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Motorcycle Buyer's Guide: Beginner bikes


by Pascal Bastien ,

Beginner bikes are defined by accessibility, a low engine displacement, overall weight and seat height (allowing the rider to put both feet on the ground when idling) as well as safe riding dynamics. All that at a fraction of the price of a medium-displacement bike.

This is no easy task for manufacturers, which have to deal with astronomical production and marketing costs. Yet some of them pull it off and even offer more than one model for beginners.

Guide d'achat

The safer alternative
Choosing the right type of motorcycle is also very important for first-time buyers. It's not all about styling and design. Certain compromises have to be made, like opting for a small and nimble sport bike instead of a big cruiser, or a compact dual-purpose bike instead of a massive and tall adventure model.

I said it once and I'll say it again: it's better to lose a bit of money due to a lower residual value than to scare yourself for life - or worse, injure yourself with a machine that's too demanding.

Here are a few models that serve as great beginner bikes... and can even attract more seasoned riders.

Honda CRF230L and CRF230M
Lighter and easier to ride than every other competitor, the Honda CRF230L is an excellent way to learn the ropes, both on pavement and dirt. In fact, it might just be the definition of ''rider-friendly.'' You'll experience tons of fun without breaking the bank - or possibly your back. The supermoto-inspired CRF230M rides on 17'' wheels and more road-oriented tires if you plan to spend less time off the beaten path.

2009 Honda CRF230L right side view
Photo: Honda

Honda CBR125R and CBR250R
These two sport bikes from Honda don't lack panache. They also provide real excitement on twisty roads and the track. Although the CBR125R could use a little more power on highways and boulevards, it sure fares remarkably well in the city and on any road with a speed limit of 70 km/h. This is the most rider-friendly sport bike in the entire industry.

Meanwhile, the Honda CBR250R (launched in 2011) offers more capability for just a few extra dollars. It's comfortable, efficient, easy to ride, and particularly safe thanks to the brand's C-ABS technology (optional). Expect all the thrills of a sport bike without the intimidating power and higher registration and insurance costs of 600cc and 1,000cc superbikes.

2011 Honda CBR125R right side view
Photo: Kevin Wing

Hyosung GT250R EFI
A stylish dance partner and a good way to fully appreciate the joys of riding a sport bike, the GT250R is one of those small motorcycles beginners should definitely try out before making a final decision. It combines the ergonomics of a superbike (high footpegs, ultra-low half-handlebars) with the accessibility of a low-displacement machine.

2012 Hyosung GT250R EFI right side view
Photo: Hyosung

Kawasaki Ninja 250R
The smallest Ninja in the Kawasaki lineup boasts aggressive lines, powerful brakes, near-superbike levels of agility along with a high-revving twin-cylinder engine. It allows many new riders to develop their skills on the road and the track. Despite its modest power (33 hp) and affordable price ($4,999), this Ninja handles like a true sport bike.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 250R front 3/4 view
Photo: Kawasaki

Suzuki TU250
Fans of retro-looking motorcycles, meet the Suzuki TU250. While its styling harkens back to a previous era, this small Japanese hero is built on a modern chassis and powered by a dependable single-cylinder engine featuring electronic fuel injection. You'll love the relaxed ergonomics and friendly nature of the TU250.

2011 Suzuki TU250 front 3/4 view
Photo: Sébastien D'Amour

Yamaha XT250
A serious chassis, 810mm high seat, and generous low-end grunt make the Yamaha XT250 an attractive model for inexperienced adventurers, offering the opportunity to improve their skills on the trail or some private land away from road users.

2012 Yamaha XT250 front 3/4 view
Photo: Yamaha

Curious about the Kawasaki Ninja 400R and KLX 250S or maybe the Suzuki DRZ400SM? Well, that's understandable. However, you should know that the weight of the former (204 kg) and the seat height of the two others require some getting used to. Consider yourself warned.

Key Competitors