While there is nothing wrong with a single-cylinder thumping away, an inline-four screaming through to its redline, or a v-twin rumbling, there is just that special something about a parallel twin motorcycle engine. It’s the humble tradesman in the corner, quietly working away on its craft with a 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 to be presented today. Firstly, it had to be classified as a 650cc or less. Secondly, it had to be produced, or introduced, since 2010. Models that ended production in 2010 were also to be considered. Lastly, it had to be relatively affordable for the new rider, so I set a budget limit of $10,000 new or used.
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, as all of these models each equally have their own advantages for new riders, and 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 is an engine that has existed for some time. Introduced near the start of the century, the rev-happy parallel-twin currently produces 72 HP and 47 lb-ft of torque.
These models earn their beginner-friendly status because of a very linear power delivery, a slightly sporty standard seating position, excellent fuel efficiency, and very forgiving handling. The last point means that you can build confidence with counter-steering and leaning to take corners over time, and the bike will still put a grin on your face.
As well, even new, both bikes are well under $10,000.
Honda CB-500 Range
Honda is famous for its small-displacement motorcycles being extremely friendly and approachable for new riders, but until the start of the decade, there was a big jump from the friendly 300cc models right to the powerful 600cc and greater models. Introduced in 2013, the CBR500 range bridges what used to be the one gaping 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 yet delivers power in a very controlled fashion, and even gives a bit of throttle forgiveness if you give the wrist a bit of a twist accidentally. Predictable power and reliability soothe the mind of the beginner!
The fully-faired CBR500R gives beginners a comfortable starting point to sport and supersport style bikes.
The naked CB500F is the junior streetfighter, with a more relaxed standard seating position than its CBR brother.
The CB500X is widely regarded as the perfect beginner adventure bike, with handling and features aimed at the road, but enough capability to hit the dirt trails and gravel roads without a hiccup.
The Honda Rebel 500 is the sport cruiser variation using the CB500 engine. Widely considered as the best beginner bike, full stop, it’s only partially because of the way the Rebel 500 is a simple, not-at-all scary bike. The majority of it is because of the friendly, available power 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 from the heart of the YZF-R3 supersport, the engine has been tuned to be much more of a street-friendly engine instead of a track destroyer.
As well, over the previous model, the rear swingarm and suspension have been entirely reworked so that it doesn’t feel as twitchy in cornering. This gives the beginner rider a planted, confident cornering feel, 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 that is known across 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 when cornering it just begs you for more. It’s a real sportbike that doesn’t get the newer rider into trouble and helps build riding confidence while wearing a legendary badge on the fairings.
I’m slightly wary of recommending the Yamaha YZF-R3 as a beginner bike, so I will attach a caveat to it. This is 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 head-to-toe full gear, 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 to have a bike to take to a track to learn how to properly ride a supersport in a controlled environment, there is no single better motorcycle. It is track day nirvana on an R3 because all this thing will want to do is scream down the straight to the next corner, and then have it for lunch with a little sip of sake as a chaser.
When you’ve been building motorcycles continuously since 1923, you can be expected to have learned by 2021 how to make one hell of a motorcycle. That truth shows nowhere better than in the 2021 BMW F 750 GS. The 853cc 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, for a cruise.
It is also beginner-friendly for the exact same reason it has a gem of an engine: it’s sure-footed. While it might be branded as an adventure bike, and it may be a bit pricey at just under $11k USD, you get a lot for that money. Standard ABS, for one, is great, however, the rider features also include dynamic traction control, 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 a 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-response vehicles. From the Metropolitan Police in London to the First Response Paramedic in Amsterdam, almost every single one is riding a BMW. These are motorcycles that can not under any circumstances have a mechanical breakdown. And that reliability is passed on to all of their models, including the venerable F 750 GS