So you’ve passed your motorcycle training course, you’ve got your license and some new riding kit; now it’s time to find the perfect ride. It’s a bike you’ll always remember, so better make it a good one. While there are plenty of excellent new options on the showroom floor, the used market is flush with bikes that will keep you in your comfort zone without screaming newb. In fact, the bikes we’ve listed below are just plain cool, regardless of how long you’ve been in the saddle.
There are more risks when you’re buying a used cycle, so do your homework and bring along a more experienced friend before dropping your cash. Expect that most used bikes will need a bit of love, like a new set of tires and a chain adjustment, but some will need special attention from a professional mechanic (we’re looking at you, Ducati).
While these picks are all relatively unintimidating, they aren’t the smallest capacity bikes on the market either, so you’ll be able to get a lot of mileage out of them. They’ll still be exciting even after you outgrow the “beginner” label.
Honda Hawk GT
A Sporty Favorite of the Cognoscenti: A true cult classic that appeals to beginners and to connoisseurs who’ve been riding for decades. With its torquey V-twin engine and trick single-sided swingarm derived from Honda’s legendary RC30 superbike, the Hawk was undoubtedly ahead of its time (it wasn’t until 1993 that Ducati introduced the Monster, the sporty naked that launched a revolution). Today, it’s a bike that says you’re in the know.
Years built: 1988–1991
Engine: 647cc V-twin
Expect to Pay: $2,000–$3,000
Icon of British Style: If there’s one bike more representative of timeless cool than the Triumph Bonneville, we don’t know it. The ‘60s Bonnie was a favorite of icons like Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. Need we say more. The new Bonneville, introduced in 2001, is big on ‘60s style, but does more than just play to our nostalgia. It’s a fun, reliable, straight-forward motorcycle that gets to the heart of what we love about two wheels. In 2007, all models were boosted from 790cc to 865cc, and in 2009 received fuel injection.
Years Built: 2001–current
Engine: 790cc–865cc (through 2015) parallel twin
Expect to pay: $1,500 and up
Ducati Monster 600
Italian Exotic with a Demon Streak: If you’ve got the Ducati bug, nothing else will do. We know how it goes. Whether you snatch up a 600, 620, 695, 696, etc. the smaller Monsters have the goods: steel trellis frame, air-cooled desmodromic L-twin engine, and Latin attitude to spare. The baby Monsters retain the purposeful feel and characteristic charm of the breed, but without the intimidating power and torque of their big brothers.
Years built: 2001–current
Engine: 600(ish)cc desmodromic L-twin
Expect to pay: $3,000–$8,000
Retro Classic: Two years before Triumph introduced its updated take on the Bonneville, Kawasaki gave us a retro that some feel is more true to the spirit of a ‘60s roadster than the Triumph, badge on the tank not withstanding. Nice touches like a kickstarter (in addition to its electric starter) and bevel-driven overhead cams put you in the mood without the oil leaks and temperamental electronics of the real thing. Japanese reliability meets British charm.
Years Built: 1999–2007
Engine: 676cc parallel twin
Expect to pay: $4,000–$6,000
Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster
Original American Muscle: Harley’s been making a version of the Sportster since 1957. It’s a logical entry into the American/cruiser/custom scene, and its peanut tank and low-slung look are iconic. Starting in 1986, the Sportster got a new Evolution engine and received a host of updates in 2004, including a rubber mounted engine for reduced vibration. Plus, that rumbly motor’s as bulletproof as a Sherman tank. Add a set of drag bars and tape-wrapped open pipes and the 883 will look and sound as badass as anything on the street.
Years built: 1957–current
Engine: 883cc V-twin
Expect to pay: $3,000–$7,000
BMW F650GS or G650GS
German Engineering and Ready for Adventure: If adventure bike ergonomics and a go-anywhere ethos is your thing, the BMW will have you chasing the horizon in short order. The F series began life as a singe cylinder, but since 2010 has used a larger capacity parallel twin. Even with its relatively long travel suspension and larger tires to keep handling sure when the pavement ends, the Beemer is a great choice for shorter riders. It’s even available with a revised rear shock and seat to lower the height as much as 2 inches.
Years built: 1997–current
Engine: 652 cc single, 798cc parallel twin (starting in 2010)
Expect to pay: $3,000–$4,000
Perennial Favorite: The reason Suzuki brought us a new version for 2017 is because the original is so damned good. The term “UJM” (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) is usually sort of derogatory, but we’d apply it to the SV because its appeal and acclaim is universal. From commuters who bungee their lunches to the pillion seat, to racers who upgrade the suspension for trackday bliss, the SV is a sure-fire hit. It’s the kind of bike that’s likely to end up in any enthusiast’s garage at one time or another.
Years built: 1999–2008
Engine: 645cc 90-degree V-twin
Expect to pay: $1,600 and up