There’s nothing wrong with a single-cylinder thumping away, an inline-four screaming through to its redline, or a rumbling V-twin. But for many, there’s something special something about a parallel twin motorcycle engine. It’s the humble tradesman in the corner, quietly working away on its craft with determined and time-honed skill.
In keeping with the ideals of Best Beginner Motorcycles, I decided to put a few limits on the parallel-twin models we’re presenting below. Firstly, we’re keeping this list to models under 650cc. Secondly, they had to be produced in or after 2012. Lastly, they had to be relatively affordable for new riders, so I set a budget limit of $10,000—new or used. There’s only one bike on this list that doesn’t meet that criteria—but we couldn’t help but include it, and we’re sure you’ll see why once we get there.
With all that in mind, I present to you: the best beginner parallel-twin motorcycles of the past decade!
NOTE: This is not going to be a numbered list, since all of these models have their own advantages for new riders, so there is no “winner” per se.
Kawasaki Z650/Ninja 650
The venerable Kawasaki 649cc parallel twin that lives in the heart of both the Z650 and the Ninja 650 has existed for some time. Introduced near the start of the century, the rev-happy parallel-twin currently produces 67 HP and 48.5 lb-ft of torque.
These models earn their beginner-friendly status because of their very linear power delivery, a slightly sporty standard seating position, excellent fuel efficiency, and very forgiving handling. That last point means you can build confidence with counter-steering and leaning to take corners more adventurously over time, and the bike will still put a grin on your face in the process.
Also, both bikes are well under $10,000—even new. Quite a bargain for what you’re getting.
Honda CB-500 Range
Honda is famous for making friendly and approachable small-displacement motorcycles for new riders, but until the start of the 2010s, there was a big gap between the un-intimidating 300cc models and the beefier 600cc-plus models. Introduced in 2013, the CBR500 range effectively bridged that hole in Honda’s lineup.
Three bikes currently exist in the lineup, all powered by the same 471cc parallel-twin with 47 HP and 32 lb-ft of torque. This engine revs excitedly but still delivers power in a very controlled fashion, and it even gives a bit of throttle forgiveness if you twist the wrist a bit by accident! Basically, there’s plenty of predictable power and reliability here to soothe the mind of any nervous beginner.
The fully-faired CBR500R also gives newer riders an awesome introduction to sport and supersport-style bikes.
Meanwhile, the naked CB500F is the junior streetfighter version of this bike, with a more relaxed standard seating position than its CBR brother.
The CB500X is widely regarded as the perfect beginner adventure bike. It offers handling and features aimed at the road, but it’s also more than capable enough for hitting dirt trails and gravel roads without a hiccup.
The Honda Rebel 500 is the sport cruiser variation—it looks a lot different but still uses the CB500 engine. This model is widely considered the best beginner bike, only in part because the Rebel 500 is an extremely simple, not-at-all scary bike. The main reason is all the friendly, readily-available power it gets from the CB500 engine, and the way it eases the rider into learning the ins and outs of motorcycling.
2020+ Yamaha MT-03
The Yamaha MT-03 for 2020 and beyond is an evolution of the 2016 to 2019 model that reintroduced Yamaha as a viable competitor in the 300cc naked bike market. Powered by a 321cc parallel-twin that comes straight from the heart of the YZF-R3 supersport, the engine has been tuned to be much more street-friendly and much less of a track destroyer.
Also, the rear swingarm and suspension have been entirely reworked from the previous model so that this bike doesn’t feel as twitchy while cornering. This gives the beginner rider a planted, confident feel while cornering, which is only aided by adding an all-new upside-down front fork with 37mm of travel.
When your entire style of sport and supersport bikes have a nickname known around the world, you have a successful model line. Suzuki offers up the GSX250R as its beginner-friendly introduction to the “Gixxer” line.
A tiny 248cc parallel-twin pushes out 25 HP and 17 lb-ft of torque. That may not sound like much, but you would be surprised at just how agile this bike is—as well as how it simply begs for more when cornering. Make no mistake: this is a real sport bike that doesn’t get newer riders into trouble and helps build riding confidence, all while wearing a truly legendary badge on the fairings.
I’m slightly wary of recommending the Yamaha YZF-R3 as a beginner bike, so I’ll attach a caveat: this is only a beginner bike if you aren’t stupid with it. It requires respect, maturity, and patience to learn everything this supersport can do, and if you swing a leg over it without being properly geared up from head to toe, then I am not responsible in any way, shape, or form for what happens.
Powered by a 321cc parallel-twin, it screams out an incredible 50HP. It will corner hard. It will want to wag its front wheel in the air if you give it too much throttle. It is light, extremely agile, and can get you into some serious trouble if you try to push its limits on the road.
However, if you want a bike to take to the track so you can learn how to properly ride a supersport in a controlled environment, there is no single better motorcycle than this one. It is track day nirvana on an R3, because all this thing will want to do is rocket down each straight to the next corner and have it for lunch with a little sip of sake as a chaser.
When you’ve been building bikes continuously since 1923, the modern world expects you to know how to make one hell of a motorcycle. Fortunately, the BMW F 750 GS more than lives up to that demand.
The 853cc (yeah, this is that exception we mentioned earlier) parallel-twin in this adventure tourer is an absolute gem, with 77 HP and 61 lb-ft of torque. It revs comfortably, isn’t at all twitchy with power output, and will sit happily in the low- to mid-revs all day, every day, while cruising.
The reason this is still a terrific bike for beginners is that it’s incredibly sure-footed. While it might be branded an adventure bike—and it may be a bit pricey at just under $11k USD—you get a lot for that money. Standard ABS is just the beginning; rider features also include dynamic traction control, multiple ride modes (street, rain, etc.), a clear-as-you-could-want-it TFT dash, LED lighting all around, superb stability control—and, because it’s a BMW, it will also be as reliable as almost any Japanese bike.
Seriously. If you think the Germans skimp at all on reliability or engineering, look at how many Police and Ambulance services in the EU use BMW motorcycles as their emergency escorts or first-responder vehicles. From the Metropolitan Police in London to the paramedics in Amsterdam, almost all of them ride BMWs. These are motorcycles almost never have mechanical breakdowns, and that reliability extends through all their models, including the venerable F 750 GS.