So, you’ve decided you want to join the ranks of motorcyclists worldwide! First of all, congratulations. It isn’t something that’s for everyone, but then again, few things are. Once you get past the beginner jitters that hit most of us early in our riding careers, you’re in for years of the very special joy that only riding a motorized-something with two wheels can provide.
What bike should you get? Ultimately, that decision is entirely up to you, as well as what you want out of riding. Maybe you mostly plan to commute and/or run errands on your bike. Or, maybe you want something that can tear up all the really good roads in your area on the weekends with your riding buddies. Maybe you want to go explore cool trails in your area. That’s cool, there are so very many bikes to choose from, after all.
There are so many styles of bikes, partly because there are so many styles of riders and things we like to do with those bikes. Once you start drilling down into different rider niches, you’ll find loads of advice about what bikes are best in a specific category. Like so many other things, just about every rider who’s gotten beyond the beginner stage has a whole bunch of opinions about what constitutes a good bike. Take all of these with a grain (or a shaker, or sometimes even a full silo) of salt. Use them to inform your own opinions if you think they make sense, but don’t let anyone else make your decisions for you.
The only two rules beginners need to keep in mind when shopping for their first bike
One: You will drop your bike. It happens to everyone, and I guarantee that it’s happened at least once to everyone you know who rides, whether they're willing to admit it or not. That's why you should try to get a bike that isn’t going to make you sob uncontrollably when you eventually have that first tip-over. You’ll get better at not dropping your bike as you gain experience, but minor scuffs and scrapes are part of the learning process, no matter who you are.
Two: Your first bike doesn’t have to be your only bike. While picking a first bike is a big decision, it’s not on par with, say, deciding on a person you want to marry. Maybe you’ll pick a first bike that you later find doesn’t suit you after all, and that’s OK. You can always sell it to another rider! Even bikes that aren’t perfect for you can teach you more about what you DO want, so it’s all good!
That said, here are some excellent new bike choices for beginners.
Kawasaki Ninja 400 ABS
MSRP: 2020 models start at $5,299; 2021s start at $5,399
Engine displacement: 399cc
Saddle height: 30.9 inches
Curb weight: 368.2 pounds
If you’re looking for a fun, zippy, fully-faired, small-displacement sportbike, it’s hard to beat the Ninja 400 ABS. It’s agile enough to suit most everyday needs, and is simultaneously fun to ride, yet not intimidating for the inexperienced. It’s a great bike to grow your confidence on, as well—whether you plan to keep this one in your stable forever or not.
Honda CT125/Trail 125 ABS
Engine displacement: 125cc
Saddle height: 31.5 inches
Curb weight: 259 pounds
Do you want something that will handle narrow city streets but also be able to try tackling some of your local trails as well? The new Honda Trail 125 ABS may just be the right bike for those pursuits. It’s small, simple, and sturdy—three great attributes to instill confidence in even the greenest of riders. It also has a nice rear rack for carrying whatever you need to take along with you, which is extremely handy. While it clearly isn’t meant for mile-munching, different bikes are good for different jobs—and this could be a great choice, depending on what job(s) you have in mind.
Engine displacement: 321cc
Saddle height: 30.7 inches
Curb weight: 373 pounds
The tiniest master of torque is a naked 300 with buckets of attitude to spare. It’s small, it’s nimble, it’s good at fuel economy—all things most commuters like in a bike they’re riding to work or school every day. Weaving in and out of congested city traffic situations is a breeze with this little bike, and if that’s how you’ll be riding, you may want to consider it as an option.
Engine displacement: 398cc
Saddle height: 36.8 inches
Curb weight: 317 pounds
Riders start from all different backgrounds, with all different experiences under their belts. If you already know that you want to spend time both on- and off-road, and you want a single machine that can handle both jobs well, look no further than the DR-Z400S. It’s a classic in the dual sport space for a reason, and plenty of riders speak its name fondly because it’s quite good at its job.
While the seat height may seem a bit high as compared to plenty of other bikes, it’s also very narrow. If you have concerns about whether you’ll feel comfortable in the saddle, that’s what your local dealer is for—throw a leg over it in person and hit them up with all your questions.
Honda Rebel 500 ABS
Engine displacement: 471cc
Saddle height: 27.2 inches
Curb weight: 408 pounds
Cruisers have a reputation for being long, low, and hefty. While you might like the long and low part of that description, heftier bikes can be more challenging to wrangle for beginners. If you’re looking for a more lightweight, manageable cruiser option, look no further than the Honda Rebel 500 ABS.
The combination of that extremely friendly low seat height and a curb weight that’s just a hair over 400 pounds is incredibly confidence-inspiring. Build your skills on this tiny cruiser before moving on up to the big league, big-displacement cruisers of your dreams.
Triumph Trident 660
Engine displacement: 660cc
Saddle height: 31.7 inches
Curb weight: 416.7 pounds
We’ve recommended the Bonneville T100 on this list previously, but I think that if the Trident 660 existed in previous years, we’d have recommended it sooner. The one thing that gives me a bit of pause in suggesting it as a great beginner bike is that yes, I would definitely cry if I dropped it. I mean, just look at it; it’s gorgeous.
That concern aside, it ticks some serious boxes—and it’s also the only triple on this list. If you’re looking for a bit of a different engine character than a twin or an inline four, this triple may just hit a sweet spot for you. If you’re in the UK, there’s an A2 license-restricted version available as well—and if that’s not an endorsement of its eminent suitability for beginners, I don’t know what is.
Ducati Scrambler Icon
Engine displacement: 803cc
Saddle height: 31.4 inches regular; 30.6-inch low seat height accessory available
Curb weight: 417 pounds
A lot of people love this bike, and for good reason. It hits a nice sweet spot between modern convenience and reliability, coupled with head-turning retro good looks. Even though I’m an outlier who didn’t love the way it looked the first time I saw it, I quickly became convinced of its appeal after riding one—and I think you will, too. It’s very rider-friendly, and the power band makes it feel very forgiving while you’re adjusting to when and where to shift for best results.