newer riders that will last a couple riding seasons and offer modern suspensions and reliability.
The bikes that I like for new riders all fit a fairly simple philosophy. They should be close to Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s recommendations for the bikes that are used on the course and should fit the rider as well. Low seat height is of special consideration. Even “normal” height riders will benefit from a lower seat height until they are super confident.
Each rider has personal preferences for the style of bike and the goals that they have for their riding as well. It is tough to touch on every nuance of riding but these five bikes should fit the bill for most new riders and actually could be enough bike for even seasoned riders simply looking for a lighter, more fuel-efficient, model as well.
Best Beginner Cruisers:
1) Harley-Davidson Sporster
With two available engine sizes, the 883 and 1200cc model, the Harley Davidson Sportster is a good mix of old school reliability, modern conveniences and good resale value. Buying a year old model will shield the rider from any depreciation and proper maintenance will ensure that when it is time to upgrade, much of the value will be retained. In the meantime, riders will be able to customize their bikes and enjoy a good balance of handling and power. The seat height can be had very low, with the 883 Superlow model starting with a 25.5 inch seat height. Even the standard 1200 has a low seat height of only 26.6 inches.
2) Hyosung GV-650 and ST-7
I may be biased here but after owning a Hyosung GV-650, they represent an excellent bargain. The basic bike is the same between the GV-650 and the ST-7, with the styling being the major difference. The GV looks like a hybrid of a HD V-Rod and Yamaha Warrior in three-quarter scale and the ST-7 has classic cruiser lines. Both offer a fuel-injected, liquid cooled 90-degree V-twin that is very usable down low but screams to redline, offering a good mix of power and controllability. This is in a lightweight package that is about 100 pounds lighter than the Harley Sportster line, with seat heights of 27.8 and 26.6 respectfully. Resale value is not great, but getting so much bike for under 7000 new makes up for that quite a bit, saving 3000 dollars up front over the cost of a new 1200cc Sportster. Reliability is good as well because while Hyosung is not well known in the US, they are respected elsewhere and are actually the Korean partner to Suzuki. The 650cc engine in this bike powers the well-respected and loved SV-650 line from Suzuki as well.
Best Beginner Sport Bikes
1) Suzuki SV-650 / Gladius / Hyosung GT650
Sharing the same engine, similar design elements that naked street bikes have and similar frames, these bikes are all good choices. They offer good power later on in the learning process for new riders, plenty of customization opportunities to better suit the rider later in a very easy to maintain package. New SV-650s are actually 2008 models and Gladius are 2009 models so they still have warranties but are available at excellent prices. Resale is iffy simply because they are older models being sold new. All range with MSRP’s of $5000-$6000, making them good starting bikes and used ones are constantly available as riders move up to 4 cylinder sport bikes or other types of motorcycles. With the Gladius and GT650 having steel frames, they will hold up a bit better if the bike is laid down but all have plenty of aftermarket and used parts to fix up a dropped ride in an inexpensive manner.
Kawasaki Ninja 650R/ Er-6n
2) Kawasaki Ninja 650R / ER-6N
Giving purchasers the look of a sport bike or naked street bike with good handling and still reasonable power, the Ninja 650R and Kawasaki Er-6n deliver on all counts. These bikes look great, are comfortable for the style and have 650cc parallel twin engines that give the rider plenty of torque, decent horsepower in a more controlled manner than a screaming 600cc engine that a “true” sport bike would have. With better useful power comes more fun and with a more comfortable riding position, the rides can go longer. With both of these choices, seat height does need to be considered. With heights of 31.1 and 29.7, they aren’t for short legged folks. However, adjustments can be made and these are static measurements without the rider sitting.
Best Beginner Dual Sport
1) BMW G650GS
There are plenty of small displacement street legal dirtbikes available with 200 or 250cc engines that will get the job done in terms of getting from point A to point B. However, even these small displacement dirtbikes have incredibly high seats and aren’t the best choice for long trips because the seats are uncomfortable and the engines and transmissions are simply not geared for long runs at even 55 or 60 miles per hour. The BMW G650GS is a capable trail machine with a 650 thumper that gives it enough grunt for freeway runs as well. Best of all, for a dual sport, the seat height is low with a unladen height that can be set as low as 29.5 inches. There are options however that can get that seat height much higher, allowing some serious flexibility in one bike. A new rider can start with the lowered suspension and learn then work up to 31.1 inches easily. If this isn’t high enough, a high seat is available as well, giving the rider another inch to work with. Compared to other dual sports and street legal dirtbikes, this gives the rider a lot more options. With a starting price under 9000 dollars new, it is a fairly good bargain, especially given the brand.