Motorcycle Rider Basics

Best Beginner Motorcycles: So what kind of bike should I buy to start?

EasyRider SAC 2007_117 This only applies to someone who wants to ride a cruiser, specifically, a Harley cruiser. All of you BMW and sport bike folks can just move onto the next interesting post.

Now that all of the BMW and sport bike people have moved on to the next post, I need to warn all of you dyed in the wool, Harley, buy American, never ride a rice-burner folks to move on also. I am about to offend your sensitive side. I am going to recommend that the beginning or re-entry, "I really want-to-ride-a-Harley" crowd, go out and buy a Japanese cruiser.

Yes folks, a Japanese cruiser, 250cc to 450cc, relatively light and easy to handle, a starter bike. I say starter bike because, if you start riding and come to a profound decision that this motorcycle riding business sucks, you do not have $10 to $20 thousand hanging out there on a Harley purchase. Plus that, once you figure in the Harley Tax (Oh, you haven't heard about that yet?), sales tax, drive-it-off-the-lot depreciation, and you can add another $4 or $5 thousand to that total.

Here are two examples I pulled from eBay in an intensive five minute search (smile). Both of these will probably sell between $1,000 and $1,500. Not that cheap, but remember, even a Sportster will cost over three times that amount.

1999 Suzuki, GS GZ-250 

Miles: 11000, Engine Size (cc): 250

2003  Honda  -  Rebel2003 Honda, Rebel  

Miles: 3348, Engine Size (cc): 250

Don't be hesitant because of the smaller engine size (250cc - 450cc), these bikes are a lot lighter than their big brothers and as we all know, the lighter the vehicle, the faster the vehicle.

The idea is to find out if you are really that excited about riding. These bikes will get you into traffic, offer an easier learning curve and let you find out if you like all of this without getting too committed.

If you plan on riding with your significant other, best friend or just hoping to get lucky, make sure you buy a bike that already has seating for two. You don't want to start investing money into this motorcycle because you will have a difficult time getting it back when you sell it. Buying a new seat or exhaust is not cheap and when you are looking at a 90 day turnaround, just leave everything stock and ride it.

Private party is the way to go and do not be surprised if the seller will not let you take it for a test ride. Put yourself in their place, somebody you don't know from Adam gives you a real looking drivers license, hops on your motorcycle for an around the block ride and you never see them again. Be patient and if they will not let you ride it, ask them to ride it and follow them in the car looking to see if the bike tracks straight, accelerates without a lot of smoke and just general performance.

If it is possible, have a motorcycle mechanic check it out. Let the seller ride it to the neighborhood cycle shop and pay the mechanic $50 to make sure you are not buying someone's nightmare. If no mechanic is available, spend some time taking a good look at the machine. There are some pretty cool online buying guides that will help you make a smart purchase.

Anyway, that's my advice. Buy a cheap starter bike to find out if this is what you really want to do.

Keep in mind that wither it's a cheap Japanese cruiser or the real-deal Harley, buying your personal riding gear is an independent thing. Your personal riding gear, (helmet, leather, boots, etc.) doesn't care how much the motorcycle cost when you hit the pavement, so buy quality stuff, that fits, and will be there for you when you need it. (Check out my matrix.) Don't be surprised if you spend $1500 on a motorcycle and then spend even MORE on your personal rider gear.

Ride safe and keep the shiny side up --- Frank


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Comments (10) Trackbacks (0)
  1. ive just bought a yamaha xvs 125 dragstar for my very first bike. absolutely love it, great introduction to cruiser style bikes. i love it, would reccomend one to anyone

  2. Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board
    and I find It really useful & it helped me out a lot.
    I hope to give something back and help others like you helped me.

  3. Hey! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m absolutely enjoying your
    blog and look forward to new updates.

  4. Howdy,here’s one for you sir.
    I’ve ridden a GSL 550 a hundred times. And a dirt bike more than that.
    I’ve owned and ridden a 1938 knucklehead, and lost it in divorce before riding it more than twice. I do not have a motorcycle license and never have. I’m getting it in the spring. So here is the question…I love riding. I’m serious about it. So what do you recommend?? My friend bought a Victory dresser. He said he loves it. I’m not sold.
    I also want to buy American( understanding that nothing is 100%American nowadays anyway) but humor me.

  5. Howdy to you too,

    You should take the two day rider course and after riding a 250cc MC for two days, decide if you want to go forward. If you are still ready to ride, go to the DMV and get your MC endorsement. Most states will not require a MC driving test with the certificate from the two day course but you will still need to take the written test.

    With your new MC endorsement on your license, go find a big bike to test ride. Maybe your friends Victory dresser, someone who wants to sell their bike or your local Harley dealer. Your Harley dealer has a couple of days each year when they offer test rides on all of their bikes but if you are a serious buyer, you can probably talk them into letting you take a ride.

    If you are still gung ho after riding a big bike, just go for it. I personally wold not ever buy a bike without taking a test ride. You can tell if everything is right when you ride it. If there is still a question (engine for example) I would pay for an inspection by a qualified mechanic or just move on to another bike for sale.

    The test ride is a big deal. You can tell right away when you take out the bike that is meant for you. You may need to ride on a dozen different bikes or maybe the first one will click with you. Whatever it takes, once you buy it you are stuck with it so do your homework.

    Let us know what happens and safe riding.


  6. Howdy Frank,
    Thanks for the expeditious response. I will do exactly that.
    I do however have another question for you.
    I’ve noticed that nowadays,everyone and their grandma, wants a bagger.
    They are somewhat appealing to me and I do want something my wife and I can travel half across the country with. But, they look extremely heavy. Some seem to ride these behemoths like it’s a kids bike. But, I’m not an experienced rider,and never ridden a bagger before. What other touring bikes would come close in comparison? Or are their courses to learn more advanced techniques to riding huge bagger??

  7. Hi,

    Training for a bagger? Not that I know of. However if you are worried about riding a large bike I am concerned about your riding skills. I would wait until after you complete the two day training and see how you feel then. During the training you will get about 8 hours on a 250 cc bike doing all of the basic MC stuff. Turning, stopping, and so on until you can show the instructor that you are comfortable riding a motorcycle. When I went through the training, I was in a group of new and experienced riders and I had a few years of riding as a kid.

    I heard all of the experienced riders comment about they are now learning stuff that they had never known before. It was quite impressive. There was one old guy (like me) who had a hard nose attitude about the training, “I am wasting my time…I already know this stuff…” and so on. I could see when he was riding that he really did not get it. There were beginner housewives who were riding circles around him and they had never been on a MC before. Anyway, this guy failed the course and left in an angry exchange of words with the instructor.

    My point is that everyone had a different experience and different outcome from this training experience. Until you do it yourself, you will not really know how you feel about riding a big bike.

    Myself, I was concerned about getting my HD Wide Glide which is 650 lbs and very powerful. After a few hours I realized that the bike was very nimble in traffic, just my right size and I have never looked back. The only weight (big bike) issues are parking. I really have to pay attention to keeping a good balance when I am “walking” the bike into and out of a parking spot. Yes, I have made the mistake of parking downhill and the not being able to back out because the bike was just too heavy to back up. Once, I had to wait about 20 minutes for the car parked in front of me to move so I could ride forward and free myself from my uphill problem, Embarrassing. Now, I will park 100 yards away if that is what it takes to find a suitable spot to park.

    I love my Wide Glide and I doubt if I will ever move up to a bagger. I upgraded the seat to a mustang seat which gives my wife a comfortable ride on the back. We almost never ride more than 100 miles away and this bike handles very well on the freeway with both of us on it.

    So, I don’t have any answers for you other than to take the training and see what happens.

    Have fun.


  8. Just want to say you’re right on target. I was an experienced rider getting back into bikes and rode a 250 suzuki marauder for 2 years daily commuting, then moved up to a 750 Vulcan and then a C50 Suzuki and have been commuting for 5+ years. My office pal got the bike bug, got his endorsement and with maybe 1 hour of saddle time bought a new 883 Iron. (Against my advice) Rode it twice, dropped it twice and now has a broken collarbone and broken bike.

  9. I’ve posted that I don’t think a big first bike is a bad thing, but it makes riding at your level all the more important. I took it easy for a while on my Honda 750, and I’m still in ‘take it easy’ mode on my Harley 1200.

    Ride and smile!

  10. Randy hit the nail on the head. Start out on a smaller bike, get a great feel for it and move up to a bigger bike as a more experienced rider. That will get you the most out of your riding ability and not get you into trouble by having to concentrate on handling a bigger bike versus learning to actually ride. I had a friend that had a very similar experience as his friend. Bought a top of the line sport bike as a new rider because his wallet could afford it. Had it one summer, tipped it over a few times, sold it for quite a bit less than he paid for it….hasn’t ridden a bike since then. It’s a great sport and hobby that will bring you years of enjoyment if you respect it. I’ve noticed the number one thing that get people into trouble is their ego and their unwillingness to ride what would be considered a “beginner bike.” Even tho those are as fast as most high performance sports cars. Wear appropriat gear, be smart, and leave your ego at home.

    Safe riding,


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