What bike to start on

by: JeF4y

Over the last 3 1/2 years since starting this website, I'm routinely asked "what bike should I start on".  This question is invariably asked by younger new riders who may have ridden some type of motorcycle in the past, but never a streetbike let alone a sportbike.  They just know that the latest 600/900/1000cc bike looks great and they want one.

This is not a question I can definitively answer for you.  You will have to answer it yourself.  What I can do though is provide you some insight as to how I see the question.  If you're simply looking for a "go for it, you'll be fine", don't bother reading any further.

First off, you have to realize that there are people who don't belong on a bicycle or skateboard, let alone a 100+ horsepower 2 wheeled vehicle.  Since I don't know you, I can't make the determination where you fall into this category.  Riding a motorcycle requires good hand-eye coordination, good balance, maturity, exceptional judgment and the ability to constantly evaluate and adjust for your surroundings.  Some things you have to take into immediate consideration are:

If you've answered NO to either of these questions, do not proceed any farther, you're not ready to ride any bike much less a new bike.

In my opinion, the size of a bike which one should start on needs to be chosen based on the maturity level of the rider.  There are 40 year olds out there who don't belong riding the city bus.  On the other end of the extreme, if my 11 year old daughter's feet could reach the ground she could responsibly ride a 600.

New VS Used

Starting on a new bike has advantages.  You're on the latest technological development, most of which will make a bike easier to ride.  Additionally, you know that the bike is in excellent mechanical shape.  The drawback to doing this is that you're on a *new* bike.  A bike which is likely financed, insurance costs are higher, parts are more expensive, and there are no current scratches/dents/dings on the bike.

The 600cc bikes of today are extremely light, responsive, stable and reliable.  This is especially true of the Honda CBR600F4's.  They will reward a rider at every turn, and build confidence easily.  The problem that is associated with this is that people will quickly take this newfound confidence and let it get them in over their heads.

Some general notes/thoughts on a new bike, regardless of how much you've ever ridden.  You need to realize that the most likely time you are to crash a bike is within the first few hundred miles.  This is due to the fact that you're on a new, unfamiliar bike, the new tires are slick and brakes require bedding in.  Whatever your experience, I can't stress enough that you need to take at least the first 1000 miles to GET USED to the bike.  Go slow, be overly careful!  After the first 1000 miles, people know what to expect from the bike and are more familiar with how it will respond.  Then you can move on as your ability increases.

Used bikes can be found in all shapes, sizes and price ranges.  Normally, used bikes are a very viable option to the new rider.  They are less expensive than new bikes, cheaper to insure, easier to find parts for and easier to live with if you've crashed.

If you're in the market for a used bike, check your local paper, or with your local shop.  Generally you can get better deals out of the paper, but if you buy from a shop, they are required to make sure the bike is road-worthy.  In either event, you likely will not be allowed (nor should you ask/expect) to test-ride the bike.  Many places will allow you a 1 hour, 50 mile refund guarantee; or will allow you to have the bike test ridden by a licensed and insured mechanic.  These are both good options both for protection of the buyer and the seller.

In any event, make sure you have purchased your gear ahead of time.  Don't go pick up a bike without proper gear.

Size, does it matter?

From 50cc up to 1300cc, there's sportbikes in all sizes.

There really isn't much of a difference other than the amount of HP available at the flick of the wrist.  Most of the new 900's weigh within a few pounds of the 600cc bikes, and the 600's sometimes weigh less than the 500's or 250's!  However, you need to consider that the slightest twitch in your right hand could put you on your back at 100mph on a new R1 versus having little effect on an EX-500.  The smaller the bike, the more forgiving the throttle is.

Don't worry about how "big" you are when picking out a bike.  A 600 will easily carry around a 300+lb rider (although would benefit from suspension upgrades), so there's no need to buy a 929 just because you're 6'2 and weigh 200lbs...

First time riders:

If you've *never* ridden before (this would include those who have only ridden scooters or ATVs), you should consider picking up an enduro type bike which can be ridden in your yard, fields, wherever just to get used to the operation of the clutch.  These bikes are generally easily had for a few hundred dollars from your local newspaper, and can sell for the same when you're done.  This is money well spent since you will be crashing on a bike that can be picked up and continued on versus your new $8500 shiny bike.  Plus, grass is much softer than pavement.

If you don't buy a junk/starter bike to get used to the clutch, at the very least, you should take the MSF (motorcycle safety foundation) course (link).  Most MSF locations will offer you a bike to use for the course which will give you a riding overview and explain a lot about safety.   It will also let you get your motorcycle license which is necessary for riding.  Plus, it can lower your interest rates!


As I've mentioned throughout this article, good gear is an absolute MUST.  There are no exceptions!  I don't care what state you live in, or what your excuse is, if you choose to ride without a helmet, you are an IDIOT.

At a minimum, you should be riding with the following:

*I note asterisks on the 2 items above because Wilson's leather does NOT sell riding quality gear.  Do not skimp here.  Sliding down the road at 60mph, you don't want to question your gear! 

If you're looking for good gear, talk to Audrey from Moto-Liberty and let her know JeF4y sent you over for some fabulous deals.


In the end, it all boils down to you.  What can you afford, what risks are you willing to take, how mature are you *really*, how much restraint do you have????  All questions which you must honestly answer before plunging in to the world of sportbike riding.

I've just scratched the surface on the above topics, they can go much more detailed and perhaps in time I will update this in that detail.  I hope you find some benefit in the above...

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