Get Off On The Right Foot | MC COMPARO

Honda CBR250R vs. Kawasaki Ninja 300 vs. Suzuki GW250

By Ari Henning, Photography by Kevin Wing

Second-Hand Beginner Bikes

WORDS: Aaron Frank PHOTOS: Motorcyclist archives

You wouldn’t know it from the way we’re raving over this year’s crop of beginner bikes, but newbie-friendly motorcycles are nothing new. Craigslist can be the quickest way to get on two wheels for cheap, and an older bike could be more affordable to insure, too. Bonus points for finding one that’s pre-crashed (but still certified safe), taking the edge off that inevitable first drop! With that in mind, here are our top picks:

’87–’09 Kawasaki EX500


Kawasaki’s EX500 exudes the same puppy-dog charm and credible sportbike looks as the super-popular Ninja 250 but is not so quickly outgrown. The 498cc parallel twin is just as obedient but offers better passing power and more relaxed highway cruising.

’01–’13 Suzuki DR-Z400SM


Everything that makes dirt bikes good in the woods—light, narrow, nimble—makes them great starter bikes, too. Suzuki’s DR-ZSM combines dirt bike dynamics with street-oriented, 17-inch wheels for more traction and a lower standover height, too.

’04–’13 H-D XL883 Sportster


With a low seat and abundant low-end torque, the Sportster is the most accessible entry into the H.O.G. fraternity. In continuous production since 1957, used Sporties are affordable and abundant. Engines were rubber-mounted in 2004, improving comfort.

’01–’13 Triumph Bonneville


Love vintage British style but can’t afford a full-time mechanic to keep your commuter running? This is the bike you want, which looks nearly identical to a mid-’60s Bonnie but with a stone-reliable 790cc (or 865cc) parallel twin and modern electrics.

’91–’08 Honda CB250


If you learned to ride with the MSF, you’re probably already familiar with the Nighthawk 250. Legendary on the training range for its reliability and ability to withstand repeated tip-overs, beginners can’t lose with this air-cooled parallel twin.

’89–’02 Suzuki GS500


Suzuki’s long-lived GS-series parallel twins are impossible-to-kill “cockroach” motorcycles, with anvil-like reliability and durability. The post-’88 GS500s, with a steel perimeter frame, monoshock rear suspension, and disc brakes front and rear, are the best values.

’98–’13 Star V-Star 650


Your best bet for a small-displacement cruiser—in this category, 650cc is considered small—this air-cooled V-twin matches classic, full-sized cruiser looks with right-sized ergonomics and a manageable power profile that’s agreeable for most entry-level riders.

’00–’07 BMW F650GS


Previously—and accurately—named the “Funduro,” BMW’s baby GS is the best way to get started adventure touring. Powered by a tough-to-stall 652cc single, the F-GS offers the same outback aptitude of the R1200GS in a manageable package.

’14 Honda Grom


Just like the various Trail-model minibikes that introduced millions to motorcycling, Honda’s adorably awkward Grom combines 12-inch wheels and a bulletproof four-stroke single engine to create laugh-out-loud transportation.

’68–’73 Honda CB350


If your first motorcycle must have carburetors, ignition points, and authentic patina, Honda’s parallel-twin CB350 is the bike you want. Honda sold more than 250,000 of these in the States, so they’re plentiful, cheap, and reliable enough to regularly ride.

’99–’08 Suzuki SV650


Suzuki’s SV650 is a true do-it-all motorcycle. The sharp-handling aluminum chassis, tractable 645cc V-twin, and a versatile character make it adaptable for everything from commuting to touring to winning roadracing championships.

’07-’13 Royal Enfield Bullet


These charming singles provide reliable daily transport for millions in India, where they have been built since 1955; here in America they provide a more fun, less fraught facsimile of the vintage-bike experience. The newer the model, the better.

’88-’91 Honda Hawk GT


In the late 1980s, Honda offered stylish middleweights uniquely suited for beginners, including the Ascot and CB-1. The Hawk GT was arguably the best of this bunch, with its robust, 647cc V-twin, twin-beam aluminum frame, and exotic single-sided swingarm.

’88-’90 Yamaha FZR400


Yamaha’s FZR400 was a two-wheeled unicorn—a small-displacement bike with cutting-edge technology including the super-stiff Deltabox frame and a short-stroke, high-revving inline four. This is what your first sportbike should look like.

’86-’13 Suzuki Savage/S40


Don’t let the name fool you—with easy handling and a curb weight less than 400 pounds, Suzuki’s single-cylinder chopper is a civilized choice for a cheap cruiser with character. Still don’t think it’s cool? A visit to will change your mind.

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The only way to grow the market is to entice new riders. New riders include women and men of all ages with no experience riding.

These bikes are inexpensive, stylish, highway capable and easy to ride/maintain. The barrier to entry is learning a new skill and managing the risks involved with this exciting sport... I would tend to agree with the author of the article when they state that these are "great first-bikes for beginning riders".

As a new rider at the age of 38, with no previous experience and a little money to spend, I've found the CBR250R to be exactly as advertised. I have developed a passion for riding and the hook is set for life.

Why are you so critical of a safe and simple way to share the love for motorcycling that you so obviously have as well? Are you afraid that your exclusive club of daredevil men might be infiltrated by level-headed people of all ages?
I'm not an experienced motorcycle opinion-writer but maybe you will respect my opinion anyway...the CBR250 and Ninja 300 are decent bikes to learn to ride on, and they may even make decent first bikes for some people, in some situations. But I would never say that they are "great first-bikes for beginning riders". They are not cheap and they have no real power, and that lack of power alone would make me very reluctant to recommend one to someone especially a noob. They just don't have enough power, in my opinion, to be anything more than beach-bikes. A bike that can barely get out of its own way shouldn't be ridden in traffic on public roads, noob or no noob. So I might say ok learn to ride on one, but I would be very reluctant to recommend actually buying one. A bike like an FZ6R gives you plenty of power and makes a lot more sense as a learner-bike and as a first bike to own. But to me, the 600RR and even the 1KRR are not much different in that regard. It depends on the bike, the instruction & the rider.
" But the only bikes I could possibly recommend for her are all cruisers; no standards or torture-rack sportbikes (much less dual-sports) have a low enough seat for her (e.g., 28 inches)" the average motorcycle (sportbike & standard) seat-height is about 32 inches. The distance from the seat to the bars, the height of the bars above-ground and the height of the pegs above ground may vary, but that seat-height is pretty standard. So...modify the bike to lower the seat-height and you're all set. She's got shorter legs so she won't need the pegs lowered, and lowering the seat will raise the handlebars in proportion. She might want a pull-back bar, so put one on the bike. The aftermarket industry is what, billions? Tens of billions? And with all the aftermarket parts out there you can't solve this problem? I'm thinking that you're too dumb to ride anyway.
What you are doing is downselling all new riders with this overzealous "Safety-Nazi knows best" attitude. 1st one should not mix "learning to ride" with "buying one's first bike". 2nd the passion for riding comes from different aspects of riding for different people. Do you really expect everyone to develop a lifelong passion for riding by learning how to ride on a Ninja 300 or even worse a CBR250? Is that "the best way" to engender a passion for riding? If you believe that then you're missing the point that a critical aspect of "passion" is the desire to actually do something. Riding a CBR250 is quite different from riding a real sportbike. The rider in question may feel no passion at all for learning how to ride a CBR250, have you even considered that?

So in your opinion they may be talked into a bike that is "inappropriate" for them. You clearly don't respect their judgement: they're just a noob. But you expect them to respect your opinion. You haven't thought through your opinion very well.
""Things today aren't nearly as simple as they were in the days of the ubiquitous minibike"

True, but there's nothing really wrong with that.

"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."

True that *can* happen. It also could *not* happen.

" Neophytes face a steep enough learning curve without having an overpowered or overweight bike to contend with."

That depends on how they learn to ride, as well as their own individual talent for learning.

" A sportbike or 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."

Really? What is "the best place"?
How are we to determine this?  
Why should we care about that?
What if we just want "a good place" that's convenient?
You worry like an old hen.
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