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 rycamotors.com will change your mind.