Six Types of Motorcycles for New Riders

What type of street bike is right for you?

A non-rider often asks, "What's the best motorcycle?" The experienced rider answers, "That depends on what you want to do with it."

Today, motorcycles are better than ever and also more specialized than ever. The key to being happy with your choice is not finding the "best" motorcycle, but rather finding the motorcycle that's right for you and the kind of riding you want to do.

Some motorcycles are obviously more suited to new riders than others, however.

The two things most likely to add to a new rider's confidence level are light weight and the ability to get both feet on the ground at a stop. Lighter is always better when you're still learning to balance, steer, accelerate and brake. And while experienced riders often learn to become comfortable just getting one foot down at a stop, it's more reassuring to plant both feet when you're just getting started.

Fortunately, weight and seat height figures are almost always included among the specifications listed for new motorcycles on the manufacturers' websites, so that's a good place to start sorting through which bikes are most new-rider-friendly.

But with hundreds of new and used models available for sale, you still need to narrow your search a little.

The first step toward figuring out which bike is right for you is understanding various categories of motorcycles and their pros and cons, from the perspective of a new rider. Keep in mind that there are more genres than what you see here; these happen to be those that most new riders find appealing.

Standard

Intended to do a little bit of everything, a standard looks basic, but is limited only by your imagination.

Example shown: Yamaha FZ-07
Built for: Doing a little of everything

New rider pros:

  • Neutral ergonomics provide a more natural sense of control, comfort.
  • Basic style doesn't force you into a genre that you realize later doesn't fit you.

New rider cons:

  • "Basic" doesn't mean beginner. Like other motorcycle types, standards come in all sizes and horsepower levels.

A couple of options: The Honda CB500F is a small, modern and nimble take on the classic standard style, or for a classic take on the standard motif, consider the Triumph T100 Bonneville.

Cruiser

For many new riders, when they hear the word "motorcycle," the image of a cruiser pops to mind.

Example shown: Harley-Davidson Street 750
Built for: Relaxed rides

New rider pros:

  • Low seat lets rider get feet down easily.
  • Low center of gravity offsets heft.
  • Engine tuned for low-rpm power makes clutch/throttle coordination easier.

New rider cons:

  • The long and low frame makes handling a bit awkward on some models.

A couple of options: While big cruisers can be heavy, expensive and intimidating, almost all manufacturer lineups include small and mid-sized machines, such as Honda's Shadow, Yamaha's V Star 250 and Kawasaki's Vulcan S 650.

Sportbike

There was a time when sportbikes were a type of motorcycle you advanced to, rather than began with. Today, several sportbike models are designed for less-experienced riders.

Example shown: KTM RC390
Built for: Speed and handling

New rider pros:

  • Light weight and ease of handling.
  • Exciting styling appeals to many.

New rider cons:

  • Choose very carefully. Many sportbikes are high-powered road rockets that demand the highest levels of motorcycling experience to ride well and ride safely.
  • Engines are often tuned for higher rpm power delivery.
  • High insurance costs reflect relatively high repair costs.
  • Performance-oriented models require relatively higher maintenance.

Growing options: This segment has exploded in recent years with smaller models that combine sportbike looks with beginner-friendly power, ergonomics and cost. In addition to the KTM RC390, other models are the Kawasaki Ninja 250R and 300R, the Yamaha R3 and the Honda CRB300R.

Dual Sport

Although a small segment of the motorcycling community, dual sport is growing in popularity, particularly among those with dirt bike experience from when they were younger.

Example shown: Honda CRF250L
Built for: Riding on and off road

New rider pros:

  • Light and nimble
  • Versatile so you can gain experience and explore a range of roads and terrain
  • Built to be tough enough for the trails but comfortable on the road
  • Relatively inexpensive and cheap to insure

New rider cons:

  • Relatively high seat height
  • Niche styling and engineering might not appeal to all
  • Limited range and cargo capacity
  • Ergonomics aren't long-ride friendly

Several options: Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki all offer beginner-friendly dual-sport bikes, while more performance-focused brands such as KTM and Beta offer slightly modified versions of their off-road race bikes in street-legal trim.

Adventure Tourer

The touring and adventure segments have evolved significantly in recent years. There are dedicated touring bikes with large fairings and ample luggage, sport touring models that integrate sportbike design and performance, and adventure bikes that offer both off-road capabilities and long-ride comfort. Think of adventure tourers as adventure bikes' city cousins. Even better for new riders, they come in a range of sizes.

Example shown: Kawasaki Versys 650
Built for: Exploration and long rides

New rider pros:

  • Comfortable with good weather protection
  • Designed for luggage
  • Nimble handling

New rider cons:

  • High seat height
  • Some models can be pricey for a first bike

Few new-rider options: Some bikes in the adventure tourer category (such as Yamaha's Super Ténéré, BMW's S 1000 XR or Suzuki's V-Strom 1000) reach for the pinnacle of motorcycle technology, design and price. Even some mid-range bikes in this category can be expensive. For a cheaper, although more dual-sport oriented, alternative, consider Kawasaki's venerable KLR650.

Scooter

Arguably the easiest-to-ride two-wheeled motorized vehicle, scooters are fun, practical and inexpensive.

Example shown: Piaggio Fly 150

Built for: Urban transportation, practicality

New rider pros:

  • Fully automatic. There's no clutch or shifting required.
  • Amazing fuel mileage -- over 100 mpg for some models
  • Fair amount of storage
  • Small and easy to park and store
  • Decent wind and rider protection

New rider cons:

  • Limited comfort range and most are definitely not highway friendly
  • Small wheels can be "darty"
  • If your intentions are to move to a full-sized motorcycle soon, your scooter skills may not fully transfer

Several options: In addition to specialty brands, such as Piaggio, Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki offer scooters as small as 50cc. Larger options, such as Suzuki's 650cc Burgman, are capable long-distance mounts.

One Crazy Alternative

In 2014, Honda brought the 125cc Grom into the United States. The bike looks likes something out of an anime cartoon -- which is a very good thing! It's a small standard crossed, in many ways, with a Honda CRF trail bike. It's designed for three things: fun, fun and fun. It just happens to be street legal and thanks to its light weight and small engine, it gets amazing fuel mileage (around 100 mpg, allegedly). You're not going to tour on it. You're not going to carry any groceries on it. You're not going to win any races on it. But you just might never stop riding it...