Best Motorcycles for Beginners: Our 6 Top Choices

Hit the road with confidence

In this guide:

Honda CB300RUS$4,649 | C$5,499
Kawasaki Ninja 400US$4,999 | C$5,799
Suzuki SV650XUS$7,099 | C$8,299
Husqvarna Vitpilen 401US$6,299| C$6,999
Honda Shadow PhantomUS$7,899
Harley-Davidson Iron 883US$8,999 | C$11,499
Prices may be different in your region. Check manufacturers’ website for the latest.

First, a few important tips before buying your first motorcycle

1. Put Your Ego Aside

Concerned about what their friends will think or how quickly they will grow bored of a small displacement mount, many inexperienced riders often scare themselves by going to big too soon then abandoning the hobby altogether.

Considering that super sport litre bike you’ve had your eye on has a similar power to weight ratio an an F1 car, maybe impressing your friends shouldn’t be your number one priority.

2. Size Matters

Aside from budget and aesthetics, which are no doubt important elements, consider your size, strength and proportions along with the kind of riding you plan on doing. Learning to ride on a 700kg bagger in the city is not worth the stress and a 250cc starter bike with a 5L tank is not going to be comfortable on long highway trips.

I always recommend attending the local motorcycle show when it comes to town so you can sit on as many bikes as possible, comparing and contrasting models in an identical environment.

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Lift it off the stand to feel the weight of the steering and whether you’d be comfortable holding it up at stoplights or in stop-and-go-traffic.

3. New Motorcycle vs Used

Years ago, my own riding instructor assembled those who passed his course to offer advice on the topic of the first motorcycle. “Don’t go out tomorrow and buy your dream bike,” he said, “You will likely drop or scratch it and be more concerned with the bike than how to properly ride it.

If you’re buying used, here are the pros & cons of buying preowned from a dealership vs private seller.

It is easier to start small and work your way up.” It’s good advice I have shared many times over the years. Purchasing a used vehicle of any kind can be a challenge, but especially questionable when it comes to motorcycles so you can be forgiven for wanted the peace of mind associated with a bike that’s collision or maintenance history is unquestionable.

Well maintained motorcycles tend to retain their value, so there is little harm in buying a bike you’ll only ride for a season or two before selling it and moving up.

Let’s get into it – our 6 picks for the best beginner motorcycles:

Honda CB300R

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Approx. Price: US$4,649 | C$5,499

Offered in Candy Chromosphere Red or Matte Grey Metallic, the the CB300R is the newest addition to the Honda sportbike family. The 286cc Single-Cylinder naked bike is agile, fuel efficient and more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Liquid-cooled and chain driven, the simple design also makes maintenance easy and inexpensive. Being marketed as a ‘neo-sports café’, retro styling cues are mixed with modern design and materials.

While the motorcycle isn’t bogged down with overwhelming techno-nannies, buttons, switches or variable rider modes to distract you from the enjoyment of the open road, the ABS system features an inertial measurement unit to intelligently distribute braking force between the front and rear brakes.

In a crowded and increasingly competitive area of the market, that’s a big differentiator, particularly for a new rider.

Key specs;

  • Engine Type: 286cc liquid-cooled 20º single-cylinder four-stroke
  • Bore And Stroke: 76mm x 63mm
  • Induction: Fuel injection w/ 38mm throttle body
  • Ignition: Full transistorized
  • Compression Ratio: 10.7:1
  • Valve Train: DOHC; four valves per cylinder
  • Clutch: Multiplate wet

Kawasaki Ninja 400

Approx. Price: US$4,999 | C$5,799

Available in any colour you like, as long as that colour happens to be Metallic Spark Black, the Ninja 400 is a starter bike that doesn’t look or feel like a starter bike. Even experienced riders agree that this entry-level Ninja is a blast to ride and feels more substantial than its spec sheet suggests.

Offering more power, less weight and improved styling all for the same price as the 300cc model it replaces, the Ninja 400 offers a lot of motorcycle for the money. Other improvements over the 300 include better braking, beefier front forks, a slighter, shorter frame, a longer swingarm and a steeper head angle.

Equally at home on the road or racetrack, handling is light and nimble, torque delivery is optimized for low-and mid-range grunt and the riding position is comfortable.

Key specs:

  • Engine: 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, DOHC, water-cooled
  • Displacement: 399cc
  • Bore x Stroke: 70.0 x 51.8mm
  • Compression Ratio: 11.5:1
  • Fuel System: DFI with 32mm throttle bodies (2)
  • Ignition: TCBI with digital advance
  • Transmission: 6-speed, return shift
  • Final Drive: Sealed Chain
  • Electronic Rider Aids: ABS

Suzuki SV650X

Approx. Price: US$7,099 | C$8,299

The SV650 has been a popular first motorcycle choice over the years, and with good reason. Comfortable ergonomics and ample performance from a well balanced V-twin at an approachable price point is an attractive proposition, even if its styling wasn’t.

Enter the revised SV650X, offering the same versatility but with styling that won’t make you want to keep it under a tarp. Showing off a new seat, headlight cowl, braking setup, bodywork and clip-on handlebars at the Intermot show this week in Germany, the engine chassis, suspension and practical package that riders have come to know and love all remain intact.

Key specs:

  • Engine: 645cc, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90˚V-twin
  • Bore x Stroke: 81.0 mm x 62.6 mm (3.189 in. x 2.465 in.)
  • Compression Ratio: 11.2:
  • Fuel System: Suzuki fuel injection with SDTV
  • Starter: Electric
  • Lubrication: Wet sump
  • Transmission: 6-speed
  • Clutch: Wet, multi-plate type
  • Final Drive: Chain, DID520V0, 112 links

Husqvarna Vitpilen 401

Approx. Price: US$6,299| C$6,999

If cost is less of a concern than style, few bikes will get you more attention than the Vitpilen, a motorcycle that looks like someone from another planet designed a café racer from the future.

Breaking cover at the EICMA show two years ago, the production bikes vary little from the widely acclaimed concepts. Stripped of all but the most necessary elements, the design is simple and subtle yet progressive and unmistakably Swedish. Powered by a compact 373cc Single mated to a 6-speed gearbox and a ride-by-wire system, the power to weight ratio and torque curve will won’t leave you bored.

Getting one of your own may require spending a few more shillings, but you’ll notice the difference in the build materials and quality construction.

Key specs:

  • Design: 1-cylinder, 4-stroke engine
  • Displacement: 373 cm³
  • Bore: 89 mm
  • Stroke: 60 mm
  • Power in kW: 32 kW
  • Starter: Electric starter
  • Lubrication: Wet sump
  • Transmission: 6-speed
  • Primary Drive: 30:80
  • Secondary Gear Ratio: 15:45
  • Cooling: Liquid cooled
  • Clutch: PASC antihopping clutch, mechanically operated
  • EMS: Bosch EMS

Honda Shadow Phantom

Approx. Price: US$7,899

Low slung, simplistic and smooth, the Shadow makes for an excellent choice for those who are new to riding or happen to be shorter on inseam. The blacked-out retro-inspired Phantom is understated and mysterious with minimalist bodywork, bobbed fenders and matte finishes.

Its throaty V-Twin also sounds great and promises bullet-proof Honda reliability, offering decent power at low- to mid-range rpm while delivering impressive fuel efficiency. Its smooth shifting five-speed transmission is limited in top end capability, making it more suitable as a bar hopper or back road cruiser than a long distance highway companion.

Not only does the Shadow have a reputation for quality and longevity, but it also boasts a low cost of entry that holds its value over time, making it a good investment.

Key specs:

  • Engine Type: 745cc liquid-cooled 52 degrees V-twin
  • Bore And Stroke: 79mm x 76mm
  • Induction: PGM-FI with automatic enrichment circuit, one 34mm throttle body
  • Ignition: Digital with 3-D mapping, two spark plugs per cylinder
  • Compression Ratio: 9.6:1
  • Valve Train: SOHC; three valves per cylinder
  • Transmission: Wide-ratio five-speed
  • Final Drive: Shaft

Harley-Davidson Iron 883

Approx. Price: US$8,999 | C$11,499

If you’re looking to get into motorcycling and cannot avoid the distinctive appeal of a Hog, skip the Street series and opt for the Iron 883 to whet your whistle.

The most popular model from the Milwaukee motorcycle maker, the blacked-out and brooding style is matched by the unmistakable sound and experience of that V-Twin rumble. It may not be as cheap or feel as refined as some of its competitors, but that’s kind of the point.

Higher priced than many bikes on the market, the added cost of admission brings quality materials, reliability, limitless customization potential and a lack of depreciation.

Key specs:

  • Engine: 1 Air-cooled, Evolution® BORE 3 in.
  • Stroke: 3.811 in.
  • Displacement: 883 cc (53.9 cu in)
  • Compressions Ratio: 9:01
  • Fuel System: 3 Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
  • Exhaust: Black exhaust headers and black mufflers

There you have it, 6 great options for new riders. To end it off, here’s a hand dandy infographic to get you started. And if you’re partial to cruiser motorcycles, here are 5 great beginner options.

buying a new motorcycle 3 things to remember infographic