Choosing your first motorcycle

Congratulations. You've passed the rider training course and now you're ready to lay down some green on your very own motorcycle.

By Wheels Wheels.ca

Mar 21, 2008 5 min. read

Article was updated 15 years ago

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Congratulations. You've passed the rider training course and now you're ready to lay down some green on your very own motorcycle.

Where to start? Go into almost any motorcycle shop and they'll suggest a 750 cc cruiser or a 600 sportbike as an ideal beginner's bike. I shake my head and wonder what planet these guys are living on.

When I began riding, it was a given that most of us started on something with 50 to 100 cc engines. These bikes were light, easy to handle and didn't scare the bejesus out of us whenever the throttle was twisted.

I rode my first bike, a Honda S90, for three years until I graduated to my first "real" motorcycle: a Honda CB350.

I wasn't ready for the spine-tingling superbike of the day (the 750 cc two-stroke triple), until I'd already been racing for three years and even then, whenever I twisted the throttle to the stops on the track, it was downright intimidating.

So I was riding for seven years before I was ready for a motorcycle that would be blown into the weeds by what many so-called knowledgeable people are calling "entry level."

What's wrong with this picture?

In the U.K., new riders cannot ride a motorcycle larger than 125 cc for a specified period of time, and I honestly can't find fault with that. I hesitate to endorse that policy here though, because I feel that our provincial legislators, who are not qualified to be grousekeepers' assistants, would totally screw it up.

But, if there were a 250 cc limit for new riders for the first year, I'd guarantee we'd see some really interesting motorcycles, as virtually all the Japanese manufacturers produce bikes in that category for the Euro and Asian markets.

In North America, the "bigger is better" blame can't really be assigned to the motorcycle industry. They're not bringing in any small motorcycles because people aren't buying them. And people won't buy them because there aren't any.

When I started riding, all four Japanese manufacturers offered a number of models of 250 cc displacement and under. Plus, several European manufacturers including Bultaco, Benelli, Aermacchi, Parilla and Ducati were competing in that market. Even BSA and Triumph had 250 street singles.

Today the motorcycle choices under 250 cc are more limited but better than just a couple of years ago – Honda makes the CBR125R sportbike, the CRF230L dual purpose, and the 250 Rebel cruiser; Kawasaki has the Ninja 250, Suzuki makes the Marauder 250 cruiser and DR200 dirt/street bike, and Yamaha offers the V-Star 250 cruiser and a couple of variations of their dual purpose WR250. And Korean maker Hyosung offers two sporty and one cruiser variations of their nice 250 cc V-twin motorcycles.

Honda's groundbreaking New Rider Program and CBR125R was so successful last year that it's being continued for 2008, although the price is up $100 on the basic bike to $3,499. The financing (if required) of $149 still applies, as does the three-year full warranty (including roadside assistance), Joe Rocket jacket, boots and gloves.

Scooter riders now have more choices in Canada than ever before with several variations in the 250 cc-and-under range. Honda has the Reflex 250, the 50 cc Ruckus and Jazz. Yamaha offers a 125 cc Vino as well as a 50 cc Vino, "Bee-Whizz" and "C-Cubed" models.

Canadian Scooter Corp., importer of Vespa, Piaggio and Aprilia, has several scooters in the under-250 cc department, including a couple of retro and Sport Vespa models. I won't even get into the numerous Chinese and Korean scooters as the manufacturers and models seem to come and go on an almost daily basis.

The thing to remember with scooters is that, with their smaller wheels, they're not quite as inherently stable as motorcycles once they start moving. They are, however, probably easier for novices to ride due to the lack of a clutch and have considerably more lockable storage space than motorcycles.

So where do you start? If you've just completed the riding course, you've sampled some of the smaller, entry-level motorcycles available so if one of those tickles your fancy, go for it.

The first thing is to define what kind of riding you plan on doing the first year or so. Exploring dirt roads requires a totally different type of motorcycle than one for weekend rides, cruise nights or commuting.

It's very important that the motorcycle fit you. Obviously, a part-time Argonaut linebacker can physically handle something bigger than someone who's 5-foot-3 and 100 pounds.

Make sure that when you're sitting on the bike, both feet are flat on the ground and you can comfortably reach the handlebars without stretching.

Can you pick the motorcycle up? At some point during your first season, it's pretty much guaranteed you'll have to. Most tip-overs occur when either coming to or leaving a stop.

Buying from a dealer, whether new or used, will probably cost more, but a reputable dealer will provide some type of limited warranty. Buying from an ad in the paper will likely save you money but once you ride it away, you're an owner and are on the hook for any hidden problems.

Manufacturers travel the country with their demo ride program where you can sign up to try out different models on a chaperoned loop – it's an ideal method to find out which model suits you best.

So please, be sensible and don't go overboard. A 600 cc sportbike is not a good beginner's bike, no matter what anyone tells you.

Figuring out which motorcycle to buy is never easy. Just remember, it's your first motorcycle – not your last. Ideally, you want to have lots of good stories to tell about riding your first bike, your next bike and so on.
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