When you first start riding, finding the right bike can be tough. In the best-case scenario, your motorcycle or MSF course will have let you try out different styles of bikes to get a feel for each type. In the worst-case scenario, you might have been stuck with one bike throughout and have no idea what other styles feel like.
Here at BBM, we also realize that almost everyone who’s starting out on motorcycles wants to buy a reliable and resilient used one. You’ll want a bike that can last a few seasons before you upgrade it—and let’s be honest, you’re probably going to drop this one at least once.
But don’t worry about what to pick—we put our heads together and came up with a list of 10 bikes that can see you through thick and thin while you’re still learning. Some are what we would call generic starters, while others have more specialized purposes—but all of them are worth buying used!
The Suzuki SV650 has attained near-mythical status as a bulletproof beginner bike, and many experienced riders choose to hang onto theirs as well. There’s good reason for the SV650’s enduring popularity—for example, it has a narrow frame and engine (thanks to being a V-twin), which allows almost anyone and everyone to flatfoot the bike at a stop. However, it is also relatively lightweight at just over 430 lbs wet, depending on which year and model you get.
The SV650 also comes in a multitude of styles. There is a full naked, a half-faired version, a fully-faired version (also known as the Gladius, which only lasted for a couple of years)—and all of them have plenty of get-up-and-go, due to that 645cc V-twin. By the way, when we say this bike is bulletproof, we mean it. You can quite literally hit the engine with a sledgehammer and it will still run smoothly.
We recommend looking at the post-2004 versions of the SV650, as the first generation had a higher seat, carburetors, and a slightly more uncomfortable, sport-style seating lean. The SV is all about learning and finding out how a standard bike with some sporty features feels, and it is still the benchmark by which all other beginner bikes are measured—even in 2022.
If your plan is to start with a sport bike and eventually make your way up to a supersport, the Kawasaki Ninja line is for you. But keep in mind the difference between the “Ninja” and “Ninja ZX” series—any model with “ZX” in the name is a supersport, and those are not for you until you’ve got some more experience under your belts.
So why is the Ninja the best sportbike to start out on? There are two main reasons:
Firstly, these bikes offer incredible value-for-money. They come with robust, high-quality parts, offer an excellent riding position, use simple and accessible controls—and in recent years, they also offer the latest in anti-wheelie, skid control, and dual-zone ABS features.
Secondly, these things are as reliable as a wood-burning stove. It may be due to the redundancy and reliability Kawasaki Heavy Industries are famous for prioritizing. It may be that the Japanese have a sixth sense about how to make unbreakable engines. In any case, as long as you do your maintenance on schedule and have your valves adjusted every 10,000 miles or so, you can keep a Ninja going until the end of time.
Much like the Ninja above, the lower end of the Kawasaki Z line is packed with value. While the Z300 is no longer made, it is widely available in used marketplaces across the USA. The Z400 and Z650 are the current Z-series bikes, and both are stellar for new riders.
What separates the Z bikes from the Ninjas is that the Z bikes are naked sport standards with no supersport versions. There are larger displacement Z900, Z900RS, and Z1000 models for those wanting to upgrade to larger naked bikes—and there’s also the ridiculously powerful Z H2, which we recommend you stay away from until you have at least 5 years of riding experience. A 200 hp supercharged 998cc inline-four is definitely not for beginners!
But no matter which Z bike you choose from the 300 to 650 versions, rest assured that you are getting one of the best pure naked bikes on the market. Yamaha may call their MT line the “hyper-naked,” and Honda’s CB line are close contenders, but you simply don’t get as complete a package as you do with the Z bikes. They’re also quite cheap to buy used—which is a major point in their favour for this list.
If you haven’t heard of the Suzuki DR-Z400, then you probably haven’t been looking for a dual-sport that loves the streets more than the dirt. It comes in two main models: the S and the SM. The S model has a big 21-inch front wheel, a decent 18 inch back wheel, compliant but firm suspension, and is an absolute laugh to ride with its controllable and available power and torque.
The SM variant, or SuperMoto, however, is where you’ll go from laughing to grinning like a madman. With 17-inch wheels in the front and rear (with street tires on), it is the perfect “friendly hooligan” bike. Consider: 322 lbs wet, 37 hp. In layman’s terms, the DR-Z400 in either guise is a bike that is infinitely agile, very sure-footed, and can hit 90+ mph in SM form.
We recommend you go with the SM variant if you’re looking for a DR-Z400 to learn and keep for a couple of seasons. You’ll have hours of fun, it will carve corners with the best sport bikes, and it will also tool along happily as a commuter vehicle. Plus, you’ll get 55 to 65 mpg on average, while the 398cc single thumper whacks away under your butt to give the bike a great sound and feel.
Suzuki V-Strom 650
The Suzuki V-Strom 650 is a corner-cousin to the SV650, using the same engine and ABS modules—but not much else. Often (and lovingly) nicknamed the “Wee Strom” to differentiate it from the V-Strom 1000, it takes that 645cc engine and tunes it to put most of its power in the low-to-midrange of the rev band—between 4,000 and 7,000 RPM.
That’s because the V-Strom 650 isn’t primarily for the adventure market, despite it being classified as an adventure bike. The V-Strom 650 is actually meant to demolish the miles on long tours or commutes in comfort and style, with plenty of gas to spare. In fact, you won’t often find a V-Strom 650 on any sort of dirt, unless it’s a hard-pack dirt road.
There’s also a massive fanbase and third-party aftermarket collection for the V-Strom 650. Everyone from beginner riders to those with 30+ years of experience under their belts love the Wee Strom—and many have kept theirs for years. Pick up a V-Strom 650 as your beginner bike, and you might not ever feel the need to buy another!
Yamaha V-Star XVS650
Want to learn how to ride a cruiser, but don’t have the budget for the big American brands? Yamaha answered your call years ago with the V-Star XVS650. These bikes have been discontinued for a few years, but they’re still excellent starter bikes if your style is more Sons of Anarchy than Power Rangers.
The 649cc V-twin is carbureted and air-cooled to deliver that classic cruiser rumble. It delivers 40 hp and about 35 to 40 lb-ft of torque on a bike that weighs in at about 515 lbs wet. The V-Star also has a very forgiving throttle—some might even call it lazy—but keep in mind that this type of bike isn’t meant for insane acceleration or top speed. It’s about cruising in the mid-revs and looking good while you do it.
Being carbureted, these bikes will require a bit more wrench time than most other reliable used bikes. But if you put in that time once a month, keep the carbs nicely tuned, and do your seasonal maintenance, you’ll have a cruiser that will carry you quite happily for thousands of miles. The V-Star XVS650 also uses a shaft drive, so as long as you keep the oil changed according to Yamaha’s recommended mileage schedule, it’s almost impossible to break.
If you’re looking for a rough-and-tumble dual-sport that hisses at the sight of a road and much prefers to rough it, the Yamaha TW200 is the bike for you. Not only is it immensely popular, but it’s also been around since approximately the Bronze Age. That means you’ll find models from almost any year since the late 1980s for sale in used ads at widely varying prices—but almost always under $5,000.
What makes the TW200 legendary, however, is just how freaking unkillable it is. TW200s have been used to get to the North and South Poles (see: Shinji Kazama’s epic early 90s adventure), modified and run as Dakar Rally bikes, used by Search and Rescue organizations across the world who can’t afford breakdowns—and the list goes on. You name it; the TW200 has seen it, done it, been there, and got the t-shirt.
There’s a popular saying about the TW200: “If you’re patient and persistent, the TW200 can take you almost anywhere on Earth.” You’ll have to enjoy spending a little time on maintenance, however—since this bike was carbureted until the mid-2000s. Even so, though, you could throw this bike off a thousand-foot cliff, climb down, hop on, and it’d kick over with no issue. Keep it tuned up, and it will outlive you.
To peep Yamaha’s entire lineup of 2022 motorcycles, click here.
This list already has one dual-sport that prefers the streets and another that favours off-road riding—but how about a few that absolutely slay at both? Enter the Honda CRF230L and CRF250L. The 250 model was actually discontinued a couple of years ago to make way for the newer CRF300L, but we all know what that means for the used market. Tons of people are going to be selling their older models to upgrade, which is excellent news for newer riders hoping to snag a great bike on the cheap.
What makes the CRF-L models such reliable beginner bikes is how lenient they are—a common theme among Honda’s entry-level bikes. Twisting to a quarter-throttle won’t send the bike looping backward and plant you flat on your ass. The clutch isn’t especially grabby, either—it won’t rip your arms out if you don’t slip it perfectly. This bike’s the dual-sport equivalent of a golden retriever; it will laze around happily until you get it excited, but then it can really get going.
There are also rally versions of the CRF-L models, which add adventure-style windscreens and luggage attachment points—letting you turn your dual-sport into an all-purpose adventure-sport. In fact, if you follow some rider blogs and YouTube vlogs, the famous ItchyBoots traveled to South Africa and toured the country on her used Honda CRF250L, racking up about 1,500 worry-free miles in just over a month. And when we say she puts serious miles on her bikes, consider that she rode across Eurasia (all of Eurasia) to Europe on a Honda CB500X (appropriately named Ronin) a few years back!
See the complete lineup of 2022 Honda motorcycles right here.
Yeah, it’s weird-as-all-hell to look at—but hear us out on this one, ‘kay? You’ll be glad you did.
The Honda GROM has been around for a few years now. In fact, it’s just undergone its first full refresh to be released as a generation 2 model for 2022. With a 125cc engine producing 50 mph, however, the GROM is anything but a slouch. In fact, it’s the complete opposite.
GROMs are absolutely wild to ride. With a short wheelbase that lets them corner beautifully, brakes that could stop a bike twice their weight without issue, and a generously low 30-inch seat height, anyone can ride a GROM. Also, since they’re light, they’re extremely agile and can ride literal circles around some larger bikes.
There are also tons of them out there. With their brand-new-off-the-dealer’s-lot price starting at under $5,000, many riders will pick up a GROM for short trips or weekend fun runs while their bigger commuter bikes rest. No matter where you look, you’re almost certainly going to find a GROM for sale. And if you can’t buy one used, this is one bike we’d recommend picking up new as well.
Suzuki Boulevard S40
The Suzuki Boulevard S40 is one of those cruisers that has been around since the dawn of time, but under a different name. Older folks looking to start riding may recognize it as the Suzuki Savage LS650—but for the past two decades, it has been known as the Boulevard S40. It’s a noteworthy cruiser—aimed more towards the sport cruiser crowd—with a very interesting engine configuration.
Take a look at the picture above. No, your eye’s aren’t deceiving you; this is a single-cylinder sport cruiser with one massive 652cc air-cooled thumper banging away under the fuel tank. Still, it pushes out 31 hp and 35 to 40 lb-ft of torque, in a bike that weighs 400 lbs soaking wet and holding a brick. Pretty impressive.
To say this bike has some get-up-and-go is an understatement. The S40 is tame and friendly when rolling away from a stop, but if you’re in traffic and need to get out of a blind spot, the mid-range pickup on this thing needs to be felt to be believed. It simply surges forward, riding a wave of torque that probably won’t throw you back but will get your heart pumping just that little bit faster.
With a single-cylinder, one overhead cam, and about four other moving parts, simplicity is what keeps the S40 so reliable. It uses a belt drive instead of a chain to transfer power to the rear wheel—so no oiling, lubing, or spending hours with a wire brush to clean the chain. And since you’ll rarely find an S40 over $5,000 used (even for recent model years), this is a budget-friendly way to buy a reliable, approachable sport cruiser with a unique sound and an engine that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.