I am increasingly frustrated when reading discussions on forums in response to what's a good starter bike. Such as the one I saw the other day on where someone asked if a KLR 650 was a good choice for a beginner bike. In discussions like these I am amazed to read the responses of otherwise seemingly smart, experienced folks who chime in with advice on or the merits of the KLR and offer up other options, such as the V-Strom and the new, smaller BMW F650GS. I find myself increasingly USING ALL CAPS to respond that NOTHING over a 250cc bike, and preferably something smaller, is a beginner bike. Period.
Sure, there are plenty of very very lucky people out there who have successfully not hurt themselves on a 600cc+ bike while they're learning, but most people I know who have started with a bike of that size have bonked both it and themselves. A few of them look back and shake their head in amazement that they lived through such an ignorant phase. So hush you lucky, lucky people who have started there with no consequences and go buy a lottery ticket.
For one thing, it's just not fun. You can manhandle a small bike around when you make the inevitable mistakes, and get a feel for front and rear brake action, and sit and stand flat-footed. With a bigger bike you're just going to be more timid because you're putting yourself in more danger if you make a mistake. A friend of mine was just telling me he kept stomping on the rear brake of the 600cc sport bike he learned on while trying not to hit the fence at the end of the parking lot — he wasn't thinking about the front brake yet. Plus, the G-force was pulling him backwards causing him to open up the throttle even more. One of my brothers had the same experience when he hopped on my 650 Yamaha Maxim and roared down my parent's gravel driveway.
And guys – if you're trying to get a woman to ride, please don't suggest she start on the kind of bike you're riding so that she can "keep up." Just look at the number of forum and eBay posts selling used women's motorcycle gear to get an idea of how many women give it up after a short time. Me, I am in possession of a beautiful leather Hein Gericke jacket. It cost me 50 bucks, from a woman whose husband had her starting off on a Sportster. Dude, you should have bought her a Rebel.
Below are some links to places that provide really good suggestions for real beginner bikes. Then – when, not if – but after you've dropped it and fallen down and have learned to ride, move on up to a 400 or 500 or even a 650, carefully. It's not fun to learn to ride on a bike that's too big for you or that you're afraid to hurt, so you're not going to learn well on it. Then move on up to the specialty bike you want — adventure bike, cruiser, sport, whatever.
And, by the way, a 650 motorcycle might be an intermediate option in a manufacturer's line in a company that makes everything from 65cc dirt bikes to 2000cc cruisers, but that does not mean that it's only appropriate for intermediate riders. So one does not have to move up to a 1000, 1200, a 1400, a 1600, or a 2000cc motorcycle once one has crossed into the "advanced" stage of experience. With today's technology many 250cc bikes are freeway-ready machines, and people regularly take 650cc motorcycles on long, round-the-world trips. Heck, people take 250cc motorcycles on cross-continental journeys.
Here's some good advice from Chuck Hawks' Good First Motorcycles web page:
A beginning pilot would not expect to learn to fly
in an F-16 fighter or a wide body jetliner, so why do beginning
motorcyclists expect to learn to ride on a 600cc sport bike or a
heavyweight cruiser? Ideally, I would like to see beginning riders buy
a standard 125cc motorcycle for their first street bike. There is a
reason that so many Motorcycle Safety Foundation courses maintain their
aging fleets of 125cc Hondas for their entry level classes.
Here are just a few links to where you can find good advice on beginner bikes:
- Chuck Hawks' Good First Motorcycles
- Basem Wasef's of About.com First Motorcycles List
- Super Sarah Shilke's List of Bikes for Shorter Bikers
- Old Guy's Guide to Beginner Motorcycles
A lot of beginner bikes hold their value well, so you can resell it when you want to move up. Though I can't tell you how many people lament not holding on to their Rebel as a second bike.
Learn safe and ride safe so that your and motorcycle misadventures have a better chance for safe and happy endings.