Cruisers. When most Americans who do not ride think of motorcycles, the image of a low seat, loud pipes, a fat rear wheel and a relaxed riding position come to mind. They are the quintessential motorcycle of the interstates, the freeways, and the coastal roads. They are the motorcycles of America.
As a beginner, you might be chomping at the bit to go out and buy the latest and greatest muscle cruiser and rip it up and down main street, but we would advise against that. Instead, with the cruiser market being one of the most competitive in the USA, almost all manufacturers, even the European and Japanese ones, have cruiser options that will give you that low riding feeling while also letting you get familiar with the way that cruisers ride, handle, stop, and take off from a stop.
For 2021 we’re going to go over more than just recommendations. We’re going to explain why each bike is a perfect beginner bike, and then also outline what that cruiser will graduate into.
2021 Kawasaki Vulcan S
The 2021 Kawasaki Vulcan S is a bike that divides opinions. Some people think it looks ugly with its slightly high seat, relaxed handlebars. Others think that it doesn’t sound right, using a parallel-twin engine instead of a V-twin. But by having those relaxed handlebars and slightly high seat, the Vulcan S immediately becomes the best beginner cruiser for any body shape.
You could be 4’10” and 100 lbs, or 6’3” and 260 lbs, and because the bike has a relaxed, open setup about it, both sizes will fit no problem. It also uses the time-tested and literally bulletproof 649cc parallel-twin that is found at the heart of the Z650 and Ninja 650 sportbikes, but tuned to be way more accessible across way more of the rev range.
54 HP and 46 lb-ft of torque are perfect for the 500 lbs wet weight. Its slightly higher stance gives it excellent handling and will let the beginner learn how to lean with or against the bike in corners to keep it stable without threatening to toss them off. Riders that enjoy the Vulcan S are more often than not destined more for the sport cruiser or muscle cruiser markets.
2021 Honda Rebel 500
The Honda Rebel 500, when it was introduced in 2017, quickly became one of the most popular and loved beginner cruisers of all time. With the consideration that sportbikes and cruiser-style bikes often are within a few percentage points of each other in sales, Honda wanted to bring more riders over to the cruiser side of things, and so went with the formula that had worked with so many of their bikes becoming beginner favorites: Simplicity.
That is exactly what the Rebel 500 is… simple. It’s not some big, scary, roaring 1,800 V-Twin, nor is it a whimpering little scooter that buzzes about. It has a gentle throttle, great brakes, an assist-and-slipper clutch, excellent gearing, and a comfortable seat and riding position. And that’s it.
Much like the CBR250RR for sportbikes in the mid-2000s, or the CB500X for adventure bikes in the 2010s, the Rebel 500 is a bike that contains the purest essence of the top-tier machines in the cruiser segment can do, distilled down to beginner-friendly levels. Someone who starts on a Rebel 500 can literally go anywhere in the cruiser spectrum, from a sport cruiser across to a continent-crushing touring cruiser.
2021 Harley-Davidson Iron 883
We can already hear you mentioning “wait, what, I thought Harley’s were bad beginner bikes?” For the most part, you’d be correct, but not with the Iron 883. For over 60 years, Harley-Davidson has been making what are one day considered comfortable endurance cruisers and tourers, and the next day overly expensive two-wheel land yachts. Social opinion aside, however, the fact remains that the Iron 883 is just a damned good bike. Full stop.
What makes it so is the 883cc Evolution V-Twin that gives it its name. It’s an extremely forgiving engine, with 50 HP and just about 54 lb-ft of torque. Power delivery is linear, and the superb framework of the bike lets you know everything that the bike is doing through your legs, butt, and hands. Unlike the bigger Harley bikes, it’s light enough and pared down enough that you will learn how it wants to communicate with you, telling you things such as how its tires are gripping, how it’s feeling in the corners, and the like.
If you start off on a Harley-Davidson Iron 883, you will have to pay a little more for a badge premium, because there is still the belief that Harley’s are the bikes of America. But at a hair under $10,000, you won’t find a more forgiving and generous entry point to the wide world of customizable cruisers that Harley-Davidson makes.
2021 Indian Scout Sixty
“The other American company,” many will say about Indian. Much like Harley-Davidson, if you set aside the social opinions and focus purely on the machinery, the 2021 Indian Scout Sixty is a super entry point into the premium cruiser segment.
Considered as a mild hybrid between a sport cruiser and a bobber cruiser, the Scout Sixty has a wonderfully growling 1,000cc V-Twin piped out through two beautiful exhausts, with 78 HP and 65 lb-ft of torque. The seat is premium leather. The paint is applied with the same care as that put on a Bentley Continental GT. The options list for the bike is as long as about 17 arms. It is to cruisers as Mercedes is to executive sedans, a comfortable, capable, and reliable premium option.
And if the engine power and torque scare you slightly, keep in mind that the Scout Sixty is a mid-weight, at 544 lbs wet. As well, when you roll on the throttle, you’ll get the classic V-twin rumble, and a gorgeously linear response, surging you down the road without making it a scary thing to do. And, it is true, once you are hooked on Indian cruisers, you’re pretty much destined to love the premium cruiser market… which doesn’t really matter because Indian makes premium cruisers of all types!
2021 Yamaha V-Star 250
Somehow, Yamaha, with each bike they make, manages to bring out hilarious amounts of joy from what are literally bits of metal suspended between two wheels. This is definitely true of the 2021 Yamaha V-Star 250, the quintessential lightweight cruiser. It won’t break any land speed records, it won’t last 400 miles between fuel stops, but that really doesn’t matter because of the smile threatening to tear your face in half under your helmet.
The little V-Star packs in an air-cooled 250cc V-Twin producing just a hair over 15 lb-ft of torque, in a bike weighing 324lbs soaking wet with a cinder block on the seat. It has a happy, burbling exhaust note at idle, and a surprisingly throaty note when cruising. It has enough power to get you up to freeway speeds, as long as you don’t weigh much over 200 lbs.
The V-Star 250 is perfect for lighter-weight riders wanting to approach cruisers, but afraid of the bigger bikes being too heavy, too unwieldy, or too powerful. And because it’s so lightweight, it also has the agility, if you need it, of a standard bike, just with a lower seat and a V-Twin powering it. From the V-Star, you can go in any direction you want, although if you are staying in cruisers, the most direct route would be to sport cruisers.