You’ve done it! You did the safety course, you passed your license test, and now you’re a fully qualified rider of motorcycles. Now comes the most exciting part of being a new rider: buying your first bike!
Now, instead of going to the showroom and picking up a shiny new bike (unless you really want to, nothing wrong with brand new!), it may actually be more beneficial to you as an overall motorcyclist to buy a used bike. Not only are they generally less expensive than a brand new bike, more often than not they are great in helping you discover many of the finer points of riding and maintenance.
There are some considerations you want to put into the thought process of buying a used bike, and for this intro, I’ll quickly touch on the five most important.
5 Considerations When Buying A Used Motorcycle
When you plan out a budget for a used bike, there is an oft overlooked part of the process that catches many a new rider out: extra expenses. Gear, insurance, registration, taxes, storage, and the lot.
With proper budgeting, you can get proper gear, full coverage insurance instead of bare minimum, rent a storage shed to winter your bike instead of leaving it out by the curb with a cover on, and so on.
As a general guideline, it’s recommended that a first bike should not break a budget of $7000, and that’s including proper gear, registration, full coverage insurance, twice per year full maintenance (before the riding season and when wintering your bike), and, of course, the bike itself.
Ah yes, the classic argument among all motorcyclists: where should you start on power?
As a general rule that I have found through discussions with lots of riders and within the staff of Best Beginner Motorcycles,, you really don’t want to break over 600-650cc’s of displacement, and keep the power under 75 HP.
A great bike is something like a Suzuki SV650, 650cc’s of easily managed power that is very linear and controllable.
A horrid bike to start on would be a Yamaha YZF-R6, as its an extremely twitchy beast, quite literally a World Superbike Championship racer with mirrors and blinkers, and needs experience and respect to ride safely on the street.
Basically, 600-650cc’s, and under 75 HP will give you a great learning experience. As always, though, respect the throttle. Even an SV650 can throw you off violently if you go too hard, too fast.
Hand in hand with power output, different styles of bikes weigh different amounts. As a rule, look to the lightweight to middleweight sector of your style of interest. For a naked, you’re looking at 300-400 lbs or thereabouts. For a cruiser, anything under 600 lbs is a lightweight.
Why stay light?
Due to basic Newtonian physics. An object in motion will stay in motion if propelled with enough force. A light or middleweight bike will give you better feel, as there is less mass dampening the effects of inertia and you can react to a small mistake much better. A heavy bike has a lot of mass dampening the feel, and you might not even realize you’re in trouble until you’re sliding along the pavement.
Are you planning to commute to work? A naked, sport, adventure, or cruiser bike will all get you there. Are you planning on riding your bike to your friends farm and then having a fun trail ride? A dual-sport is perfect, as is a properly prepared adventure bike.
Buy the bike that suits your intended use.
I personally love naked bikes and adventure bikes. They are both excellent commuters, are generally quite light, sip fuel, are much lower down on insurance rates against supersports, and a few billion other reasons. I don’t plan on doing track days, nor do I need to go off jumps and do a no-hands backflip, so supersports and dirt bikes aren’t on my radar.
We all know, riding a bike can be exhausting. Wrists, back, neck, legs, feet… they all take a beating. I’m 6’1” and I admit I am slowly creeping up on middle age. I is torture for me to even sit on a supersport, let alone ride one. I also have a nearly perfect 50/50 leg lenth-to-torso-and-head length ratio, so a hard tuck for me sucks.
Seat height, seat width, peg position, handlebars, quick access to controls. Things to consider when buying a bike. Using Honda as an example, I adore the CB500X and NC750X because I can actually get on the damned things. An Africa Twin? I literally have to jump to get on one of those, and even then I’m tiptoeing at a stop instead of mostly flat footing.
Buy a bike that fits you, and you it, and that is comfortable for you.
SPECIAL MENTION: AGE
Generally, you do not want to buy a used bike more than 10 years old, although there are exceptions to every rule. If you’re handy in the mechanical department and are okay with spending a little more time and money on maintenance, I would say that 12 to 15 years old is the absolute farthest I would push.
Now, with all of that out of the way, on to the recommendations!
Best Beginner Motorcycles Recommendation List 2020:
#15: Honda CB300R
This little Honda has been in production only a few short years, since 2017. It’s a steal of a deal new at just under $5000 new in 2020, and used, you’re probably looking between $2000 to $4500 for one in good repair. It’s also a featherweight at 317 lbs, with a single cylinder 286cc pumping out 31 HP.
Despite that, it accelerates smoothly and can safely maintain freeway and highway speeds. It has a 2.5 gallon tank, but it sips fuel and can realistically carry you over 180 miles with sensible use of throttle and gears.
#14: Kawasaki Ninja 300 and Ninja 400
Simply put, Kawasaki’s small-displacement models are great beginner bikes. If you’re leaning more towards the sport end of things, the Ninja 300, produced from 2012 until 2018, and its big brother replacement, the Ninja 400, are both extremely capable entry-level bikes.
Both make nearly the same power, 49 HP, and both weigh under 400 lbs. What makes these superb starting sportbikes is that they have a nearly-standard riding style, yet you can still drop into a tuck, they are fuel-efficient and have very linear power delivery, and they will both reward you should you show them a track day or two.
Like the Honda, the 2020 Ninja 4000 starts bang-on $5000, and a used one in good condition will run you from $3000 to $4500 on average.
#13: KTM 390 Duke
If you have a decent budget and don’t mind slightly more expensive maintenance over a Japanese bike, the KTM 390 Duke is one of the best naked bikes out there. In production since 2013, these little bundles of awesome have great low-end grunt to get you off the line, and they are pretty much the poster child for a standard riding position.
As well, KTM’s have always had superb engines, and the 390 Duke is no different with its 373 cc single-cylinder pushing out 43 HP. It has great torque all over the place, and accelerates smoothly from a dead stop, giving you enough to get your heart pumping, but not launching you towards the triple digits in speed in a heartbeat.
A bit dearer to the wallet when new, a used, well maintained 390 Duke will, in general, be between $3500-$5500.
#12: Honda MSX125 (aka GROM)
I’ll flat out say it: the GROM is a love it or hate it bike. Those that hate it, hate the guts out of the mini motorcycle and curse the fact it exists. Those that love it, love it. However, despite the controversy around the 2014 and onwards mini bike, it actually is a great beginner bike.
Fully street legal in all states, it’s ridiculously light, has enough power to get you to about 60 MPH if you spank the ever-living daylights out of it, and will give you a hell of a laugh whenever you ride it. I have yet to see any rider (that doesn’t hate it) come off a GROM without a massive grin under the helmet. Because of its low power and being lightweight, it lets you feel everything that’s going with the bike. And it’s cheap as chips to insure too, as an added bonus.
Brand new, you’re looking at $4,000, but I have found some GROMs for sale as low as $1,000 in very respectable condition. It’s so inexpensive, three of my friends that ride have a GROM set aside for when they don’t want to ride the big bike, and just want to have a laugh riding around their neighborhood.
#11: Yamaha V-Star 250
Replacing the Virago 250 in 2008, the V-Star 250 is a great entry-level cruiser for the slightly more rebellious new rider. Powered by a relatively unchanged 249cc v-twin, it doesn’t need much displacement or horsepower to get going as it’s a super lightweight cruiser as 325 lbs wet. And despite the tiny engine, the V-Star will cruise happily at 70 MPH in 6th gear, living up to the cruiser name.
What makes it beginner-friendly is that it is very approachable, and doesn’t want to bark and bite at you. It has linear torque and comfortable controls that easily come to hand and foot, and is comfortable enough that a long ride is definitely an option if you want to cruise between, say, Los Angeles and San Diego along the coastal highway. It’s also light enough that it is maneuverable despite the cruiser configuration, and provides excellent rider feedback.
A new 2020 model will run you about $5,200 all said and done. Used models can run from $1,500 to $4,000 depending on year and mileage.
#10: Suzuki TU250X
The TU250X was introduced in 2009 to the USA with one goal in mind: to turn people’s opinions of the Universal Japanese Motorcycle image positive. Styled after many of Suzuki’s sports models of the 60’s and 70’s, it helped start the retro-modern style that swept through almost every manufacturer in the 2010s.
It has a barking little 249cc engine putting out 17 HP, but has a torque curve that is easy to feel and is linear until it drops off slightly near the redline. It’s also a very light bike at 330 lbs wet, and has modern suspension, brakes, and fuel injection. It’s also a gas sipper, and a 3.2-gallon tank can last you a couple of hundred miles without issue.
New, expect to pay about $5,000 for a 2019 model, but a decent used model will run you from $2,000 upwards.
#9: Honda CBR300R
Available since 2013, the CBR300R has all the looks of a supersport, but the friendly riding position and ergonomics of a standard or naked bike. Powered by a 256 cc single, it produces a hair over 30 HP, and has an optional ABS model.
The CBR300R is a great beginner bike because it introduces the sports concept to a new rider, without the danger of a wild monster of a supersport. Much like the Kawasaki Ninja series, it has a wide torque band, adequate power, and is extremely nimble. As well, being a Honda, it’s pretty much unkillable in terms of engineering.
A new 2020 model will set you back about $4,500. Used models are available from $1,500 on upwards.
#8: Kawasaki Z650
Introduced in 2017, the Z650 is probably the most powerful bike you will find recommended on this list. Powered by a 649cc parallel-twin, the big thing with the Z650 is the approachability of the power. Often recommended for taller or heavier riders, the Z650 has 68 HP, but weighs only 412 lbs.
What is meant by approachable power is that the throttle is not twitchy or overly sensitive, and will give you a great feel for the amount of power you are asking for from the engine. It also has a great spread of torque in the mid revs, and will easily cruise at freeway speeds without breaking your wrists or ass.
A 2020 edition of the bike will bring you to $7,500, but used versions are available at around $5,000. This recommendation is mostly for those like me, the tall and heavy rider, but a smaller rider will still get plenty of enjoyment from this sport naked.
#7: Kawasaki Versys-X
This bike is a funny little thing. Introduced in 2017, and sporting a 269cc parallel-twin, the Versys-X isn’t really a high power, win the Dakar rally type of adventure bike. Its primary intended usage, despite the adventure bike looks and cargo capacity with saddlebags, is commuting and light touring.
For sure, it can go properly and fully off-road in a pinch, and can take you down a dirt road happily, but isn’t meant for multi-day desert crossings. That said, the standard riding position, the windscreen, the wide handlebars, the aforementioned cargo options you can do with it… it can certainly handle a city adventure without any fuss.
New, you’d be spending about $6,000 for one with ABS and Kawasaki hard-case saddlebags. Used, you’re looking between $3,500 to $5,000 for one in good condition, and you might also snag a few goodies like the hard-case saddlebags, heated grips, two sets of tires (adventure touring and street), and such in the deal.
#6: Yamaha XT250 (2008 and onwards model)
Widely considered to be one of the best dual-sport bikes out there, the 2008 and onwards iteration of Yamaha’s classic XT250 is a great beginner bike if you are looking at generally low-speed commuting, off-roading, or countryside travel. At a nearly featherweight 290 lbs fully wet, it’s propelled along by a remarkably efficient and fun 249 cc single-cylinder that puts out only 17 HP.
Due to its light weight and power, however, it will get you moving pretty quickly, and you will feel everything the bike is doing. It does have a bit of a torque gap at the low end and you do need to somewhat rev it out to get going decently, but it will happily move you along highways and byways at up to 60 MPH, but it generally isn’t freeway friendly as it tops out at about 75 MPH.
A 2020 model will set you back $5,200, but if you set your bike search to include rural areas around your city or town, you can often find these little beasts for sale anywhere from $1000 for a fairly high use one, to $4000 for a 2018 with only a few hundred miles on it. As these may sit for some time in rural areas during the colder months, a full service is recommended after you buy one, just to make sure the oil is fresh and the tires are new.
#5: Yamaha FZ-03/MT-03
One of the original nakeds, the Yamaha FZ-03 was made from 2006 through 2014, and was relaunched as the MT-03 in 2019 in the USA. The biggest difference between the two model types is the engine, as the original FZ-03 had a 660 cc single-cylinder that thumped out 45 HP and good, grunty, low-end torque. The new MT-03 borrows the engine from the YZF-R3 supersport, pushing out 42 HP and retuned to produce the same low-end torque that the original was known for.
Both bikes tip the scales at just about 370 lbs, meaning they are both light, nimble, fun naked bikes that can do pretty much anything you want them to do. They are beginner-friendly as well, with a great standard riding position with a slightly sporting lean to it, and extremely good feel, giving the rider enough feedback without loosening any fillings or shaking your skeleton apart.
You can find used FZ-03 models anywhere from $1,000 on up, but keep in mind they are probably multi-owner, high mileage examples. A new 2021 MT-03 will put you back about $5,000 all said and done, and some mildly used models are out there for sale at about $4,500 or so.
#4: Honda CB500X
Honda really does have a knack for finding the empty holes in a bike type and filling it in with a great example of what that type can be. In 2013, when you wanted an adventure bike, you were either looking at a low-end, useable 250-300cc model or jumping straight into the 750cc and higher displacement arena.
The CB500X is a balance of both worlds. It has a great engine, a 471cc parallel-twin that puts out a decent 47 HP. It has a standard riding position with a slightly high seat, at 33 inches. It has lovely, wide handlebars that are begging you to grab hold. And it has a wide, friendly torque band due to it being an adventure bike, where both low-end torque for scrambling up a rocky slope and mid-range torque for thumping along a dirt road are both needed and available.
A 2021 model with ABS is nigh on $7,000, but a lot of used models are out there between $3000 for a very old one, to about $5500 for a good condition 2018 model.
#3: Yamaha YZF-R3
I know, I know, I was pretty firm in the intro that a supersport generally isn’t a good idea as a beginner bike. Yet, somehow, Yamaha has magically made a great beginner supersport. In production since 2015, this little pocket rocket has “only” 50 HP and weighs 370 lbs. I only recommend the YZF-R3 if your planned usage is taking it to a track day or entering into a novice-level racing series.
It is a spectacularly good bike, with none of the sudden power or torque peaks of the YZF-R6, but it will still launch you down the road faster than you can comprehend. As well, starting at $6,000 for a 2020 model, you will often find used ones from $4000 on up.
The caveat is that you have to be extra diligent in your inspection. If you can, inspect the brakes, fairings, the frame, and the engine. Lower-priced used models can hide demons like an over-revved engine, frame damage, painted over fairing damage, and so on.
#2: Honda Rebel 500
Honda did the world of motorcycling a huge favor when they released the Rebel 500 (and little brother Rebel 300) in 2017. Designed from the outset to be a beginner bike, the Rebel 500 has few distractions from the riding experience, is remarkably lightweight for a cruiser, and is easy on the wallet too, as a 2020 model starts at only $6,200, and used you can find decent models as low as $4000
The best thing about the Rebel 500 is its 471cc parallel-twin engine. It’s not a high-revving powerhouse, it’s a torquey little wunderkind that has extremely linear power delivery, can easily cruise at freeway speeds, and gives incredibly good feedback through your posterior and hands.
Honda made this cruiser to be easy to ride, easy to maintain, capable of any on-street task, and most of all, to not be scary. It’s a polite Japanese invitation with a respectful bow to you, saying “please enjoy the ride.”
#1: Suzuki SV650
Any veteran rider reading this list would have already guessed the #1 recommendation. Suzuki’s masterpiece of beginner bikes, the SV650 is simply outstanding. It has just the right amount of power, just the right feel through your contact points on the bike, is immensely flickable, is stable as a rock, gives you a great sound from the v-twin, and it doesn’t bite your head off if you treat it respectfully.
In production since 1999, even from day one, it was the best. While a new 2020 model with ABS is a bit dear at $7,500, there are so many used models out there that it doesn’t really matter. You can find an old carbureted one (if you are keen to get wrenching on one) for about $1500 and up, or a modern (since 2014) one between $2500-$5500, depending on mileage.