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Beginner's Guide: Motorcycles to Get Started On

WRN's guide to bikes for new women riders

2/8/2014


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For new riders, the selection of motorcycles on the market can seem overwhelming—especially when you're not sure where to start. Fortunately there are bikes out there that have proved time and time again to be good choices for new riders. We've compiled a list of those bikes with new women riders in mind. 

At WRN, we generally recommend starting out on a smaller motorcycle, one on which you can easily and confidently practice the skills learned in the motorcycle training class. There are certainly other motorcycles out there—for example, some small displacement dual-sport motorcycles are often recommended as good beginner bikes. However, this list reflects what we've found are the most popular choices among beginning women riders. We did not list prices, as they vary from year to year. Also, in recent years some of these models have been discontinued but remain popular choices for beginners thanks to the ever-changing used market. Where applicable, we've made a note of that. 

The motorcycles are listed by the categories in this order: cruiser, standard style, sportbike, alternatives, classics.

Cruisers

                       
Honda Rebel 250

Beginner Motorcycle Honda Rebel

Displacement: 234cc
Seat Height: 26.6 inches
Fuel Capacity: 2.6 gallons
Weight: 331 pounds

  
Description: The Rebel is the consummate beginner bike encompassing size, looks and a price tag that has had many motorcyclists choosing it from Honda's lineup when it first introduced in 1985. There are many used ones on the market, and it's a bike that generally retains its value. The Rebel hasn't changed much looks-wise over the last decade or so with its traditional cruiser styling, lots of chrome, spoke wheels and a twin-cylinder four-stroke engine. This is a tried and true starter motorcycle with many successful "graduates." Read a review of the Honda Rebel from a WRN reader, and check out our story on the new color options for the 2014 Rebel.  


Displacement: 249cc
Seat Height: 27 inches
Fuel Capacity: 2.5 gallons
Weight: 326 pounds


Description: This is the beginner motorcycle in Yamaha's Star Motorcycles brand of V Star cruisers. In 2008, the V Star 250 replaced the Virago 250 but retained a lot of its predecessor's styling and features. There are many used Viragos now on the market. Yamaha wants the V Star 250 to be as appealing as possible to beginners, so the bike has many features found on bigger motorcycles, like a V-twin engine, spoke wheels and a two-up seat. Read the WRN review.


 Suzuki GZ250

Beginner Motorcycles Suzuki GZ250 black

Displacement: 249cc
Seat Height: 27.8 inches
Fuel Capacity: 3.4 gallons
Weight: 331 pounds


Description: Model year 2010 was the last year Suzuki made the GZ250. It had been in the company's lineup for years because of its popularity with beginners. You'll find plenty of used ones on the market. The GZ250 features classic cruiser styling and is powered by a 4-stroke, single-cylinder engine driven by 5 gears. This motorcycle is often used in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Basic Rider Course. Read a review by a WRN reader. Suzuki makes two other 250cc motorcycles listed in categories below.


Suzuki Boulevard S40
Beginner Motorcycles Suzuki Boulevard S40

Displacement: 652cc
Seat Height:
27.6 inches
Fuel Capacity:
2.8 gallons
Weight:
381 pounds


Description: The Suzuki S40 is the Boulevard line's entry level model. The number 40 refers to the engine size in cubic inches (ci), as opposed to cubic centimeters (cc). 40ci is equivalent to 652cc, an engine size some would consider too powerful for a beginner. However, the bike's light weight and low seat height make it ideal for beginners who feel that the 250cc bikes are just too small. The 4-stroke, single-cylinder engine has a 5-speed transmission.   


Kawasaki Eliminator 125

Beginner Motorcycles Kawasaki Eliminator 125

Displacement: 124cc
Seat Height: 26.8 inches
Fuel Capacity: 3.4 gallons
Weight: 291 pounds



Description: An entry-level bike that's inexpensive to own and operate, the Eliminator 125 is Kawasaki's smallest cruiser. It was discontinued in 2009, so only used models are available. The Eliminator 125 is a cruiser featuring an air-cooled, four-stroke, single-cylinder engine with a 5-speed, chain-driven transmission. It has a seat height of 26.8 inches—low enough that most riders can easily plant both feet on the ground at stops. Weighing a scant 291 pounds, it is lightweight and easy for a beginner or smaller rider to handle. Read a review by a WRN reader.




Kawasaki Vulcan 500 LTD

Beginner Motorcycles Kawasaki Vulcan 500

Displacement: 498cc
Seat Height: 28.1 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4 gallons
Weight: 439 pounds


Description: The midsize Kawasaki Vulcan is a popular entry-level motorcycle that was discontinued in 2009 after a nearly 20-year production run. There are plenty of used ones to be had. The Vulcan 500 remained in Kawasaki's lineup for years because it was a top seller among women and first-time riders. We've seen many women under 5 feet keep this motorcycle as their end-all bike. Despite its smaller engine size, the Vulcan 500 LTD packs a lot of power into its six speeds and features classic cruiser looks, like its chrome-plated wire-spoke wheels, that never go out of style. Read a WRN Reader Review of the Vulcan 500.


 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 SuperLow

Beginner Motorcycles Harley-Davidson SuperLow 2011

Displacement: 883cc
Seat Height:
25.5 inches
Fuel Capacity:
4.5 gallons
Weight:
562 pounds


Description: If you want a Harley-Davidson as your first motorcycle, the Sportster SuperLow is the company’s entry-level model. Confident beginner who feel ready to start on a “real world” motorcycle (versus a small 250cc bike), might like the SuperLow. Harley-Davidson has made many changes to its Sportster lineup over the last decade, tweaking, adding and discontinuing models, so you’ll find several iterations on the used market. The SuperLow is an all-new design that debuted in 2011. In 2014 the brakes were upgraded and new colors added. To learn more, read the WRN review of the SuperLow. If you’re interested in a different Harley-Davidson as a possible first bike, the company does make some of the lowest motorcycles out there that make it easier to get both feet on the ground. Check out our list of the Lowest of the Low motorcycles.
    

Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 

Beginner Motorcycles Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883

Displacement: 883cc
Seat Height: 25.7 inches
Fuel Capacity: 3.3 gallons
Weight: 562 pounds
Description: Of Harley-Davidson's Sportster 883 motorcycles currently available, the Iron is the newest, debuting in 2009. It has the smaller "peanut" style fuel tank so it holds less fuel than the SuperLow. Its styling is edgier than the traditionally styled SuperLow with drag style handlebars, a chopped rear fender, and blacked out accents. The Iron gets beginners going with attitude! In 2014, upgrades were made to the Sportsers including new brakes, an ABS option and of course, new colors. Read a review of the Iron by a WRN reader. 
        
    Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Low

Beginner Motorcycles Harley-Davidson 883 Low blue
Displacement: 883cc
Seat Height: 25.3 inches
Fuel Capacity: 3.3 gallons
Weight: 583 pounds 
Description: True to its name, this bike's seat height is a low 25.3 inches. The Sportster 883 Low originally replaced the Sportster Hugger, popular in the 1990s because of its low seat. Now the 883 Low itself has been discontinued and replaced by the SuperLow (see directly above), so don't confuse the two. Like the regular 883, its sister model that was also discontinued in 2011, the Low is relatively light. It sports most of the same features as the regular 883, but it comes with a solo seat positioned to scoot the rider closer to the handlebars, which are angled closer to the rider. As with the SuperLow, some may say an 883cc motorycle should not be included in the same beginner bike class as the 250cc motorcycles. However, we'd be remiss not to include it here, as many riders want to ride a Harley-Davidson right out of the gate. We recommend the Sportster 883 Low only for the most confident of new riders. 


Standard Style

       
Honda Grom

Beginner Motorcycles 2014 Honda Grom Red

Displacement: 124.9cc
Seat Height: 30.1 inches
Fuel Capacity: 1.45 gallons
Weight: 225 pounds

Description: 
The Honda Grom, brand new in 2014, doesn't resemble too many other motorcycles, but that's OK with Honda. The company hopes to attract new, young riders who want something different, maybe a little funky. The four-speed fuel injected single cylinder 125cc engine packs a punch to keeps things just fun enough that experienced riders may want this little bike as an urban fun-mover as well. Seat height is on the high side for true beginners, but if height is not an issue, the Grom makes a fun choice on which to start your motorcycle journey.





Suzuki TU250X

Beginner Motorcycles 2014 Suzuki TU250X

Displacement: 249cc
Seat Height: 30.3 inches
Fuel Capacity: 3.2 gallons
Weight: 326 pounds



Description:
The TU250X was a new model for Suzuki in 2011. At 250cc, it makes an ideal beginner bike for riders who prefer the upright seating position of a standard style motorcycle. At 30.3 inches,
the seat height is on the higher side, but the narrow profile will help shorter riders reach the ground with both feet. It has a 5-speed, fuel-injected, 4-stroke, single-cylinder engine with a decently sized fuel tank capacity of 3.2 gallons. Not available in California.      

Beginner Motorcycles BMW G 650 GS black

Displacement: 652cc
Seat Height: 30.7 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4 gallons
Weight: 431 pounds

  

Description: With its single-cylinder engine and budget price tag, this is considered BMW's entry-level motorcycle. Because it's on the taller side, we wouldn't typically recommend this bike as a starter motorcycle, but if someone wants to buy into the BMW family, this is an affordable way to do it. A lower seat is available, dropping the seat height by more than 1 inch. While the BMW G 650 GS has the upright seating position of a standard style motorcycle, it's technically a dual-sport bike because it's equipped with tires that do well off-road on gravel trails as well as on pavement, making it a very versatile first motorcycle. Read WRN's review of the BMW G 650 GS.  


Buell Blast 500

Beginner Motorcycles Buell Blast black

Displacement: 492cc
Seat Height: 27.5 inches
Fuel Capacity: 2.8 gallons
Weight: 360 pounds
Description: Buell Motorcycle Company is no longer in existence, so production stopped on the Blast in 2009. However, there are lots of used ones available. In fact, this motorcycle is still used in Harley-Davidson's Rider's Edge motorcycle training classes. It makes an ideal beginner bike for those not sure if they want a cruiser or a sportbike, as its upright seating position makes it feel more like a standard style motorcycle. Read a review of the Blast by a WRN reader.
    
Sportbikes
               
Suzuki GW250

Beginner Motorcycles Suzuki GW250 black

Displacement: 248cc
Seat Height: 30.7 inches
Fuel Capacity: 3.5 gallons
Weight: 403 pounds  

Description: 
The GW250 is a powerful 6-speed parallel-twin upright seating sporty motorcycle that was a late addition to Suzuki's lineup in 2013. Riders not sure if they want the full lean-over position of a sportbike can try the upright seating of the GW250 as a way to ease into this style of riding. The GW250 is cheaper than its Honda and Kawasaki competitors but offers just as fun a ride for beginners getting familiar with this style of riding.





Beginner Motorcycles Honda CBR250R

Displacement: 249.4cc
Seat Height: 30.5 inches
Fuel Capacity: 3.4 gallons
   Weight: 357 pounds






Description
: In 2011, Honda released this 250cc sportbike for beginners who prefer the sportier side of riding. This motorcycle is full of high-tech features in an affordable, lightweight package. At 30.9 inches, the seat height is standard for a sportbike, but the light weight of 359 pounds makes it manageable for smaller riders. Check out our story on the Honda CBR250R’s introduction.


Beginner Motorcycles Kawasaki Ninja 300 green black

Displacement: 296cc
Seat Height: 30.9 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gallons
  Weight: 379 pounds




Description
: In 2013, Kawasaki replaced the Ninja 250R with the all-new Ninja 300, billing it still as an entry level sportbike. Instead of continuing to upgrade what was becoming a technologically outdated model, Kawasaki created a new platform from the ground up. The Ninja 300 still sports rider friendly ergonomics, a more upright seating position, and is light weight—features beginners can appreciate—but it has many features and advancements from Kawasaki's more powerful motorcycles so beginners don't feel like they're riding a beginner motorcycle. For 2014, an ABS option was introduced. Read WRN's review of the Ninja 300 here. 


Beginner Motorcycles Kawasaki Ninja 250R green

Displacement: 249cc 
Seat Height: 30.5 inches 
Fuel Capacity: 4.8 gallons 
Weight: 335 pound
Description: Up until 2011 (when the Honda CBR250R was introduced), this was the only sportbike under 500cc available from a major manufacturer. The Ninja 250R was Kawasaki's top-selling model in 2007, then it underwent a complete makeover in 2008 only to be replaced by the Ninja 300 in 2013. There are plenty of used Ninja 250Rs on the market as this makes an ideal bike for new riders who want a sporty ride. Other features include a full fairing similar to that on the Ninja ZX-6R and 10R supersport bikes, plus more aggressive styling that goes head to head with big-boy sportbikes. This Ninja may not look like a beginner bike, but it can act like one for those who are still getting used to the ride. Read WRN's review of the Ninja 250R. 
   
  
Alternatives 
               
Beginner Motorcycles CSC Babydoll pink motorcycle

Displacement: 149cc
Seat Height: 27 inches
Fuel Capacity: 3 gallons
 Weight: 240 pounds 




Description
CSC Motorcycles' Babydoll is the pink version of its “Classic” model. Though you may think "scooter" when you see a 150cc two-wheeler, this is actually a 5-speed manual-transmission motorcycle that can go as fast as 65 mph. To learn more, read the WRN review.
  

Kymco Venox 250

Beginner Motorcycles Kymco Venox 250

Displacement: 249cc 
Seat Height: 29 inches 
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gallons 
  Weight: 418 pounds 



Description
Kymco stopped making the Venox 250 in 2009, but it remains one of the most capable beginner bikes out there because of its sturdy big-bike feel. Kymco is a reputable manufacturer that focuses on producing scooters. If you can find a used Venox on the market, it’d be a worthwhile investment on which to gain basic riding skills.

QLINK Legacy 250

Beginner Motorcycles Qlink Legacy 250

Displacement: 250cc 
Seat Height: 27.6 inches 
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gallons 
Weight: 260 pounds 



Description
: QLINK has a small presence in the U.S., and those who've gotten their hands on a Legacy 250, an automatic motorcycle, have not been disappointed. We reviewed the bike in 2006, and shortly thereafter the model was discontinued. You might find a used one that makes for an ideal learner motorcycle for beginners not comfortable with the clutch. The benefit of learning on an automatic motorcycle is that a new rider can get used to the size and weight distribution of a two-wheeler without the distraction of the clutch and shifting gears. 
        

Classics (if you can find a used one)

    
Harley-Davidson
Sportster XLH 883 Hugger

Beginner MOtorcycles Sportster 883 Hugger

Manufactured: 1988-2003
Displacement: 883cc
Seat Height: 27.1 inches
Fuel Capacity: 3.3 gallons
Weight: 486 pounds


Yamaha Virago 250


Beginner Motorcycles Yamaha Virago 250


Manufactured
: 2000-2007
Displacement: 249cc
Seat Height: 27 inches
Fuel Capacity: 2.5 gallons
Weight: 301 pounds


Yamaha Virago 535
 

Beginner Motorcycles Yamaha Virago 535


Manufactured
: 1987-2001
Displacement: 535cc
Seat Height: 28.3 inches
Fuel Capacity: 2.27 gallons
Weight: 401 pounds


 
Suzuki GS500e
Beginner Motorcycles Suzuki GS500e

Manufactured: 1989-2002
Displacement: 487cc
Seat Height: 31.1 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gallons
Weight: 372 pounds 

Honda Nighthawk 250
Beginner Motorcycles Honda Nighthawk

Manufactured: 1982-2008
Displacement: 234cc
Seat Height: 29.3 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.3 gallons
Weight: 286 pounds

Honda VLX/VLX Deluxe
Beginner Motorcycles Honda VLX Deluxe

Manufactured: 1989-2007
Displacement: 583cc
Seat Height: 25.6 inches
Fuel Capacity: 2.9 gallons
Weight: 452 pounds 


 

Motorcycles for Confident Beginners

 
The motorcycles below are considered middleweights, the level of motorcycle a typical beginner trades up to after spending time on a 250cc motorcycle. However, some beginning riders who are confident or on the tall side may feel like they overpower a 250cc motorcycle—or that, while the 250cc bike was great to learn on in the training class, they are ready for a “real world” motorcycle. Below is a list of recommended middleweights for new riders who fall into this category.         

Cruisers:
  • Yamaha Star Motorcycles V Star Classic or Custom: Both of these bikes feature a 650cc engine and are similar to each other, except for styling and ergonomics. The Custom has a 27.4-inch seat height, and the Classic has a 27.9-inch seat height. Read a review by a WRN reader.
  • Honda Shadow line (Shadow RS, Shadow Phantom, Shadow Aero, Shadow Spirit): All these models share the same 750cc engine—the main differences between them are styling and ergonomics. Seat heights on the Honda Shadow bikes range from a high of 29.4 inches for the RS to a low of 25.7 inches for the Spirit. Read WRN’s review of the Shadow Spirit, as well as a reader review of the Shadow Spirit. You can also read a WRN review of the Aero and a reader review of the Aero.  
  • Suzuki Boulevard C50T Classic: This is an 800cc middleweight with a 27.6-inch seat height. A low center of gravity makes this bike easy to maneuver around. Read the WRN review of the C50T, a similar model.
  • Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom: In recent years, Kawasaki did away with its 750cc and 800cc motorcycles, refining its Vulcan line by introducing the 900cc Vulcan and creating a more powerful motorcycle for the higher end of the middleweights (although some will argue a middleweight goes all the way up to 1300cc). We’re listing the Vulcan 900 because it’s typically compared to the Honda Shadow, Yamaha V Star Classic and Suzuki Boulevard C50T Classic. Seat height is 27 inches. Read the WRN review of the Vulcan 900 Custom.
Standard:
  • Triumph Bonneville: This classic is a favorite among women riders looking for something different. While the engine is 900cc, it’s a light and nimble bike with a narrow profile, which makes it a fun ride. Read the WRN review.
Sportbikes: 
  • Honda CBR500R: New in 2013, this middleweight is designed for riders transitioning from an entry-level sportbike, who are ready for more power in a sporty ride.

    Beginner Motorcycles Honda CBR500R
    Honda CBR500R

  • Ducati Monster 696: Compact and rider friendly, this is a nice “entry level” for confident riders who want something different.
  • Yamaha FZ6R: This is a cross between a sportbike and sport tourer, with a more upright “rider friendly” seating position that confident beginners who yearn for a sportier ride will enjoy. Read WRN’s review.
  • Kawasaki Ninja 650: This bike was redesigned in 2012 for a sportier, more aggressive ride. We found the original Ninja 650R to be very rider friendly for riders who want a more powerful, “real world” ride from their beginner bike. Read the WRN review.

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Reader Comments


Hello!
I'm new, I just got my license today!! Now the grueling task of try to pair me with my first bike. I was leaning towards a Honda rebel or Suzuki boulevard. Someone mentioned the Suzuki may be to heavy for me. I'm 5'0 and about 105 lbs... Don't know if that makes a difference.

They recommended the buell blast 500cc for a beginner? He advised the Honda rebel is good but if something happens it doesn't have that much power?

Any advice is appreciated

Stacie
Hawthorne, NJ
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Editor Response
Hi Stacie,
I am going to put your question on our Question and Answer section to let our readers respond. You may want to visit it now as there is a reader who had a similar question.

You'll also want to look at this story What to Consider When buying Your First Motorcycle.
Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
Hello, I am looking for a proper bike for me. I was looking at the new Triumph Speedmaster and wondered if it would be a good starter bike for me? I'm 5-feet-2 and weigh about 145 pounds.

Alma
Seattle, WA
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Editor Response
I don't recommend a middleweight motorcycle, those that are 800cc to 1300cc as a beginner motorcycle. They are not meant for beginners who are still getting use to the handling and maneuverability of a motorcycle. The Speedmaster is 865cc and is much larger in size than a beginner 250c or 500cc motorcycle making it more difficult for a beginner to practice the basics of a motorcycle. Click here to see a story about the Triumph Speedmaster and other Triumph motorcycles.

Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
What about trike models? Or would you just convert a motorcycle into a trike?

Christy Short
Front Royal, VA
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Editor Response
Since riding a trike or any other three-wheeler does not involve balance, it can make for an ideal beginner vehicle, however one must be cognizant of the engine size. Even though a trike is easier to handle than a motorcycle because it does not involve balance, a large engine, bigger than say 1100cc, does take finesse to handle so having some experience "handling" a bigger engine is advised before getting on any trike without experience. Here's a list of the three-wheelers we've reviewed.
Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
Thank you so much for the article! This has helped me establish what to look for in a bike. I am a beginner with a household of riders. I've got your page booked marked. Thanks again!

Kim McDaneld
Lawrence, KS
Monday, July 21, 2014
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