Updated: 30 March 2021
A lot of new riders are looking to start off on something that will give them the most fun without necessarily being the most powerful. For some, it’s due to their body size and weight being too small or light for higher displacement motorcycles, for others it may be the fuel efficiency or specific usage of their bikes that dictate a lower displacement.
Whatever the case, there are a lot of options if you want to look South of 300cc’s. In this list today, I will identify at least one model per style of bike that a beginner would have no problems learning on.
NOTE: I need to specify that there are not a lot of pure 250cc motorcycles out there anymore. Dirt bikes, dual sports, and some adventure bikes still do come with specifically 250cc on the dot engines. For reasons of being as comprehensive as possible while touching as many styles as possible, I will consider anything up to 299cc as valid for the purpose of this article.
2021 Honda CBR300R
For those looking to get their excitement on the street as well as carve some corners on the track, the 2021 Honda CBR300R is a great introduction to the supersport style of motorcycle. Using a 286cc liquid-cooled single, it produces a respectable 31 HP and 20 lb-ft of torque.
The CBR300R borrows a lot of styling from its much more powerful cousin, the CBR1000RR, with derivative headlights, cowl, fairings, and aggressive tank shape diving towards the front of the bike. The clip-on handlebars are raised, however, making it a comfortable street bike that you can still tuck down into when on the track. By not raising the rider fully into the standard riding position, however, it just squeaks in as a supersport.
Honorable Mention: 2021 Yamaha YZF-R3
You cannot talk about introductory supersports without talking about the 2021 Yamaha YZF-R3. It barely misses this list by 22cc’s of displacement, with a 321cc inline twin that absolutely screams out 50 HP.
Developed heavily in conjunction with the Yamaha Racing Team that competes in both World SBK and MotoGP, it is a light, fast, and competent bike for both road and track, and a highly recommended motorcycle for a beginner track rider that also wants to be able to ride their steed on the street.
The 2021 Suzuki GSX250R looks, smells, and even feels like a supersport bike. The only major difference is that the clip-on handlebars are very high at the front and the tank is shorter, pushing the rider up into a standard seating position for the vast majority of riding.
Apart from that, the GSX250R is a competent sports bike, with a 248cc parallel-twin that pushes out 25 HP and 17 lb-ft of torque. Being a parallel twin instead of a single also means that the GSX250R produces that classic twin throbbing bark from the exhaust that makes the ears tingle happily. It’s light and corners well, and can easily be taken on the track for some serious fun.
2021 Honda CB300R
Honda used the same engine from the CBR300R in their 2021 CB300R naked sport model, however it is tuned slightly differently to give it a much more street-friendly powerband for torque. As such, for the beginner rider, it has a great linear delivery of power across the low and mid RPMs, only starting to gasp a little as it nears redline, by which point you should have shifted up anyways.
It’s also very friendly in the seating position, with easily accessed controls and pegs that aren’t as far back along the frame as with the CBR models. As well, almost all riders will appreciate the planted, sturdy feel of the bike despite being a lightweight naked. Japanese engineering can do amazing things, and the 2021 Honda CB300R is a great example.
Retro or Sport Heritage
2021 Yamaha V-Star 250
It may look like a cruiser, and I wouldn’t blame you for calling a cruiser. Yamaha, however, labels it as a sport heritage motorcycle, and puts a lot of little, loving details to the 2021 V-Star 250 that make it a great throwback bike. It’s widely regarded as a great beginner bike mostly as it is extremely competent on the road, with positive feedback to the rider and great handling due to its light weight.
As well, it’s a perfect starter bike for those interested in riding v-twins, as the little 249cc 60 degree air cooled v-twin still uses a tiny Mikuni BDS26 carburetor, giving it that classic rumble that only v-twins have.
2021 Honda Rebel 300
The Honda Rebel 300, from the very earliest points in its design, is aimed at the new rider market. It is meant to make comfortable motorcycle cruising accessible and not scary. Powered by a 286cc single, it produces 25 HP and 20 lb-ft of torque, and is an absolute sipper of gas, giving you great range.
I will admit, Honda has a perfect introduction to cruisers for those looking for a gentle introduction to them. And if you really like the Rebel 300, have had it for a couple of seasons, and want to move up to a bigger displacement engine, the Rebel 500 is the exact same bike but with nearly double the power.
2021 Honda CRF300L Rally
With Honda’s success over the years with endurance rallies, including the 2020 Dakar Rally outright win, it’s no wonder that their CRF300L Rally is the recommended dirt-oriented adventure bike. With a gutsy 286cc liquid-cooled four-stroke single, it will get you up and over most hills with ease, and be able to absorb the bumps and bruises of a rough trail without letting you feel any of it.
What really sells the CRF300L Rally as the best beginner-friendly adventure bike is that it is lightweight. This prevents what can often happen with larger or heavier adventure bikes, the feeling of being too high centered to be able to shift your weight properly to affect the cornering ability of it on streets. It is agile, built for the rough stuff, and as reliable as a wood-burning stove. What more could a new adventure rider want?
2021 Kawasaki Versys-X 300
Without mincing words, Kawasaki themselves consider the 2021 Versys-X 300 a “city adventurer,” meaning it’s more street bike than off-roader. Realistically, it’s a great beginner bike due to the dynamics that Kawasaki engineered into it. A high windshield coupled with a low seating position, the 296cc parallel-twin slung as low as possible in the frame, and the seating position being dead on standard, the rider is placed as close to the center of gravity and cornering pivot point of the bike.
With 40 HP and 19 lb-ft of torque on tap, the engine is powerful enough to cruise comfortably at highway speeds and has enough low down grunt to get you up and going with minimal effort from the line. Power delivery is also beginner-friendly as it is linear to a fault, only dropping off after about 8,000 RPM.
2021 Kawasaki KLX300
The 2021 Kawasaki KLX30 is just the latest iteration in Kawasaki’s KLX series of motorcycles. What makes it great for beginners is that it combines true off-road capability with light weight, appropriate power, and stellar feedback through the bike.
Powered by a 292cc single, it produces 33 HP and 21 lb-ft of torque, it’s also very capable on the street, although it is not a bike that would be able to handle a freeway. However, if you live in a smaller city where you can avoid the freeway to get to where you need to go, as well as bomb around some dirt trails on the weekends, Kawasaki has the beginner bike for you.
2022 Honda GROM
The 2020 Honda GROM is, and I admit this freely, a silly little bike. It looks like something out of a Transformers cartoon. However, that is also the appeal of it. It’s silly. It’s a bike that shucks of the seriousness of the world and lets you zip around on a bike that is comically fun.
It also has enough power, 10 HP and 8 lbs-ft of torque, to be able to handle main roads. So if you need to pop down to the grocery store for a pint of milk and don’t want to take the big bike, this little monster will get you there as well. It’s also beginner friendly exactly because it’s a great little runabout that will let you have fun, but not try to kill you as it does so.
2021 Kawasaki Z125 Pro
A bit more aggressive than its GROM competitor, the 2021 Z125 Pro is what Kawasaki calls a “junior streetfighter.” It’s powered but a 125cc air-cooled single, but puts out 15 HP and 7 lb-ft of torque, making it a perfect introduction for a beginner rider to have a bit more serious of a mini and experience what a streetfighter can do, safely.
Kawasaki has made their little streetfighter very responsive and communicative, something every starter needs to learn so they can feel what the bike is doing under them, as well as what the road is like. Added to that, the Z125 Pro can corner like a much bigger streetfighter, and is as tossable and nimble as a Z650, but at a fraction of the cost.