What Makes A Good Starter Motorcycle?
I need to start by defining what a starter motorcycle is. A starter bike is what it sounds like, a bike that you would learn how to ride on or first buy after getting your motorcycle license. It’s a bike you start on.
There is much debate about what makes a starter bike. Some swear you should begin riding with a bigger bike and “grow into it.” At the same time, others think that a smaller bike is better for newbies. I firmly believe that what makes an excellent starter bike is that it’s a bike you want to ride.
The most important thing about the bike you choose is that you find it comfortable and you’re confident in the saddle. For many, that is knowing that if you flick the throttle you’re not going to accidentally wheelie. For others, it’s having a seat height that allows them to easily put a foot down at stop lights. Surprise! Different people have different needs.
Many people will recommend starting on a used motorcycle, but depending on the used market near you, many options may not be available. Used bikes sometimes command a price just shy of MSRP for a new bike. All the bikes I have included in this article are available to purchase new today.
What Are the Different Types of Motorcycles?
If you’ve begun to peruse motorcycles for one that catches your eye, you’ve probably noticed a few different types of motorcycles available. While you can dig down into the fine details of each and continually split them into more niche subcategories, the three categories of bikes I will cover are the standard, cruiser, and sportbike.
These are what I consider to be the quintessential archetypes of the motorcycling world. These different categories all have characteristics that make riding them unique from one another. All of these branch off into further divisions, but if you know these three basic types of motorcycles, you’ll be able to identify and narrow down which kind of bike appeals to you.
Below I will introduce you to each type of motorcycle and what makes them unique from the others. I’ll also include a couple of the best starter bikes from each category and what makes each an excellent motorcycle to begin with.
What Is a Standard Motorcycle?
The standard motorcycle might sound a little boring, but it is a style of bike that has withstood the test of time. The first motorcycles ever produced would be considered standard motorcycles. Many modern motorcycle manufacturers are releasing standard bikes with updated technology and performance but with 60s and 70s styling. Bikes like this include the Kawasaki Z900RS, the Triumph Bonneville T120, and the Royal Enfield Continental GT 650.
The standard motorcycle has upright seating with the handlebars a comfortable distance from the rider and the foot controls in a middle position on the bike. These characteristics create a relaxed neutral riding style and a comfortable open rider triangle.
The phrase naked bike refers to standard bikes as well. These are typically more modern-looking examples of the standard bike. Naked bikes forego the classic styling queues of the bikes mentioned above but retain the comfortable riding position. Naked bikes have boomed in popularity, and nearly every manufacturer has a naked bike in their lineup, usually available in several different sizes.
Best Beginner Standard Bikes For Women
While there are many great options for starting on a standard bike, I’ve narrowed down the list to four great choices. That list includes the KTM Duke 390, the Kawasaki Z400, the Honda CB300R, and the Royal Enfield Classic 350.
With the beginner motorcyclist in mind, I chose these four bikes. All the bikes are available for under $6,000. They have an approachable seat height, relatively low weight, and a manageable power level. These four motorcycles are my recommendation for an excellent beginner’s standard bike for women.
KTM Duke 390
Seat Height: 32.3”
Curb Weight: 359lbs
Engine: 373cc Single-Cylinder
The KTM Duke 390 always finds itself at the top of best-of lists, and for a good reason. Featuring a laundry list of technology, the Duke 390 is perhaps the most high-tech bike on this list. It does carry the highest seat height in this category but is still approachable at 32.3”. If you are a shorter rider, you may want to try out the Duke 390 before committing to it to ensure you are comfortable in the saddle.
Seat Height: 30.9”
Curb Weight: 363.8lbs
Engine: 399cc Parallel-Twin
The Kawasaki Z400 is an excellent starter bike for women and smaller riders due to its low seat height and comfortable riding position. The Team Green Z has the lowest seat height in this category, making it an excellent option for even the smallest riders. Featuring an exceptionally light clutch pull due to its assist and slipper clutch, the Z400 is a very approachable bike for anyone new to motorcycling who wants a sporty upright bike.
Seat Height: 31.5”
Curb Weight: 317lbs
Engine: 286cc Single-Cylinder
While the Honda CB300R has the smallest displacement engine in this category, that does not mean it is a wimpy bike. Capable of making 31 horsepower and having an extremely light curb weight of only 317lbs, this Honda is a light and nimble machine easily controlled by more petite riders.
Royal Enfield Classic 350
Seat Height: 31.7”
Curb Weight: 430lbs
Engine: 349cc Single-Cylinder
The only “modern-retro” standard bike on this list, the Royal Enfield Classic 350 is also the most inexpensive offering. It foregoes the higher horsepower numbers that the other bikes featured have and is a bit weightier. A low-power heavier bike creates a smooth riding motorcycle with a mellow powerband that is approachable by anyone.
What Is a Cruiser Bike?
When you hear the word motorcycle, a cruiser bike is probably the image that comes to mind. Harley-Davidson is probably the first brand that comes to mind having cultivated the popular image of the American motorcycle scene with its line of cruisers.
Cruisers have the most relaxed riding position of the three types of motorcycles featured here. They’re known for their especially low-slung seats and very open rider triangle. Most cruisers are large-displacement heavy affairs, but several manufacturers are making smaller, lighter cruisers with the same low seat height and comfortable riding position. This new breed of smaller cruisers makes them ideal for new female riders concerned about handling a larger bike.
Best Beginner Cruiser Bikes For Women
While Harley-Davidson may be the quintessential cruiser, I’ve left them off the list of best starter bikes for several reasons. Harley used to make a great entry-level cruiser in the Street 500, but they have ceased production of that bike as of 2020.
Their smallest option now, the Iron 883, has a displacement of 883cc and costs $11,249, which puts it out of contention for a good starter bike for most but would make an excellent bike for someone who wanted to grow into it and didn’t mind the premium price-tag.
I have found four great cruisers to start on that aren’t Harley-Davidsons, and those are the Kawasaki Vulcan S, the Yamaha V Star 250, the Royal Enfield Meteor 350, and the Honda Rebel 500.
Kawasaki Vulcan S
Price: $7,349 (Non-ABS) $7,899 (ABS)
Seat Height: 27.8”
Curb Weight: 498.3lbs
Engine: 649cc Parallel-Twin
The Kawasaki Vulcan S has the largest displacement on this list, but that does not mean it is a cumbersome bike. The Vulcan shares its engine with the Kawasaki Ninja and Versys, but it’s tuned to favor low and mid-range revs and produces fewer horses than those bikes. Once you’re up and going, you won’t notice the weight of this bike, but the low seat height helps to be able to plant your foot and keep the motorcycle upright.
Yamaha V Star 250
Seat Height: 27”
Curb Weight: 342lbs
Engine: 249cc V-Twin
Horsepower: Not provided by the manufacturer
The Yamaha V Star 250 is part of Yamaha’s Sport Heritage line of motorcycles which features classic styling and low price tags. This air-cooled and carbureted bike is timeless in its appearance and design. Taking styling queues from Japanese cruisers of the 80s, this lightweight bike is a great starting bike for someone looking to get around the city in style.
Royal Enfield Meteor 350
Seat Height: 30.12”
Curb Weight: 421lbs
Engine: 349cc SIngle-Cylinder
Another classically designed cruiser, the Royal Enfield Meteor 350, is many people’s go-to suggestion for a small displacement starter bike that you won’t want to replace after a year or two of riding. The Meteor 350 is praised for its low price tag and timeless styling. This cruiser also punches above its price tag in terms of features. With ABS, USB charging, and a smart-phone connected navigation system in the cockpit, the Meteor 350 has features you might not find on significantly higher-priced bikes.
Honda Rebel 500
Price: $6,399 (Non-ABS) $6,699 (ABS)
Seat Height: 27.2”
Curb Weight: 408lbs
Engine: 471cc Parallel-Twin
The Rebel 250 is probably the most ridden bike in history. The next-gen iterations of this bike lie in the Honda Rebel 500 and its smaller sibling, the Rebel 300. These bikes are identical in design, the only difference being a smaller engine on the 300. I favor the 500 for this list because it allows for room to grow into but isn’t intimidating to start on.
What Is a Sport Bike?
Sport bikes embody the idea of speed. Everything about them is designed to lower weight and drag and make the bike go fast. Sport bikes typically have a higher seat height and a more forward riding position that shifts weight over the handlebars.
You can easily identify a sport bike by its ample use of fairings, lower handlebars, and higher-placed footrests. These things combine to create a bike that can carve corners, accelerate quickly, and brake sharply.
Best Beginner Sport Bikes For Women
If sport bikes are meant to be fast, you might be asking why I’ve included them on a list of best starter bikes. I’ve done so because sport bikes are incredibly popular, and there are plenty of low-displacement options available in this segment that will allow a new rider to enter the scene.
Another benefit of starting on a sport bike is that many low-displacement options are considered fully capable on the track and wouldn’t necessarily need replacing as you level up your skills.
I’ve found four excellent starter sport bikes that you can swing a leg over. Those bikes are the BMW G 310 R, the KTM RC 390, the Kawasaki Ninja 400, and the Yamaha R3. Each motorcycle will provide you with an exciting ride that is forgiving for new riders but allows you to grow your skills.
BMW G 310 R
Seat Height: 30.9” (optional low seat of 30.3” available)
Curb Weight: 362lbs
Engine: 313cc SIngle-Cylinder
BMW has many bikes at the top of the displacement spectrum, most dipping into the 1000cc+ camp. The G 310 R is the outlier in BMW’s lineup. It shares its engine with the G 310 GS, but that is where the similarities end. The light curb weight and low seat make it the perfect sport bike for urban riding.
KTM RC 390
Seat Height: 32.4”
Curb Weight: 379lbs
Engine: 373cc Single-Cylinder
The KTM RC 390 has consistently impressed reviewers with its suite of high-tech rider aids and its track-ready performance. The 2022 RC 390 underwent a significant redesign, making it lighter and more trackable than its previous generations. While this may be one of the most race-ready bikes on this list, KTM’s traction control and ABS solutions make it a great bike to build your confidence. Remember the high seat height if this is a bike you’re considering.
Kawasaki Ninja 400
Price: $5,299 (Non-ABS) $5,699 (ABS)
Seat Height: 30.9”
Curb Weight: 366lbs
Engine: 399cc Parallel-Twin
Kawasaki’s Ninja 400 is the baby of the Ninja lineup but does not ride like a baby. Many consider it the best low-displacement sport bike available. The 400 is a track-capable bike that is also lightweight and comfortable for daily riding. If the KTM RC 390’s seat is too high for you, consider the Ninja 400 as an alternative that won’t sacrifice power.
Seat Height: 30.7”
Curb Weight: 375lbs
Engine: 321cc Parallel-Twin
Much like the Ninja, Yamaha's R3 is the baby in their lineup of supersport bikes, but that does not mean it is a bike to be scoffed at. Reviews of the motorcycle praise its all-around practicality. The R3 is a bike that is just as comfortable on city streets as at the track and would make a great entry point into the world of sport bikes.
About THE AUTHOR
With nearing a decade of riding experience and tens of thousands of miles on two wheels I will always opt for two wheels over four. My favorite motorcycling pastimes are motocamping and spontaneous runs to the ice cream shop. You can often find me with a loaded pack strapped to the back of my bike on my way to a new adventure.Read More About Michael Conger