The Best New Starter Bikes – 2011 Edition

Honda CBR250R
The all new Honda CBR250R

2011 is going to be a great year for beginner motorcycle riders looking at sportbikes. That’s because Honda came out of nowhere and introduced the brand new CBR250R, an entry-level stunner aimed directly at the Kawasaki Ninja 250R and its dominance as the best beginner sportbike available in the U.S. It’s terrific to see some variety at the entry level.

Let’s just get one thing out of the way before moving on to the list though, and that’s my recommendation that anyone looking to buy their first motorcycle get a used one. I know, I know… it’s so tempting to just run out and buy that shiny brand new bike when you’re starting out, but there are a few really good reasons to get a used one first:

  • Chances are you’re going to drop it – most of us did. It’s so much better to get those noob mistakes out of the way on a used bike than a brand new shiny one. You will definitely shed fewer tears when it happens.
  • Used bikes are cheaper. A lot cheaper. What’s really funny is that you can typically sell a high-demand used bike for just slightly less than you paid for it. My first bike cost $3800 and I sold it 9 months later for $3500.  $300 for 9 months of learning was a pretty good deal.

If you’re still reading at this point, you’re either just curious or not going to listen to my awesome advice. Hopefully you’ve at least read my choosing your first bike page and understand that newbie-friendly power and ergonomics are the most important things I tell people to look for. All right… let’s find out what’s out there this year for those of you set on buying new.


  • CBR250R – amazingly competent looks; that Honda fit and finish; great beginner ergos; friendly power and even available ABS version make this a toss-up with the Ninja 250R for best starter bike around; the seat’s a little higher than expected though so shorter riders should definitely give it a good sit before deciding

Here are walkaround clips I took of the Ninja 250R at the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach, December 2010:


  • Ninja 250R – killer looks; fun to ride; friendly ergos and power; nice after-market stuff; maybe still the best starter bike around because its seat is slightly lower than the new Honda CBR250R

Here are walkaround clips I took of the Ninja 250R at the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach, December 2010:

  • Ninja 650R – attractive bike but gets into the gray area of starter-friendliness due to its weight, power and size
  • ER-6n – naked version of the Ninja 650R with less plastic; it’s the in the same gray area due to its power but its lower seat is better for new riders than the 650R


  • GS500F – fully-faired wannabe GSX-R styling is a little polarizing but really good engine and ergos for a starter bike; if you can find one they’re cheap (Suzuki has stopped importing them for now)
  • SV650F – aging bike that Suzuki stopped importing but you can still find them at some dealerships; gray area for starters due to its power
  • Gladius – naked successor to the SV650; polarizing looks; very competent bike with good ergos but the torquey engine makes it a gray area bike for beginners; hard to find


  • FZ6R – sharp looking fully-faired bike, “de-tuned” inline 4 engine, very competent but definitely a gray area starter bike


  • Monster 696 – the more expensive Italian alternative but definitely a gray area starter bike due to its power; you will curl into a ball and weep for hours if you drop this beauty in the parking lot

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