Not everyone that gets their motorcycle license wants to be the next Valentino Rossi. Sometimes, the truest expression of our love of two wheels and a motor stuck between them is to simply go out for a ride. And sometimes that ride becomes a day trip out to the mountain and canyon roads, or a blast up the coastline highway.
Fret not, new riders. By putting our heads together and sorting through model after model, we’ve come up with three categories of touring bikes, and the best two bikes from those categories, so that you can swing that leg over the saddle and ride off into the sunset (or sunrise… or noontime sun… ah, you get the point!)
Kawasaki Ninja 400
The 2021 Kawasaki Ninja 400 gets recommended in pretty much any “Best Bike For New Riders” list we make. The reason for that is that it is basically the all-around best beginner bike for those looking to have a fully-faired sportbike.
It is light and agile, yet very planted on the road. It is very forgiving in the corners, and if you want to cruise for hours on end down a twisting canyon road at reasonable (read: legal) speeds, you can’t find much better. The power is linear, the brakes are good, and Kawasaki must employ a wizard or two at their factory, because a sport seat has never felt more comfortable to many of us.
On top of that, its 399cc parallel-twin quite literally will not die unless you literally shoot it with a .50 caliber bullet. It will just keep going, tireless working away at getting you where you’re going. The standard seating position is also much nicer than the three-quarters position a supersport would put you in, so your lower back will also thank you.
You really couldn’t put any other bike here. Much like the Ninja 400 is to the faired sport crowd, the 2021 Suzuki SV650 is the most recommended and highly rated beginner bike for those looking at the sport naked style bike that is capable of touring. People might throw scary figures like the fact it has 75 HP at you saying it’s too big, too powerful for a beginner, but the truth of the matter is that the 645cc v-twin is so docile and rewarding that it may convince you to keep the bike after you’ve learned to ride.
The power response is super forgiving, with a low torque curve that gently ramps up as you go higher in the rev range. It has a throaty exhaust note, even factory stock, that is not hard on the ears at all. It’s also a naked, so it’s lightweight, and will happily cruise the highway, carve the canyon road, or commute to work without breaking a sweat.
Add in the fact that several thousand of these bikes get sold every year around the world. What does that have to do with anything? Replacement parts. If something should go wrong, and being a Japanese bike that is highly unlikely, having the replacement part be in stock at the local bike shop is a common occurrence.
Kawasaki Versys-X 300
The 2021 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 is one of those bikes you look at and go, “hmm, that just seems right.” It’s a small, unassuming adventure bike with a low seat, high handlebars, a windscreen, and a little 296cc parallel-twin tucked away in its frame. So many people are surprised when they get on the bike and actually take it for a ride.
The way that the bike seems to just become part of you when you sit on it is due to some very clever engineering and design. The low seat height and placement of the engine slightly further back than other adventure bikes brings the most weight towards the center of gravity. What this means is that the bike literally pivots around you, inspiring confidence.
And that little 296cc parallel twin? Dependable. Reliable. Efficient. It will get you from Los Angeles to San Diego down the I-5, with the ocean off to your right, on less than half a tank. That way, after a fun day in the sun down South, you can do the return ride with the ocean on your left. Could you ask for more?
BMW G310 GS
The 2021 BMW G310 GS is one of those rare “cheap but good” bikes from the Bavarians. With technology trickled down from the K and R touring models, the capable little 313cc single cylinder engined adventure tourer can quite literally do it all.
While being a bit more oriented towards the rougher side of the road in terms of suspension, it is still compliant and forgiving enough for the new rider to be able to learn confidently on the bike. It is the kind of confidence that lets you be able to cruise down the freeway, take the first left at the canyon, and have a good day’s romp through the twisties.
BMW’s famous levels of comfort abound here as well, with a seat that is somehow stiff, yet is plush and supportive in just the right way. And if you plan on a multi-day tour, the G310 GS loves panniers and top cases, so you can haul everything you need with you.
The 2021 Honda CB500X makes the list because of its ability to meet pretty much every one of our criteria. It’s comfortable, has decent power for all riders of all shapes and sizes, is a gas sipper, has plenty of great features, and is capable of handling almost any type of road you come across. Add in the fact that it’s relatively inexpensive compared to a few of the other bikes on this list, and you come away with a winner.
It is evident that when the CB500X was updated in 2019, the people they brought in to do the redesign were adventure tourers. The seat is extremely comfortable, and is much lower down into the frame of the bike compared to direct rivals like the Versys and the V-Strom. This is through intelligent placement of the rear shock, and a raised subframe to allow for more suspension travel without sacrificing rider comfort.
As well, there is also what CB500X riders call “The Bar.” Just behind the windscreen and above the dash sits a solidly mounted bar that is conveniently the right diameter to attach a GPS navigation system, or a horizontally set phone mount. It doesn’t intrude into the full field of vision that the seat gives you, and keeps that system/phone out of the wind so it doesn’t get buffeted off. A perfect bike for devouring the miles on.
Suzuki Boulevard C50T
The 2021 Suzuki Boulevard C50T is a bike for those that know what they want. Sportbike? Psh. Adventure bike? Nah. The C50T is the touring version of the robust and dependable C50, and includes the touring windshield, passenger backrest, and saddlebags as standard.
Also standard is the 805cc v-twin rumbling away under the fuel tank. Most bikes of the road tour type are the massive 1,600 to 1,800cc thundering powerplants that could easily get a new rider in trouble, but the C50T’s engine gets the job done with its feet up on the desk.
53 Hp and 51 lbs-ft of torque is the perfect amount of power for this comfortable road beast. It doesn’t have anything to prove, and is meant to allow the new rider to enjoy, well, the ride! Isn’t that what beginner bikes are supposed to do?
Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic LT
Just like the Boulevard C50T above, the 2021 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic LT is the touring flavor of the Vulcan 900 Classic. Heck, the LT in the name stands for “Light Touring!” Also like the C50T, the Classic LT is a big, friendly bike with a comfortable seat and easy controls.
The engine is slightly larger, at 903cc, and it produces 50 HP and 57 lbs-ft of torque. Power delivery is smooth and predictable, and it won’t rear back its head and try to bite you if you give it a little too much wrist by accident. You will get a meaty growl from the engine and a bark from the exhausts, however. And we’re not saying that’s a bad thing.
It’s no world record holder in any category, but it is perfect in one sense: it’s just the right amount of bike. No excess, no fiddly tassles off the handlebars, no ultra-wide, ultra-mean cowl. It’s simply a lovely cruiser that likes to tour about and do so in a comfortable and enjoyable way, without scaring the human astride it. And that’s why it makes our list.