Not everyone who gets their motorcycle license wants to be the next Valentino Rossi. Sometimes, the truest expression of our love for two wheels with a motor stuck between them is to go for an extended ride along winding mountain roads or stunning coastal highways (here in Vancouver, I have the luxury of being able to do both).
If you’re brand new to long-distance riding, you’ll want to look for rock-solid touring bikes that offer kick-ass mileage. But what else makes a touring bike truly great—is it power? Comfort? Or something else entirely?
Fear not, my sweet summer children. Here at BBM, we put our heads together to create a list of the best touring bikes you can buy today. These fall into three categories with at least two offerings each, giving you plenty of options from which to choose. Take a look below so you can select your steel horse and ride off into the sunset.
Best Sport Touring Bikes for New Riders
Kawasaki Ninja 400
The Kawasaki Ninja 400 gets recommended in pretty much any list we make of the best bikes for new riders. That’s because it’s basically the all-around best choice for those who want a fully-faired sport bike.
The Ninja 400 is light and agile, but it feels extremely planted on the road. It’s also very forgiving in corners, and if you want to cruise down twisties for hours on end at reasonable (read: legal) speeds, you won’t find a much better option. The power delivery is linear, the brakes are solid, and Kawasaki must employ a wizard or two at their factory, because a sport seat has never felt more comfortable to most of us.
On top of that, the 399cc parallel-twin engine in this thing probably won’t die unless you literally shoot it with a .50 caliber round. It’ll just keep going, tirelessly working away at getting you to your destination. The standard seating position is also much more forgiving than the three-quarters position a supersport would put you in—so your lower back will definitely thank you after a long day in the saddle.
This one’s pretty much a no-brainer. Just like the Ninja 400 is perfect for the faired sport crowd, the Suzuki SV650 is the most recommended and highest-rated beginner bike for those who want a touring-friendly bike in the sport naked style.
People might throw around some scary-sounding figures about the SV650—like the fact that it has 75 hp—but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s too powerful for a beginner. The truth is, the 645cc V-twin in this thing is so friendly and rewarding it might convince you to keep the bike long after you’ve made it past the beginner stage.
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 on factory stock parts, that isn’t hard on the ears at all. It’s also a naked, so it’s lightweight and will happily cruise highways, carve mountain roads, or commute to work without breaking a sweat.
Finally, remember that several thousand of these bikes get sold every year around the world. What does that have to do with anything? Simple: there are replacement parts everywhere. If something goes wrong (although, on a Japanese bike, that’s pretty unlikely), having the parts you need in stock at your local bike shop is really nice.
The Kawasaki Versys-X 300 is a small, unassuming adventure bike with a low seat, high handlebars, a windscreen, and a little 296cc parallel-twin tucked away in its frame. That doesn’t sound particularly exciting—so a lot of folks are pleasantly surprised when they get on this bike and take it for a ride.
The way the Versys-X 300 seems to become part of you when you sit on it is due to some very clever engineering and design. The low seat height and engine placement, which is slightly further back than it would be on most other adventure bikes, brings more of your weight towards the bike’s center of gravity. That means the bike literally pivots around you, feeling much more controllable and inspiring confidence.
And that little 296cc parallel twin? Dependable. Reliable. Efficient. It will get you down the I-5 from Los Angeles to San Diego on less than half a tank. That way, after a day of fun in the sun down South, you can make the return trip with the ocean on your left. Could you ask for more?
BMW G310 GS
When it comes to motorcycles—especially BMWs—you tend to get what you pay for. But the BMW G310 GS is one of those rare “cheap but good” bikes from the Bavarians. With technology inherited from the K and R touring models, this capable little 313cc single cylinder adventure tourer can quite literally do it all.
It’s a bit more oriented towards the rougher side of the road in terms of suspension, but it’s still compliant and forgiving enough for new riders to be able to learn confidently. It offers the kind of versatility that lets you cruise up the highway, deke off into the mountains, and have a good day’s romp through the twisties.
BMW’s famous focus on comfort abounds here as well, with a seat that is somehow stiff but still 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 Honda CB500X makes this 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, sips gas, 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 less expensive than at least a few of the other bikes on this list, and you come away with a great all-rounder.
It’s pretty obvious that when the CB500X got its last major update in 2019, the people they brought in to do the redesign were adventure touring riders. The seat is extremely comfortable, and it’s much lower down on the frame of the bike compared to direct rivals like the Versys and the V-Strom. This is made possible by intelligent placement of the rear shock, and a raised subframe that allows for more suspension travel without sacrificing rider comfort.
Then there’s a neat little feature that CB500X riders refer to as “The Bar.” Just behind the windscreen and above the dash sits a solidly-mounted bar that is exactly the right size for attaching a GPS navigation system or a horizontally-set phone mount. It won’t intrude into your field of vision, and it keeps devices out of the wind so they don’t get buffeted off. This bike was built entirely with adventure touring in mind, and it shows.
The Suzuki Boulevard C50T is a bike for those that know what they want. Sport bike? Psh. Adventure bike? Nah. The C50T is the touring version of the robust and dependable C50 cruiser, and includes the touring windshield, passenger backrest, and saddlebags as standard.
Also standard is the no-nonsense 805cc v-twin rumbling away under the fuel tank. Most bikes for road touring rely on massive 1,600–1,800cc 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 highway beast. It doesn’t have anything to prove, and it’s meant to help new riders make friends with the road—just what a dependable beginner bike should do.
Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic LT
Much like the Boulevard C50T above, the Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic LT is the touring version of the Vulcan 900 Classic. The “LT” in the name even stands for “Light Touring”, so there should be no question about what it’s meant to do. And like the Boulevard, the Vulcan is a big, friendly bike with a comfortable seat and easy controls. I should know—I happen to own one.
The engine is slightly larger than the Boulevard’s (at 903cc), producing 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—but 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 features, no ostentatious tassles off the handlebars, no ultra-wide, ultra-mean cowl. It’s a straightforward, user-friendly cruiser that’s ready to for longer road trips. It also delivers the look and feel of a bigger, meaner bike without throwing too much at the rider—making it a perfect machine for those who want to work their way up to a Goldwing or Road King one day.