Buying Advice for New Motorcycle Riders

Gripped by aching, lusting bike envy? Don't be. For new riders, small is beautiful.

Stepping Stones illustration
Stepping StonesIllustration by Ryan Inzana

In some states, at age 15-1/2 kids can legally ride anything from a Hayabusa to an apehanger'd Street Bob wearing nothing but surf trunks and flip-flops—and they might skip the flip-flops on a nice day. Whereas in Britain, the license structure restricts younger riders to smaller bikes: mopeds at age 16, 125cc at age 17 to 18, 35kW (47 hp) output at age 19 to 23, and unlimited at age 24-plus. Ride Smart is all for the land of the free and the home of the brave, but there is something to be said for the Brits' method of layering on size and horsepower as riders gain maturity and experience.

For proof of why this works, look elsewhere in our culture for parallel examples. Motocross kids race Loretta Lynn’s on 50–150cc machines before they’ll matriculate into AMA 250cc Motocross. High schoolers will program robots and create apps in computer science labs long before they’ll ever code Martian landers for JPL. And even med-school grads with MD degrees must become licensed and serve long residencies. This layering on of personal skills to achieve true competency is how house building or 3-D printing works: Without first creating a solid foundation, nothing built above ground level will be any good. Here are four rock-solid arguments for not making your dream bike your first bike.

HOLD YOUR HORSES. Having little power on tap requires rider smoothness to gain and maintain momentum. Embedding these skills over hundreds or thousands of miles pays real dividends when you move up to larger machines. Think Honda Grom or Kawasaki Z125 Pro.

LIGHTER IS BETTER. If you're a newbie, choosing a lighter machine first and then working up the size ladder as you gain experience is smart. That's because when you make the inevitable bobble, less mass is way easier to control.

START OFF SLOW. Those who bluster, "There are two types of riders: those who have crashed and those who are going to crash," are dim-witted windbags. But if you do hit the deck while learning, slower is way preferable to faster.

BE NORMAL FOR ONCE. Crotch rockets are radical and choppers look cool. But the hot tip for top rider control is neither. Instead, a standard or naked-bike seating position delivers the best combination of comfort, control, and safety.