After the year that was 2020, in all of its twists, turns, and tribulations, getting out on a bike and enjoying the open road is on the mind of many. In fact, there has been a marked increase, at least in the city where this author is based, in motorcycle training and safety course registrations. More and more people want the freedom, the thrill, the excitement of swinging a leg over a mechanical saddle and riding their motorized steed into the sunset.
For new riders, however, the best bike is not the Harley-Davidson you’ve been drooling over with its $30,000 price tag, nor is it the new Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade. If you’re looking to buy new, and won’t settle on anything else, there are more than a few great beginner bikes that you can start out on, new, and that won’t break the bank either.
We’ve researched through the multitude of models that have come with 2021, and we are certain one of these 12 recommendations will be the right bike for you to start your two-wheeled life on!
NOTE: These are not numbered, as there really isn’t a #1 when you are looking at all the different styles of bikes!
The reason that the 1100 gets included as a beginner bike is that despite its quite powerful engine, it is still the same simple, not-scary sport cruiser that Honda developed to welcome more riders to two-wheeled life. As well, heavier riders, such as those over 250 lbs, had commented that the Rebel 500, with its decent engine, did not feel as it if had enough power to properly move with those heavier riders in the saddle.
That being said, if you are a shorter or lighter rider, the Rebel 300 and Rebel 500 are still unbeatable entry-level cruisers for you to acquaint yourself with how the biking world works.
2021 Kawasaki Z400 & Z650
Making a return from our 2020 list is the Kawasaki Z400, this time joined by the mildly updated 2021 Z650. These two bikes are some of the best naked bikes on the market, and despite some pretty fierce looks, are quite tamable with time and patience. Both are powered by bulletproof Kawasaki parallel twins, one with 399cc’s and 45 HP, the other with 649cc’s and 67 HP.
The reason these get the nod for the naked sector is that Kawasaki jams as much technology and rideability into the lower end of the Z family. Standard features are dual-zone ABS (something every beginner bike should have, honestly), an assist-and-slipper clutch so if you jerk the clutch a bit suddenly it won’t throw you off the bike, a linear and controllable power curve, and supportive, confidence-inspiring suspension that won’t squish in a corner, but also won’t jar your fillings loose on a bump.
Both bikes are also ridiculously priced, in the best sense of the word. You are getting bikes that are quite able to be sold confidently at $7,000+ and $9,000+ each, but the Z400 starts at $5000, and the Z650 is only $7,800! There is no knocking Kawasaki off the value-for-money throne.
2021 Suzuki SV650A
Anyone that knows anything about starter bikes, or has watched more than three recommended starter bike YouTube videos, knew that this one was coming. Ever since emerging in 1999, the SV650, in all its guises and forms, including the Gladius, has been on every recommended starter bike list, every year, without fail.
But have you ever wondered why? Is it the 645cc v-twin that puts out 75 HP? Is it the six-speed manual that you can literally hit with a sledgehammer and it still works? Is it the Tokico race-grade brakes on cast-aluminum wheels, sprung from Suzuki motorsport suspension? In a word: Yes.
The SV650 for 2021 comes with dual-zone ABS standard, an assist-and-slipper clutch, and the same easily read dash that has been the standard of the segment for the past four years. And again, the predictable but agile handling, the useable power from the engine, and the gentle throttle for starters to get used to controlling said power just oversell the bike as one of the best beginner bikes once more.
2021 Kawasaki KLX300
2021 has seen the removal of the venerable KLX250, to be replaced with the KLX300. Powered by a 292cc liquid-cooled four-stroke single that thumps out a meaty 33 HP, it is the thinking man’s dual-sport, perfectly capable of commuting on the street, yet ready to rip up the trails on the weekend.
Unlike its new 2021 KLX300 SuperMoto brother, the KLX300 is tuned to have usable power at almost any revs and to be predictable and controllable in its delivery. This makes it rather difficult to perform an accidental wheelie, and even harder to fully loop the bike. However, it is still considered a lightweight in street terms at just over 300 lbs wet, so a mature approach to the throttle is advised.
That said, by being so lightweight, the bike is excellent for the beginner looking to feel what a bike can do in terms of handling and cornering, as it loves to transition from upright to a lean without feeling like it’s tipping completely over. As well, if you do mess up riding this bike and need to use the shoulder or end up on a grassy bit, as it’s a dual-sport, apply your progressive braking technique while riding upright and you’ll come to a stop without dropping the bike.
2022 Honda GROM
It’s almost a rule here at BBM that we need to have at least one “out-there” crazy bike on each list. For that reason, the newly redesigned 2022 Honda GROM, which is expected to go on sale early in the summer, is just that weird recommendation.
Belonging to the “minimoto” class, the GROM is nonetheless a great starter bike despite the tiny size. With its mighty fuel-injected 125cc four-stroke single, it chugs out a good 10 HP and will get most any rider 200 lbs or under up to 50 MPH with a little effort. Being a tiny little munchkin, it is also hilariously fun to ride, with power that can’t even begin to think about getting you in trouble, high-quality Honda parts including the ABS system, suspension, wheels, and of course the nigh-unkillable engine. If you want to talk about a bike that is agile and controllable, this little beast is your best friend.
And the thing is, once you’ve moved on to a larger second bike, the GROM is still fun to have around to give a bomb around the neighborhood, or putter down the street to the corner store without needing to warm up the bigger brother you’ve bought. Many riders get GROMs instead of scooters for short trips, and it’s really easy to see why!
2021 Yamaha YZF-R3
Being completely serious for a moment, the 2021 Yamaha YZF-R3, much like its similar R brethren over the years, is not a bike to be taken lightly. Very seriously, it is, for all intents and purposes, a mini-supersport, despite that term being applied to the fastest and hardest of 600cc and 1000cc sportbikes. We point this is out because if the new rider is looking to learn about track riding, supersport handling, or is serious about pursuing the supersport area of the hobby, there is no better starter than the R3.
From a 320cc parallel-twin, Yamaha has managed, somehow, to get it to give up 50 HP. This is almost double what every other sportbike in the 300cc segment produces. The R3 also comes with full dual-zone ABS, anti-slip, anti-wheelie, traction control, and engine modes that its big brother, the R1, comes with. And do not be fooled by the clip-on handlebars being raised a little. You get the R3 with any rider 210 lbs or less that can tuck down on it going down the front straight at a track, and it will decimate even some 600cc supersports.
As well, if you are going to pursue riding supersports as your hobby, we highly recommend checking out our Best Full-Face Helmets For Under $500 list (our own sport riders highly recommend the Shoei RF1400 or Arai Regent-X if your budget can stretch) to get an appropriate helmet, and our other gear guides to find sport riding protection to keep you safe!
2021 Suzuki GSX250R
If the Yamaha YZF-R3 is a bit too scary, or a bit too much, or just not really where you want to go in the sport section of our hobby, Suzuki presents the 2021 GSX250R for your riding pleasure. While it may not be anywhere near as popular or famous as its bigger brothers in the GSX lineup, it is still a bike from the famous “Gixxer” models.
Unlike its bigger brothers, however, the GSX250R has a very friendly and usable 25 HP at the command of your right wrist. Like many lower cc bikes, in this case 248cc’s, it will not get the heaviest or tallest of riders going especially fast, but for anyone 6 foot or under and under 200 lbs, your first riding season will be an absolute hoot on this thing. It’s predictable, agile, and has that classic Gixxer howl from the exhaust, even for a tiny parallel twin.
You get standard ABS for 2021 instead of a higher-priced option, and there is both a superb first party and third party aftermarket selection for performance parts for even the baby Gixxer that can have many riders keeping it for a few seasons!
2021 Suzuki DR-Z400SM
For those new riders looking to get a bit of the hooligan about them without actually being a hooligan, Suzuki once again steps up to the plate with a superb beginner offering. The 2021 DR-Z400SM is a supermoto with a conscience, a bike that looks the part of the rowdy fighter but also enjoys sipping tea with a lovely selection of cakes available in the afternoon.
Suzuki’s near-mythical 398cc liquid-cooled four-stroke single thunders out 39 HP, but does so across a wide rev range, although there is a mid-range point that can catch the unaware rider out if they over-rev and dump the clutch. However, that exact same mid-range power point is what makes this the perfect beginner bike for the supermoto commuter. While manufacturers will waffle on about 0 to 60 times, tops speeds (in this case, 94 MPH), and the like, what really counts on the commute is the power to pull yourself out of a developing situation.
With the grunt available with the engine cruising, it will accelerate like nothing you’ve probably experienced if you’ve never driven a car with a turbocharger. Like said car with a turbo, it’s as if the compressor has fully spun up and there is this surge of power, pulling the bike forward out of harm’s way. That mid-range grunt is important, and Suzuki gives it to you in a fun, but civil, hooligan bike.
2021 Honda CB500X
To be honest, for our adventure touring recommendation, it was so close between the 2021 Honda CB500X and the 2021 Kawasaki Versys 650 ABS. What got the Honda the nod is that it is minutely, and we mean the tiniest of margins, more civil for the beginner rider. This is mostly thanks to its engine from the now-famous CB500 range of Honda bikes, a 471cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin with 50 HP and 32 lb-ft of torque.
Like most adventure tourers, the CB500X comes with a decently tall windshield, a standard seating position, and mid-mount pegs, giving the new rider both excellent views of the road and traffic ahead, while also being comfortable for multi-hour rides. Where the CB500X wins out is that it is also capable of taking new riders of almost any height and weight, from a 5’9” 180 lbs rider to a 6’1” 270 lbs rider (namely: this author!). This gives them confidence with the power on hand, as well as not falling into the corners like some adventure tourers can feel like, instead gracefully leaning into them thanks to its CB500 shared blood.
The only true area that adventure tourers, and by extension adventure bikes, struggle with is having feet down at a stop. Most adventure bikes are lifted a bit higher than the standard street bike, so you’re more likely to be one foot mostly down, or on the balls of your feet with both feet down. Other than that, legendary Honda reliability in an adventure tourer that can go the distance confidently is a perfect beginner bike.
2021 Indian Scout Sixty
Well, we told you in the intro to not drool over the Harley-Davison cruisers. The same can realistically be said about Indian, but if you absolutely need to have some American iron in your garage or driveway, the 2021 Indian Scout Sixty is not a bad place to start. And although it’s more of an introductory bike to Indian than a true beginner bike, if you approach it with respect and learn the ins and outs of its power, you will have a cruiser that could last you the rest of your riding career.
A smaller bike than its Scout brethren, the Scout Sixty is nothing to be scoffed at. You are put in the low and comfortable seat behind a chunky 999cc liquid-cooled 60 degree V-twin that rumbles out the soundtrack of the U.S. of freakin’ A. That v-twin gives you 78 HP and 65 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough for the bike’s middleweight 544 lbs.
The grace is that the throttle is extremely progressive in the first quarter of its range. You will get the noise, the grunt, but not too much either too early. With a mature head and respect given, the Scout Sixty can be ridden for hours on end without ever being boring. We recommend the Scout Sixty only to those that are dead-set on having American and are scared off by Harley-Davidson’s somewhat… enthusiastic pricing models.
2021 Harley-Davidson Iron 883
Hey, we told you to not look at Harley’s! But, if you really must, and don’t like Indian, then the 2021 Iron 883 is your gateway to all things H & D. By far one of the most pared-down, stripped back, simple riding experiences from Harley-Davidson, an 883cc v-twin dubbed the Evolution Engine gives you 50 HP and 54 lb-ft of torque.
What makes this the best Harley-Davidson to start on is that it is, as stated, simplistic. For the same reason that the Honda Rebel models are the perfect sport cruiser starter bikes, the Iron 883 is the best introduction to muscle bikes. It’s got the classic looks, the classic v-twin rumble, but it doesn’t challenge you with all that history. Hell, they even have the engine on rubberized engine mounts to knock some of the vibration out of the frame.
The dragster handlebars are also perfectly positioned to give you a slightly forward-leaning posture, and the pegs are technically mid-mount but pushed really far forward. The best part about the bike, however, is that it’s one of the only Harley’s that, if you buy it new, starts at under $10,000. We mean, it’s $9,499 so it barely makes it, but it’s the thought that counts!
2021 Honda CRF300L Rally
For our final recommendation, yes, another Honda. Hey, they make great bikes! The 2021 CRF300L Rally is the replacement for the well-loved and heavily-used CRF250L Rally adventure dual-sport. For those that have dreams of doing their own weekend mini-Dakar enduro, this is the bike you want, because it will also happily get you to and from work, once everyone is allowed to be in offices again.
The CRF300L Rally comes with the new, Euro5 compliant 286cc four-stroke single that replaced the older 250cc Euro4 engine. This new engine gives a good 27 HP and a decent 19 lb-ft of torque. It also has a big 21 inch front wheel, with an 18 inch rear, to give it the clearance to get up and over obstacles one might encounter during their mini-Dakar.
The Rally is the more premium of the CRF300L bikes, as it comes with a decent adventure windshield, handguards, a larger fuel tank than the base model, and rubber inserts for the engine mounts to reduce vibrations while commuting. The biggest difference between the CRF300L Rally and the Kawasaki KLX300 recommended earlier is that the Honda is much more aimed at distance endurance, while the KLX300 is more of a street-going trail bike. Both are excellent choices, but if we were to head out for a day of riding in the desert, we’d take the Honda.