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Common Tread

What's the best beginner motorcycle?

Jan 31, 2022

There's an incredible number of motorcycles to choose from these days, and I'm certainly not mad about it. For a new rider, who already faces a lot of challenges in getting started, that variety makes decisions even more difficult. It's like coming to a fork in the road but instead of two options, you've got 20.

As a video host at RevZilla, whether it's during an Instagram Live happy hour or the dark abyss that is the comment section of YouTube, I often get asked "What's the best beginner bike?" Annnnd, there are several challenges when trying to answer this question. Consider what I don't know about you.

  • Are you completely new to bikes or do you have any past experience, such as riding a minibike as a kid?
  • Do you live in the middle of the city, in a suburb where you have to hop on a highway to get anywhere, or in the country at the end of an unpaved road?
  • Do you plan to ride to work, take fun rides on the weekend or do you dream of long-distance trips?
  • How tall are you?
  • Can you drive a stick-shift car?
  • What's your budget?
  • What's your interest and skill level in doing repairs and maintenance?
  • Beyoncé or Rihanna?

That's not even the complete list of questions, but you get the point. There's a lot to consider. To give a new or potential rider an honest and helpful answer to the question of which beginner bike is best, I need to know a lot about the rider.

Still, since the question does come up so often, I raised it during one of our Monday Common Tread meetings and asked my fellow RevZilla video hosts and our fearless CT editor, Lance, for some general opinions. Collectively, we've ridden a lot of different motorcycles, so and while there's no single motorcycle that's the best beginner bike for everyone, I thought at the very least we might be able to help point some folks in the right direction. Here's what they had to say.

Ari Henning: The Honda CBR250R and its progeny

Go CBR! No, not the 600, silly, the little 250. The CBR250R and its progeny (that includes the CB300F, CBR300R, and CB300R) are always my recommendation for new street riders. That's because it's an amazingly approachable, competent, affordable little motorcycle, with all the attributes a beginner needs to get off on the right foot and gain confidence in the saddle. That includes a light 350ish-pound curb weight, tractable and torquey engine, and an excellent clutch and transmission. Plus it has characteristics you don't often get in the 250/300 class, such as above-average suspension and superb brakes that are strong and predictable. It also gets killer gas mileage in the 65 to 75 mpg range, and you can generally snag one in decent shape for about $2,500.

The CBR250R is an excellent beginnner bike!
As a new rider, you'll probably want one that's a bit more put together than this. This is one of the last 250 rebuilds Ari did. He takes them all the way down and builds them right back up! You can play mechanic if you want to but you'll be doing a bit more wrenching than riding. Photo by Ari Henning.

I have Craigslist and OfferUp alerts set up for CBRs, and regularly rescue forlorn bikes, fix them up, and sell them to new riders. Having rebuilt a dozen or more CBRs, I'd warn against any bike that's got more than 25,000 miles on the clock, since several vital engine parts tend to fail around then. The engine is especially sensitive to oil level and on-time oil changes, so aim to buy a bike with detailed service records.

On the topic of warnings, I'd also like to take this opportunity to caution new riders about buying a vintage bike. The romance of restoring a relic can be overpowering for some, but it's a truly terrible way to enter the world of motorcycling and will likely result in a lot of cost and frustration and very little riding, if any. There are plenty of "modern retros" available with fuel injection and ABS, so get your vintage itch scratched that way, not with carburetors and leaky fork seals.

Brandon's take: I personally couldn't agree more with Ari's advice about vintage bikes and that is precisely why I recommend the Suzuki TU250X as an excellent beginner bike. It has that retro café style but with the modern amenities new riders will most likely want, like fuel injection, electric start, a disc brake up front and a low seat height. Finding an affordable used one is a bit more challenging since the pandemic put the used motorcycle market in upheaval, but if you find one, a TU250X is a great beginner bike that also has style.

Zack Courts: Honda CRF250L

Picking a first bike will depend a lot on your environment and style. That said, it's hard to imagine a better motorcycle to start on than a dual-sport, and in my mind Honda's CRF250L is at the top of the heap. This sucker is peppy enough to skip down the freeway or enjoy twisty, two-lane tarmac (the stock tires aren't bad, actually) and it's also happy enough to explore off the beaten path. You'll also get legendary Honda reliability — people have ridden these things to and from the gnarliest places on Earth. If you live in a city, the tall suspension will soak up potholes and speed bumps all day long. If you live in the country, just bring some extra gas for when you get lost.

The CRF250L is an excellent dual sport machine. It can easily handle the highway miles and while still being overqualified for more technical terrain.
The CRF250L is a bit of a Swiss Army knife. It can handle the highway, will soak up city potholes and can introduce you to off-road riding. If you drop it, it will probably survive unscathed and, anyway, an off-road bike is supposed to have some scars and patina, right? Photo by Spenser Robert.

The only thing to keep in mind is that the seat is taller than usual, which is part of the tradeoff for getting the off-road capability of a dual-sport. If you need a bike that's brandy new, there's always the CRF300L — new package, same famous versatility.

Brandon's take: Potholes! Philly is nothing but potholes and road conditions surrounding the city are pretty terrible, too. Even if you never plan to take your bike off-road but you live in a city with crumbling pavement, there's something to be said for the plush suspension of a dual-sport. We've even wondered if it might be the best city bike. Of course a dual-sport works better if you're tall, like Zack. Jen has a different perspective.

Jen Dunstan: Honda Rebel 300 or 500

Whenever I am asked for a recommendation on a great beginner bike, I am always quick to advocate for the one that was my first-ever motorcycle: the Honda Rebel. For me, it was specifically a used 1985 Rebel 250. I rode it for two years and learned so many important riding fundamentals on it. It had a low seat height so I was able to focus more on proper operation of the controls and less about tipping over. It was lightweight, so it was easier to maneuver and easier to pick up after a few drops (hey, it's gonna happen!). Its modest power meant my ham-fisted beginner throttle hand got me into way less trouble than a bigger, more powerful bike would. It also retained its value well. I pretty much resold it for what I initially paid for it when I was ready to upgrade to my second bike. Whether you go the used route or the brand new route, you're getting an iconic newbie bike.

The Honda Rebel has stood the test of time and continues to be an excellent bike for beginners and seasoned riders alike.
The Rebel 500 has a bit more "kuckow" and a few extra pounds when compared to the 300 but other than that, they're virtually the same. Photo by Kevin Wing.

Brandon's take: I took my MSF course back in North Carolina on a Honda Rebel and it was incredibly easy to ride. Definitely a great starter bike if you're looking for cruiser style. And, you can generally find these used for next to nothing.

Lance Oliver: Three choices, because it's complicated

I hate questions like this. Not because I don't want to help, but because I really do want to help new riders get started right, and there's no one choice that's best for everyone (or even most). The only across-the-board advice I give is don't buy your "dream bike" as your first bike, because until you've been riding a while, you don't know what you're really going to enjoy most about motorcycling. Plus, your dream bike will probably be too much motorcycle while you're learning to ride and too expensive to fix when you drop it. Better to start on something used, cheap and manageable and get some miles under your tires, then move up.

The Kawasaki Z400 is a lightweight and comfortable sport bike. The Z400 can easily tackle the high speeds of the interstate but nimble enough to confidently push both man and machine through some twisty roads.
The Kawasaki Z400 hits the sweet spot of being small and light enough to be easy for a beginner to handle, but with enough power to keep up with highway traffic and stay entertaining as the rider's skills grow. Many experienced riders love them, too. Photo by Kevin Wing.

Since there's no one right answer, I’m going to make three suggestions. If you're just going to be riding street, I'd search out a Kawasaki Z400 (or maybe a Ninja 400, if you really want the full-fairing look — but remember that replacement fairings are pricey), either a few years old or new if you absolutely insist on buying new. It has enough power to keep up with highway traffic but is still reasonably light and has very good manners. If you're a shorter person and you really want a low seat height, or if you prefer cruiser style, then take Jen's advice and get a Rebel instead. And if you're a taller person and you want more leg room (without a lot more weight) or if you want to get into off-road riding, shop for a used 250-class dual-sport. I'd look for a Kawasaki KLX250S from 2018 or later, which is when that model got fuel injection.

If you can't find any of these that fall within your budget, then just go back in time a little further and find similar models.

Brandon's take: Per usual, Sir Lancelot bestows upon us great wisdom. I particularly like the advice about not purchasing your dream bike as your first bike. Your first motor tooter generally takes a few hits and dings — if you're really lucky, nothing worse than a few low-speed parking lot tip overs. Trust me, as you're figuring things out it's more than likely going to happen. I know, I'm the one who always says follow your heart, but maybe save that dream bike for your second or third buy. 

Spurgeon Dunbar: A suggestion in case you're my size

The Kawasaki Z400 is easily my go-to recommendation for nearly any beginner because it's priced right, is approachable enough for novice riders but still capable enough to let you grow. But since Lance already covered the Z400, I want to offer an option for you larger riders out there.

The Triumph Street Twin is a perfect combination of vintage styling with modern features. Easily a bike any beginner rider should be able to approach with confidence.
Triumph's Modern Classics line, including this Street Twin, give you modern features with classic style, and none of the vintage bike headaches. Kingdom Creative photo.

If you’re anything like me in size and stature (six feet, three inches tall and 210 pounds), chances are you feel a bit oversized on some of the more svelte beginner options. If this sounds like you, I'd like to suggest the Triumph Street Twin for your consideration.

I like this recommendation for personal reasons as it's very similar to the 2005 Triumph Bonneville T-100 I learned to ride on (and still own) but with more beginner-friendly features. Unlike my Bonnie, the Street Twin features hassle-free fuel injection, adds safety considerations like traction control and ABS, has a more even power distribution from a liquid-cooled engine, and weighs roughly 475 pounds (about 40 pounds lighter than my old T-100). When this bike was released, I logged nearly 5,000 miles on it in three weeks.

It's approachable and fun to ride around town, yet completely capable of a week-long road trip. And if you're a larger rider just starting out, it's going to feel a bit more substantial and less cramped without having an intimidating amount of power. In fact, the only thing intimidating about this bike is the $9,600 price tag. However, if you're anything like me, it's a bike that you'll most likely hang on to and enjoy for many years to come.

Crashing a motorcycle is never very fun but if you have the right gear, sometimes you can walk away unscathed.
Spurgeon was grinning despite the road rash on his new leathers. It was still a fun track day and it's a story that will be told for years. Photo by Brandon Wise.

Brandon's take: I love that Spurgeon still has a soft spot for the Z400 even though he went sliding across the tarmac during one of our track days at New Jersey Motorsports Park on its racier sibling, the Ninja 400. Spurgeon was able to zip back to the ZLA office for some spare parts and we got the bike back together to finish out the day, so don't let this fond memory I have of Spurgeon deter you from scooping up the Z400. And yes, I know Spurgeon's suggestion was focused on the Street Twin, but I don't care. Any opportunity I have to poke fun at that big ol' teddy bear, I'm gonna take.

More beginner bike resources

If you're a new or aspiring rider, hopefully that gives you some ideas to consider. If all we've done is make you more confused, then step back and look at our article and video about how to choose your first motorcycle. (We also have one about choosing your second motorcycle, a topic that gets less attention.) We think it's better than getting advice from your buddy who wears flip flops while riding his GSX-R. (Sorry if your buddy rides a GSX-R in flip flops. I’m sure he’s a great guy…)

One thing that should be obvious by now is that there's really no single best beginner bike. We all come in different shapes and sizes, we like different styles, we have different opinions on what is comfortable. There are far too many variables for one bike to rule them all.

And remember, even if you get it wrong, you're buying a motorcycle, not getting married. If you turn out to be like all of us, your first motorcycle won't be anywhere near your last one. It'll just be the beginning of a great new adventure.