A Guide to Choosing a First Motorcycle

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What You Need to Know

  1. Remember, you are legally required to have a motorcycle licence before you can take a bike onto the road in the UK.
  2. There’s no one perfect ‘beginners bike’. The best vehicle for you will depend on your confidence as a rider and what you want the bike for.
  3. Many riders opt for a 125cc bike to start on and as long as you have a CBT, you only need a provisional license to take one out on the road.
  4. If you’re learning to ride a motorbike, bear in mind that you can only take your practical exam on a bike between 75-125cc.
  5. Whatever kind of bike you’re after, you shouldn’t really be looking at anything than bigger a 500cc engine for a first bike.
  6. Since the 1970s Japanese models have dominated the market thanks to their mix of quality and affordability.
  7. These days, cheaper Chinese built copies are gaining favour among first time buyers. If you’re tempted to buy one, it can be better to get a model that’s more or less a direct copy, as a wider range of parts may be interchangeable.
  8. If you have your eyes on a sportsbike, bear in mind that you need to be at least 21 before you can ride an extra high performance machine.
  9. If you're buying new beware being pressured into spending beyond your means for the sake of a sales person's commission. Likewise, be vary weary of buying an out of condition bike from a private seller.
  10. The Suzuki TU250, Honda Shadow RS, Yamaha FZ6R are all known as excellent starter bikes.

Consider Your Needs

Given that no two riders are alike, there’s no such thing as the ‘perfect beginners’ bike’. Quite simply, if you’re a petite middle-aged housewife who’s relatively wary of taking to the road on two wheels, then your ideal first bike is likely to be far different to that of a well-built, confident male rider with more motoring experience. Similarly, if you are just after a first bike to take for the occasional leisurely ride, the machine you’ll want may be much different to if you’re after a bike for a long-distance trip or for day-to-day use.

As such, it pays to think carefully about your particular needs and so choose the right bike for you. For instance, is comfort a priority? Do you need the bike to be easy to maintain, or do you enjoy the thought of tinkering about with it?

Unless you have a decent idea of what you want you’re likely to find yourself overwhelmed with choice, with bikes varying significantly in terms of power, performance, shape, size and looks, all of which you’ll need to take into account when making your choice. It’s really case of thinking carefully about what would you need out of a bike. Make good use of online guides, reviews, tips from seasoned bikers and be sure to take a few bikes on test rides before you buy.

Here’s a look at some of the main things you should consider when choosing your first bike;

Engine Size

  • 125cc: A 125cc motorcycle is, for many, the perfect way to get started. In fact, you don’t even need a full licence to take one out on the roads, though you will need to take a full-day training course (the CBT) and wear learner plates at all time. Not only are 125cc bikes easier to handle and safer to ride, they’re also likely to be cheaper to run and insure. Plus, they come in all shapes and sizes, meaning you can enjoy riding a sporty-looking machine, without any of the risks and extra costs that come with more powerful sports bikes.
  • 250cc: Hugely popular with both new and experienced riders, 250cc bikes offer far more power than 125cc machines, making them faster, more responsive, more fun to be out on and yet still relatively cheap to buy, run and insure. What’s more, 250cc bikes come in a wide range of makes and models, so whether you’re after a sports bike, a cruiser or a hybrid, you should have no problem finding the right bike for you.
  • Above 250cc: While it may be tempting to splash out on a superbike that wouldn’t look out of place on a professional racing track, as a rule you should steer clear of more-powerful machines when choosing a first bike. Even the most competent of new riders needs at least a year or two to get used to handling a bike, with machines with an engine size of 250cc or less ideal for learning. As such, while 500cc or even 600cc bikes are available and may be your dream machine, they will likely be far too powerful, and so far more dangerous, if you’re just starting out.

Motorcycle Type

  • Cruisers: For many, the cruiser is exactly what a classic motorbike should look like. Exemplified by the Harley-Davidson, this type of bike has a low seat and offers the rider a more laid-back riding position. While they often come with large engines, less-powerful versions ideal for beginner riders are also commonly available. Note that, while a cruiser is perfect for the occasional leisure ride, this type of bike is not built for racing or high performance and may also be unsuitable for shorter riders.
  • Sportsbikes: Sportsbikes have become increasingly popular over recent years, particularly among younger, more confident riders. Looking exactly like road-going versions of professional racing bikes, these machines offer extra-high performance. However, most seasoned bikers strongly advise beginners against getting sportsbikes right away. In fact, it’s advised that you wait at least two years before you make the step up to this type of bike, plus, in the UK, you are barred from riding extra-high-performance machines up until the age of 21.
  • Touring: If you’re after comfort rather than speed, then a touring bike could be your best bet. This type of bike tends to be larger, more robust-looking, with high, comfortable seats and often equipped with storage space, windscreens and larger wheels. While a tourer, such as the popular Honda Goldwing may be ideal if you’re planning an epic journey, their higher price tag as well as the fact the extra weight can make them harder to handle may not make them the perfect machine for a beginner.

Manufacturers: Big Names versus Cheaper Upstarts

Since the 1970s, Japanese manufacturers have dominated the global motorcycle market, with their high-quality, reliable machines popular with riders of all abilities. Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha are all massively-popular around the world, with all of these big names making sportsbikes – including professional superbikes - tourers and cruisers. In the United States in particular, Harley-Davidson remains popular, though this iconic brand makes predominantly tourers, while in Europe, BMW, Ducati and Triumph enjoy healthy followings.

If you’re looking to save money, then you may be considering buying a bike made by a lesser-known manufacturer. Over recent years, Chinese-built bikes have become steadily more popular among learners due to their comparatively low price tags. If you choose to go down this route, it’s a good idea to go for a bike that’s more or less a direct copy of a more-expensive Japanese model. This way, lots of spare parts should be interchangeable. If, however, you opt for a cheap, original-design bike, you may be stuck if you ever need a spare part or some repairs doing.

Used versus New Bikes

Just as with a car, when you’re buying a first bike, you will have a choice of buying a new machine or opting for a second hand-one. And, just as with cars, there are advantages and drawbacks to both.

Cost-wise, new bikes are more expensive. For your money, however, you will get a machine that will likely be under guarantee and that should break down much less frequently than an older model. But do be aware that, if you’re buying a new bike, dealers often make commission on their sales, meaning you could be pressured into buying a bigger, faster, and more expensive, bike than you need as a beginner. Stories of new riders crashing a high-performance sports bike on the way back from the dealership are all too common, so remember to keep your wits about you and stay sensible when shopping for a new machine.

Second-hand bikes are often considerably cheaper than new models. This can be ideal if you’re on a budget or even if you’re not completely sure about motorbikes and want to give it a go without any major commitments. However, there can be drawbacks to buying second-hand. To guard yourself against these, do your homework so you know what you’re looking for or if possible get an experienced rider or specialist mechanic to give a bike the once-over before you part with your cash. Also, bear in mind that spare parts may be harder to come by for older bikes, particularly if they are relatively obscure makes and models, so again, it pays to do your homework.

Popular Beginner Bikes

Again, as a new rider, you will find yourself spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a first bike. And, again, there is no one ‘perfect beginners’ bike’. That said, however, the following models are widely-regarded as being great machines for those new to two-wheeled motoring:

  • Suzuki TU250: Though first launched in 2009, Suzuki’s entry-level bike boasts a more classic, retro-look. However, it’s its performance rather than its looks that makes it such a popular choice among beginners. Relatively lightweight and with a single-stroke 249cc engine, the TU250 is especially easy to handle, making it a great introduction to biking and ideally-suited to buzzing around town.
  • Honda Shadow RS: One of the most-popular cruiser bikes in the world, the Honda Shadow RS offers excellent build quality and good performance at a reasonable price. As an added bonus, the bike boasts Japanese build-quality alongside classic American stylings and is often mistaken for a Harley Davidson on first glance.
  • Yamaha FZ6R: Specifically geared towards the new yet highly-confident riders, the FZ6R offers all the stylings of a professional sportsbike with the power that comes with a 600cc engine. At the same time, however, the seat position is adjusted with novice riders in mind, while the brakes and the steering are tweaked to make the bike easier to handle.

Further Reading

  • Still wobbly on two wheels? Then take a look at this guide to staying safe on a motorcycle.
  • Get a great deal on young driver bike insurance with our comparison table.
  • Novices will find the ‘new rider’ section of motorcyclenews.com particularly useful
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