Once you have your budget set, it’s time to begin your search for the perfect bike. A quick Internet search will reveal that there are a dizzying array of street legal motorcycles in virtually all shapes and sizes, so to find the ideal motorcycle for you, figure out what type of riding you will be doing and what type of bike will best suit those goals. For most first-time riders, a used, standard bike will fit the bill perfectly. However, manufacturers have realized that beginners may not always want to start on a standard, so now there are beginner-friendly bikes in an array of varieties. There has never been a better time to be a motorcyclist.
If you want to use your bike as your daily mode of transportation, your best bet is a standard bike. Standards feature more of an upright riding position, lack fairings, and are typically styled to look like classic bikes of the 1960s and ’70s. They are traditionally thought of as the easiest type to ride, and provide a light, nimble, well-balanced option. You can find everything from small displacement beginners’ rides to high-powered bikes designed for experts that are based on sport bike platforms.
Typically, standard bikes can range anywhere from a wallet-friendly $4,000 for a new, small, entry-level machine, to well above the $15,000 mark for more exotic, performance-oriented bikes. Some popular examples of these bikes include:
- Suzuki TU250X: An excellent beginner bike that offers retro-styling, a comfortable seating position, and a non-intimidating 250cc engine, the TU250X provides an excellent platform for small or novice riders.
- Ducati Monster 696: If you’re looking for something a bit more exotic in a package that won’t overwhelm a less experienced rider, this is your bike. The Monster’s styling has the look to stop passersby dead in their tracks, while its fuel injected 696cc v-twin engine produces 80 hp and 50 lb-ft of torque for near socket-popping acceleration.
Cruisers and Choppers
If you plan on rumbling down your favorite streets with some friends, or want something in which you can coast down your favorite highway with the wind in your hair, a cruiser is for you. The cruiser category emerged from Harley-Davidson’s massive popularity, and are now made by just about every manufacturer in the world. These bikes feature a laid-back riding position and are typically powered by large v-twin engines.
Beginner-friendly Japanese variants have caught on in large numbers in the past two decades. Another sub-genre of cruiser-style bikes are choppers. Inspired by American biker gangs of the 1960s and ’70s, modern choppers have evolved into high-powered, mega-buck machines that should be left to extremely advanced riders.
- Honda Rebel: Contrary to what its name implies, the Rebel is one of the more docile motorcycles in production today. Its low seat height and user-friendly 250cc engine make it an ideal bike for smaller, novice riders. It’s also been sold in different variations since 1985. This means you can usually find a steal on the used market, and that there are parts-a-plenty should you ever be in need of them.
- Harley-Davidson Sportster: The most user-friendly Harley made can trace its roots back to the 1950s with Harley’s K-series motorcycles. Today’s modern variants offer 883cc and 1200cc engines that produce plenty of torque with that famous Harley rumble. Used 883cc Sportster variants are ultra-plentiful, fairly inexpensive, and have enough accessory options available to make Paris Hilton jealous.
Touring and Sport Touring Bikes
Touring bikes put an emphasis on rider and passenger comfort by offering plush seats, plenty of wind protection, and an upright, relaxed seating position. If you are seeking a bit more performance, there is a plethora of sport touring bikes that offer a blend of sport bike performance with everyday comfort.
The touring and sport touring classes blends more styles than any other. You can find models that blend elements of cruiser, sport, and dual sport bikes from almost any manufacturer. While most touring and sport touring bikes are larger and designed for more advanced riders, several European and Japanese manufacturers offer entry-level bikes that blend the style of a dual purpose bike with a street friendly chassis.
- Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS Adventure: Perhaps one of the most versatile bikes on the market today, the V-Strom 650 ABS provides a long distance tourer in the style of dual sport bike. Its smaller 645cc v-twin engine provides plenty of power, but won’t overwhelm less experience riders. The bike also features anti-lock brakes for an added level of safety.
- Honda NT700V ABS: One of the only smaller-displacement, true sport touring machines on the market today, the NT700V ABS offers a potent 680cc v-twin engine, ABS brakes, and intergrated hard saddlebags, making it a great fit for a newer rider looking for their first long-distance bike.
On the top of the performance food chain, you will find sports bikes. Ranging from entry-level 250cc models, to racer-replicas, to 1400cc monsters capable of hitting 180 mph in the blink of an eye, there is match for every rider with a need for speed. While there are some novice-friendly, smaller displacement bikes in the class, most should be approached with caution and are best left to the experts or die-hard track enthusiasts.
- Kawasaki Ninja 250R: This is the bike that started it all for small displacement, full-fledged sport bikes in the United States. The Ninja 250R has the look and razor-sharp handling of its race-replica big brothers, the Ninja ZX-6R and Ninja ZX-10R, but paired with an easy to use 250cc engine.
- Yamaha FZ6R: In its current guise, the FZ6R is a direct descendant or Yamaha’s middle weight race bikes of the past, while being heavily refined for everyday street riding. While its more powerful, in-line, four-cylinder engine packs a punch, it makes a great platform for less-experienced riders to cut their teeth on before moving up to today’s full-fledged, track derived, sport bikes.
Dual Sport and Motard
If you are looking to spend a bit of time off-road, while still being able to use your bike on everyday roads, you’ll want to get a dual sport. These bikes feature knobby tires, tons of ground clearance, and long-travel suspension. During the early 2000s, a new craze erupted with the introduction of motard bikes. These machines are essentially off-road or motocross bikes that have been fitted with a lowered suspension and street tires. You can find these bikes in hardcore race-ready trim, or as fully street-legal beginners’ bikes.
- Honda CRF230M: A fun, capable, and easy-to-live-with bike, the CRF230M gives entry-level riders a full-fledged motard for the streets. Its torque, single-cylinder engine provides enough juice to be fun, but not intimidating. This bike does have a tall ride height that may be a problem for smaller, inexperienced riders, though.
- Suzuki DR-Z400S: This true dual sport bike provides enough off-road prowess to tackle even the toughest trails, while still being fully street legal. It also packs serious grunt from its 398cc, dual overhead cam, single-cylinder engine so you can power your way up the steepest hills, or blast down a desolate stretch of highway to your next off-road adventure.
From 50cc neighborhood cruisers to mega-scooters with 600cc-plus engines that are capable of traveling at freeway speeds, there is practically a scooter for everyone. While they may not actually classify as motorcycles, there is an abundant amount of scooters on the market that make great beginners bikes thanks to their low seat height and automatic transmissions.
- Honda Ruckus: This stripped-down, no-frills scooter packs enough punch from its 50cc liquid-cooled engine to tackle any urban environment, while its knobby tires and relatively high ground clearance lets you take the road less traveled if needed. And did we mention it gets 114 mpg?
- BMW C 650 GT: If you are looking for the ultimate in scooters, than look no further. BMW (yes that BMW) has created a machine that comfortably fits two adults, can cruise at highway speeds, gets outstanding gas mileage, and offers plenty of storage to boot.