12 Best Starter Motorcycles for 2015
Every year there are brand new motorcycle released by the major manufacturers. Some of them are variations on classics, others are completely new designs. Lately there has been a trend of catering to the new rider, and those that like lower displacement motorcycles. Maybe people are starting to realize how inexpensive they are to operate and how fun they can be on the street!
Here is my list of the best motorcycle that you can buy brand new in 2015 [UPDATE: I recently wrote about the BEST starter motorcycles for 2016 and 2017]. Some of these are brand new bikes, others are just updates of previous models.
Although I don’t usually recommend buying a brand spanking new bike when you are learning to ride, if you have the cash and are careful, there is nothing like being the only owner of a motorcycle. I’ve listed them not in order from best to worst, but rather from lowest CC to highest.
2015 Best Starter Motorcycles Full List
|Honda||Honda Grom||$3,100||125cc single cylinder|
|Yamaha||Yamaha WR250R||$6,690||249cc single cylinder|
|Kawasaki||Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS||$5,299||296cc Twin cylinder|
|KTM||KTM Duke 390||$4,999||373cc single cylinder|
|Suzuki||Suzuki DRZ400SM||$7,189||398cc single cylinder|
|Yamaha||Yamaha SR400||$5,990||399cc single cylinder|
|Honda||Honda CB500F (with ABS)||$5,799||471cc twin cylinder|
|Suzuki||Suzuki V-Strom 650 (with ABS)||$8,549||645cc twin cylinder|
|Kawasaki||Kawasaki Vulcan S (with ABS)||$7,399||649cc twin cylinder|
|Yamaha||Yamaha V-Star Custom||$6,999||649cc twin cylinder|
|Honda||Honda CTX700N||$6,999||670cc twin cylinder|
|Yamaha||Yamaha FZ-07||$6,990||689cc twin cylinder|
1. Honda Grom
- $3,100 MSRP
- Unique looking bike
- Fun around town
- Has a loyal following of fans
The Honda Grom is the bike with the biggest personality in this line up. The way it looks is the first thing that stands out. It doesn’t really look like anything else out there. It’s obviously small in stature, but it has a beefyness to it that exudes character. It’s like the smallest pirate on the ship with a scar across his face and the crazy eye. You know he’s small, but he packs a punch when he gets into the rum!
That’s what I’d say about the Grom. Even that name, “Grom”, it really evokes a unique emotion. At 125cc’s you aren’t going to be beating anyone in street races, but that’s not why you would buy this bike. This is a bike for someone who doesn’t take themselves so seriously, someone who likes to have fun in life.
Cruising around town is where this bike shines. When you park it you are sure to get other people approaching you to talk about this bike. Because of it’s light weight, small engine, and low seat height, it makes a great starter motorcycle for anyone. It also would make a great second bike too if you just want something low key to ride around on. I’ve seriously thought about buying a Grom on more than one occasion.
2. Yamaha WR250R
- $6,690 MSRP
- Classic dirt bike
- Ability to convert to SuperMoto
- Mods available
I love the Yamaha WR250R. It’s just a great platform to learn to ride on, and because it’s built for off road it won’t matter as much if you drop it. Because lets face it, when you first start learning to ride it’s pretty easy to drop your bike if you aren’t 100% balanced.
The WR250 also has a reputation for being very mod friendly. You can do lots of things to this bike to squeeze out a bit more power and increase the performance. Some riders have even gone all the way and converted this bike to a supermoto with a new suspension and street tires. That makes this bike the ultimate hooligan motorcycle.
One thing to keep in mind is that dirt bikes like this have a higher seat height by default. This bike has a 36.6 inch high seat. Much higher than the next bike in our list the Ninja 300 with it’s 30.9 inch seat height.
3. Kawasaki Ninja 300 (with ABS)
- $5,299 MSRP
- The reigning best beginner motorcycle champ
- Sexy looking bike
- Great transmission
When it comes to beginner motorcycles the conversation often starts with the Kawasaki Ninja 300. That might be because Kawasaki has steadfastly always had a smaller 250cc class motorcycle in their lineup. With the Ninja 300 they decided to upgrade the tech, overhaul the looks, and add some more engine displacement to give it more power in the real world.
The new Ninja 300 comes with ABS if you want it, and I highly recommend it. The transmission on this bike is really a work of art too. They have engineered it to shift quickly and smoothly, while at the same time being forgiving if you down shift at too high a RPM.
Of course this bike is just dead sexy. It is one of the best looking motorcycles out there right now, and that might be because it’s taken it’s styling directly from it’s older brothers the Ninja 600 and Ninja 1000. In fact, it can be difficult to tell this little Ninja 300 apart from it’s older siblings. That’s a good thing because although everyone starts as a beginner, most people don’t want to LOOK like a beginner.
4. KTM Duke 390 (with ABS)
- $4,999 MRSP
- Absolute blast to ride
- Great hooligan bike, wheelies all day
- Smaller fuel tank
The KTM Duke 390 is the bike I wish I could have started my riding career on. It’s low CC engine is very manageable even for a beginner, yet the bike exudes that fun factor. The engine has loads of grunt in the mid range, and it loves it when you really open it up. You can find yourself slicing through traffic easily on this energetic motorcycle.
KTM has been known for dirtbikes for years, and they’ve been making headway over the past few years with street bikes. If new riders start on the Duke 390 (or it’s sportier brother the RC390), you can bet the larger motorcycles will be an easier sell if they feel like upgrading. This is especially true if you have fun on your first bike, which is what you are guaranteed to do with this Duke 390.
Although not originally available in the USA, KTM has decided to release both the Duke 390 and the RC 390 in the states. Look for them in 2015.
5. Suzuki DR-Z 400SM
- $7,189 MSRP
- Classic supermoto
- Fun for new and experienced riders
Suzuki has been producing the DR-Z400SM for years, and it’s a well polished machine. Straight out of the factory it comes with a more street oriented suspension, inverted forks, street tires, and all the bits and bobs you need in order to ride a bike like this legally on the street.
It’s an electric start and the engine is a real workhorse. It’s easy to ride this on city streets or even on the freeway for short jaunts. Because the bike has been around there is a large community that modifies these bikes. In fact some people think the engine is a bit underpowered as it is, especially when compared to other bikes in this class. That really means that this bike will grow with you. If you need better performance you can do a few mods to increase the horsepower and up the torque.
Like all bikes this style though, it’s not ideal for shorter riders. If you are tall enough to throw a leg over this bike though, you are sure to have a blast.
6. Yamaha SR400
- $5,990 MSRP
- Bare bones classic styling
- Unique kick starter
- Great as a cafe racer build
You may not have ever heard of the Yamaha SR400, and if not then that’s a shame. Yamaha has a strong history of 400cc motorcycles and this SR400 is like a trip back in time. That can be a good thing, or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.
Most motorcycles these days come with an electric start. Not this bike. The SR400 is a classic kick starting single cylinder bike. Now that’s rare for a modern bike! If you’ve had experience with older kick starting bikes you know that it can require a lot of muscle to kick over. This Yamaha has a few technological upgrades that make this process MUCH easier. Really, once you know the process, it’s just as easy as starting any other motorcycle.
This bike is really aimed at those that love projects. Right now cafe racers and bobber style bikes are incredibly popular. Even in my town I’ve seen a few Honda CB750’s from the 1970’s that have been upgraded and modded for that cafe style look. If you want to tinker with a bike but you don’t want to deal with the rust, corrosion, and electrical problems of a four decade old motorcycle, then this SR400 is right up your alley.
7. Honda CB500F (with ABS)
- $5,799 MSRP
- Very comfortable freeway cruiser
- Great engine with the power you need
- Honda Reliability
Although Honda has been a little late to the beginner bike game, it’s been making great headway with both the CBR300 and the CB500F. The 500cc class of honda’s come in two varieties, the CB500F which is pictured here, as well as a fully faired CBR500R. If you’ve been following this site for a while you’ll know that I am extremely partial to bikes without fairings. They are easier to work on while doing routine maintenance, they don’t have fairings to get scratched if you drop them, and I personally think that they look more rugged.
If you want a sport bike style bike that you can cruise freeways on easily, then this bike is it. The engine of this bike is smooth as butter with the torque and horsepower you need to pass cars. As always when you buy a Honda it comes with a bit of reputation for reliability, and this CB500F continues that tradition. As long as you keep up with the maintenance and change the oil, this bike should easily pass tens of thousands of miles without major problems.
The one thing about this bike is it doesn’t have as much personality as some of the other bikes on this list like the Duke 390 or even the Ninja 300. The Honda is a solid performer without a doubt, but it is definitely a gentleman’s motorcycle.
8. Suzuki V-Strom 650 (with ABS)
- $8,549 MSRP (with ABS)
- An adventure bike home on the streets or the dirt
- Adjustable windscreen
- Best of both worlds
The V-strom is a bike I’ve seen around for years, and 2015 has a few small updates you may not notice unless you are a real aficionado. That being said, this bike has a great reputation that is well deserved. If you can’t decide between a street bike or a dirt bike, this might be a good compromise for you.
The look of the V-strom is fairly polarizing. I’ve affectionately referred to it as ‘ugly’ many times. That ugliness has eventually grown on me though, and now I find myself actually liking the look of the bike. I think the thing that clinched it for me was seeing it in person. You can’t help but want to throw a leg over this bike and take it on an adventure! The great thing is that is exactly what it’s made for, and it does so wonderfully.
The engine is based on the same one from the classic Suzuki SV650, although it’s tweaked a bit to get the best performance for the dirt and street. You can also get some solid hard luggage for this bike which makes a motorcycle camping trip a real possibility. Don’t discount this bike based on looks alone, it’s a great beginner bike that you can grow into for years.
9. Kawasaki Vulcan S (with ABS)
- $7,399 MSRP (with ABS)
- Sexy and modern looking cruiser
- 27.8 Inch seat height (great for short riders!)
- Ergo-fit customizations allow for riders of all sizes (over 6’1″ and 5’6″ and under)
Out of all of the cruisers out there right now, I absolutely love the look of the Vulcan S. It is very modern looking while also having a very ‘rugged’ appearance. It may be the best beginner cruiser motorcycle. It has the option of being loaded with Anitilock Brakes (ABS) which can really help with keeping you safe, especially as a new riders.
The thing that sets this bike apart more than any other is the ‘Ergo-fit’ customizations that you can get the bike with. It changes the position of the bars, the seat height, and the peg locations. Most of them have 3 different adjustments that you can do. Kawasaki also offers three types of seats: The standard seat for people 5’7″ to 6 foot, the ‘Extended Reach’ seat which lets you slide back in the saddle a bit more and raise you up, and the shorter seat which is about 2 inches shorter than standard in the tapered section. That is pretty amazing. A bike that will fit just about any motorcycle rider.
Combine all of that with a beautiful 649cc V-twin engine (great for new riders) and Kawasaki reliability, and you have an absolute winner of a motorcycle.
10. Yamaha V-Star Custom
- $6,999 MSRP
- Classic cruiser look
- Extra large 4.2 gallon fuel tank
In the world of cruiser style motorcycles the V-star Custom has been a staple for years now. The 2015 version offers classic styling, lots of chrome and black paint, and a rock solid platform to learn on. Plus with it’s shaft drive, you don’t have to worry about chain maintenance at all.
There are two versions of this V-star, including a 250cc version. Both the 650 and the 250 are great bikes, but I really think the larger motorcycle fits that niche of a beginner bike that you are comfortable riding on the freeway.In fact I would recommend the V-star 650 if you are specifically looking to do long highway trips. The large 4.2 gallon gas tank really helps and lets you get about 200 miles on the road before you need to fill up again.
There isn’t anything too progressive about the V-star, but sometimes you don’t need something new if you have the basics down. This is a classic motorcycle with a great look that many riders will find appealing.
11. Honda CTX700N
- Futuristic looking cruiser
- Automatic transmission
- Not like any other bike on the road
I hesitated at putting the CTX700N on this list. It’s a relatively new bike and it has some updated features for 2015. The thing that makes this bike stand out the most though is it’s automatic 6-speed transmission. Yes, that’s right, an automatic motorcycle!
I started off my two wheeled journey on a Honda Elite 80cc Scooter. Scooters have automatic transmissions as well, but this bike is much more than just a motorcycle shaped scooter. First of all you have the option of using the automatic transmission, or shifting with a button on the handlebars. It reminds me a lot of how higher end sports cars come with paddle shifters now rather than stick shifts. It’s easier on the transmission and easier to do quick shifts that way.
Not having to worry about clutch levers and friction points really takes a lot of the complications out of riding a motorcycle. Some might say it also takes out some of the fun. But I don’t think the CTX700 is aimed at the hardcore motorcycle crazy crowd, I think they are for a rider that sees all of the benefits of riding but doesn’t want to get bogged down in some of the details.
This bike would make an EXCELLENT commuter with it’s 670cc parallel twin engine. In fact, it even comes with an integrated storage compartment where the fuel tank is usually situated. This is a very unique bike that speaks to a niche of riders that I know will love it.
12. Yamaha FZ-07
- $6,990 MSRP
- High powered extremely fun motorcycle
For ages the Suzuki SV650 has been one of the best starter bikes out there. The fact that it was sans-fairings, powered by a forgiving but fun engine, and was inexpensive compared to other bikes in its class made it extremely popular with new riders. Although a user SV650 is still a great beginner bike, if you want to go brand new then you might want to check out the Yamaha FZ-07. It has taken the crown, and it wears it well.
Yamaha has managed to come up with an inexpensive bike that looks cool and riders extremely well. It’s just a fun bike to carve the canyons with or to just take a ride to the grocery store. It’s parallel twin engine and the claimed 75 horsepower will leave a grin on your face without shooting you into warp speed instantly. The bike has an aggressive stance that you can’t help but love.
This would make an excellent first bike for someone who is confident and knows their limits, or an amazing second bike for a rider that is graduating from something smaller.
Which bike is best?
There are a lot of great bikes available in 2015 and it’s hard to pick one as the ‘best beginner motorcycle’. A lot of it really comes down to your experience on two wheels, how much training you’ve had, what you want to do with the bike (commuting or just riding for fun?), and your personal style tastes.
Now I can’t answer that question for you, but if I was going to learn to ride a motorcycle and I was going to purchase something brand new, there is one bike that really fit me and my personality….
It’s a low CC engine that still has the power to be a LOT of fun in the hills and on surface streets. It has a great look, and I could even see it having potential as a track bike. It’s also one of the most inexpensive bikes on this list at around $5,000. That is the bike I would choose this year as the best motorcycle to start on.
Although, I still think the sexiest bike on this list is the Vulcan S. It’s funny because I typically don’t love the look of cruises, but I can’t get enough of that bike!