Bigger isn’t always better.

Geez! Get your mind out of the gutter!

We’re talking motorcycles here.

It happens often that women are matched with the wrong bike. The downfall to this is that it can ruin the motorcycle experience and send a lady packing her saddlebags, never to return.

Just like life, if we aren’t aware or educated properly, we can find ourselves in quite a pickle. A woman follows the recommendation of a well-meaning partner or friend or is talked onto a bike from an aggressive salesperson or even comes into the possession of a free moto. All the while, the woman has never considered if this is the bike she really wants. Does it match her size, experience and/or riding style?


You don’t know what you don’t know.

A good friend of mine decided to get her license. Her gearhead husband was so excited that he ran out and bought her a gorgeous Ducati Monster S4. She attempted to ride it twice, parked it and hung up the leather jacket for over a year. It was waaaaaaay too much bike for a newbie (904cc) and scared the crap out of her because she didn’t feel in control of it. Plus, it was excessively loud which added to her angst. It truly was a monster to her.

Her husband was well meaning and generous. BUT, he picked the bike out based on what HE would ride and the vision HE had of his tall, gorgeous, blonde wife astride an Italian beast. Boys have posters of this dream on their bedroom walls. So, can you blame him?

Part of the reason we pick out any of our bikes is the personality it enhances in us.

Do you consider yourself sporty? Adventuresome? Outdoorsy? Rebellious? Unique?

Each brand and make appeals to a different personality. While this is great, it is only part of what to consider when you choose the right bike.


When we seek the advice of others, they often suggest a bike that THEY would ride or a bike that THEY envision to be the idea of YOU to them.

People don’t even realize they’re doing this. How often does this happen in your daily life? Have you ever sought the advice of a friend on a relationship issue and they answer it based on their relationship or what they want for you as a partner?

While they mean well and might get a portion of their advice right, it’s important to check in with yourself to see if it resonates appropriately. It’s easy to be lazy and just allow someone to make a decision for you, especially if you live a busy life. And, who isn’t busy these days?


The Search

A couple of years ago, I looked to replace my Yamaha R6 (600cc). I spent a LOT of time researching all makes, models and sizes of bikes. I even went to the Progressive International Motorcycle Show and had my partner at the time take photos of me on the bikes so I could see how well they fit. I got a lot of questions about what I was looking for and if I was going to look at bigger displacement bikes. After all, with all the riding experience I have, wouldn’t I want a liter (1000cc) bike at this point? The answer was – No.

I have a racer friend who sums it up so eloquently.

“I would rather ride a slow bike fast, than a fast bike slow. It’s the feeling of going fast that I seek.” Sir L.S.

There is this unspoken pressure within the moto world that BIGGER equals BETTER. Heck, its part of our American heritage. It also aligns with our egos that the best part of us should be powerful.

However, it often comes at a cost. 


Literally, large displacement bikes cost more to buy and insure.

This may not be a cost effective choice for many.


Secondly, they tend to be physically larger with a taller seat height.

Women tend to be smaller and have a shorter inseam.


Thirdly, in the hands of an inexperienced rider the fast acceleration and hard braking can be overwhelming.

It’s easier to build up speed over time than to come back from an accident.


Over the years, I have had friends comment on women who ride big sportbikes with awe. “Dang, you see Diane?! She rides a Hayabusa! She’s like 50 years old and five feet tall!!!” Well, yeah! Diane’s a badass. I assume she knows well enough at this point, that bike is the one for her.

I’m all for large bikes, IF they suit your needs and experience.

In the case of my friend with the Monster, she didn’t have enough experience to appreciate and enjoy a large bike. Because she didn’t feel in control, the bike scared her. It caused her to ride timidly and often below the speed limit, which is dangerous not only to her but also to anyone else on the road around her.

The husband sold the Monster, and replaced it with a Honda CB500F. While he hates the way the bike looks, she loves the way it rides! And, isn’t that all that matters because she is the one riding it? She feels capable of handling its power and rides a lot faster now. Her riding has improved leaps and bounds, because she is actually putting miles on the bike. The best part is, she loves motorcycling! A year ago, that was an iffy conclusion.


Something to Consider

Beginner riders often get talked out of buying small bikes such as a 250cc, which is what they typically learn on in an MSF Learn To Ride Course. The argument is, “Why waste your money on a small bike when you’ll want to upgrade in six months?”

I respond, “Who cares?” Bikes are like shoes. You can never have too many. And, they’re easy to sell on Craigslist. The nice thing about all the different bikes out there and their relatively low cost is that you can own several different kinds. All at the same time!

In fact, I own three bikes that reflect different parts of my personality: vintage, dual sport and sportbike. I chose all of them for their price, size and riding style. Most avid motorcyclists end up with several bikes. They have this way of multiplying like jack rabbits.


The Find

While my ego and experience can handle a liter bike, I decided against it mostly because of size, comfort and price.

Although I always hoped I would continue to grow vertically and not horizontally, I’m a shorty. This excludes a significant number of bikes that I’m interested in. I’m OK with being on my tiptoes while seated, but not OK with just one foot on the ground. I also have no desire to modify a bike by lowering it. Manufacturers are responding to this need. However, it is mostly in the cruiser category and I wanted a sport or adventure bike. Another thing I needed to consider was the reach to the handlebars.

I wanted something that would be fun in the twisties, but that I could ride some distance, and has a light clutch.

Lastly, I wanted something a little exotic but that wouldn’t break the bank.

I ended up with a 2015 KTM RC390. It’s light, sexy, spritely, cheap, a ton of fun and fits me like a glove. My riding friends make fun of me and call it the “Baby Bike.” We all know nobody keeps Baby in the corner. I can keep up with most of my expert riding buddies on bigger bikes. For fun, I’ll challenge them at a light with a start recalling my days of road racing. They quickly smoke me on the straights with their greater horsepower reserves. We always even out on the turns. In general, I’m working harder to ride which can get tiring over a long day. But, I’m in better physical shape than most of these guys so they usually quit before me anyway. At a more leisurely pace or shorter distance, the bike is consistently a real joy and I always feel like I’m going fast.

‘Cause as we all know by now… It’s not the size that counts but how you ride it!

If you are looking for small bike suggestions, take a look at this Woman Rider story.

If you have any questions or want to share what size bike you ride and why you chose it, please comment below.

I would love to get to know you and meet you on the road!

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  1. I ride a Honda CTX700D and it fits me perfectly, though it may need a different saddle. I don’t have any real interst in a bigger displacement as this bike can run all day. I started on a 150cc scooter and rode that everywhere, still do.

  2. Awesome! Thank you so much for this article! Can we shout it from the roof tops now?! I rode from coast to coast last year on my “little” 883 Sportster. I loved it. This bike suits me and I don’t want a “big” bike. I hope to put 100,000++ miles on it before I’m done!

  3. My first bike, a 2006 ducati multistrada 620, was an inch too tall and I felt incredibly afraid to leave the parking lot. After about 6 months and lots of input from friends, enter the 2nd bike – a 2012 ducati monster 696… beautiful, powerful, and much shorter, so I was commuting to work daily within 3 days of the purchase. The comfort I had on the monster built my confidence and my skills and ultimately allowed me to move up to the 2006 SportClassic Sport1000 (996cc) that I ride today — my heart in mechanical form. 🙂

  4. Great Article! Spot on – I went from a BMW R1150R to a F800GT – three years ago – all for the better fit – now when I’m at a stop light I may not get “blown” over because I’m on my tip toes. (Yes this happened to me in Kansas). Girls looking for a fun Sport Touring bike that can go coast to coast – might want to take a peek at the BMW F800GT .

  5. I ride a 2000 Suzuki SV650s. I’ve had her for 1/4 of her life & done 1/2 the km on her – she’s done just under 130,000km.
    I agree with you, I don’t want to change the bikes’ dynamics by lowering but am getting frustrated with 820mm + seat heights on the sports bikes!
    Staying with a new 650cc – 700 means I get a “learner legal” bike in New South Wales (Australia), which I also don’t want after riding for 10 years!

  6. I rode a ZZR 600 for 5 years after my test great bike took me around Europe IOM lots of places we had a trust between us and I got the after test miles under my belt with it. But it was time to move on I love to tour don’t like to ache so I went for the Honda Blackbird a heavy bike yes but so comfortable my mile muncher and always my first choice when touring I’ve never been able to pack light so carries all I want to take. A fast bike yes but there is a time and place after a few months I took her round the Nurburgring where I experienced her true power and learnt to respect that followed up by a couple of track days.. It has now come time for another challenge the blackbird stays with me but something completely different for weekend fun and that is my other bike the Kawasaki Z 1000 light responsive and a different ride altogether I’m happy with both my choices and wouldn’t change them but hey more experiences out there so I have hired different bikes ridden them for the experience too. I believe that bikers never stop learning so I try to build my confidence experience and have fun doing it

  7. Spot on! North America has very little choice when it comes to bikes because of the “bigger is better” mentality. If you look at Asia and Europe there are so many different small displacement bikes available because they don’t buy into the bigger is better mentality. As a motorcycle instructor I routinely recommend to students to start small, hone their skills and do their homework when making their bike purchase. I’ve met so many women riders who have had bikes picked and purchased by their well meaning partners and in most cases they are not bikes they would have picked for themselves and their choice may have been different if they had more input or done more research.

    I ride a Honda NC700S, I love this bike and have no desire to get anything bigger, because of cost and the cost of insurance and also I really don’t want to wrestle around a heavy bike. And yes “Its not the size that counts, but how you ride it”

  8. I started on a Buell Blast, after a week I tried our 98 Sportster and hardly ride the Blast anymore (except when taunting my husband by zipping around the block lie a twelve year old. My second season we went on vacation to Chicago and visited all 13 Dealerships. I sat on every bike at every shop. Then after being home for a week I went to our local dealer and bought my 2016 Road King. I was 5 milyfrom home and dropped it! My husband was driving my car two cars behind me and helped me get it up and off I went again. It promptly went back for the extras I bought at the time of purchase and I had it lowered an inch and got a low Mustang solo seat. World of difference but I dropped it again. This time pinning me between the bumper and quarter panel of my car and the tank and saddle bad of my 800lb plus bike and I was alone and couldn’t get to my phone in the garage. I muscled it off me and rode it anyway and got an ice cream. I deserved it! I have slid it off the side of the road in loose gravel too and still continued on my ride. It seems that loose gravel is my nemesis. So this fall AsileM is going back for reverse. My husband is only 5’6″ and I am 5’4″ tall and this will benefit both of us. I have been riding my Sportster mostly this season as I am afraid to back it out of our garage across our gravel driveway. I did take it out once after he got it on pavement for me and I have noticed that I have improved just my getting more experience on the Sporty. I will tackle this monster! I am stubborn if you haven’t noticed and I will ride that motorcycle so help me!

  9. You have to variables: 1) rider skills 2) bike
    Given that the riders has advance skills, small cc bike can be really playful and competitive in curvy roads.
    A bike bike on the other hand can be managed like a small one if the rider has the skills. There are countless examples of GSs being ridden like moppets 😛

  10. HAHA…Love it. At the end when you were about to write what bike you ride I thought, “hmmm i bet it is a Duke 390,” and yes it is! I own a 390 also. At first i thought I would be looked at like a newbie (not that I care but Ive been riding my whole life) and thought I would want more power. In the end, the price, the ABS and the type of riding I mainly do made the 390 the best choice. So glad. While I would like a FZ-07 or 09 soon I think ill keep the Duke around. But then again I live in the city with no garage so maybe not but in a perfect world I would. im a guy and some might say it is a girl’s bike….my reply, I bet there are many girls who would lose you in a second. I know some badass girl riders.

    • I test rode the Duke 390 a few weeks ago, and had the biggest grin on my face afterwards. I rode the 690 afterwards, and it wasn’t anywhere near as much fun! “Riding the slow bike fast” is way too good (and better for my licence too …)

      I’ve actually got a big bike – a Honda CB1000R – but there’s a couple of reasons why I chose it. One, I’m tall, 5ft9, which means that there are very few bikes that are off limits size wise. Two, I spent three seasons on my SV650, after taking ten years off riding, so I was comfortable riding a mid-displacement bike fast. And three, most of the riding I do now is long haul – a three hour night ride is a short trip, I rarely city ride, and I love to take the bike away for weekends. So it’a horse for the course, basically. if I rode mainly around town, that would not be my first choice by any stretch.

      And when it comes to “size doesn’t matter … my SV and I had some very, ahem, “spirited” rides with my group here. It was rare that I ever got left behind … so you definitely don’t need a literbike to go play.

  11. Great article and I wholly agree with it. After helping my ex pick out a bike and going through all those steps she wound up getting a female friend’s Ninja 500 which was mostly perfect… mostly because she still wasn’t comfortable with riding it and one thing we talked about before the break up was getting her a scooter instead since she was nervous about shifting/coordination.

    So one thing I’d add as an addendum and something I’ve suggested to both male/female prospective new riders is to consider a scooter. Sure it might not be as sexy as a motorcycle but if you really want to learn to ride I think for some people who might lack confidence/coordination it’s a good option to consider.

  12. It’s to bad Ducati got rid of their Monster 6XX line. I have a 696 with a 30 inch seat height, I’m 5’1 and only had to have it lowered an inch to be able to firmly have the balls of my feet on the ground. My husband has an S4r which for the record he bought less than a week after riding mine cause he loved the ride so much. Heck he will still grab mine and take it for a spin because the ride is so different than his and fun in a different way.

  13. I have had many bikes since I started riding dirt bikes in 1990. I rode my 2001 Goldwing for 11 years and had some awesome trips. Recently I bought a Honda CTX700 because I wanted a lighter bike that was easier to move around. I absolutely love the CTX! It is so nimble and has plenty of power. I do miss the trunk and bags for trips, but I’m figuring that part out. I will probably still use the Goldwing for long trips, but I preform the CTX700 now.

  14. I started out on a 2013 Honda CBR250R and rode over 8K miles in one year before I traded it in for a 2016 Honda CBR500R due to needing a bit more power for my highway commute. People thought I was crazy to ride a 250cc bike on the highway, but I was able to ride it faster than most other vehicles on the road (although I had to plan all of my shifts and give it some extra time to get up to speed). I loved learning to ride on the 250 and honed my skills so that when I made the transition to the 500, I didn’t feel intimidated. I’m fortunate that my dealer makes it a priority to find the right bike for the rider, which means they prefer to put you on a small bike to start and then offer incentives to trade up when you’re ready. I did my research and sat on all of the 600cc bikes that my dealer offered. I had originally chosen a used 2007 CBR600RR for my trade, but when I was walking back to the salesperson’s desk to make the deal, the CBR500R caught my eye and I had to check it out. It was love at first sit – much more comfortable riding position than the 600 and to be honest, I don’t need a supersport to commute 60 miles/day in Boston traffic (most days it take 90 minutes to ride 30 miles to get home). I also don’t plan to take my bike to the track. The 500 has plenty of power and it’s fast. It’s a beautiful machine, nimble in the city, and so smooth. I just love it. Take your time learning on a smaller bike – it will be worth it in the long run.

  15. Great article! Being low to the ground, I like many women started out on small cruisers, thinking that that was the only style I could reach the ground on. My first bike was a Honda Shadow 650. It only had 4 gears, and I love to go fast, so naturally I wanted something more in just a couple of months. I graduated to the Shadow 750 which was heavy but was an upgrade. My next bike was a Kawasaki Vulcan 900. That was a lovely bike to ride with shaft drive but it was still really heavy though and not much fun on long rides in the twisties. So in 2011, after years of my husband telling me to try the entry level BMW650GS, I hopped on their lowered version for a test ride, and bought one on the spot! I have never looked back. It is so light and maneuverable and a true joy to ride. A few times I have thought of something bigger, but I am 60 now and really I need nothing more to put a smile on my face! The new versions are the F700GS, and I recommend them to all newbie female riders.

  16. This is a well written, well observed article. I only have one criticism – it makes not one iota of difference whether you’re male or female, the advice stands equally well.

    The only difference is women (over here) tend to get encouraged/belittled onto smaller “girl friendly” bikes while blokes tend to allow their egos and their should-know-better mates to talk them into A&E (sorry, the ER for the colonials reading) via the latest fire-breathing monster.

    But the principle is the same. Stuff what everyone else says, ride and enjoy the bike that’s right for *you* regardless of your age or gender.

    • I like the focus on trying to get a bike that matches the rider, but methinks you’ve made one mistake. When you talk about the 250cc beginner bike and the desire to upgrade, you’re discounting or ignoring some reasons why people will want to upgrade, especially men.

      As an individual of small stature, you are BLESSED with a plethora of choices for “beginner” bikes. Tall people (mostly men), not so much, to put it lightly. A bike that has perfectly adequate power from a simple, daily traffic standpoint for a dainty 125lb (ATGATT & dripping wet) rider can be woefully underpowered for a 6’2″, 250lb ATGATT & DW rider. Add in the fact that the bike that gives you the ability to get two feet on the ground, perhaps even flatfoot both, has the tall person folded like a contortionist. Yes, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but only a bit, but 300 miles for somebody 6’+ tall on a dinky bike is a very different thing than the same mileage for someone 5’2″. As a result, a lot of men (who, you gotta admit, make up most of the sales folk at dealerships) find themselves looking to/recommending upgrade for PRACTICAL reasons sooner than riding experience may suggest.

      Why does this matter? Because someday you may very well be in the situation of advising someone of greater physical size than you on upgrading or selecting a bike. Kindly don’t dismiss, belittle or assume that their desire to upgrade is being ego driven or is simply about “bigger is better because, well, it’s BIGGER”. There may be a component of that, and/or it could simply be that being unable to keep up with freeway traffic in a headwind or having aching knees after a 2 hour ride has them looking for a solution.

      Grade, peace, and keep the rubber side down.

  17. I love this story!!!! I started out on a Vespa P200E when I was 15. I LOVED IT. Gradually I made my way up to bigger motorcycles. I loved my Ducati M750, even though it was physically too small for me. I raced an Aprilia RS250 and loved that too. I thought I’d never want a big bike. I thought superbikes were overkill and I could have plenty of fun on my lil’ bikes.

    Then I rode a friend’s R1 at a trackday at Laguna Seca.

    When they coined the phrase “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” they were talking about the Yamaha R1. I knew I had to own one. Since I’d already been riding close to 17 years at the time, I was ready. I promised myself I’d get a scooter too, for city riding, and just ride the R1 on weekends. Well, that didn’t happen. 🙂

    Fast forward to 2013 and Zero finally comes out with an electric motorcycle I consider potent enough for LA traffic. So I buy the 46hp FXS and it becomes my daily ride. Then I pick up mountain biking. Soon the R1 nearly dies of neglect, because I’d rather be terrorizing myself on some single track in the woods than attracting too much police attention on the R1. And there’s simply no better vehicle for LA traffic than an electric motorcycle!

  18. Thanks for this great article! The advice is right on point. Don’t let anyone push you around. I wanted a motorcycle since I was a little girl, but my mother always said NO, so when I graduated from high school, I left home, joined the Army, and bought a motorcycle, lol. I started out on a 1980 Honda Twwinstar 200 cc at 19 years old 5 ft 2 inches tall. Once I had ridden for a good year and had my basic skills down I advanced to a Honda 400 Custom. Another year of fun under my belt and the training wheels were off, I purchased a Yamaha Midnight Virago 750 cc. She was beautiful and we road together for a long time. Fast forward 2005 I had a Harley 883 Sporty followed by an 09 Dyna low rider – where we are today, 37 years after getting my first bike and I find myself older, shorter, and looking to downsize. We will see what happens from here for the next leg of my adventure.

  19. Hi,

    I know this is an older article but I thought I would add a comment cause I’m seeking some advice for my wife’s first bike. I am an experienced Rider and and know what kind of bike I like and can handle but my wife has never had a motorcycle and she just got finished with her first beginners class and we are now looking for a bike for her. Some bikes I am looking at are TTR-125’s, CRF-230’s, DR200se’s, TW200’s. All the ones I’m looking at are dual sport based because I think sitting upright will be a little easier to start on but I was also looking at the KTM Duke390 as they are reasonably priced I am just worried that it may be too much bike for her to start on. I just wanted to get your opinion on it and the bikes I was looking at for her that are listed above. Currently I only own supermotos as I only race on the track and do short commutes around town. Any insight would be greatly appreciated!

  20. Any new riders with the three wheel Can Am Spyder? Would love to hear your views. At 61 I took the 3wheel MSF course. Then bought a 2017 Can Am Spyder F3 Limited. I have been a passenger on my husbands bikes for almost 20 years. My Spyder had 1100 miles on it when I bought it. I have put over 100 miles on it in less than a week practicing, learning, and have not stopped smiling. Right after getting my license, hubby and I took a ride. He rides tail gunner for me and we have our communicators. When I met my first car in a curve I was so excited. I missed two squirrels who obviously had a death wish, made left and right hand turns, 4 way stops, pot holes, and roundabouts. Feeling better every ride. We have been practicing hard/emergency stops in an empty school parking lot. We are tackling entering and exiting the interstate in about 5 days. A friend suggested picking two exits about a mile or mile and a half apart. Merge onto interstate go to next exit and exit interstate. Go over the overpass and do it several times until I feel comfortable.


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