Elsewhere in this issue, we've compiled the accounts of numerous riders' first taste of two-wheeled locomotion (see "Mini Memories") and the profound effect it had on their lives. The common thread is that they started on something small and simple, a bike that offered all the excitement, enjoyment, and freedom they desired without undue complications or challenges. That initial exposure can be decisive—more often than not it sets the hook deeply and sparks a lasting passion for the sport. Starting out on the wrong bike can have the opposite effect. Things today aren't nearly as simple as they were in the days of the ubiquitous minibike, and it can be challenging for beginners to make a sound decision when it comes to that first bike. Taking the recommendation of a vest-wearing squid or getting upsold at the dealership can leave a new rider with a first bike that's inappropriate and intimidating. Neophytes face a steep enough learning curve without having an overpowered or overweight bike to contend with. A fire-breathing sportbike or full-size bagger might be the ultimate goal, but that's not the best place to start for someone who's just laid hands on a learner's permit.
Motorcycling has the potential to be a lifelong adventure, so it's important to get off on the right foot. Thank goodness for bikes like these, then. Interminably user friendly and affordable to buy, insure, and own, Honda's CBR250R, Kawasaki's Ninja 300, and Suzuki's GW250 are just the thing for new riders, anyone looking for economical transportation, or those who just like to stretch throttle cables and wring their fun from small bikes.
What we have here is a very credible lineup of cheap, efficient, fun, and easy-to-ride motorcycles. They're all fuel-injected for no-fuss starts and crisp fueling, they emulate the style of premium models, offer comprehensive instruments, and the Honda and Kawasaki can even be had with the added safety of ABS. They're built to a price point, of course, but these 7/8-scale machines are quality items, no longer relegated to second-class status in terms of fit, finish, or features.
The Honda and Kawasaki are familiar machines. The single-cylinder CBR250R was new in 2011, and the only changes over the years have involved increasingly appealing paint schemes, culminating in 2013 with the Repsol-edition bike shown here. Kawasaki's Ninja 300 was new for '13 and represents a substantial rework of the evergreen Ninja 250R, offering bold new styling, fuel injection, and a 37cc displacement increase via 7.8mm more stroke. The Suzuki GW250 is the new player in the entry-level field. Modeled after the B-King street brawler, the GW gets power from a four-valve, SOHC, parallel-twin engine and is the upright standard to the CBR and Ninja's more sporting layouts.
With the addition of the GW and a slew of 500s from Honda, it's clear that the segment is growing. For a long time, it was dominated by two choices—Kawasaki's Ninja 250R and Honda's Rebel 250. Now there's a raw economic need for low-buck bikes. While the pulse on the supersport and open-class market is barely perceptible, emerging markets like Brazil and India are exhibiting an insatiable appetite for affordable small-displacement motorcycles. Manufacturers know it, and they are responding accordingly. The American market has only seen a few of the many little motorcycles out there, but they're coming—exciting bikes like KTM's 390 Duke, Honda's new CBR300R, and Triumph's "Street Single" should all show up here in the near future.
For the moment, these bikes represent ground zero for beginners who want to buy new. If your budget demands a used ride or you just don't want to be the one to put that first scratch on a bike, check out the options listed along the bottom of the following pages. Whatever your expected trajectory in the vast and exciting world of motorcycling, we hope our message is clear: Start here.