At the time this article was written, the first third of the year 2020 has just slipped past. While there is a current global crisis in the form of the coronavirus pandemic, it hasn’t stopped people enjoying the hobby of swinging a leg over a motorcycle, with some doing so for the first time.
The beginner rider can look at the current offerings and, rightly, feel confused as to what’s a good bike, what’s a bad bike, and which one fits their style the best. That rider could be looking to lumber between cities on a cruiser, or carve up the mountain roads while leaning at obscene angles into a corner.
Never fear, then, for we here at BestBeginnerMotorcycles have put our heads together to come up with a list of 12 2020 model year bikes that will both let you learn the ways of motorcycling, while also plastering a huge grin across your face under your helmet. Because that’s what it’s all about, no? Getting out there and just enjoying life on two wheels…
2020 Honda Rebel 500
The Honda Rebel 500 is a perfect beginner bike, mostly because Honda designed it to be exactly that. It has enough power, without being scary to handle or a torque monster that will send the bike flipping end over end down the road.
On top of all of that, it is very competitively priced, and once you learn its ins and outs, it can also be a very competent daily riding bike. In fact, one of our writers uses a Honda Rebel 500 as his primary workhorse bike.
2020 Kawasaki Z400
The Kawasaki Z400 is one of the quintessential beginner naked sport bikes. It has firm but forgiving suspension, a linear, smooth torque curve, and a seat that is both supportive yet comfortable. It also emphasizes the control and visibility of a mostly standard riding position, with a tiny bit of forward lean needed.
It is priced fairly well, coming into the middle of the “slightly expensive but worth it under $10,000” crowd, which many of the bikes on this list are part of. What makes the Z400 the value proposition is that you get a lot of beginner friendly features on the bike for your money, yet it’ll still carve corners like a much more powerful, agile bike when you get the basics down.
2020 Yamaha MT-03
The Yamaha MT-03 is another in the group of great beginner naked sports. What makes the MT-03 particularly good is that it is very friendly for shorter and/or lighter riders to still get that buzz we all feel when riding. It has enough power to get moving at a good speed, but it also won’t try to buck you off if you grab too much throttle.
While a beginner bike, it is not quite as docile as the above Kawasaki Z400 is. As the DNA for the MT-03 comes from the YZF-R3 supersport, there are sporty elements in the bike that can catch you unawares if you let your mind wander too much. It still won’t try to kill you, it just might give a tail wiggle under hard braking, or a slip when cornering as it wants to dig in and pounce out of the corner.
2020 Honda CB500X
The 2020 Honda CB500X is a bit of a weird motorcycle. It has a 500cc engine that feels more like a 700. It handles beautifully, with a precise and easily found center of balance. It can take the worst that tarmac can throw at it, and even handle dirt roads with a shrug.
What makes it weird is that all of this comes in an unassuming package, with some of the easiest to reach controls for someone riding standard. It also, like most Honda’s, boasts amazing fuel mileage, easily reaching 200+ miles per tank. For a beginner adventure bike, it’s hard to go wrong with the CB500X.
No beginner bike list would be complete without the revered Suzuki SV650. For almost two decades now, it has be the go to motorcycle for learning the ins and outs of the hobby. It has a V-twin that will give you all the torque you need, but only as you demand it because of how linearly the power comes on.
It also, from the popularity of it being the beginner bike, is extremely economical to maintain, with parts easily found through local shops or online. It is very friendly to maintain as well, which will help the beginner learn about all the maintenance a bike requires month to month, year to year.
2020 Indian Scout Sixty
The only proper, American cruiser on this list, the Indian Scout Sixty is about as friendly a cruiser as you can find. It may have a honking huge 60 cubic inch V-twin nestled into its frame, but that throbbing heart puts out pretty much the most linear torque curve that ever existed. Put Route 66 and the Scout Sixty’s torque curve side by side on a map, and they’re both straight.
Another great thing about the Scout Sixty is that it fits everyone, and everyone fits it. We’ve had readers that are just 5 feet tall ride it as comfortably and well as a 6 foot 6 inch rider. It does hold standard to the American way of sizing: one size fits all.
2020 Triumph Street Twin
The Triumph Street Twin is the beginner motorcycle for the person wanting a retro-styled bike that has modern safety amenities aplenty. While the parallel twin in the Triumph is a bit more on the powerful side, and also displaces 900cc, it has a superb throttle response that allows you to pick and choose where you want the power to be at.
A lot of people suggest that beginners buy a bike that they can “grow in to.” The Street Twin fits that bill perfectly, as a beginner can learn the tricks of the trade. Once they’ve attuned themselves to the bike and have a few hundred miles under their belts, those beginners can start to open the parallel twin a bit more.
2020 Kawasaki KLX230
Yes, the Kawasaki KLX230 looks like a dirt bike. Yet, even with its knobbly tires and single cylinder buzzing away, it’s fully street legal. In fact, it is one of the most highly reviewed, award winning dual sport bikes out there.
It will let the beginner learn the throttle and power demands of a single cylinder, as well as let them take the bike down roads a normal motorcycle would shy away from. And because of its dirt bike heritage, it can go offroad as well, albeit not as specialized as a pure offroader.
2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
Much in the same grain that the Kawasaki Z400 is the perfect beginner naked, the Kawasaki Ninja 400 is a perfect starting point for the aspiring sport bike rider. Despite being built and angled for the standard riding position, it still welcomes its riders down into a tuck position.
What makes this motorcycle one of the best is the simple fact that it’s agile, light, and has the perfect balance of horsepower and torque. It will bite into a corner with eagerness, and is extremely maneuverable in traffic should you need to make emergency maneuvers. Lastly, it has a heritage going back decades, and Kawasaki has been paying attention, making the Ninja 400 feel about as perfect as sport bike can.
2020 Honda GROM
It’s small. It looks like it’s from a Transformers cartoon. But the 2020 Honda GROM is a fun little minibike that has some real world potential for beginners. It won’t ever reach freeway or even highway speed, but it will happily zip around the local neighborhood streets. It also, despite being a minibike, fits and feels like a much larger machine.
It is such an enjoyable and easy to control machine that many owners of much more powerful and larger motorcycles have a Honda GROM for when they want to throw their leathers on and have a blast around the streets without having to worry too much about breaking speed limits or damaging their much more expensive main bikes.
2020 KTM 390 Adventure
The KTM 390 Adventure is an adventure motorcycle from the company that literally makes the best of them. If you don’t mind that the seat can be, at times, rock hard depending on where you sit on it, you will find no better beginner adventure bike.
The throttle has a smooth low speed application, and will respond with an eager bark from the engine if you roll it up into the higher rev ranges. The controls are easy to reach, the digital MFD is a wonder to behold, and it even has optional packages for heated grips, factory hand guards, bash plates, or pannier bags so that you can customize it to your heart’s content.
2020 Yamaha YZF-R3
The Yamaha YZF-R3 is a beginner bike, for sure, but one that demands respect. Through its frame pulses the blood of a superbike racer, a thoroughbred heritage that has been earned through decades of MotoGP and SBK legends. It will go like a bat out of hell if you twist the throttle hard open. It will toss you from the saddle if you push it that millimeter over the edge.
With that said, it’s also some of the most pure motorcycling you can experience, and will teach you confidence and respect as you slice through corners and crack the throttle as you exit, launching you down the next straight. It talks to you through your hands, feet, and ass. It shudders and vibrates in ways that make it feel as if it’s talking to you.
If you ever wanted your first bike to be something that will at the same time scare the bejesus out of you and show you what true motorcycling is all about, the YZF-R3 is that bike.