Motorcycle suspension basics for beginners

Ohlins motorcycle shock absorber
The dirty Ohlins shock absorber on my Aprilia RSV4 Factory

Often overlooked but critically important, the suspension on a motorcycle helps soak up bumps and keep the tires firmly planted. Poorly adjusted suspension makes for nervous riding, but well-adjusted suspension can make every ride better, especially in the turns. This is our summary of motorcycle suspension basics for beginners, namely what you’d see on modern sportbikes or standards.

For excellent beginner bikes like those on our list of best beginner sportbikes for 2021, the suspension is typically not adjustable except for the rear shock absorber’s spring preload. This means you have to live with the suspension as-is, but the setup is generally soft and forgiving. Adjustable suspension components are costlier, so don’t expect to see them until you buy a more expensive motorcycle. But it’s still important to understand what the components do and what type of adjustments are available.

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Best motorcycle helmet, jacket, glove, and boot brands for sportbike riders

A motorcycle rider wearing a helmet and leathers

If you’re a beginner motorcycle rider, it might be hard to figure out which brands of helmets, jackets, gloves, and boots are legitimately good brands for sportbike riders. As with equipment for any activity or sport, there are many to choose from, with varying degrees of price, quality, and cool factor.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor does it mean that brands not appearing here are bad. It’s just a list of the brands that we like, purchase, and believe in. Don’t even think about wearing gear that isn’t made for motorcycle riding. Work boots and gloves are not going to fare well in a crash and will add to your list of injuries.

But enough already, on to the list.

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How long do you need to ride smaller motorcycles until you can get your dream bike?

Ducati and Aprilia sportbikes
Ducati and Aprilia make some of the dreamiest sportbikes in the world

There isn’t a magic timeline for a beginner motorcycle rider to be ready for their dream bike, but it definitely shouldn’t be their first bike unless they both happen to be something like the Kawasaki Ninja 400 ABS. Chances are that dream bike is something more powerful, more beautiful, and more expensive. My dream bike when I was a beginner was the Yamaha YZF-R6, but fortunately I had the good sense not to buy it despite some unscrupulous salesmen trying to convince me otherwise. So when is a beginner rider ready to make the jump to their dream bike?

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Best Beginner Sportbikes 2021

Kawasaki Ninja 400 ABS

We’ve finally updated our list of favorite beginner sportbikes for 2021, and the list is a little shorter this year. We don’t include used/older bikes in this list because there are too many to choose from, and we now only recommend manufacturers with good quality reputations and plentiful service networks. For example, we’ve removed the KTM RC 390 from our list mainly because its network of dealers and authorized mechanics is rather sparse.

Just a quick note; we always recommend considering a used bike for your first bike. Why?

  • You’re probably going to drop your first bike. I did. Multiple times. Sucks to do it to a brand new bike.
  • Used bikes are less expensive and can be easily sold for just a little less money when you’re ready to move on to your next bike.
  • Your first bike is a stepping stone; learn on it and move on. Like the rest of us, you will want many other bikes. Don’t blow a big chunk of money on your dream bike for your first bike.
  • Speaking of dream bikes… for new sportbike riders, please for f***’s sake do not run out and buy that Yamaha R1 you’ve been dreaming about. It is ALL kinds of wrong for a beginner rider. Start smaller, start used (preferably), build your skills, and work your way up to it.
  • If you’re still set on buying a brand new beginner sportbike (sigh), keep reading.
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Want to ride sportbikes? Start the right way.

My buddy’s Kawasaki Ninja 400, one of the best beginner sportbikes you can buy

It’s a new year and you’re finally ready to enter the world of motorcycle riding. I’m always happy to see new riders joining the ranks, and I’m twice as happy when I see them making good decisions about their new found obsession. Make sure you get the right safety gear, get the right training, and get the right bike. It’s tempting to go out there and get a hot new sportbike straight away, but a little patience will ensure you’ll be able to enjoy riding for a long time.

  1. Get the right gear. I’ve got some more info here, but you need a helmet, jacket, pants, boots and gloves. And make sure they’re motorcycle-specific! Do not skimp on gear; ask any experienced rider for some horror stories, and you’re going to hear some unpleasant things.
  2. Get the right training. Check with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation to see if there’s a course in your area and take it. If you pass the course, you can skip your state’s riding test when getting your motorcycle license.
  3. Get the right bike. Just like any other sporting equipment, you need a forgiving motorcycle when you’re starting to learn. I’ll be updating the list soon, but not much has changed since we last published our list of best beginner sportbikes. Get one of these or something similar from the used market, become an awesome rider on it, then move up to your next ride. Part of the fun of motorcycles is that since they’re relatively inexpensive, it’s not that hard to buy/sell/trade and try different bikes.

The International Motorcycle Show is a great way to see the best beginner bikes

If there’s one place where you can sit on all of the motorcycles you want to check out without a salesperson breathing down your neck, it’s the International Motorcycle Show. More manufacturers have brought their bikes to the show than ever, so it’s definitely worth the trip if you can make it. It’s a beginner’s dream, as bikes like the Yamaha R3, Kawasaki Ninja 300 and KTM RC390 are all there waiting for you to throw a leg over the seat.

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Is the Yamaha YZF-R3 the new cool kids’ sportbike?

R3 riding group at Newcomb's Ranch on Angeles Crest Highway
This R3 riding group stopped in at Newcomb’s Ranch on Angeles Crest Highway

I’m starting to see more and more of the Yamaha YZF-R3 out in the wild, whether it’s on the road or at track days. I’m not exactly sure why I’m seeing more of them than the Kawasaki Ninja 300, but I suspect it has to do with its very sharp looks and 25cc engine size advantage over the Ninja. It’s definitely hard to tell it apart from a 600cc supersport, and I came away impressed from a test ride late last year. If you’re an aspiring sportbike rider looking for your first motorcycle, the R3 is a really good choice.

Older Sportbikes Still Aren’t Good Beginner Bikes

My 2005 Yamaha R6 - still not a beginner bike
My 2005 Yamaha R6 – still not a beginner bike

It’s weird; some bikers that have been around for a while tend to think of older sportbikes as good beginner bikes and will even recommend them as such. If a bike wasn’t good for beginners when it was new, why would it be good for them 10 years later? If they were hard to ride in 2005, they’ll be hard to ride in 2015. Continue reading “Older Sportbikes Still Aren’t Good Beginner Bikes”