Since I’m on social media more than I should be, and since I love talking about bikes, people often send me messages asking for advice – especially when it comes to their first bike. How powerful, which make and model, how tall, can it be lowered, will I be able to ride it? These are the most asked questions, so I figured I’d talk about what’s the best first bike for a new rider here.
What bikes we buy is an important decision, especially when it’s your first one. Most people rely on advice from friends and relatives, which can be both great or catastrophic (no Lyndsay, you shouldn’t get a Fireblade for your first bike just because your cousin who’s been riding since he was ten has one). Then come the Google searches; motorcycle reviews are abundant online, but since most bike reviews are written by the manufacturers themselves or journalists who have been invited to a press reveal (and who are experienced riders), just how accurate and honest are they – especially when it comes to first bikes for new riders?
Doing a little reasarch of my own, I came across this brilliant rant by Wes Siles. “Why No One Will Sell You the Bike You Want” is hilarious – but it also rings true now, even though the post is several years old. Most dealerships will try to sell you the newest and most expensive bike regardless of your experience as a rider; having worked in sales at a Honda dealership myself, I can attest it’s not just an American problem – it’s the same in European dealerships.
So if friends’ advice isn’t always the best, bike reviews online aren’t always honest, and motorcycle dealers just want to make a big sale, what’s a new rider to do?
My take? Get and adventure or a dual sport motorcycle as your first bike. Here’s why.
Small and Mid-Range Motorcycles
Regardless of how tall or physically fit you are, a general rule of thumb when buying your first motorcycle is go small. Something like a 450-650 cc is plenty of motorcycle for a new rider, and it will be much, much easier to learn on a bike that’s light, agile, and forgiving. Adventure and dual sport motorcycles have a great range of smaller bikes: from the baby GS (BMW GS310), Suzuki DRZ400, and Honda CFR450 to the new Yamaha Tenere 700, a Suzuki DR650, or a BMW GS 650, there are lots of options to choose from. Most of these bikes can be lowered even more if you’re vertically challenged, and what all of them have in common is simplicity, lower weight, and easy handling. Most of these bikes are very forgiving, too, meaning you won’t crash as much aboard a DR650 than a GS1200 or a large sports or street motorcycle.
The seat and handlebars’ position on an adventure or dual sport bike are just about ideal for beginners. It’s comfortable enough for learning and doing long distances, but you can also stand up on the pegs easily if you’re starting to hit the dirt. An adventure bike will work for commuting, weekend rides, pavement, and dirt alike as it will likely have some space for your luggage and a tool roll.
Forget expensive farkles: for your first motorcycle, all you’ll need is a better seat, perhaps a larger tank if you plan to travel, and a lowering kit if you need to bring the seat height down a bit. That’s it! Sure, you may also add crash bars, a skid plate, luggage racks, a steering damper and perhaps some auxiliary lights as you progress, but most of the time, adventure and dual sports bikes are ready to go as they are with minimal modifications.
Why do you want to ride? Most answers will include the word “freedom”, and there’s no other bike that will give you more freedom to ride, explore, and travel than an adventure bike. It’s a great motorcycle to start riding on and off the road, take more riding lessons if you need to, travel, and go to motorcycle events. Even if you decide you want your next bike to be a pure off-road monster or, on the contrary, a track machine, you will get some solid foundations riding an adventure bike for whichever discipline you may choose later.
Adventure motorcycles are made to last and endure all sorts of terrain, weather, and roads. The older models will also be very simple mechanically, and thus easy to maintain; you’ll probably have some crash bars, so dumping the bike won’t be as damaging. Even if you buy your first adventure or dual sport bike second-hand, chances are, you’ll get a beat-up but reliable donkey that will forgive all the initial mishaps, crashes, and weird maneuvres. Once – and if – you outgrow your first motorcycle, you can still keep it as a cheap runaround for commuting or for trashing it out on the trails.
What’s the best first bike for beginners in your opinion? Let me know in the comments below.
Images: Reini Wenzel & Actiongraphers