• Top 10 Motorcycles for Beginners

The choice is surprisingly large and all of them are great bikes

Whether you’re just starting out in motorcycling or returning to riding after a few years away, there is a great choice of small bikes out there that don’t look or feel like small bikes. They will all remain attractive once the first months of learning to ride are over.

Whilst the bikes in this list are great for beginners, they also make great choices as second bikes to use to buzz around town instead of your gas-guzzling car. All of them make perfect alternatives to big bikes, for example in the adventure bike or touring categories.

What do beginners want from a motorcycle? They want a bike that doesn’t look or feel like a bike for beginners: they want a real motorcycle that will gain the respect of their fellow riders. It must be light and easy to handle, with not too much power to be intimidating while they are learning but not so little that they will soon tire of it when they get more experienced.

A real win for the manufacturers is that none of these bikes are seen by seasoned riders as beginners bikes: a lot of fun can be had on any of them, no matter your skill level.

KTM 200/390 Duke/RC/Adventure

Top 10 Motorcycles for Beginners
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The small KTMs could fill this list on their own. Our choice is the 390 in any of its three guises - RC, Duke, or Adventure: it’s still small and compact but its performance will keep you smiling a long time after you’ve become a skilled rider. The Adventure is possibly the perfect blend of performance and ability - on- and off-road - whilst being small and light enough to be unintimidating.

KTM 200/390 Duke/RC/Adventure
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 200/373cc
Power 26/43 horses
Torque 15/27 pound-feet
Weight 150/160kg
Price $4,099/$5,799

BMW G310R/GS

Top 10 Motorcycles for Beginners
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BMW really stepped out of its comfort zone with the G310, its smallest bike ever. It has BMW build quality all around but offers slightly weaker performance than the KTM 390. The 310R is the naked street bike and the 310 Adventure matches the KTM for ease of use off-road, but not quite as convincing as an all-around package.

BMW G310R/GS
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 313cc
Power 34 horses
Torque 20.7 pound-feet
Weight 158kg
Price $5,245

Kawasaki Z400

Top 10 Motorcycles for Beginners
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If sports bikes are your thing, then there are two choices if you’re a beginner. The first and the fastest option is the Kawasaki Z400. Blessed with a parallel-twin engine, where many in this category make do with one cylinder, it’s an absolute blast to ride, with sparkling performance and a really good chassis. From a distance, you wouldn’t know it’s not a 600 or a 1000cc machine.

Kawasaki Z400
Engine Parallel-twin
Displacement 399cc
Power 50 horses
Torque 28 pound-feet
Weight 167kg
Price $5,599

Suzuki GSX-SF 250

Top 10 Motorcycles for Beginners
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The GSX-SF 250 is another miniature superbike, full of charm and Suzuki build quality which, in engineering terms, is second to none. It’s not as fast as the Kawasaki in some way, but still entertaining and the chassis can take everything you throw at it. Simple fun.

Suzuki GSX-SF 250
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 249cc
Power 26 horses
Torque 22.6 pound-feet
Weight 161kg
Price $2,440

Yamaha MT-03/R3

Top 10 Motorcycles for Beginners
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It might be a bit of a mistake to give the 300cc Yamaha the ’Monster of Torque’ moniker, but, look past that and this is a very impressive piece of kit. It has a brilliant design and build quality, is well-equipped, and is good-looking with performance that sits between the Suzuki and the Kawasaki. Full street cred in either naked or faired form.

Yamaha MT-03/R3
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 321cc
Power 41.4 horses
Torque 22 pound-feet
Weight 170kg (with ABS)
Price $5,299

Triumph Street Twin

Top 10 Motorcycles for Beginners
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The Triumph Street Twin bucks the trend of the other bikes on this list by having a 900cc engine which gives a lovely, punchy, smooth yet characterful performance in a beautifully-built package while, not unimportantly, costing significantly more.

But, who said a beginner bike had to be small and (relatively) slow and cheap? The Triumph’s trump card is its compact size, low seat height, and balance, with the weight worn low down: it’s fantastically user-friendly and unintimidating, not to mention endlessly stylish.

Even better, the Street Twin will still be a bike you’d want to own long after your skills suggest you can graduate to something larger/faster.

Triumph Street Twin
Engine Parallel-twin
Displacement 900cc
Power 64 horses
Torque 59 pound-feet
Weight 216kg
Price $9,695

Husqvarna FE350 DS

Top 10 Motorcycles for Beginners
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This is what the Honda should have been. The Husqvarna FE350 DS is everything the Honda is not, apart from long-distance comfort, which is a problem with all such machines. Sparkling performance, great chassis and suspension, and plenty of street cred, albeit with a pretty stiff price tag.

Husqvarna FE350 DS
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 349.7cc
Power 45 horses
Torque N/A
Weight 115kg
Price $10,000

Honda CB300R

Top 10 Motorcycles for Beginners
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The letters CB are synonymous with Honda and, nowadays, are given to the manufacturer’s range of naked sports bikes. The CB300R is the smallest of these bikes but punches above its weight, especially in equipment: inverted forks, LED lighting, ABS, and blacked-out looks. It rides as well as it looks, too: the handling belies its lightweight and feels solid and planted in the corners. The performance doesn’t suffer, either, a top speed of 90mph being more than enough for beginners and experienced riders alike.

Honda CB300R
Engine Single-cylinder
Displacement 286cc
Power 31 horses
Torque 20.2 pound-feet
Weight 144kg
Price $4,949

Ducati Scrambler Sixty2

Top 10 Motorcycles for Beginners
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What’s this? A Ducati as a beginner’s bike? Not since the 1960s and early ’70s has Ducati offered a bike under 600cc, let alone under 400cc, but that is exactly what the Scrambler Sixty2 is.

’Sixty2’ refers to the year Ducati revealed the original Scrambler, which was available in 250, 350, and 450cc versions over the years. The new Scrambler Sixty2 receives a tiny, 399cc version of the iconic Ducati V-Twin which blunts performance and is not what you expect from a Ducati. It is beginner-friendly and comes not only with Ducati build quality, but also Ducati style, and the kudos of having that name on the tank.

Unfortunately, the price is also typical Ducati which might make this machine too expensive for many beginners, but, for those who have the money, this is the most stylish way of getting into motorcycling.

Ducati Scrambler Sixty2
Engine V-twin
Displacement 399cc
Power 41 horses
Torque 25 pound-feet
Weight N/A
Price $7,995

Husqvarna Vitpilen 401

Top 10 Motorcycles for Beginners
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The cafe racer scene is blossoming again, thanks to the likes of Triumph and BMW. But, beginner riders have had to wait until they graduate to a bigger motorcycle to join in. With the launch of the Husqvarna Vitpilen 401, however, the cafe racer now comes to beginners’ bikes.

In essence, the Vitpilen is the KTM 390 Duke in new clothes: it’s an ultra-modern take on the cafe racer style, and all the better for it. The engine is KTM’s punchy 373cc single, pushing out 43 horses, which is more than enough for a thrilling ride. There’s high-end WP suspension, ByBre brake calipers, and ABS at the front and rear.

Stylish and different, the Vitpilen 401 stands on its own in the beginners’ bike field.

Husqvarna Vitpilen 401
Engine Single cylinder
Displacement 373cc
Power 43 horses
Torque 27 pound-feet
Weight 160kg
Price $5,399

So, you see, the choice is varied and can cater to almost every need. But, the best thing is that none of these feel like ’small’ bikes.

Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
Motorcycling Contributor
Born and raised in England, he has lived in South Africa with his family since 2002. Harry has owned examples of Triumph, Norton, BSA, MV Agusta, Honda, BMW, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Kawasaki and Moto Morini motorcycles. He regrets selling all of them.  Read full bio
About the author

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