The throaty roar of a V-twin engine is unmistakable, and for many riders—even those who are new to the sport—it’s an essential part of the motorcycling experience. But not every bike with a V-twin is suitable for beginner motorcyclists, and jumping on a big bike before you’re ready can have consequences.
Revving a Honda Shadow 1100’s liquid-cooled V-twin engine might set your soul on fire, but power isn’t a safety feature—and it won’t save you from kissing pavement if you twist the throttle too hard. That said, there are plenty of bikes with smaller V-twins out there that make excellent beginner models, and we’ve listed a few of our favourites below.
Image via Top Speed.
Yamaha V-Star 250
Full disclosure: this is the bike I learned on when I took motorcycle lessons, and while it felt a bit small for me (I’m 6’3” with long legs), it also felt safe. The controls were responsive, the weight was easy to manage, and the linear torque and power delivery made it easy to get used to fast. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that it held up on the highway, cruising along at higher speeds without ever feeling overtaxed.
The 2021 Yamaha V-Star 250 features a 249cc air-cooled SOHC V-twin with 4 valves. It also has a 5-speed transmission, dual-shock rear suspension, and forward mount controls to accommodate gangly riders (like yours truly).
Image via Best Beginner Motorcycles.
If you want a beginner-friendly sport bike with a V-twin engine, I’m afraid your options are pretty limited. However, one potential solution to that dilemma takes the form of the Hyosung GT250R, a fully-faired offering that looks kind of like a Ducati 748 and a Suzuki GSXR had a baby.
The GT250R’s 249cc two-cylinder V-twin DOHC engine with eight valves helps it deliver significantly more low-range torque than other bikes in its class, giving newer riders crucial maneuverability in city traffic. It’s more expensive than its main competitor, the Kawasaki Ninja 250R—but since the Ninja has a parallel twin, that comparison’s irrelevant here.
Image via Top Speed.
Harley Davidson Street 500
Harley Davidson has a knack for dividing opinion among even veteran motorcyclists, and few would recommend the infamously-expensive brand for those seeking a starter bike. But the Harley Davidson Street 500 was designed specifically with entry-level riders in mind, and it’s considerably cheaper than most of their other offerings—especially if you buy one used.
Actually, used is going to be your only option if you’re shopping for a Street 500 in 2021, since 2020 was the last model year for this particular bike. It’s a pity, because the 494cc liquid-cooled V-twin engine in this thing offers a satisfying amount of power for adventurous new riders and delivers it very smoothly.
Image via Moto Guzzi.
Moto Guzzi V7 III Stone 750
Now we’re getting into the bigger and more expensive bikes on this list. Yes, the Moto Guzzi V7 III Stone 750 is pricey, with an MSRP of $11,390 for the 2021 model. And yes, its 744cc transversal 90° V-twin engine—a Moto Guzzi calling card—is considerably more powerful than the others we’ve covered so far (we’re working our way up, in case you haven’t caught on yet).
But here’s the thing: the V7 III Stone 750 offers exceptionally easy revving and responsive engine braking, thanks to a new oil sump and crankshaft. These features help make it a much more accessible bike for beginner riders, along with a dry single-disc clutch designed to respond to lighter pulls. If you’re prepared to spend money on your first motorcycle and want something you can grow into, this makes an excellent option.
Image via RideApart.
Honda Shadow Phantom 750
Don’t be surprised by how big and long this bike looks at first glance. The Honda Shadow Phantom 750 is surprisingly light for a bike of its size (only 549 lbs!) and its 745cc liquid-cooled V-twin uses a programmed fuel-injection system to help it perform throughout its rev range.
Honda didn’t release a 2021 model for the Shadow Phantom, but the 2020 version is a practical and reliable mid-size cruiser that can help newer riders prepare for owning larger cruisers and touring bikes in the future. A 2022 model has also been announced, and with an MSRP of only $7,899, this is pretty much the most bike a beginner can get for their buck.
Image via Total Motorcycle. I wish I looked this cool on my Vulcan.
Kawasaki Vulcan 900
Okay, maybe I spoke just a bit too soon. Truth be told, I argued with myself about whether to include a Vulcan 900 on this list, because it’s probably right at the edge of what most new riders can safely handle. My first (and current) bike is a ‘06 Vulcan 900 Classic LT—and while I love it to death, I have to include several caveats along with my recommendation.
Firstly, please note that this is the biggest engine I’m including on this list. The 2021 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic, Classic LT, and Custom models all use the same 903cc liquid-cooled V-twin engine—in fact, Vulcan 900s have been using more-or-less the same engine since the early 2000s, and it’s a pretty serious piece of hardware.
Image via Ultimate Motorcycling.
When you rev this thing, you’re going to hear it—and you’re not the only one. If you’re doing parking lot practice in your neighbourhood, make sure to wait until people are already awake or you’re going to get real unpopular, real fast (as I learned the hard way).
It’s also worth noting that the Vulcan 900 is a heavy bike—the 2021 and 2022 Classic LTs both weigh 657 lbs, which is a lot to wrestle with at slow speeds if you’re still mastering the subtle art of clutch control. You can shave off some weight by downsizing to the Classic or Custom versions, which don’t come with light touring amenities like a windscreen or saddlebags. But none of the recent Vulcan 900s are less than 600lbs, so don’t buy this if you’re looking for a lightweight first bike.
All that said, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t put a smaller Vulcan on this list. That’s certainly an option—it’s pretty easy to find a used Vulcan 500 from an older model year, and the Vulcan 650S is still being made. Both of those bikes are exceptionally reliable and user-friendly, but they also use parallel-twin engines. If you want a V-twin Vulcan made in the last 15 years, the 900 is as small as they get.
Don’t worry, though: the Vulcan 900 still makes a terrific first bike, as long as you can handle its size and weight. Smooth power delivery and excellent low-end torque make it an absolute joy to ride, helping new riders gain confidence even at highway speeds.
The Vulcan 900 also has a much lower centre of gravity than you might expect, which helps prevent all that weight from tipping you over when you’re stopped or going slow. And if you’re willing to shell out for the LT model, it’ll also serve as your first touring bike when you’re ready for longer trips.
Start Your (V-Twin) Engines
While it’s true that fewer beginner-friendly motorcycles come with V-twin engines, that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. From the tiny-but-mighty Yamaha V-Star 250 to the lumbering-and-rumbling Kawasaki Vulcan 900, finding the perfect starter V-twin motorcycle all comes down to your preference and level of confidence.
Considering other engine types? Check out our list of the best parallel-twin motorcycles for 2021.