Beginner Motorcycles – Breaking into the World of Two Wheels
There’s a number of reasons you might be looking for a beginner motorcycle. You’re motorcycling adventure may just be starting, in which case you’re a baby biker. You may have been wobbling around on a scooter for some time and want to trade up. Or, you might even be an older rider returning to the joys of the open road after a long absence, which makes you a born-again biker.
But whatever the reason, somewhere out there is the right bike for you. So to get the ball rolling, let’s suppose you’re straight out of school with a fistful of dollars (or euros) burning a hole in your pocket, what do you look for and what’s actually available to you?The answer to this primarily depends on whether you’ve applied for your license or have taken a test. In Great Britain, the rules aren’t overly complicated. You have to be a minimum of 16 years of age before you can apply for a provisional license, and then you must pass a compulsory basic training course.
Once this is complete, you’re let loose to cause havoc and mayhem in the world on a bike of no more than 50cc, and with a top speed of 28mph. As almost everything on two wheels can exceed this speed, manufacturers usually fit restrictors to the intake or carb. The good news is though, these can easily be removed. After you’ve passed the next exam of course!
Beginner Motorcycles: Real Power
Once you’ve reached the grand old age of 17, things really take off as you can now get rid of your chicken chaser for something with real power. As long as it’s not over 125cc and has huge red and white L-plates stuck on it. In Australia, regulations are as tough as the UK with new rules brought in allegedly designed to protect bikers against themselves. Learners and riders with less than 12 months experience can only ride a bike that appears on the LAMS list (list of approved motorcycles). But don’t worry, if you can’t find a particular bike you like on the list just apply this handy formula. Weigh the bike, multiply that by the power output and if it exceeds a power-to-weight ratio of 150 kilowatts per ton, forget it.
Before we take a look at some of the pretty cool bikes available in the 125cc category though, here’s a couple of license related quickies from countries that are a little more relaxed about the whole thing. In India, they have the same rules governing 16-year-old’s and 50cc scooters. However, if you’re new to biking but 20 or over, you can jump straight onto a Suzuki Hayabusa to cut your teeth on, as long as you’ve got sufficient rupees. Whilst in America, if you’ve got a full car license you can automatically ride a motorcycle up to 125cc. Because as everyone knows, driving a car and riding a bike are exactly the same aren’t they!? And if you’ve reached the grand old age of 10 and have the itch to ride a moped, then Arkansas is the place for you.
Beginner Motorcycles: Choice
Right, that’s the legal niceties dispensed with. Now let us take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly on offer in the 125cc range. First stop has to be Japan. They know a good market sector when they see it and not only are 125’s beginner friendly, they’re also very popular with anyone wanting a cheap commuter with fantastic fuel frugality.
Dominating this market sector at the moment, are the Honda CBF125 and Yamaha’s diminutive R1 lookalike (the YZF-125S) but look out for the new Yamaha YS125. It has a big bike feel to it thanks to a 14-liter tank and a seat height higher than a 750cc Harley, Street.
The new Suzuki GSX-S125 is a testament to just how serious this category is being taken. The new GSX has been designed from scratch and comes with Bosch ABS and LED lights. It also has the best power to weight ratio in its class, say Suzuki.
Beginner Motorcycles: Facelift
The KTM 125 Duke isn’t new, but this year sees it receive a major facelift. The bike boasts WP suspension front and rear and a thin film transistor dash. The 75mph bike now has the same orange and white paint scheme as its insane, Super Duke stablemate.
Another bike with sporty intentions is the Tuono 125. Like the KTM, it has been built to specifically look like the 1100cc version of the same name. The engine is a double overhead, single cylinder unit and comes ready to fit Aprilia’s Quick Shift system as an optional extra.
After 30 years of pushing the envelope with their extensive GSX-R range, Suzuki has finally given a 125 the Gixer treatment in the form of the GSX-R125. It comes with a full aerodynamically shaped fairing, performance leading liquid-cooled engine and for the tech bods out there, keyless one touch start ignition.
If however, Japanese or Italian machines don’t float your boat, all is not lost. Belgium bike builders, Bulit, are releasing their beefy looking Hero Scrambler this year. The Hero features fuel injection, wavy discs (front and back) and certainly looks the part with its long travel suspension.
Beginner Motorcycles: China
Should the price tag on some of these new models be too much of a stretch, then look no further than mainland China. Thanks to a blatant disregard for copyright laws, you can pick up a 125cc bike that looks exactly like a 10-year-old copy of your favorite Japanese motorcycle, for a third of the price. Now that the entry level bikes are out of the way it’s time to move on up the ladder. These next motorcycles are considered to be the start of the ‘big bike’ range and by their very nature are easy and enjoyable to ride.
You should feel safe on them and be able to get both feet down on terra firma at a stop sign. The rider need not require any special skills, allowing them to develop their ability as the miles clock up. As this is also the category that lends itself to an increasing number of returning motorcyclists, they will also be suitable for those who need to get used to life outside the cage once more. Generally, they range from 250cc right up to 500cc and come in all shapes and sizes.
Starting off with the 250’s, the Honda CRF250L is a great lightweight dual sport bike that can handle the commute to work and a meander through the trails at the weekend. It’s tall enough to see over the top of cars and has a nice even spread of power. The seat however, is about the same size as a flip-flop.
Suzuki’s GW250 Inazuma has a nice big bike feel to it. Its twin-cylinder engine is smooth yet perky and gets great fuel consumption. The chassis gives it a decent planted feel in the bends and although the bodywork has a modern look to it, three-spoke wheels and twin silencers are a nice retro twist.
Beginner Motorcycles: Cruiser
Want to stay with 250cc but prefer to cruise all the way to your destination? Yamaha has just the thing in the V Star 250. Its no nonsense V-twin engine is probably one of the last bikes to still have a carb metering out the fuel at the rate of around 80 miles to the gallon. And with wire wheels and stepped seat, it’s about as old school as it gets.
It may seem like a strange engine size but Yamaha, Honda and Kawasaki are all taking it seriously enough to launch 300cc baby racers into the marketplace. Although strictly speaking a 321cc engine, the new Yamaha YZF-R3 follows the same style cues as the game-changing R1. Thankfully, that’s where the similarities end and although the engine is willing and buzzy enough it’s not going to pull your arms off. Thanks to its excellent handling, it will, however, help make a better rider out of you.
Going head to head in this category are the Honda CBR300R and the Kawasaki 300 Ninja. With a single cylinder engine and bodywork that lacks the supersport conviction of its rivals, the Honda is also the slowest of the three. It’s a typical Honda though and everything from engine response to handling is totally predictable and beginner friendly.
Beginner Motorcycles: Responsive
The Kawasaki, on the other hand, looks more the part and is definitely smoother and more responsive in the engine department. With suspension capable of handling most twisties and ABS to get you out of trouble, the Kawasaki is probably the Yamaha’s closest rival.
Jumping up to the 500cc plus range, a couple of bikes spring to mind that are both rideable and individual enough to appeal to the beginner, who wants a bike to take him to an advanced level. The Honda CB500X looks like an adventure bike with its long travel suspension and raptor style fairing, and as long as your adventures go no further than a cobbled street, you’ll be just fine. What you do get though is a great seating position, a fantastic engine and enough miles to the gallon to embarrass a scooter.
The 500cc Harley Davidson Street is a different proposition altogether. Whereas the Honda buyer will want to take to the highways and byways, the Street rider will probably be heading for the nearest coffee bar. Made in India, the water cooled V-twin with its air compressor sounding muffler, will horrify anyone who’s ever thrown a leg over a Sportster. However, as a beginner bike, its low seat height and maneuverable chassis make it a great option. The Harley tank badge won’t hurt your street cred either.
So there you have it, your great biking adventure starts here. Everyone has their favorite but the choice for me is simple, the Honda CB500X with its level of comfort, looks and fuel economy wins hands down.