Getting your first motorcycle can be one of the most exciting and overwhelming times of your life as a new rider.
When it comes to picking that first bike, there’s a lot to consider. Motorcycle types vary widely, and factors like displacement, positioning, seat height, ABS braking, windscreens, ergonomics and motorcycle weight are important aspects to consider when finding yourself the right bike.
It might seem overwhelming, but these features will have a direct impact on how easy it will be for you to learn how to be a proficient and safe motorcycle rider. To begin, you’ll need to start with asking yourself a some questions:
- What’s my budget?
- How much power will I need for the type of riding I plan to do?
- How tall do I need the bike to be to fit me?
- What’s my preferred body positioning?
- What size windshield will I need?
- Do I have the mechanical ability to care for an older bike?
- Will I need ABS braking or other advanced/comfort features?
Choosing the right beginner motorcycle has a direct impact on not only your safety, but the speed and scope of your learning as well. Some motorcycle types are good for learning the basics on, while other bikes are great for growing your skills — as they may have more sophisticated or complex features and performance options.
Depending on your priorities and preferences as a beginner rider, the type of bike you buy can determine your proficiency level as well as the amount of utility, comfort and convenience you will enjoy while on the road.
To make your decision-making process faster and easier, we’ve compiled a detailed, comprehensive breakdown of the best motorcycles for beginners out there. Check out our top picks and the runners up below:
The 6 Best Beginner Motorcycles by Type
1. “Naked” & Standard Bikes (Standard)
Pictured: Kawasaki Z400 ABS
Engine: 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, DOHC, liquid-cooled
Transmission: 6-speed, return shift
The Kawasaki Z400 ABS encompasses all that is good about “naked” bikes. This affordable motorcycle delivers a smooth ride with aggressive styling, and the lightweight chassis and low seat height make for a comfortable ride for just about any beginner (or experienced!) motorcyclist.
“Naked” or Standard bikes are fantastic choices for beginner motorcycle riders overall due to their versatility and user-friendly nature. These bikes are similar to stripped-down versions of sportbikes both in terms of structural design and functionality, with several key differences. On most naked-style motorcycles both the seating position will be more natural and upright, which many riders feel increases not only their visibility of the road, but also to motorists. Most streetfighter bikes will also have a less aggressive rake angle than traditional sportbikes, making them less sensitive to rider inputs — which many beginner riders find helpful while starting out.
However even experienced riders often feel like these models offer the best of both worlds, competitive and aggressive enough to be considered part of the “sport” series, but comfortable and approachable enough for everything from touring, to track days and learning how to ride. Depending on the make and model, these motorcycle types can vary widely in engine size and onboard features.
More Bikes Like This: KTM 390 Duke, Honda CB 300F & 500F ABS, Suzuki GW250, Kawasaki Z400 ABS, Yamaha MT-03, Suzuki SV 650
Pictured: Honda Rebel 500
Engine: Liquid-cooled, parallel-twin 4-stroke
While getting a brand-new Harley-Davidson can be very tempting for beginner riders, a smaller, lighter, less expensive motorcycle may be a better fit to boost confidence and practice proper riding form while you’re starting out. The Honda Rebel has been a reliable crowd favorite and a great beginner cruiser for motorcycle riders for years.
Cruisers in general are one of the most popular motorcycle types in the world, including for beginner riders. Cruiser style motorcycles combine style and functionality in an easily accessible setup. Their low seat height, typically high torque, and forgiving power band delivery can make them the perfect fit for anyone looking for their first motorcycle.
Cruisers are also often easily customizable as well, with new motorcycle riders having the opportunity to easily modify them to meet their needs or design preferences. Reflector deleters, new mirrors, unique headlight housings, and side saddles or tank bags are all common modifications for beginner cruisers like the Honda Rebel 500.
These bikes are also great for extended rides, which many beginner riders feel called to as the motorcycling addiction hits them for the first time. Despite their often high displacement, cruiser-style motorcycles are not typically designed for high speeds, but rather designed to be ideal touring and longer distance motorcycles.
More Bikes Like This: Yamaha V-Star 250, Honda Rebel 300 ABS, Harley-Davidson Street 500 ABS, Yamaha Bolt 650, Harley-Davidson Street 500, Harley-Davidson Superlow.
3. Adventure (ADV) Bikes
Pictured: Honda CB500X ABS
Engine: Liquid-cooled, parallel-twin
The 2021 Honda CB500X ABS has everything you need as a beginner adventure rider, and nothing you don’t! A high windshield, long-travel suspension, 32.8 in (83 cm) seat height, and 434 pound (197 kg) curb weight makes this bike a fan favorite that’s equally at home on the dirt or city streets.
Many motorcyclists believe that adventure bikes are the perfect combination of power and versatility. Often beginner motorcyclists find these bikes to be easier to handle due to their upright seating positioning, convenient handlebar height, reliability, and nimble maneuverability.
ADVs are often considered “dual-purpose,” which means they can be used in both on-road and off-road environments. In general, ADV bikes can adapt to rough terrain better than standard motorcycle models due to their long suspension travel, upright seating position, and dual sport tires. This comfortable configuration and luggage capacity can also make ADV bikes ideal for touring and long-distance travel.
Unfortunately though, many adventure bikes have high seat heights, which can be challenging for many beginner riders. Fortunately though lowering kits and specialty seats are available for purchase.
Overall, adventure style motorcycles are considered some of the best choices for not only beginner riders, but advanced motorcyclists looking for a versatile and adaptable bike.
More Bikes Like This: Honda CB500X ABS, Kawasaki Versys-X 300 ABS, Suzuki DR-Z400SM, Honda CRF250L Rally, KTM 390 Adventure, Kawasaki KLX 250S.
Pictured: Yamaha YZF-R3 ABS
Engine: liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC inline twin-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed; multiplate wet clutch
One of the most popular beginner sportbikes in the world, the Yamaha YZF-R3 features classic sport styling and performance, paired with an ultra-light chassis. With a fully-fueled weight starting at only 375 pounds (170 kg) and a seat height of only 30.7 inches (78 cm), the YZF-R3 is a confidence-inspiring choice for riders of all types.
Sportbikes are the first love of many beginner motorcyclists, their beautiful designs and elegant handling make them a popular choice around the world — but they do have their own unique challenges as well. Many of the features aimed at maximizing speed and performance such as the ultra-responsive power delivery, low windshield height, and steep rake angle of these bikes can be intimidating for new motorcyclists.
The price and power range of sportbikes can also vary widely, with “luxury” superbike brands like Ducati, BMW, and Aprilia easily reaching the same prices as performance cars.
Image: Rake and trail angle.
For the ambitious and adventurous beginner however, there are several lower-configuration sportbikes (some of our favorites are listed below!) that provide all the superior qualities of a superbike but that are more gentle and accommodating for an amateur. These motorcycles are great for everything from commuting, to riding practice, to even entry-level track days or racing circuits.
More Bikes Like This: KTM RC390, Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS, Kawasaki 400 ABS, Suzuki GSX250R, Honda CBR 250R/300R/500R
5. Modern Classics (Retro)
Pictured: Triumph Street Twin
Displacement: 900 cc
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 8 valve, SOHC, 270° crank angle parallel twin
Though the displacement on this “beginner motorcycle” is definitely higher than most, don’t let that scare you away from this classic bike. Smooth power delivery, room to grow, and a low seat height make this retro motorcycle a fun and stylish fit for riders of all types.
“Modern” classic motorcycles are increasing in popularity worldwide, and for good reason. These bikes feature modern components with many of the simple and clean features that made them popular from the start.
New riders can expect to enjoy a low seat height, manageable power delivery, standard modern mechanical components, and that subtle, mature aesthetic that is characteristic of retro motorcycles. As the popularity of this classic styling increases, there are more and more varieties for a beginner rider to choose from on the market. While these modern classics can be more expensive than minibikes or other standard motorcycle models, retros are generally affordable and offer good value for beginner and experienced motorcyclists alike.
More Bikes Like This: Yamaha SR400, Triumph Street Twin, Yamaha TW200, Kawasaki W800, Suzuki TU 250X.
6. Mini Bikes
Pictured: Kawasaki Z125 PRO
Lightweight, nimble, this upright minibike is 125cc’s of pure fun. Featuring a 31.7 inch (80.5 cm) seat height, offset laydown single shock, digital LCD screen with analogue tachometer, and total weight of 224.8 lbs (102 kgs) — this bike is equally at home in the city or being hauled out to the country in the back of a truck!
Minibikes, as their name suggests, are small, lightweight, and agile. Their compact build and maneuverability can make them the perfect fit for many beginner riders. Many riders feel that minibikes are the best beginner motorcycle overall as they instill confidence in new riders, allowing them to safely experiment and find limits as they grow their riding skill.
All factory minibikes will have an engine size smaller than 600cc’s, low seat heights, and most likely no fairing. Because of their simple, utility-based features, minibikes are some of the cheapest motorcycles on the market — making them the perfect choice for beginners who have a modest budget for their first motorcycle.
While minibikes can be a great fit for city or short-term riding, many riders outgrow their limited power and small size quickly. They are good for learning elementary riding but can prove to be limiting once a rider masters the basics or gets the urge to expand into different types of riding (like rallies or track riding). Minibikes also lack features such as windscreens and anti-lock braking systems which may prove useful in certain circumstances. When choosing a small vehicle like a minibike or scooter for a first motorcycle, riders also keep in mind the risks that come with low visibility and small wheel diameters.
More Bikes Like This: Honda Monkey, Kawasaki Z125, Honda Grom ABS, Yamaha Z125.
Summary: The Nuts and Bolts of the Best Beginner Motorcycles
Choosing your first motorcycle is one of the most thrilling experiences you can ever have as a rider. However, due to the large variety of bikes available on the market with different specs, advantages, and disadvantages, it’s vital to research widely and have a clear idea of what you want before you start shopping.
If possible, bring a mechanically savvy friend with you while shopping, and test ride (or sit on) multiple bikes before making your final choice — the last thing you want to do is find out after 5,000 miles and thousands of dollars that you’re not actually a sportbike rider!
After you’ve picked the perfect bike practice regularly before taking on any challenging riding. Outfit both yourself and your bike with the necessary gear and gadgets you need to make sure that you can stay safe while enjoying every ride.