I've been reading your site for a while and thoroughly enjoy it. I'd like to ask about beginner-friendly motorbikes with ABS in the U.S. market. I just did my training in Germany on a Kawasaki ER-5 but now I'm moving to the U.S., so will have to redo the test and buy something. I'm attracted to retro-styled naked bikes and, fortunately, the Moto Guzzi V7 II has ABS.
However, I've read, not least of all on your site, that I should start small –– 250 to 400cc –– which leaves me with the KTM 390 Duke or the BMW G310R. But I *hate* the way they look (and the tank shape seems menacing for my privates). Something like the Suzuki TU250X or Yamaha SR400 would be great, but I really want to have the ABS option. Will I sacrifice my learning curve if I go straight for the Guzzi? Are there any older models I should consider?
Oh, Peter. You’ve opened a can of worms, my Teutonic friend.
Moto Guzzi V7II
Motorcycling in the United States has certain similarities to old-timey folk religion in the sense that many riders hold beliefs that may or may not be backed up by fact. Which oil to use, for example. Or, the idea of nitrogen in tires. Or lane splitting. Or helmets. Or Harley-Davidson.
All of those issues are guaranteed to set an internet comments board aflame. Meanwhile, your question rests at the intersection of two other contentious issues, those being:
1) Is ABS important?
2) What’s the best bike to start out on?
So, before I answer your question, please take it with the caveat that some people are going to break their fingers typing angry rebuttals to me. And even more will break their fingers typing angry rebuttals to them. But here we go.
Personally, I think you’re being very wise to make ABS a part of your thinking process. RideApart’s William Connor recently referred to ABS as “the single greatest advancement in motorcycle safety,” and I find it odd that there are street riders out there who claim to not want it.
Ducati Scrambler Sixty2
You will run into a lot of these guys when you reach Stateside, Peter. They will tell you they’ve been ridin’ fer years and that a keen mind and skillful right hand and foot are better than some new-fangeldy computer. And, heck, perhaps they’re right. But whether you’ll have the wherewithal to use those skills in a panic situation is another question.
My personal feeling is that you should smile politely at these dudes then carry on pursuing a bike with ABS; they can do what they want, but don’t let others make decisions about your personal safety.
As to the issue of which bike to start out on, I’ve always viewed the idea of starting out on a sub-500cc bike as more a suggestion than a hard and fast rule. How strongly a rider follows that suggestion will be based on any number of unique variables. His or her height and weight, for example. And the height and weight of the bike. And budget. And experience.
The idea of getting a “small” bike as a newbie is to avoid overwhelming yourself physically or mentally. But what’s overwhelming to one rider may be relatively easy for you; or vice versa.
Kawasaki Vulcan S
You say you’ve done training on an ER-5. That’s a 498cc motorcycle with just shy of 50 hp. Did you feel comfortable operating it? If the answer is yes, you should have no problems with the 51hp Moto Guzzi V7II. Especially since its power delivery is more relaxed than the ER-5.
Another retro-styled bike that comes with the option of ABS is the new Triumph Bonneville Street Twin. Its 900cc twin my sound intimidating but it only puts out 54 hp. Some folks would describe the Street Twin’s throttle response as “crisp,” however, so you may want to (cautiously) try before you buy.
The 41hp Ducati Scrambler Sixty2 may tick your boxes exactly, since its air-cooled V-twin is just 400 cc. Again, though, its throttle response has a reputation for being a little snatchy, which may unsettle your nerves if you lack confidence.
Wandering a little further afield, if you are comfortable with its considerable girth (approaching 600 lbs. wet), the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 is an incredibly likeable machine that is unlikely to scare you out of your pants. Its iconic V-twin produces just 45 hp; less than the Kawasaki ER-5.
Harley-Davidson Iron 883
And since we’ve opened the door to ABS-equipped cruisers, you might also consider the Kawasaki Vulcan S. Its engine may feel very familiar to you because it comes from the ER-6, the bike that followed the ER-5.
It’s a shame Indian has chosen not to offer the option of ABS on its Indian Scout Sixty in the United States (the feature is standard on all European models), because I would otherwise recommend that bike as well.
From here, I’ll turn it over to the good readers of RideApart…