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-   -   What makes a good starter bike? (

Jehos 03-02-2007 12:44 PM

What makes a good starter bike?
There's a lot of info in the stickies about why you shouldn't start on a 600 or bigger. If you read the threads in this forum, you'll see a lot of people recommending a few specific bikes as starter bikes. However, I haven't seen much discussion about why those bikes are good starter bikes, so I figure this would be a good place.

Here's what I've gathered so far from heavy research online and my own experience starting out on a Ninja 500. Starter bikes:

- Have around 50hp or less
- Have smooth power delivery
- Are lightweight
- Are cheap and readily available (good used market)

1. Around 50hp or less. Good beginner bikes should have good power so you can cruise at freeway speeds and get out of the way of traffic, but they shouldn't be too much to handle. While 50 horsepower doesn't seem like much if you're used to 300hp+ cars, you have to take into account the power/weight ratio of a bike. 50hp on a 400lb bike is about equivalent to a 250hp Miata or 438hp Camaro. It isn't slow, but it's also not ridiculous. A Ninja 500 tops out around 100mph with those 50 horses which is more than enough for learning on. The reasoning should be obvious--when you're still learning to control a motorcycle, it's MUCH better that you make your mistakes at legal speeds than at 140mph. Every 10mph increase in speed roughly doubles the impact energy in a crash (impact force increases as the square of impact speed).

2. Smooth power delivery. Probably more important than manageable power is manageable delivery of that power. Beginner bikes should have a relatively flat torque and horsepower curve which you generally get from single- and twin-cylinder engines. The reason you want this is to avoid surprises anywhere in the throttle range. While the sudden kick of power can be fun if you're going in a straight line, it can wash out your back tire in a heartbeat if you're leaned over in a turn. When you're a new rider, you're worried about enough things to control your bike smoothly without having to decide if you can roll on the throttle a bit while you're leaned over ("Hmm, I'm at 5k rpm, ok to accelerate in this curve" vs. "Crap, I'm at 8.5k rpm, that little boost will probably wash out my back tire").

3. Lightweight. Not much should have to be said about this. When you're a new rider, you do dumb stuff with your bike when it's stopped because it's not all automatic for you. Sometimes you don't put the kickstand down. Sometimes you put it down in something soft. Sometimes you don't check where you're putting your foot when you stop at a light and step right in an oil patch. Sometimes you get a little off balance coming to that stop and the bike leans right instead of left, and you don't have your right foot down. In any situation where you might need to catch the bike, it's better that the bike is as light as possible. When you're new, bike-catching situations are a LOT more common. I've only been riding a couple months and I've already had two or three times that the bike was way more off-balance than I wanted it to be and I had to muscle it back upright.

Cheap and readily available. Not everybody really gets into riding. Not everybody avoids wrecking their first bike. Most insurance companies charge more for new riders and less for experienced riders. All of these are reasons to get a cheap bike and buy it used. Like you hear over and over, your first bike is not your last bike. What that implies is that you should (a) not invest a lot of money in your first bike, since you'll probably be getting rid of it, and (b) make sure you buy something that will be easy to sell down the road. Also, since the risk of dropping or crashing your bike is VERY high in your first 36 months of riding, it's best to get something that will be cheap to replace. Your theft and collision insurance will be lower since the insurance company won't have to pay out as much, and parts will be generally cheaper if you decide to just fix the bike up yourself.

For you more experienced riders, what else do you think makes a bike good as a beginner bike?

YoDev 08-13-2009 02:57 AM


very nicely put.. all of this sounds good to me

usernamedoug 08-13-2009 03:54 AM

i didnt read anything past the first paragraph in your post and will just say youre overthinking the hell out of this.

The sv650 is generally heralded as a great beginner bike as well as the small ninja models for the very fact that theyre not inline 4 bikes. The twin engines make less power but a very useable amount of torque at low rpms. As a new rider its hard to learn anything about winding a bike at 11k rpms around a corner, and youre a lot more likely to make a mistake in that scenario.

The basic idea is to learn how to ride before wrapping your legs around something that is basically a race bike for the street. I bought an I4 bike as my first bike, and did things that in retrospect i'm beyond lucky i didnt lowside doing.

As a brand new rider you have no concept of body positioning or how youre loading the rear tire specifically, and on a supersport bike its easy to get into shit in a hurry.

I can honestly say that if i were to go back i'd probably get an SV with full fairings and sliders, and go to a couple of track days (preferably race schools) and learn how to ride a bike.

It's taken me low siding twice at the track on my 600 as to how i can, and sometimes cant load the back tire on my kawi, and its a difficult way to learn how to ride.

bush 08-13-2009 07:12 AM

I think there's less difference between an SV650 and an inline four than there is between an SV and a 250/500 P-twin.

jerome_oneil 08-13-2009 06:38 PM

The weight thing is over rated. What matters is weight distribution. I'd rather put a n00b on a 500lb cruiser than a 350lb sport bike. It's the center of gravity that matters, not the over all weight.

If the bike carries a lot of it's weight high, it's probably not going to be a great choice.

binx_19 08-14-2009 01:46 AM

affordability should also be included.

Struggly 08-14-2009 03:53 PM

I'm largely in agreement with the OP, although price is really the determining factor for me. I learned on a '79 Suzuki GS650 with no second gear that was $100 bucks. It was the perfect starter bike. Even though it was a bit heavy, it was worth so little that I didn't worry at all about dropping it and didn't worry about crashing it (well, didn't worry about the bike in those cases).

If you're not worried about the bike, I think it's a little easier to get comfortable and to get into good habits. If you're paranoid about tipping over at a light (for instance), it makes it much harder to just get out there, ride your ride, and gain confidence.

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