Good engine size for first bike? Mint or pavement freindly?

Discussion in 'Road Warriors' started by CJ5K, May 8, 2013.

  1. CJ5K

    CJ5K Adventurer

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    Hi everyone,

    I'm wondering what a good engine for a first bike is. I was thinking of getting a Nighthawk 250, but when I took the MSF basic rider course, the instructor recommended 400-600cc, reason being that the 250's would be too slow for taking on the highway, or if you wanted to carry something/someone.

    I'm sure this gets asked a lot, and I'm reading all the threads I can find, but I'm not finding quite the right answer, or at least the answer explained in a way that makes sense to me.

    If it makes any difference, I'm thinking I want something more along the lines of a cruiser, but I could live with a standard for a while.

    Also, am I right in thinking that for my first bike, I should buy something that I'm not going to get heartbroken if it gets dropped or laid down a couple times? Or should just buy the one I want (There's a really nice BMW R75 for sale in my area...) Like I said, I'm sure these kind of questions get asked a lot, so thanks for taking the time to help out new rider.

    Stay safe guys,
    CJ5k
    #1
  2. Randy

    Randy Long timer

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    Good questions. But a little hard to answer without knowing what type of riding you plan to do.... any interstate travel involved, or all inner city? Commuting or just joy riding in the countryside? Carrying a passenger? How much money you wanna spend? Would you be willing to pick up a good used learner, ride it a few months and then sell it, get most if not all of your money back and get what you really want? How big are you? Short, tall, light, heavy?

    There are lots of good starter bikes available but it depends on what you're looking to do with it.

    Personally I'd recommend a good used bike that is "dropable". If seat height isn't an issue, personally I like a good used DS type machine. Light, flickable, tractable power delivery and dropable with little to no damage. But then again, it just depends on your own personal needs and wants.

    Take a look at the Ninja 300 thread to see that a small displacement bike can offer a lot for a new rider. But, if your heart is set on a cruiser I'd go bigger in the engine department since none of them are really overwhelming and are easy enough to ride for those short of inseam.

    Tell us some more specifics of what you want and need and I'm sure you'll get recommendations all over the board.

    :1drink
    #2
  3. CJ5K

    CJ5K Adventurer

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    Thanks Randy!

    I live in a small town, and the only road out of my neighborhood is marked at 45mph. I'd probably use it for a little bit of everything, and as far as interstate travel goes, well, I just took an old bicycle on a 150+ mile two day trip, so I guess everything is still on the table.

    I think I'd mostly ride the bike on backroads, but I'll probably do a good bit of highway or 55+ to get there. I'm not going to make it my every day commuter, more of a just for fun and the occasional ride to work. I guess my biggest concern is that something like a Nighthawk 250 might not be well suited enough for the highway that I'd end up stuck in my small town... for ever... (I dunno, maybe not riding over in Seattle would be a good thing...)


    I'm about 5'7, and weigh around 160. Let me know if there's any other info I can give up that will help y'all to help me.

    -CJ5k
    #3
  4. IronJackWhitton

    IronJackWhitton Been here awhile

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    For what it's worth, I was in the same position about a month ago -- which bike? But, my desire to own any bike at all stemmed from how cool I thought the Triumph Tiger 800 XC was after watching Scott Brady's comparison vid on Expo.

    So, conventional wisdom was buy a smaller bike to learn to ride then work my way up. The type of riding I want to do is both on and off road, so I was definitely quite firm in the Dual Sport category.

    The thing is, I'm not made of cash -- so I had to make a financial decision. For me, it was cheaper to buy the bike I wanted (and pray I don't wreck it!) right away then to constantly buy, farkle trade, buy, re-farkle, etc. (I'm learning the "Farkle" part would have been far more then I imagined!)

    So, I ended up getting a reasonable deal on a used Triumph, and I don't anticipate needing to upgrade/trade it until it rattles to the ground. Which it won't, because that triple is smoooooooth ;)

    So, good luck in your search -- My take: Do what you need to to be happy with how you've spent your money.

    Cheers
    Craig
    #4
  5. muskieken

    muskieken Been here awhile

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    i bought a 1982 piece of junk overprice needed work Suzuki gs750e
    but that was in the 90's before the internet.
    ( I new nothing about motorcycles at the time,, bought the bike to learn how to ride and get my license )

    all I'll say,, is a min of 500 cc so as you can go anywhere. because you will want to travel once you get a bike. my 220 cc dirt bike is no fun on the highway,,yes it will go 65 mph , but it's maxed and don't think it will last long doing it. so i have a road bike too.
    good luck with finding a bike,,
    but don't waste a summer of riding
    looking for a great deal..
    #5
  6. Unstable Rider

    Unstable Rider Moto Fartografist

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    A "650" something hard to beat.

    Kawasaki KLR 650 or the wonderfully ignored 650 Versys, GS650 Beamer, Suzuki Vee Strom 650, DR650 Suzuki.

    The dang little beamer (injected) can deliver staggering fuel economy. The KLR carries enough fuel for you and all your friends bikes...and you can improve it with a rock and some haywire. Versys great in the twisties. Vee Strom just "handy" at everything, or up to any task with moderation.

    All possibles with great aftermarkets avail. If I can't farkle it, I would not want it. :evil

    Others indeed may apply. Think of something common as hell and utterly reliable, even to the point of being boring if need be. Like the 650 Vee Strom that pulled the KTm half way cross Australia.

    No right or wrong answers. Heck, a Honda Pacific Coast tough to beat and quite versatile as a trip or weekender or commuter bike. Or a Ural....

    Let us know what you went with. Pics or it did not happen.

    [​IMG]
    #6
  7. Navin

    Navin Long timer

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    Kawi's Ninja 300 is a true standard bike that just looks like a sport, but does an honest 100 MPH too. Cruise at 85 all day long if you wanted, easy to ride for a beginner.

    That is the smallest engine power wise that actually does anything you might need up to 100 MPH. 39 HP to the crank. 2 up and any legal road speed are easily within its limits, even loaded.
    #7
  8. Randy

    Randy Long timer

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    Well, I'm 5'7", weigh around 145 and ride everthing between my R1150GS, my KTM 640, Buell S1, and my H-D Sportster, so, I'd say that size isn't an issue for you. You're probably small enough to not be too cramped on a smaller bike, and big enough to not be overwhelmed with a big bike.

    With that said, until you get some experience I'd stick with a smaller to mid-size machine since a tall bike like my GS and KTM can be difficult until you get your groove on with riding in general.

    I know nothing about the Nighthawk 250 so I can't comment on its capabilities. But in general, unless you plan to set the road on fire it would probably be fine for a first bike for the types of riding you describe. Probably wouldn't want to spend much time on the interstate on a bike of that size, but for backroad highways, most street legal bike larger than a Yamaha TW200 is more than capable of 55+ speeds. Not being too large helps too. :wink:

    As I said earlier, I really enjoy riding a dualsport bike. One reason is that they are dropable so you don't have to worry about damage from the inevitable first timer uh-ohs. Another is that they open a whole new world of backroad riding that may not be as readily available on a strictly street oriented bike. This is especially true if you like to explore and live somewhere rural with a lot of bad, or even gravel roads. They're light and flickable and easy to manage and turn around when your explorations end up at a dead end road somewhere. If this sounds of interest at all, I'd recommend you spend some time over on the "Thumpers" subforum to seem what's available.

    Or, if you want to stick strictly to asphalt another good choice could be an older Ninja 250 since they handle well and have enough juice to be fun. You can pick up a good used one cheap too. Then you can ride it for a while, and sell it without a huge loss. Of course that can be said of a lot of used bikes.

    If you really want to stick with a cruiser style bike, you may want to consider something like the Suzuki 650 Savage. Cruiser style, reasonably light, and shares the same basic engine as the DR650, so they're dependable and have decent power, and an easy to ride powerband.

    But, don't let engine size trip you up. There is a huge difference between something like the 650 savage (single cylinder) and 600 class sportbike in terms of power output. With that in mind, there are a lot of bikes in the 600-650 class that make very good bikes for a newer rider. The Kawasaki Versy comes to mind, a used SV650 is another. And then there's the new ones coming from Honda and Kawasaki, like the CBR500 and the Ninja 300.

    Sorry that I can't offer more in terms of the smaller cruiser market, but until recently I've never been a cruiser guy. My first one was my 1200 Sportster, but in reality, I don't see any reason that it wouldn't make an excellent first bike. Good torquey, easy to ride engine output, low seat to help with the whole balance thing in the early going. And surprisingly to me, fun to ride! :D And you can pick up really nice used ones for $5-$6K.

    But, like I said, it's really hard to recommend a "first bike" for anyone unless you know them and what buttons really trips their trigger and what their ability is.

    Just do some research and reading, be honest with yourself and don't overstep, thinking that you have to have the latest, greatest right out of the gate. With Craigslist it's really easy to ride and flip a bike nowadays, so don't be afraid to just start with something reasonable, and then if it's not what suits your needs, just sell it and move on.

    Above all be safe and smart out there!

    Good luck!

    :1drink
    #8
  9. AviatorTroy

    AviatorTroy Long timer

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    I'm sure to be flamed for this, but for the street a 250 is completely impractical and borderline unsafe. It doesn't matter if a Ninja 250 will go 90 if it takes 5 minutes to get there. Torque is what is needed for the street. You always need a reserve bit of "oomph" to bump yourself ahead of a blind merging car, etc. Additionally, why would you want to buy a bike that you will grow comfortable with and then outgrow within a week or so? (I DO however think those Suzuki TU250s are exceedingly cool, altho one does not reside in my garage for the above reasons.) There is a perfect engine size for almost every situation, and its a 650. 650 dual sports are not too big to have fun with within reason off road, and still have enough juice for street riding. 650 street bikes like GSX650, SV, Versys and such are a great balance of adequate power combined with light weight enough to be comfortable for a beginner to handle at parking lot speeds. I still have a '99 SV650 I bought new that was my first "real" modern bike, and many others have come and gone, but it stays. The perfect motorcycle.

    The great thing about riding is that whatever floats your boat, you are likely to find around somewhere.
    #9
  10. CJ5K

    CJ5K Adventurer

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    Hmm, the more I read, the more I come to realize three things:
    1) The Nighthawk 250 may be a little too small for the highway (IF anyone has experience with it, please let me know)
    2) Because of where I live, there is a very good chance I may need to ride the bike home on the highway
    3) It appears that I should just stay away from the CR500... something about too much power...

    Also, I shot a text to a guy with a suzuki 650 savage for sale, and emailed someone with a CB650... we'll see what happens..
    #10
  11. Navin

    Navin Long timer

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    I ride regularly with a buddy who has a ER6n, 650cc twin engine in the Ninja 650 and the other variations. Great bikes. I'm on a Ninja 300. When he decides to open it up on a straight he never pulls more than 2-3 bike lengths on me. He shuts off around 90ish. If I anticipate his intentions we are dead even. :lol3

    Every day riding is a 6-7k RPM shift and you still walk away from traffic. The gap from the 250 to the 300 is a big one. The days of zero power till 7,000 RPM are over.

    Make a point to ride a CR500 one day before you die. Everyone should!
    #11
  12. Unstable Rider

    Unstable Rider Moto Fartografist

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    Well stated brother !

    :clap
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  13. Maytag Repairman

    Maytag Repairman Been here awhile

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    The Nighthawk 250 is not that much different than a Rebel 250. I commuted to work for about 11 months on city streets with the Rebel. It was given to me to borrow for free and I was hurting for money to buy anything bigger.

    I was tired of it after 2-3 weeks. It couldn't reliably maintain a speed say above about 42-45 mph unless it was flat or downhill ground but I weighed about 240 lbs with gear on. Forget highway speeds for a guy with my weight. I think the fastest I saw on it was 62 and the odometer tended to read 10% high. The front tire was also too skinny for highway speeds. It would hit the slightest rut and wobble. If there was a car in the lane next to me at a stop light it almost always passed me until I hit at least 3rd gear.

    There are plenty of bikes I'd rather see you on. For example, if you fancy Honda, the Shadow has been made for years. Save yourself some money and find a used one.
    #13
  14. Randy

    Randy Long timer

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    LOL! Yeah, the CR500 is NOT a bike for a beginner! Or did you perhaps mean the CBR500? Completely different animals.

    The term, "the highway" can have different meanings to different people and under different circumstances. On some highways for example, as AviatorTroy says, most 250 class machines may be a little slow. But, definitely NOT all. Except for the interstate system, around where I live, there are tons of backroads and smaller "highways" where a smaller bike is just fine. We're talking rural areas here, not inner city hustle and bustle type riding. Merging traffic isn't a consideration in the areas I'm talking about. The types of roads I'm talking about are two lane blacktop with max speed limits of 55mph and a lot are posted lower than that. Again, it really depends on the reality of where you live and how you plan to ride.

    With that said, in most cases I really don't see any advantage to a bike that small for the street excepting maybe for the Ninja 300 where someone just likes a small, nimble sporty bike for corner carving. Not when there are so many bikes available that will broaden the scope of your riding. The 650 class breed of twins are capable of going anywhere you wanna go. If you do want a dualsport type of bike, the the DR650 is an excellent choice for a very flexible machine for that type of riding.

    But, then again, are we talking about a bike that you want to use to get your feet wet and not worry about dropping, so you can just enjoy the learning process? Or are we talking about a bike that you plan to keep for a good while and use as your main bike? A bike isn't like a wife. No messy divorce necessary if you pick one and then want another in a few months. Just stay reasonable, get whatever tickles your fancy. Then, after a bit of riding you'll feel more confident, and have a better idea, first hand, what exactly it is that you need for the way you REALLY ride.

    As an example, for years I had a thing about wanting a really light, nimble, corner carving machine for the mountains in N. GA. Then, after a few years it hit me. I don't live close enough to really ride those roads all that often. In fact, the vast majority of my riding was, and is, done closer around my home, and generally doesn't involve huge miles. No, most of my REAL WORLD riding wasn't what my mind fantasized about, so my taste in motorcycles changed a bit as this thought settled in. Odds are, you'll be similar. You just won't know exactly what you want to do until after you've gotten out there and done it for a while so you can see what aspect of motorcycling it is that you enjoy most, and what it is that fits into your lifestyle and schedule.

    :1drink
    #14
  15. MiniBike

    MiniBike Been here awhile

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    You said something that I always ask new riders and that is your bicycle experience. That puts you head and shoulders above most new riders. You've already developed 80% of what you need to survive out there.

    Just go out there and find something that fits your body and speaks to your soul. It won't be your last bike anyway.:rofl
    #15
  16. Grainbelt

    Grainbelt marginal adventurer Super Moderator

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    First, congratulations on having the foresight to take the MSF class. As they likely told you at the end, you are now qualified to ride around in a parking lot! :D

    I was in your shoes eight or so years ago. There used to be a great little website, beginnerbikes.org or something, chock full of n00bs and some veterans answering questions. They led me to the Suzuki GS500, and it was spot-on. I actually bought it a month before my MSF, and rode around the one-way parkways of S. Minneapolis a bit, which was nice.

    Another old saying is that you start motorcycling with a full bucket of luck and an empty bucket of experience, and the key is to fill up the experience bucket before you run out of luck. To that end, you need something that puts you in control - IMO that rules out the savage and other cruisers, due to their lean-back ergonomics. Upright, good view of the road, good response to your inputs, without dumping you on your ass the first time you make a hamfisted stab at the brakes or throttle.

    The 650s are great bikes, I bought a Ninja 650R/ER-6F after a year or so on the GS500. I should have kept the 500, but a coworker's son was looking for a first bike and having a hard time finding anything, so I did the neighborly thing and passed it along.

    I think the 500 class is great. GS500. EX500. CX500 (my gfs first bike last summer). VT500 Ascot. VF500. The new CB500F. You can pretty much do anything on them, and they are cheap to own, run, and insure. There are some other nice old bikes with slightly larger but similarly tame engines - Yamaha Radian and Seca II are air-cooled 600cc four cylinders that would fit the bill.

    Searchtempest.com is your friend. Have cash, as questions here before you go to look at anything, and see if someone local can go with you. There are a lot of simple things to check on a used bike to know if it is a good deal or worth haggling - worn sprockets, old weather-cracked tires, dry-rotted carb diaphrams, etc.

    We've all been there and are glad to offer our insights. Yes, they will occasionally be contradictory. That's the internet for ya. :thumb
    #16
  17. Randy

    Randy Long timer

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    All very good advice right there! :thumb And I do agree about the cruiser thing too. Not usually the best of brakes, or handling, and the "laid-back" riding position is not the best for control either, although some aren't really all that bad in that regard. I find the bar position and ergonomics pretty good on my 48 since I swapped out the forward controls for mids. IMO though, anything with forward controls is very bad for good control.

    :1drink
    #17
  18. NJ-Brett

    NJ-Brett Brett

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    I wont flame you, but disagree about needing power to be safe.
    I have had big fast bikes and little under powered bikes, on both the street and in the dirt, and have always been safe.
    I tend to think if you need power to get out of trouble, you are doing it wrong, or riding in the wrong places if you want to be safe.

    Its hard to go wrong with a TU250.
    Its so easy to ride, even learning the basics is fun and easy.
    Used, its under $3000.00, is bullet proof, the owner can do all the work on it with a handfull of tools, it gets 80 mpg, is fuel injected, its smooth and happy to run at whatever speed you can get it up to all day, uses no oil, runs very cool, fits a normal size person, add a rack and its a pack mule.

    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v457/guzzidoug/011 magadan/P1020964.jpg

    I have done 50 mile runs on the interstate at 85 mph, the limit here is 65...
    Tires are $50.00 each, O ring chain needs little, foam air filter.

    No, its not the best choice for all day interstate travel, but it is much more fun on the interstate then a big bike, its like a road race, and much more involving then just droning along.
    And it loves holding the throttle wide open, tucking in and running 85+ all day long.

    Its way more then enough off the interstate, and its just fantastic for local trips to the store or whatever.
    4 miles or 400 miles, I cant wait to get on it and go.

    At 80 mpg and a 3+ gallon tank (takes regular gas), its got the range to have a lot of fun for chump change.

    Most younger guys will want to trade up eventualy, and if you get used, you can get your money back, but some hold onto the bike for the fun factor.

    I went from a 1200 to the TU 3 years ago aand have not had so much fun on a bike since I was 17.




    #18
  19. scooterspirit

    scooterspirit Ilovekitty

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    +1 on the TU, it's the best bike to start on. The TU will do everything you want it to, camp, cruise, commute, fun, two up.
    The nighthawk and rebel are great choices too and cheaper to find. An inmate toured the states on one and loved it so much, tried a cbr250 and didn't like it at all. I wouldn't recommend anything else besides the 250 class for a beginner. GL
    #19
  20. beemerphile

    beemerphile Long timer

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    Have a look at the Honda NC700x. An automatic and ABS is available if you want it. It is a low horsepower 700 and acts more like a smaller bike.
    #20