There are more awesome beginner sportbikes to choose from than ever, but this year’s best beginner sportbike is again the Ninja 300. Its super sharp looks, friendly ergonomics and proven capability as a street bike keep it at the top of our list for now. I’ve even seen track day instructors using it at Willow Springs with shocking corner speed. Kawasaki has done a tremendous job of making the Ninja 300 a thing of desire; experienced riders (including me) have trouble distinguishing it from its bigger brothers. It can top 100 MPH making it more than suitable for freeway duty while retaining very beginner-friendly power. It’s light, inexpensive, available with ABS, has good ergonomics for a beginner and its high demand means it can be easily resold once you’re ready to move on to something else. Winner. Again.
Before we dive into the rest of the new 2015 beginner bikes, let me say what I say to everyone looking at starter bikes — consider buying a used bike for your first ride. Why?
- Lower cost
- You will want to get a different bike after a while, regardless of what you get first (this happens to every biker!)
- You’ll sell it for almost as much as you bought it when you’re ready to move on
- Dropping or damaging the bike is less heartbreaking on a used bike, and there’s a high probability you will drop or damage your first bike
Okay, you still want a new bike. Here you go.
Runner-Up: Yamaha R3
We’re starting to see the new R3 in the wild and that’s a good thing. The fit and finish are top-notch, and just like the Ninja 300, even experienced riders have a hard time telling it’s not a 600. It’s got the bits we like for beginners: a low seat, friendly motor (321cc) and easy ergonomics. It doesn’t offer ABS like the Kawasaki does, but it’s priced right and looks the part.
Pretty much anything from Honda under 500cc
Honda continues courting beginners with its fleet of smaller motorcycles that are easy to recommend as starter bikes. All of them are available with ABS as an option. The two 500s (technically 471cc) can easily handle freeway duty but are a little heavier; the 300R is a single-cylinder 286cc bike that improves over the older 250R by offering a little more power. We like any of these bikes for beginners. Keep in mind the CB500F has a slightly more upright riding position if that’s what you prefer.
Gray area starter bikes
These are bikes that I generally don’t I like to recommend to beginner riders due to their power and added weight, but that’s not to say it’s impossible to start on one of them. They’re harder to ride due to their bigger engines and weight; smaller riders will have a harder time in parking lots and slow speed maneuvering because they’re heavier and sometimes taller. That’s why I refer to them as “gray area” since some riders will adapt to them just fine but others may struggle. I started on a Suzuki SV650 (an older equivalent of the SFV650 below) and did okay, but there were many days when I wished I had gotten a smaller bike.
One thing to note below is the engine type. If you need a primer, here’s an earlier post explaining the differences. Basically the inline 4 engines will be softer and smoother in the lower RPM range than the v-twin / parallel twin engines, but can become frenetic at higher RPMs. The v-twin / parallel twin engines will make noticeably more torque at lower RPMs, which can make a beginner nervous.