TJ’s Top Picks For Entry-Level Bikes
His Favorite New-Rider-Friendly Motorcyclesby TJ Hinton, on
The market is awash with entry-level-friendly motorcycles out there and someone new to the lifestyle — whether he be looking for a fun weekender, an economical commuter, or something serious — it can be quite daunting sorting through all the choices. I have my own preferences that I like as my picks for folks new to two wheels in each of three main categories: sportbike, adventure bike and cruiser. I’ll tell you what I like and why I like it. The final decision is always up to the buyer.
Continue reading for my picks for entry-level motorcycles.
Enter: The New Rider
In this business, I get the opportunity to speak with lots of riders about everything from technique and gear, to genre and even brand preference. Naturally, this leads to some interesting exchanges due to the fact that while I prefer riding Harley-Davidson products because reasons, though I’ve ridden plenty of other brands and don’t buy into all the animosity between the various genres/brands/whatever. My friends all know this, and occasionally I have the distinct pleasure of having them approach me for advice as one of them did this past weekend.
The buddy in question is looking to buy his very first bike, has no interest in trying to cultivate any particular “image” and is utterly without any sort of brand loyalty to influence him. A blank canvas, and a great opportunity for me to try and start someone out right. That got me to thinking about entry-level riders in general, so I decided to put together my picks for inexperienced riders from the current lineup. Since some riders might already have an idea what they want to ride, and some aren’t even sure about that much, I’m going to hit a spread of categories in the hopes that I cover the bases. Do you think you might like to ride but aren’t sure what kind of bike is right for you? Read on, and let’s see if I can unmuddy the waters for you a bit.
New Or Used
I do recommend buying a new bike. Let’s face it; if you have never owned any bike — let alone the particular used bike you’re looking at — you probably know squat about how to work on it, or even if it sounds like it is about to disassemble itself without benefit of tools. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a friend in the know who is willing to go look at the bike with you, chances are you will wind up purchasing someone else’s problems. Yeah I know, all used machines fall into that category, some to a much greater degree than others. Plus, you know that you’re buying a machine that you’ll likely wind up outgrowing sooner rather than later, and you have your own resale value to consider when you get ready to sell your problems to someone else. That’s a point in favor of buying new: nobody’s wrecked it before and you can take it to the dealer for service.
Some will say you should buy something inexpensive/used in case you crash it, but honestly, if you’re involved in a bike wreck, chances are pretty good that the condition of your body will be much more of a front-burner concern than the condition of the bike. Not only that, but you should be spending more energy planning on how to not wreck than strategizing for the aftermath. Toward that end, I highly recommend taking some sort of safe-riding course to help minimize the likelihood that you’ll have to figure out how to sell or dispose of a wrecked bike. On the flip side, if you buy used and drop it a few times (drop, not crash), it won’t be as big a deal in the long-run. If it already has a few scratches, who’ll notice a few more?
First-time bike buyers aren’t quite like first-time car buyers. Most people already know how to drive a car by the time they actually buy one of their own, and they tend to trend toward the younger end of the spectrum, generally speaking. First-time bike buyers can fall literally anywhere as far as age goes, and are less likely to already know how to operate the machine. Considering the lack of skill going in, a new rider might want to look at the accessories catalog or the aftermarket for things like an engine guard or crash bars, chassis protectors, or kits that make the turn signals and mirrors less vulnerable.
Suzuki’s GSX-250R is my first favorite. Clearly, this sportbike look-alike is geared toward the crotch-rocket crowd, and could act as a training platform for the knee-dragger larvae out there. Though it runs many of the same components as its GW250 sibling including frame and engine to name just a few, it presents a much flashier face to the world with [Suzuki-rub166] race livery that gives it a certain track-side appeal.
The twin cylinder, 248 cc mill cranks out almost 25 horsepower with just over 17 pound-feet of torque; pretty mild compared to what it could put out, but without any kind of traction control or rider modes, the power-delivery profile is the only factor that can help protect a rider from himself. ABS doesn’t make the cut either, and that leaves the GSX250R raw, and the riding experience unfiltered. I’ve said it before, and I stick by my assertion that new riders can benefit from starting out on machines that let them feel all the forces at work, and learn to deal with inclement weather and other, low-traction situations before they get a crutch to deal with those things for them. This is just such a machine. The $4,499 sticker is also attractive and should be accessible to riders who are on a budget.
As for the newbie who thinks perhaps the adventure-bike scene is for them, whether it’s for an actual adventure ride or as a commuter/tourbike, I present to you the Versys-X 300 by Kawasaki. Why you ask? Well, first off it doesn’t have that ridiculous-looking bird beak fairing sticking out in front. Second, it also comes with little in the way of electronic fandanglery. ABS is available, but if you really want to go raw, you can score one sans ABS for that honest feel and feedback.
Kawi’s mill cranks out plenty of power with a total of 34 horsepower on tap, and suspension components that give up over 5 inches of travel at both ends. The Versys-X 300 is a fairly friendly ride overall, and offers more versatility than a straight-up streetbike like the GSX250R, plus the $5,399 ($5,699 for ABS) price tag is relatively budget friendly.
Lastly, I’m going to pick the Harley-Davidson Street 500 for a cruiser trainer. Since H-D is very popular with millenials right — now second only to Honda (put THAT in your pipe and smoke it, haters) — I figured H-D’s little standard would fit the bill nicely. The Street sports the largest engine of the three with a 494 cc V-twin that cranks out a total of 29.5 pound-feet of torque. Among my picks, it also has the only seat height below 30 inches with a 25.7-inch laden seat height, so even the shortest riders should be able to flatfoot one.
Unsurprisingly, Harley’s prices are a skosh higher than the other two with a $6,849 sticker for the black paint, and $7,144 if you want one of the optional color packages. ABS can be had as well for another $750 if you feel like you can’t live without it. While this does make the Street 500 the least wallet-friendly bike of the three, I would submit that if someone plans to ride a Harley, they should probably go ahead and get used to the fact that they are relatively expensive compared to the imports on the market, and it is what it is.
Wrapping It Up
So there it is folks. Sure, there are literally hundreds of bikes that could make good first-bikes and I didn’t even touch the other genres, I feel like this is a good sample of what I consider to be the popular, street-based categories. Did my own personal preferences play a part? You betcha, but this is a rather subjective topic, after all. I hope this helps anyone thinking about getting their fists in the wind on their own bike, and as always, keep it between the stripes and dirty-side down.