One of the most common questions an experienced rider hears is, “What should I buy as my first bike?” That, of course, is a very subjective question, and the precise answer depends on factors such as what type of riding you plan to do, how tall you are and how much money you want to spend.
That said, there are a few common guidelines that cross the boundaries of riding style and price that can be applied to any “first bike” purchase decision. When considering a first bike, the most important thing is confidence. Buy a bike that you will feel confident on, and that will allow you to continue to build confidence.
Next, the whole idea of riding a bike is to have fun! If you’re not having fun, even when you’re in the earliest learning stages, you are unlikely to want to continue doing it. Going out for a ride becomes work—not something you look forward to. That’s a recipe for a short-lived hobby that just gathers dust in the garage.
Lastly, your first bike should be one that you’re not afraid to let hit the ground. Drops and slow-speed tip-overs are gonna happen when you’re learning—it’s a fact. Don’t shoot for the stars and buy your dream bike right away. Make your mistakes and learn on something that will accomplish the first two goals (build confidence and have fun), that way when your dream bike makes its way into your garage, you’re ready to ride it to its full potential!
We’ve put together a list of ideal “first bikes” for a variety of riding styles, from dirt bike to cruiser, that we think offers a nice blend of the above three criteria. Most of the examples share some other common characteristics, such as being easy to handle, readily available and fairly easy on the pocketbook.
*All used prices obtained through Cycletrader.com. All MSRPs obtained through manufacturer websites, as published at the time this article was written.
Honda Rebel A choice of rider training schools like the MSF for years, Honda’s little Rebel has garnered quite a cult following. New for 2017, the Rebel has been updated with a fresh new look and two new engines: a 300cc single and a 500cc parallel twin. Read our review here! (Used avg. $3,227; New MSRP $4,399 and up)
Harley-Davidson Street 500 The least expensive Harley in the lineup features a modern liquid-cooled engine and a low, accessible seat height. (Used NA; New MSRP $6,849 and up)
Kawasaki Vulcan S This sporty cruiser features Kawasaki’s Ergo-Fit system, allowing the handlebars, seating position and footpegs to be customized to fit the rider. We spent quite a bit of time on one; read what we had to say here. (Used avg. $5,856; New MSRP $7,099 and up)
Honda Shadow With a 745cc V-twin engine and rock-solid Honda reliability, the Shadow is a bike that isn’t easily outgrown, and makes a solid choice for confident beginning riders. (Used avg. $5,961; New MSRP $7,699)
Yamaha R3 Yamaha’s YZF-R3 is a small bike that thinks it’s one of the big dogs. It’s surprisingly capable, with good handling characteristics but not so much power that beginning riders will find themselves pushed beyond their limits. (Used NA; New MSRP $4,999)
Honda CBR250 (not a current model)/300/500R Honda’s CBR300R and CBR500R represent two successive steps in the entry-level sportbike spectrum. If you don’t mind a little less power and want to save some money, look for a used CBR250R. (Used avg. $2,415-$3,610; New MSRP $4,499/$6,599)
Kawasaki Ninja 300 With a massive 4.5-gallon fuel tank, the little Ninja 300 would make a great commuter or even a touring bike, if properly equipped. (Used avg. $3,730; New MSRP $4,999)
Kawasaki Ninja 650 More confident beginning riders looking for their first sportbike should take a hard look at the Ninja 650. It got a facelift and refreshed engine for 2017, offering more sporty looks and performance than ever, without the high insurance premium of a pure supersport. (Used avg. $5,045; New MSRP $7,399)
Honda CB300F/CB500F Essentially naked, more upright versions of the CBR300R and CBR500R, these F variants carry a lower price tag—and less plastic to scuff up in a tip-over! (Used avg. $3,095/$4,245; New MSRP $4,149/$6,099)
Suzuki SV650 The bang-for-the-buck king is back for 2017, and better than ever (read our review here). The SV650 has always been known as a stellar first bike that riders can grow into. Used models going back to 1999 can be found, although “unmolested” (i.e. never used for racing) specimens are getting tougher to locate. (Used avg. $3,504; New MSRP $6,999)
Kawasaki Z650 Kawasaki gets in on the 650cc-class fun, with the new-for-2017 Z650 (read our review here). Despite a somewhat snatchy, stall-inducing clutch that might take some getting used to, the Z650 is an accessible and fun ride. (Used NA; New MSRP $6,999)
Yamaha FZ-07 Despite its small size, the FZ-07 is a spirited ride. Confident beginners will have a lot of fun on one, as long as they are good at moderating their throttle hands! (Used avg. $5,590; New MSRP $7,199)
Want to know which sport bike might fit you best? Check out our comparison test of the SV650, FZ-07 and Ninja 650 here!
Honda CRF250L The fully street-legal CRF250L is an ideal urban commuter/around town bike that also has solid dirt bike and trail riding chops. For 2017, a Rally version (with a larger gas tank, a windscreen and other additions) has been added to the lineup. (Used avg. $3,910; New MSRP $5,149 and up)
Honda CRF230F When it comes to an ideal first pure dirt/trail bike, there are two popular choices: the Honda CRF230F and the Yamaha TT-R230 (see next entry). Your choice may well depend on what color you like best! (Used avg. $2,420; New MSRP $4,299)
Yamaha TT-R230 See previous entry on the Honda CRF230F. Do you prefer to Ride Red or hit the trails in Team Yamaha Blue? (Used avg. $2,005; New MSRP $4,199)
Suzuki DR200S Suzuki’s take on a street-legal commuter/trail bike is the DR200S. Last updated in 2015, it’s a bargain. (Used avg. $3,235; New MSRP $4,499)
Kawasaki KLX 140 series With the street-legal KLX 250S dropped from the U.S. lineup after the 2014 model year, Kawasaki’s only entry-level off-road bike is the KLX 140—of which there are actually three variants that differ in wheel size and seat height. (Used avg. $1,440; New MSRP $3,099 and up)
Kawasaki KLX 250S (not a current model) Used KLX 250Ss can be fairly easily found at a relative bargain compared to the CRF250L. The only downside is the KLX’s carburetor. (Used avg. $2,920)
Kawasaki KLR650 The term “entry-level adventure bike” could be considered an oxymoron. That’s not to say you can’t have an ADV bike as a “first” bike—just be prepared to put plenty of crash protection on it! The KLR650 has always been a bulletproof option, and since it’s been around since 1997, used options are plentiful. (Used avg. $3,535; New MSRP $6,699)
BMW G 650 GS With the advantage of being available in a factory-lowered configuration, the G 650 GS has always been appealing to women looking to get off the beaten path—and take their stuff with them. (Used avg. $5,215; New MSRP $7,995)
Is a vintage bike more your style? Or maybe you have dreams of building your own vision of a café racer or scrambler. Although prices of vintage bikes are climbing, bargains can still be had if you’re patient and prepared to jump on a find as soon as you see it. Look for the following models, which, due to their popularity when new have resulted in plenty of used specimens floating around out there.