Why We Should Buy Beginner Bikes

Ride what you're comfortable with, and don't blame the bike

beginner bike
I had a great time ripping around on the Honda Rebel 300 and at no time felt the small displacement was unsafeKevin Wing

Last week, a piece published on RideApart.com stirred up quite a debate here at the Bonnier office. All right, it was pretty one-sided, but it's rare that an article will get this group of motorcyclists so fired up. The author, Justin Coffey put a piece up about why he thought beginner bikes were unnecessary, which we think could be harmful to new riders if taken the wrong way. He started the article saying that he didn't have his motorcycle endorsement—or really any experience riding on the road—and took a vintage 50cc Honda straight into a Land Cruiser. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but when you're admittedly unqualified to be riding on the streets and then turn around and blame the bike in a media outlet that many new riders go to for advice, that doesn't sit well with us.

While I do agree that a 500cc bike might be a great place for many people to start off, an accident that is rider error should not be blamed on the bike, and a genre should not be subsequently written off because of it. Beginner bikes offer a ton of benefits to new riders, including lighter weight, lower seat height, cheaper price tags, and smaller displacement to make riding less intimidating and more approachable for new riders.

beginner bikes
Some of our favorite bikes for beginners, many of which are well over 300ccStaff

We were all beginners once. It sucks, but the old saying of “it’s not if, but when,” has worked hard for its place in our set of biker idioms. While we all do everything we can to avoid accidents, it seems you’re much more likely to make errors when the motions are still new for you and don’t feel as natural. Because beginner bikes aren’t as heavy or fast, there isn’t as much weight to carry, and accidents tend to happen at much slower speeds. Lighter bikes tend to stop more quickly, and had the author of the RideApart story hit the brakes rather than grabbing at the gas, he probably would have been fine (even with the NS50’s antiquated drum brakes).

When talking about a motorcycle he had just ridden for testing, Justin says, “The [Honda Rebel] 300 is lacking exactly what I’ve been talking about: the ability to avoid an incident.” Does he really think that the ability to avoid an incident sits with the motorcycle and not the rider? Perhaps his time “riding dirt bikes as a kid” taught him something my years of riding on the street haven’t taught me, but riding defensively with eyes wide open is the best way to “avoid an incident,” not heading through an intersection without a license and never touching your brake.

Having just had the chance to ride Honda’s new Rebel 300 a couple weeks ago, a quintessential “beginner bike,” I can say firsthand that it is a very relevant motorcycle. It got up to over 90 mph on the freeway, picked up to about 50 right quick, and had plenty of stopping power when I needed it—all for $4,400. While Coffey argues that the 300 is not powerful enough to “get you out of certain situations,” he references putting himself in situations that are more risky and dangerous than most beginners on a small-displacement bike would likely end up in. Even as an experienced rider, if I were on the freeway on a 300, I would get up to speed and hang out in my spot, not try to pass cars in the fast lane like a squid.

There’s a lot more to being on a motorcycle on the road than most people think, and having a slower bike gives you the time to soak that in without being in a rush. Sure, bigger bikes will you give you something to grow into, but they also give you a lot more room for mistakes. Grabbing a reckless handful of throttle on a 300 will give you a little jolt, but doing so on an SV650 will have you on your back.

Financially speaking, you can sell your bike and get a new one whenever you want. Beginner bikes are cheaper, and the margins on them are smaller. You don’t have to worry about growing out of a bike as much if you can just flip it when you’re done and get a new one. If you bought the bike secondhand and didn’t abuse it too much, chances are you could throw it back on Craigslist and get darn close to what you picked it up for. There’s no need to stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone because you think you’ll be ready for a larger bike soon. Get what you’re ready for now and ride to suit your skills.

Beginner bikes have their place in the motorcycling world. Not everyone is comfortable hopping on a 500–700cc bike right off the bat and that’s okay. It’s easier and safer to learn on something smaller, and it’s never fun to ride a bike you’re scared of. The main thing I’m trying to say is that mistakes happen. If you’re on a smaller bike while you’re learning the ropes, you’re more likely to learn their lessons without suffering serious injury, and you can always move up to something bigger when you’re ready. Just ride defensively, use your brakes, and don’t blame the bike if you mess up.