12 Best Starter Motorcycles in 2016 and 2017

Every year I put out a list with some of the top beginner motorcycles that are available in the USA. Some of the other countries in the world have it easier as they often times have lower CC bikes available that the USA doesn’t have.

Over the past decade more manufactures have been designing bikes specifically for new riders. There are some exciting motorcycles this year, and I’ve organized this list to go from smallest engine to largest engine.

At the end I will tell you my pick for the best beginner motorcycle for this year. That’s the motorcycle I would choose to ride if I had to learn to ride all over again.

[Note: If you’re shopping for a second hand motorcycle or looking to save some money on a beginner motorcycle, check out our Cheapest Beginner Motorcycle post and our Best Starter Motorcycles In 2015 post. The top 2015 starter motorcycles are probably reasonable money now and they are still awesome.]


Beginner Friendly Rating (BFR)

I am giving each motorcycle a beginner friendly rating. This is a rating out of 10, with 10 being a fantastic beginner motorcycle, and 1 being something to avoid like a gator at a golf course. I take into account engine size, handling, modern technology, styling, seat height, price, weight, and a ton of other factors. In the end the BFR is just my opinion based on my years of riding experience and helping new riders.

2016/2017 Best Starter Motorcycles Full List

Make Name BFR Score Price Engine
Honda Honda Grom 7/10 $3,199 125cc single cylinder
Honda Honda CRF250L 8/10 $4,999 249cc single cylinder
Yamaha Yamaha WR250R 9/10 $6,699 249cc single cylinder
Yamaha Yamaha YZF-R3 7/10 $4,990 321cc Twin cylinder
Kawasaki Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS 9/10 $5,299 296cc Twin cylinder
KTM KTM Duke 390 8/10 $4,999 373cc single cylinder
Husqvarna Husqvarna FS 450 6/10 $12,810 450cc single cylinder
Honda Honda CB500X ABS 9/10 $6,799 471cc twin cylinder
Harley Davidson Harley Davidson Street 500 6/10 $6,849 491cc single cylinder
Honda Honda CBR500R (ABS) 10/10 $6,799 471cc twin cylinder
Suzuki Suzuki 2017 SV650 ABS 9/10 $7,499 645cc twin cylinder
Kawasaki Kawasaki Vulcan S (ABS) 7/10 $7,389 649cc twin cylinder

honda grom best 2017 motorcycle

Honda Grom

  • Beginner Friendly Rating (BFR): 7 out of 10
  • Price: $3,199 MSRP
  • Engine Size: 125cc single cylinder engine

The Honda Grom is a great bike. It has the smallest engine of any motorcycle on this list at 125cc’s. Ever since its release it has developed a cult following. Because of the cheap price and fun-factor, it is often purchased as a second motorcycle by more advanced riders. Riders that regularly ride around on 1,000cc+ sport bikes will sometimes want something low key to ride around on through town. The Grom fits this bill perfectly.

They say it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than it is to ride a fast bike slow, and that is definitely the case with the Grom.

If it’s such a great bike then why didn’t I give it a 10 out of 10 in the BFR? Well, the Grom doesn’t look or feel like a ‘full sized’ motorcycle. It can feel more like a toy than anything, and that attitude can be dangerous. The pavement doesn’t care if you are riding a 1,000cc Yamaha R1 or a 125cc Honda Grom, it will scrape you up just the same. It’s important to wear full motorcycle gear even when riding a Honda Grom.

It also may be lacking power for some users, especially those over 200lbs. It can hit 65mph (freeway speed), but it might require a down hill and a tail wind in order to do so.

It is still a great first bike and one that is sure to start conversations, especially from more advanced riders that often drool over that fun bike. It has honda build quality, so you can expect great reliability.

Best Starter Motorcycles in 2017

Honda CRF250L

  • Beginner Friendly Rating (BFR): 8 out of 10
  • Price: $4,999 MSRP
  • Engine Size: 249cc single cylinder engine

I absolutely love the CRF250L as a beginner motorcycle. In fact, the more experience I get as a motorcycle rider the more I think that street legal dirt bikes like the CRF250L make ideal starter motorcycles.Like the CRF, most dirt bikes are usually powered by a single cylinder engine which makes for predictable power delivery. The 250cc class has all the power you will need to go wherever you want. You can explore off the beaten path or on city streets. They are thin so you can lane split easily (if you are in a place where that is legal).Probably the best thing about dirt bikes for beginners is they are made to take a beating. You can drop them and they will survive it. In fact, a drop will just give them more character. You can’t say that with a Ninja 300 or some other fully faired (plastic covered) motorcycle. If you drop a Ninja then you might end up with hundreds of dollars worth of damage.

What makes dirtbikes not ideal is the seat height. Because of extended suspension travel the bikes typically sit higher. The CRF has a seat height of 34.7 inches. Most street bikes have seat heights around 31 inches. Granted the suspension will compress as you sit on it, but it might be a little troublesome for a shorter rider that is less than 5’5”.

2017 best beginner motorbike

Yamaha WR250R

  • Beginner Friendly Rating (BFR): 9 out of 10
  • Price: $6,699 MSRP
  • Engine Size: 249cc single cylinder engine

If you prefer Yamaha as a company over Honda, then the WR250 would be a great option for you. There are some things the Honda does better (like a smoother engine and comfortable ergonomics) but in general the WR250 is just a better bike (and the higher cost reflects that).

It comes with a better suspension, it is lighter weight, has better power delivery, and there are lots of aftermarket parts available. If I had to choose between the WR and the CRF, I would choose the WR.

The CRF makes a great around town machine, it is comfy and reliable. The WR can handle in town riding but it really shines as an amazing adventure motorcycle. The improved suspension lets you go off-road wherever your heart desires. The engine seems to handle freeway speeds better than the CRF too. Overall the WR is a killer motorcycle.

Starter Motorcycles in 2017

Yamaha YZF-R3

  • Beginner Friendly Rating (BFR): 7 out of 10
  • Price: $4,990 MSRP
  • Engine Size: 321cc Twin cylinder engine

Arguably one of the best looking sub-600cc motorcycles out there today is the Yamaha R3. It has the same looks to it as it’s older brothers the R6 (600cc) and the R1 (1,000cc).

Even though Yamaha has been late to the starter bike game, they are making up territory really quickly. The R3 has a great engine that makes you feel confident even at high speeds. You will have tons of power to pass on the freeway when you need it.

The R3 feels very solid which makes maneuvers at slow speed easy. It comes with a gear indicator right on the dash which is a nice feature for new riders. It also has a low 30.7 inch seat height which is a blessing for shorter riders. You can even get an aftermarket kit or shave the seat to lower it even further if you are particularly height challenged.

One potential downside of the R3 for new riders is the fact that it is fully faired. That means it’s covered in plastics to help it be more aerodynamic. While these plastics make the R3 look amazing, if you drop the bike they are going to be expensive to replace (usually hundreds of dollars). As a new rider, you will probably drop your bike at least once in a parking lot.

The last thing that I wish the R3 included is anti-lock braking system (ABS). For that very reason I had to drop the BFR from an 8 to a 7. ABS is a great thing to have for a beginner and it can really help you prevent an accident.

If you love the look though, you can’t go wrong for choosing this Yamaha as your first bike.

2017 beginner motorcycles

Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS

  • Beginner Friendly Rating (BFR): 9 out of 10
  • Price: $5,299 MSRP
  • Engine Size: 296cc Twin cylinder engine

The famous Ninja 300 is the bike that led the charge into the modern era of great looking beginner bikes. This little Ninja looks just as sexy and fast as it’s larger counterpart the ZX-6R, but with an engine that is much more manageable.

The thing that I love about Kawasaki is that they cater to new riders. While many manufactures have smaller motorcycles with old technology still for sale (I’m looking at you Suzuki Boulevard s40….), Kawasaki brings the latest technology to their beginner bikes.

The Ninja 300 has the option of ABS which will help a ton if you ever need to panic stop. It also comes with a uniquely designed clutch that helps with downshifting. Although the Ninja 300 might not have as powerful an engine as the Yamaha R3, I think that between the two bikes the Ninja has the edge.

starter motorbikes 2017

KTM Duke 390

  • Beginner Friendly Rating (BFR): 8 out of 10
  • Price: $4,999 MSRP
  • Engine Size: 373cc single cylinder engine

The Duke 390 won my best beginner motorcycle pick back in 2015 for good reason. It is the ultimate hooligan bike and city carving commuter.

It has an aggressive styling with it’s minimal fairings and small windscreen. It’s thumper engine puts out good enough power to handle high speeds and surface streets.

Usually with KTM you will be paying a premium and they don’t have the best reputation for reliability, but the Duke seems to be bucking that trend. It comes in at the same price point as the Ninja 300 and the R3, and the engine has a few more CC’s.

In my city of Boise, ID you will see Ninja 300’s pretty often, an occasional Grom, and sometimes an R3. You rarely see a KTM Duke 390. It’s not a bad bike, but most people haven’t heard about it.

If you want to be a bit different I would recommend giving this bike a look. It may not be as polished as the offerings from Kawasaki or Yamaha, but it’s just as much (if not more!) fun to ride.

beginner motorcycles best of

Husqvarna FS 450

  • Beginner Friendly Rating (BFR): 6 out of 10
  • Price: $12,810 MSRP
  • Engine Size: 450cc single cylinder engine

I have to state right off the bat that this FS 450 is my current dream motorcycle (which seems to change every few months!). I’m a big fan of supermoto style bikes, and I think they make ideal choices for new riders. They have all the benefits of dirt bikes (reliable engines, tank-like toughness) and all the benefits of street bikes (grippy tires and great suspension).

The FS450 comes with a 450 cc single cylinder engine which will handle anything you throw at it. It will make your daily commute a blast and on the weekends you can take it for some sand dune filled off road adventures. If you want one bike that can do it all, this Husky fits the bill.

So why does it have a pretty abysmal BFR? Frankly, it’s the cost. Husqvarna was never a cheap motorcycle company, and they were recently acquired by KTM a few years ago. That seems to have upped their price even more. For the price of one FS 450 you could buy a Kawasaki Ninja 300 and a Yamaha WR250, while still having enough left over to fund a week long motorcycle trip.

If for some reason you have a pocket full of cash burning a hole in your trousers, then I would seriously consider the FS 450. While you’re spending money you could always buy my Beginner Motorcycle Riding book so eventually I could get a FS 450 of my own! 😉

beginner motorcycle 2017 honda

Honda CB500X ABS

  • Beginner Friendly Rating (BFR): 9 out of 10
  • Price: $6,799 MSRP
  • Engine Size: 471cc twin cylinder engine

If you are looking to eventually get into motorcycle camping and adventure touring, then take a look at the CB500X. It’s a relatively new model from Honda and in my opinion has dethroned the Suzuki V-strom 650 from the position of best middleweight adventure bike.

The CB500 does everything pretty well, but it really excels when you are in the city. You are seated upright so you can see everything, and the bike feels a lot lighter than it really is. This gives you confidence when maneuvering slowly in parking lots and between cars.

This is an adventure bike and it can handle off road terrain. It’s not going to be as capable as a straight out dirtbike like the CRF250L, but it can eats up fire trails and dirt roads easily.

The 471cc engine gives you enough power to either carry an extra passenger or to carry quite a bit of luggage without losing too much power. It’s a fun bike and one of my top picks for 2015.

best beginner harley

Harley Davidson Street 500

  • Beginner Friendly Rating (BFR): 6 out of 10
  • Price: $6,849 MSRP
  • Engine Size: 491cc single cylinder engine

For a lot of people that dream of riding a motorcycle, there is only one brand that they would ever consider: Harley Davidson.

This has been a problem because for years the smallest motorcycle Harley offered was their 883, which is not an ideal beginner motorcycle. Because of a shift in strategy, Harley is now trying to go after that beginner market with the Street 500.

So what do you get if you buy the Street 500? Well, you get a Harley. For most people, that will be enough.

I think it’s important to list what you don’t get: You don’t get a good instrument panel. This bike only comes with a speedometer and a few indicator lights. No tachometer, no gear indicator, in general it’s very basic.

You don’t get much ground clearance in curves. Harley’s have never been known for having great performance on twisty roads since they are so low to the ground, and this bike follows that lineage. You will soon be scraping your pegs in turns much faster than you would with any other bike on this list.

You also don’t get that great Harley sound. The bike as it comes from the factory sounds a lot like a sewing machine, but hopefully that can be fixed with some aftermarket exhausts.

I’ve spent a lot of time pointing out the negatives of this bike, but there are some positives, the most significant being the low seat height. This bike comes stock with a 28 inch seat height. That means it is GREAT for shorter riders.

It’s also a great bike to choose if you are interested in modifying your motorcycle. This bike just screams for aftermarket parts. Once you spend some cash to make it your own, I think you will really love it.

If Harley can take some cues from the Kawasaki Vulcan S, then I believe the next version of the Street 500 could be a real contender.

best beginner honda cbr motorcycle

Honda CBR500R (ABS)

  • Beginner Friendly Rating (BFR): 10 out of 10
  • Price: $6,799 MSRP
  • Engine Size: 471cc twin cylinder engine

The CBR500R is the only bike in this list to get a perfect 10 out of 10 BFR. Does that mean it’s the perfect bike? Not exactly, but I think it is perfect for a beginner or someone who used to ride and is getting back into motorcycling.

The Honda 471cc engine powering the CBR is rock solid and provides enough torque for whatever you would want to do. Whether that is passing on the freeway at high speeds, to canyon carving, to riding with a passenger. This bike has enough power to do it all without struggling. It’s also a twin engine which means you get a linear power curve and no big spikey power jumps in the middle of the rev range. Great for a beginner.

This CBR is fully faired which means if you drop it then you could be doing some damage to your wallet. The fairings do have the added benefit of being more aerodynamic and improving the looks quite a bit. This smaller CBR takes styling cues from other more powerful bikes in the lineup while still being recognizable in it’s own right.

Weight can be an issue but in the case of this bike it is a good thing. It’s 423 lbs (the Ninja 300 weighs 384 lbs) which is a significant, but the added weight gives you more stability at freeway speeds. The bike is well balanced with a low seat height (about 30 inches) which means that the added weight isn’t an issue at low speed like it would be for some other bikes.

suzuki starter motorbike 2017

Suzuki 2017 SV650 ABS

  • Beginner Friendly Rating (BFR): 9 out of 10
  • Price: $7,499 MSRP
  • Engine Size: 645cc twin cylinder engine

One of my all time favorite bikes to recommend for beginners and advanced riders alike is the legendary SV650. The original was discontinued in 2012 (to be replaced by the ugly Suzuki Gladius which never caught on), but Suzuki has brought it back with some good updates.

First, let’s cut to the chase: Is this new SV650 as good (or better) than the old one? I would say yes.

It has updates to the engine which give it a bit more power (but it’s not very noticble), it comes with optional ABS and I love the styling with the classic trellis frame.

The SV is a bike that begs to be modded. One of the first mods I would do is to replace the front forks, maybe with something off a GSXR-600. This is a swap that many original SV owners did to improve performance, and unfortunately it looks like you will need to do it with the new SV as well. The suspension isn’t bad, but it can definitely be improved with that front fork swap.

A great feature for beginners is the new ‘Low RPM’ feature which can prevent stalling when you try to get moving from a stop. When you disengage the clutch it picks up the RPM’s a bit to make sure that you won’t kill the bike as you start to move from a dead stop. This can prevent some embarrassing moments!

We will see how this new SV650 sells, but I imagine it will be a popular bike once more.

best beginner kawasaki motorcycle

Kawasaki Vulcan S (ABS)

  • Beginner Friendly Rating (BFR): 7 out of 10
  • Price: $7,389 MSRP
  • Engine Size: 649cc twin cylinder engine

If you’ve heard me talk about the Vulcan S before then you know it’s one of my favorite motorcycles. The first thing that strikes you is how modern and beefy this thing looks, while at the same time still being light and nimble. The Kawasaki engineers are artists, and this thing is their Mona Lisa. In my opinion it is one of the best looking cruisers on the road.

It looks great, but it’s also packed with great things that make it ideal for a beginner. The ‘Ergo-fit’ adjustability means that you will be comfortable on this motorcycle if you are short (5’6” or shorter) or even really tall (6’1” and over). It does this through moving footpegs, changing the seat, and adjusting the handlebars. All this is done at the factory level so it all fits perfectly.

The Vulcan S comes with a 649cc engine which will be enough to cruise on the freeway, but also not overwhelming for a beginner rider. The ABS version of this bike will make braking much easier and safer.

This bike is basically the Kawasaki version of the Ducati Diavel. Ducati built the Diavel to have a cruiser style motorcycle with the handling and responsiveness of a sportsbike. That is what the Vulcan S does. It looks classic, but it handles like a dream. Can’t you tell I love this bike?

Which is the BEST beginner motorcycle?

Just like we struggled in 2015 to name the winner of our top 2015 starter motorcycle, picking a winner for the top 2017 starter motorcycle was equally hard. However, we did it, we picked a winner and you can’t go wrong with this motorcycle.

This bike changes every year. It’s based on price, features, popularity, and my own opinion. There are bikes on this list for everyone, but I think the winner this year is actually a tie between the Yamaha WR250R and the Honda CBR500R.

winner best starter motorcycle 2017 winner best beginner motorcycle 2017

I really want to give the WR the ultimate win. It is a fun bike, it can do it all and then some. If makes an ideal learning bike that won’t get too damaged if it’s dropped. The suspension is great, and you can learn to do some off road riding as well. The reason it doesn’t win exclusively is because of the higher price and the high seat height. Both of those things will eliminate it from many beginners minds.

The CBR500R picks up where the WR250R leaves off. It actually costs less than the WR and you get ABS brakes, a bigger engine, killer street bike looks, and a platform you can grow into for years. This could literally be your first bike and last bike. It’s easy enough for beginners to learn but exciting enough for advanced riders.

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