San Francisco Bay Area

Moto-U Picks for your Beginner Bike

Your first motorcycle! Exciting adventure just around the corner!
Now: What to get?

We want to introduce you to the idea of a beginner bike. This concept is new to people who drive cars, but is well known in the motorcycle community.

Would you fly in a 737 if that was the pilot's first time flying? Pilots start out in small, slow, forgiving aircraft for a lot of good reasons. Your first bike will be piloted by an inexperienced rider, and should be modest for exactly the same reasons.

Since there are always new riders looking for bikes, an easy-to-ride beginner bike is always in demand, making it easy to resell. Get in cheap and simple, get out after 6-12 months as a more experienced rider, and sell your beginner bike to another beginner for most or all of what you paid for it. Easy!

Now comes the hard part: turn your attention away from your dream bike and start with a bike that is small, light and not so flashy. Bikes with less plastic bodywork and more basic designs will allow you to experience plenty right off the bat, but have power similar to a commuter car, allowing a new rider to gradually grow into motorcycling on a machine that behaves in familiar ways regarding acceleration and braking. There's plenty of fun in a smaller bike if you go looking for it.

Bigger, faster bikes require experience and precise control.

Smaller, lighter bikes are far more forgiving. As a beginner, that's exactly what you need. Don't rush it—enjoy the fun and excitement of your learner's time.

Here's what we think you should look for in a learner-time motorcycle:

Light Weight: Lighter is more "forgiving," meaning you can make mistakes and recover from them more easily. It's also less intimidating, easier to balance and maneuver at low speeds and easier to pick up. You will drop it at least once.

Low power output: A 125cc training bike will accelerate at a reasonable pace and keep up with traffic up to 50 mph or more. Since you can't ride on divided freeways with higher speed limits on a permit, why do you need more power than that to learn how to ride? You'll save money on maintenance, gas and insurance as well.

Friendly power output: That means the power is available at all RPM, and it isn't delivered in a snatchy, abrupt or "peaky" way. Constantly working the gearbox, timing downshifts and revving your motor is fun, but distracting from your mission.

Low seat: Even if you can tippy-toe that sleek sportbike, you'll have a tough time keeping it upright when you inadvertently put your toes in a patch of gravel or slippery antifreeze. Crunch! That's $1000 gone. Modifying suspension or other components isn't a good solution, as it can affect handling and safety. When you're a more confident, experienced rider, the higher seat won't be such a huge issue. Learn on a low bike, even if you don't like the style.

Durability: If you have an "oops" and drop it, how much will it cost to fix? "Naked" motorcycles without fairings and windscreens are cheaper to fix than plastic-wrapped sportbikes. Call a motorcycle shop to get an idea of relative costs to buy parts before you buy, unless you like unpleasant surprises—one brand charges $65 for a clutch lever!

Below is our incomplete, alphabetical-by-manufacturer list of bikes that we've spotted which would be good to consider as a first bike:

Honda CBR250R/300R

What it is: Honda's single-cylinder answer to Kawasaki's Ninja 250R. It's light, fast, fun and cheap to operate. Smaller supply than of the Kawasaki, so expect higher resale values. the 2014 model is 300cc, but is only slightly more powerful than the 250.

Seat Height: 31”
Weight: 366 lbs.
Rear-wheel horsepower: 26
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 17
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 8
Look out for: Indifferent maintenance, crash damage.

Honda CBR250R/300R

What it is: Introduced in 2013, these bikes are affordable, economical and intended to fill multiple roles, depending on the letter designation. The 'F' is your basic standard-style machine, the 'R' has sportbike trim, and the 'X' is for long-distance 'adventure' riding. The available ABS adds 4 pounds and is a good thing to add on. It's marketed to new riders, but it's a big, heavy motorcycle.

Seat Height: 30.9”/30.9”/31.9”
Weight: 420/425/430 lbs
Rear-wheel horsepower: 45
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 0 (brand-new model)
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 4.5
Look out for: It's brand new, so there may not be much data, but check if the model type (F, R or X) affects your insurance rates.

Honda Grom

What it is: A street-legal minibike/sportbike/funbike, the Grom is new for 2013, so don't expect to find many new. But that's okay, as it's only $2999 thanks to its simple single-cylinder motor and use of cheaper labor, thanks to Honda's Thailand subsidiary. It's light, easy to ride and will probably keep you entertained even as you grow confident enough to ride bigger, faster motorcycles.

Seat Height: 29.7” -sounds high, but it's so narrow that it seems much lower.
Weight: 225 lbs
Rear-wheel horsepower: 8
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 0 Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 10
Look out for: Indifferent maintenance, crash damage.

Honda Nighthawk 250

What it is: The 'standard' version of the Rebel 250, the Nighthawk shares its reliable air-cooled, single-carburetor twin-cylinder motor and frugal habits. Less common than the Rebel, but slightly better for a taller rider. The drum brakes aren't as strong as the Rebel's discs. These were built almost as long as the Rebel, so there are some (but not as many) out there for reasonable prices.

Seat Height: 29.3”
Weight: 315 lbs.
Rear-wheel horsepower: 14
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 5
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 9
Look out for: Same as Rebel.

Honda Rebel 250

What it is: It's hard to escape the slow, dependable, affordable and economical Rebel 250 if you're a new rider. It's a good choice, and like the Eliminator 125, it will hold its value when you're ready to hand it over to the next new rider.

Seat Height: 26.6”
Weight: 331 lbs.
Rear-wheel horsepower: 12-14
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 20
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 10
Look out for: Indifferent maintenance, old tires, rust in gas tank, crash damage.

Hyosung GT250/GT250R or "Comet"

What it is: Hyosung is a Korean manufacturer with good dealer support and warranties. These bikes have been sold in the USA under several brands for almost 10 years. It's a heavy bike, good for larger riders, and is fast enough for freeways, but don't expect Japanese/European build quality or refinement. There are two models, the standard version (also called a Comet) with no fairing and high handlebars, and the GT250R, with a full fairing and low, racy clip-on handlebars.

Seat Height: 31”
Weight: 420 lbs
Rear-wheel horsepower: 25-ish
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 5
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 5-7 depending on your physical size.
Look out for: Hyosung motorcycles require more frequent maintenance than other brands and can also suffer from bad dealers who don't assemble the bikes properly. Most owners report no common problems, although there was a cam-chain issue with some earlier models.

Kawasaki Ninja EX250/250R/300R

What it is: The Ninja 250 is universally regarded as the best starting point for sportbike enthusiasts. It is relatively light and offers good reliability, cheap operating costs and a fun/dollar ratio that is unmatched. There are three models you may encounter. The oldest one is ubiquitous and cheap, with blocky '80s styling and 16-inch wheels. The 2008-12 model is similar, but with many improvements to the frame, motor and suspension. It is heavier and slower than the older model, but fetches better prices because it looks so much better. The current model, the Ninja 300R, is much faster, more expensive—and is 93% the weight of a 600-class sportbike.

Seat Height: 30.5”
Weight: 350/360/385 lbs.
Rear-wheel horsepower: 28/26/35 (2013-2014)
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 75-plus
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 7
Look out for: Deferred maintenance, bad modifications, crash damage. The older bikes' 16-inch wheels limit tire choice, but tires are readily available.

Kawasaki EX500/Ninja 500R

What it is: Kawasaki built the EX500 for over 20 years. It's a sporty ride with a 3/4 coverage fairing, nimble handling and a peppy motor that may be too much for novice riders.

Seat Height: 30.5”
Weight: over 438 lbs
Rear-wheel horsepower: 50 or more
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 25
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 4
Look out for: Indifferent maintenance, crude modifications, rust. The pre-1993 models had smaller 16-inch wheels, which may limit tire choice.

Kawasaki Eliminator EL125

What it is: Kawi's smallest cruiser, it packs surprising punch for such a tiny motor, but is not freeway legal in California: perfect for your learner-time! These bikes were built for many years until USA-bound production stopped in 2009. Cheap to buy and own, it's the choice of safety schools and first-time riders.

Seat Height: 26.8”
Weight: 320 lbs.
Rear-wheel horsepower: More than nothing but less than 10.
Look out for: Valves need to be checked—if deferred, the bike will not run well.
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: Zero (but they appear from time to time)
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 10

Royal Enfield Bullet

What it is: These are considered big, powerful motorcycles in India--but by USA standards are best suited for back roads and city streets. An inexpensive modern version of a classic post-WWII British Single, the Bullet and its related models are heavy, but use old technology, don't make a lot of power and are manageable for beginners.

Weight: 417
Rear-wheel horsepower: around 25
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 3
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 7

Suzuki DR-Z400S/SM

What it is: A middleweight dual-sport, the DR-Z can commute to work or take you off-road on single-track trails. The 'SM' version is a 'Supermoto,' with sportbike-style on-road radial tires and a bigger front brake. It's great for aggressive urban riding and backroad fun. Good for larger riders - may be too tall for shorter people.

Seat Height: 36.8”
Weight: 320 lbs.
Rear-wheel horsepower: 30
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 15
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 7 (for taller riders)
Look out for: Crash damage, deferred maintenance, bad owner modifications.

Suzuki GS500E

What it is: When this bike was first sold in 1989, it used a 10-year-old air-cooled motor in a new steel frame. Suzuki made it for another 20 years. The last version has a full fairing like a bigger sportbike. It is very heavy for its class.

Seat Height: 31”
Weight: 443 lbs.
Rear-wheel horsepower: 38
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 10
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 4.5
Look out for: Bargains! When this model isn't cared for it has a short lifespan. Take it to a mechanic for a compression/leakdown check if the owner can't show you credible maintenance records. Steer clear of high-mileage examples.

Suzuki S40 Boulevard/LS650 Savage

What it is: The biggest engine on our list at 650cc—technically over our 500cc upper limit for size, but the engine's modest power, low seat, light weight and relaxed handling make it a possible first-bike choice.

Seat Height: 28”
Weight: 381 lbs.
Rear-wheel horsepower: 33
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 8
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 6
Look out for: Crash damage, rust on chrome, deferred maintenance, older tires.

Yamaha XT250/XT225

What it is: Yamaha has built these family-friendly, affordable and reliable air-cooled off/on-road machines for decades. They are easy-to-ride and very friendly for (taller) beginners.

Seat Height: 31.9”
Weight: 291 lbs.
Rear-wheel horsepower: 12
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 5
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 9 (if your inseam is over 30")
Look out for: Look out for: Heavy dirt use and deferred maintenance.

Yamaha TW200

What it is: Similar to the XT225/250, except with a funny-looking extra-fat back tire. Very fun and a great way to learn dirt-riding as well as pavement.

Seat Height: 31.1”
Weight: 278 lbs.
Rear-wheel horsepower: 12
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 10
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 9 (if your inseam is over 30")
Look out for: Heavy dirt use and deferred maintenance.

Yamaha WR250R/X

What it is: Yamaha's liquid-cooled, high-performance dual-sport, this bike is good for paved and dirty fun. The X version is the supermoto, ready for inner-city streets with its sportbike radial rubber and big brakes. High seats may make these unsuitable for beginners, so check fit carefully before committing. These bikes are more rare than other brands and command good resale prices.

Seat Height: 36.6”
Weight: 295/300 lbs.
Rear-wheel horsepower: 25
Number on Bay Area Cragislist at presstime: 6 (one was turbocharged, not reccomended for beginners)
Moto U "Good for Learner-Time" Score (out of 10): 7 (if you are tall)
Look out for: Heavy dirt use and deferred maintenance. Supermotos are also subjected to their own special kind of hell, so have a professional check it out first.

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