May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, and May is also the month when motorcycle sales really start to pick up.
If you’ve been riding a while, you probably have a good idea of what features you’re looking for in a bike. But what if you’re a newbie, and the feature you need most is safety? Here are some suggestions to check out.
Honda Rebel 500
If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly cruiser, Honda’s revived Rebel lineup is where you need to start. The Rebel 300 is a little lower-priced with its smaller engine, but it isn’t much lighter than the 500, since they share the same chassis; the 500 is 20 kg heavier, at 188 kg curb weight. That’s still very manageable, as that weight is held low.
ABS is standard on either model, but with the 500’s extra power, you’ll find highway travel easier, and probably enjoy the bike for longer. The 300 would be better on fuel, but overall, we’d recommend the 500 here. Either machine will be far easier to ride than a heavy made-in-America cruiser with lots of chrome but limited suspension travel. Our reviews of the bike are here and here.
In 2019, Kawasaki has removed the clip-ons and fairing from its Ninja 400 sportbike to make this attractive little naked bike. You’ll find it cheaper to insure, since there’s no fairing and it doesn’t bear the dreaded “Ninja” name, which underwriters fear everywhere. It’s got decent power, it handles well — it’s a fun little bike.
But while it performs well in the mini-hooligan role, the Z400 is also a pretty decent buy for the safety-conscious rider. It has decent Dunlop radial tires, much better than the crappy bias-plies that beginner bikes shipped with for years. It has up-to-date two-channel ABS (using Bosch’s latest design). And it has a slipper clutch, so if you make a bad downshift, the bike won’t go all wonky and pitch you into the weeds. Our review of the bike is here.
BMW G310 GS
BMW, as a company, has a great track record of safety innovation. The latest and greatest stuff (leaning ABS, automatic stability control, etc.) is only available on its more expensive bikes, but even the entry-level lineup of made-in-India G310 models now come with two-channel ABS, which can be disabled for gravel road riding.
That makes the G310 GS even more attractive to beginner riders. The 310 is already a lot lighter (187 kg) than the F850 (229 kg) and R1250 (249 kg) lineup, making it much easier to handle for a beginner rider. Then there’s the seat height: the G310 GS has a 785 mm seat, while the F850 GS is 860 mm and the R1250 GS is 850-870 mm. A lower saddle means the G310 GS isn’t intimidating to learn on. See Costa’s review here.
Suzuki V-Strom 650
The Wee-Strom is based on fairly old tech, the liquid-cooled V-twin that originally showed up in the SV650 in 1999. That means you should be able to expect trouble-free ownership, a major bonus when you’re starting out as a rider. ABS is standard, and has been for years, but alas, it isn’t able to be turned off for riding in the dirt. Bummer. Suzuki makes up for that by including traction control on the 650, making it one of the lowest-priced bikes to include the technology, and certainly the lowest-priced adventure-tourer with traction control. Read more about the V-Strom here.
Kawasaki cultivates an image of burnouts, wheelies and speed in its marketing, but in reality, Team Green has a long, successful history of building excellent beginner bikes that are also appealing to more experienced riders.
The Versys-X 300 adventure bike fits well into that slot. Manageable seat height? Check. Reasonable power output? Check. ABS fitted as standard? Check. A wet weight that won’t scare you at slow speeds? Check. The only reason we can see not to buy it is that lot of riders demanded an adventure bike version of its Ninja 250, and Kawasaki resisted. Then they wanted an adventure bike version of the Ninja 300, and Kawasaki relented. Now, they’re asking for an adventure version of the Ninja 400. So, if Kawasaki builds a Versys-X 400 this fall, you might be annoyed if you’d just bought the 300 version.
Mark put a Versys-X through its paces a couple of summers ago. Read all about it here.
The lowly T-Dub (and we mean that literally) is the only bike on this list without ABS. However, as far as dual-sports go, it is probably the easiest machine to ride, thanks to its massive chunky tires that find traction anywhere. If you want an easy bike to run around the dirt roads at your cottage, you couldn’t ask for any better. ABS would just be a pain in the ass on those gravel tracks anyway.
The TW200 has an extremely low seat height, pretty weak power output, and fairly wimpy suspension by modern off-roader standards. Even if you wanted to ride this thing fast, you couldn’t. It might be the world’s funnest bike to ride slow. But it’ll go through almost any kind of muck, as long as you don’t mind the lack of speed. Watch a really cool video of the TW200 in action here.
Ducati Scrambler Icon
It makes sense for many new riders to buy a less expensive bike, but the Scrambler Icon is a fantastic choice if you’re going to spend more money. When Ducati updated the Scrambler Icon for 2019, it included leaning ABS — the first entry-level bike to do so, and despite its high price, Ducati would definitely recommend this bike for entry-level riders.
There are some downsides to this bike: the typical notchy Ducati gearbox means you might miss shifts occasionally, and the rear suspension is lacking. However, it’s very easy to ride thanks to a low seat height and wide handlebar. It can handle the potholes and broken pavement of city streets or country roads. The engine’s power is predictable. If you’re looking to spend $10k on a stylish beginner bike, this would be a good place to start. See our initial review here.
BMW C400 GT
And here’s one for the step-through fans. Entry-level scooters are generally pretty basic (not much room for ABS on a Honda Ruckus). But as you go up in price, you get such fancy-pants options as traction control and ABS — at least, you would if you were in Europe. Here in Canada, maxi-scooters aren’t really that popular, but BMW does bring a few in, including this model that combines practicality with luxury options. It’s expensive for a scooter, but low-priced for a BMW, and the 350 cc engine combined with the twist-and-go throttle is about as easy-to-ride as it gets. Read more about the C400 GT here, and find out how Zac got on with a megaride on its C650 GT big brother here.
650 and larger are not beginner bikes. 500cc is questionable for a new rider. The rest are suitable.b
I wouldn’t necessarily agree with this assessment. Manufacturers these days seem to focus on making bikes just so easy to ride that higher displacements aren’t as difficult to manage as perhaps in the past. My 2017 Triumph Street Scrambler doens’t have insane power for a 900, has a farily low seat height and a torque-assist clutch for easy starts.
CC size is not the be all & end all; your Triumph may have 900 cc, but it makes 54 hp vs the newest versions of the Wee Strom make 70, the 805 cc motors in Suzuki’s M50/C50 make 54 hp, while the 500 cc offerings from Honda are making 47. How many of the other 650 cc offerings make even more HP than the DL 650
True. I had a breathed on RZ350 that was the last thing a beginner needed. 300-ish pounds (I put it on an aggressive diet), and a pretty nasty power curve made for a rather interesting ride.
Heh. My 2nd bike was an RD400 Daytona Special. I nearly wheelied over backwards within 90 seconds of leaving the dealership. Scared the living crap outta me. :p
1st bike I rode on the street was a rebuilt 81 RD 350, that I helped a buddy rebuild after his son blew it up
Hah! No doubt, that got your complete attention!
I had “ridden” a 69 CB 350 around my buddy’s property in Muskoka, so I knew a “bit” about the friction zone & throttle control. Had to keep the RPM’s low as it was being broken in from the rebuild finished literally 30 minutes prior
We have a 650 VStrom. While a great bike, it’s perhaps a bit tall and top-heavy for a beginner. The Honda NC750 might be a better choice in this style.
I have owned 2 Wee Stroms, an 05 & the 07 with ABS, both accumulated roughly 45,000 km while in my possession & as a tall top heavy motorcycle, making in excess of 65 hp are not what I would recommend for a new rider. With so many “better” choices even for taller riders, IMO it shouldn’t be on this list.
Missed a great chance to also include the other 3 Honda Variants using the 500 cc motor & all with abs: The CBR 500R, CB 500F & CB 500X. Now living in the Foothills of the Rocky Mountains, I can assure you they have enough power, for even an “experienced” rider to enjoy
Without traction control, the Strom would not have made the list.
With traction control, it’s a challenging bike for the beginner, but much easier than the supersports and overweight UJMs that so many (including me) ended up starting out on.
There were some other considerations here. The Suzuki Savage would have made the list if it had ABS, as I believe it’s the easiest bike in the world for a beginner to learn on.
& I think it’s (Savage) one of the worst; n00bs feel they have “outgrown” it too quickly, where any of the 500 cc offerings from Honda, are just as easy to learn on (helped 2 young friends learn on them T & X variants) but not that small that a new rider will feel they have outgrown it in a cpl months. Knew a guy in his 50’s whose “ego” wouldn’t let him stay on the older F650 single as we were riding on the DL650. Predictable he dropped it more than a few times, because he was in over his heard. True a bike making 70 hp is better than any super sport for a n00b, but that still doesn’t make it right. When I was an instructor, the Wee Strom was the single most popular motorcycle for the Instructors, who already had many years & km of experience. I started on a bike making 53 hp & many said that was “too” much, but then again I wasn’t a typical n00b either, racking up significant mileage in my 1st season
That should read “R” & “X” variants
The Hondas weren’t on the market when the Savage came out, and are just now coming as common on the used market.
I wouldn’t tell a rider to buy a new Savage over the 500.
True enough, but this article is about good beginner bikes available today; I’m not surprised that the Rebel 500 made the cut, & not the “R” “F” & “X” variants, yet the Wee Strom did
If the rider is also tall and top heavy, it’s probably OK. Still wouldn’t be must first pick for a first bike for a beginner, though.