Motorcycles are all about freedom, or so we like to tell ourselves. However, how often do we really get out there and ride? More often than not, we’re stuck in the city streets, with little blasts of fun between the lights, or maybe a nice cruise down the freeway to get to the next suburb.
To really embrace the freedom that motorcycling offers, a long distance ride is exactly what the doctor ordered. The city behind you, the open road ahead, maybe some twisties here and there. Fresh air, an engine thrumming below you, urging you to keep chasing the horizon. Or, like in our headline picture, a ride out to the beach to watch the waves and have a day of swimming and surfing.
However, not all motorcycles are suitable for a long-distance ride. Some are too stiff, meant more for the racetrack than the road. Some are too low power, designed with the city in mind only. Worry not, as we have put our collective heads together here at BestBeginnerMotorcycles to find the best motorcycles for long-distance riding.
NOTE: For long distance, we defined it as day trip capable, as we have another article regarding the best touring bikes for multi-day trips.
Suzuki V-Strom 650
The Suzuki V-Strom 650 is one of the two pure adventure bikes that we think also make great day tourers. This stems from the fact that the engine of the V-Strom is the same one that lives at the heart of the Suzuki SV650, a very rider-friendly V-twin that puts out 70 HP and 46 lbs-ft of torque.
The rider-friendly power delivery and torque curve, combined with the more relaxed standard seating position, and the windshield deflecting all the air that would otherwise be hitting your chest makes for a bike that can take the miles. It’s also more road-oriented than most other adventure bikes, with a much more plush seat than the SV650 and more dampening to give you a smoother ride.
Kawasaki Versys 650
The other adventure bike, the Kawasaki Versys 650 is in the same school of thought as the Suzuki. Rider friendly power, comfortable seat, more suspension than its Z650 and Ninja 650 brothers, and a windshield to keep the air off you so you don’t feel like you’ve been through a hurricane after a day of riding.
The only major difference is that the Versys 650 has the parallel twin from its aforementioned brothers, producing 68 HP and 47 lbs-ft of torque. The minor difference is that the Versys can be ridden a bit more readily off road or on dirt tracks, despite having pleasant manners on pavement.
Royal Enfield Interceptor 650
Known in the US, due to trademarks, as the Royal Enfield INT650, this bike is a modern take on one of the most influential and classic of day trippers out there. Way back in the 1960’s, if you wanted to take a ride between cities on the West Coast (ie the classic LA to San Diego day blast), you had only three or four real choices, of which the original Interceptor 650 was one.
Retro styled with modern touches, the INT650 is the quintessential British roadster. Comfortable seat, standard riding position, high and wide bars, a 648cc parallel twin thumping out 47 HP and 38 lbs-ft of torque under you. The modern touches include fuel injection, modern brakes with ABS, external reservoir rear shocks, and a wet multiplate clutch that allows all six gears to engage much more smoothly than in days past.
Kawasaki Vulcan S
What may look like a big, intimidating, aggressive muscle cruiser is actually one of the friendliest beginner cruisers out there. The Kawasaki Vulcan S is meant for the open road, plain and simple. It has the nigh unkillable Kawasaki 649cc parallel twin as its power unit, with 54 HP and 46 lbs-ft of torque.
What prepares you for the long distance day trip is the surprisingly plush suspension, despite looking like a girder at the rear, as well as the wide, comfortable seat. Another great thing about the Vulcan S is that if you do buy it new, you can customise it to fit you with Kawasaki’s ergo-fit options, so that it will give you the confidence to ride it all day.
Harley-Davidson Iron 883
You really can’t talk about distance riding without mentioning one of the big American cruiser companies. While most of Harley-Davidson’s model range is meant for the experienced rider or multi-day touring, the Iron 883 is a sportster bike designed for the new rider to get onto a Harley and actually enjoy being able to use most, if not all, of its power.
With the 883cc V-twin that gives the bike its name at the heart, it has a very reasonably 49 HP and 54 lbs-ft of torque. This allows the new rider to get used to the thundering great torque a V-twin that toss out without sending their bike sideways into a guard rail. Add on that classic Harley comfort and a seat that belongs on an armchair, not a bike, and this entry-level bike will get you cruising all day with a grin on your face.
Okay, okay, yes, we put a Honda here instead of a Harley. Hear us out!
For the larger and taller crowd, namely those over 6 feet tall and over 220 lbs, the available bikes that “fit” are fewer than you would expect. The Honda Shadow has always been an entry level bike for those that shop the big-n-tall stores. With a 745cc liquid-cooled V-twin that produces about 45 HP and 47 lbs-ft of torque, the bike has a lovely five speed transmission that happily cruises along.
What the new rider gets from the Shadow is a bit of a quirky bike. It combines modern Honda engineering in the engine, suspension, fuel injection system, variable air intake, but also has a drum rear brake (a very good one!), a bobber style seating position on a seat that belongs in the 1980’s with how comfortable it is. Excellent fuel economy, and would you expect any less from a Honda, keeps you going for mile after mile.
Honda Rebel 500
The other side of the coin, for the smaller beginner rider, the Honda Rebel 500 is a beautiful bike you can ride day in, day out, and never get tired of. One of the classic Honda 500cc series of bikes that shares engines with the likes of the CBR500R, the CB500X, and the CB500R, it has a 471cc parallel twin that gives 46 HP and 32 lbs-ft of torque.
The Rebel 500, from the very outset, was designed to be approachable and fun for the newer rider. It doesn’t have much in the way of distractions, which allows the rider to just… ride. And like the Shadow, excellent fuel efficiency and a seat that seems to be made out of magic allows the under 6 foot, under 220 lbs crowd to have the same enjoyment of the open road and a day out on the bike.
Indian Scout Sixty
Yes, we already mentioned a Harley-Davidson in the list. However, Indian has a superb introductory cruiser in the 2020 Scout Sixty. Powered by a 999cc V-twin, it sounds imposing with 78 HP and 65 lbs-ft of torque going through a five speed box. However, the Scout Sixty is astonishingly forgiving and never really seems to fully flex its muscles.
The power delivery is linear and smooth, and you also get a lovely burble from the engine as you apply throttle. Speaking of throttle, with a cruiser like the Scout Sixty, you realistically will never crack it open 100%, which is why Indian tuned the throttle response and engine on this introductory bike to be responsive without being scary. And if you do crank it open 100%, the traction control and engine management systems are programmed from the factory to not allow the rear wheel to spin up.
The only sportbike we will list is the Yamaha MT-07. Supersports and most nakeds are meant for city trips, or short blasts around some twisties that are near to town. Where the Yamaha differs, however is through some magical Japanese engineering that allows the bike to be supple and supple over distances and rough roads, while also being aggressive and eager when carving a corner.
Powered by a 689cc parallel-twin that gives 74 HP and 50 lbs-ft of torque, the MT-07 is surprisingly easy to ride, and has both low enough torque and power to let the shorter, lighter rider get some good fun out of it, while also allowing the taller, heavier rider to learn all about the intricacies of the naked bike world.