It just happened on August 12, and it was glorious. And the best part was that I had nothing to do with it. My wife just passed her motorcycle safety course on the Mission College campus in Santa Clara, California, and she's independently researching which bike to buy. While I was cheering on friends at the Bonneville Speedway in Wendover, Utah, Jean was inching closer to moving from the seat behind me to the handlebar on her own volition.

Jean and Henri
Sixteen years ago, Jean taught Henri how to ride a bicycle. Now the tables have turned as the student becomes the moto master.Gaz Boulanger

Jean’s journey from passenger to driver began earlier this spring, when she and my son, Henri, discussed what it might take for her to ease into solo riding. He has a 2015 SYM Wolf Classic 150, a rather simple single-cylinder machine, and an ideal bike to learn the basics. He’s also one of the best teachers and explainers of things he’s passionate about (cinema, music, literature), so Jean trusted him to guide her around the parking lot next to our house.

Our Sunday Moto Club includes riders of all skill levels on different bikes from all the major manufacturers, a variety of models and displacements. We rolled en masse to the Moto Bay Classic in San Francisco last Saturday, where our industry friends gathered on Pier 32 for a fantastic day on the bay.

After getting the lay of the land, Jean made her way to the Husqvarna tent, where she first laid eyes on the new Vitpilen and Svartpilen. She struck up a conversation with Scott Burtness, Husky's event specialist. Scott caught the moto bug when he was six after watching his first Supercross race, and got his first dirt bike when he was 10. He gave Jean his full attention, answering her questions with enthusiasm as I roamed around the event with other pals.

Jean was sending me emails on the road a couple of weeks before, asking what I thought of the Honda Rebel 500. Our garage is filled with a variety of machines, including a cruiser, a street tracker, a scrambler, and a touring bike, so she’s sorting out what position and style she wants to start with. Henri has ridden dozens of bikes, and offered Jean solid advice on where to start and what to consider based on his experience.


While Jean's research continues, I'm going to break down the three models she's considering. Here's an overview of the Husqvarna Svartpilen 401, the Honda Rebel 500, and the Scrambler Ducati Sixty2. All three bikes are equally yoked in a few ways, closely clustered with price points, and stand out aesthetically.

Vitpilen 401
The Husqvarna Vitpilen 401.Husqvarna Motorcycles

Husqvarna Svartpilen 401: $6,299

The Austrian-made Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 and its paternal twin, the Vitpilen 401, offer a six-speed, 373cc, single-cylinder, DOHC engine with matching 32.9-inch seat heights. Claimed dry weight is 331 pounds (326 for the Vitpilen). The gas tank is a smallish 2.5 gallons, but it does come with an upside-down WP fork.

Wheels are matching 17-inch spoked units wrapped in Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires. Coupled with a 53.4-inch wheelbase it offers nimble handling well suited for a beginning rider, and the upright handlebar would be ideal for city riding and shorter-distance adventures.


Rebel 500 ABS
The Honda Rebel 500 ABSAmerican Honda Motor Company

The Japanese-made Honda Rebel 500 ABS offers a six-speed, 471cc, fuel-injected, parallel-twin engine with a 27.2-inch seat height. Claimed curb weight is 408 pounds with a 3-gallon gas tank. Suspension is more cruiser-esque, with a conventional fork and dual rear shocks.

Wheels are cast aluminum 16-inchers front and rear. The wheelbase is stretched out to 58.7 inches, 5.3 inches longer than the street-fighting Huskys, possibly offering a more relaxed steering while still offering enough gentle carving capability for canyons and rides through the redwoods.


Scrambler Sixty2
The Ducati Scrambler Sixty2Ducati Motor Holding

Ducati Scrambler Sixty2: $7,995

The Scrambler Sixty2’s engine and frame are made in Ducati’s Borgo Panigale, Italy, factory then shipped to Thailand for final assembly. The bike offers an air-cooled 399cc, SOHC, L-twin engine with a 31.1-inch seat height. Claimed dry weight is 403 pounds with a 3.7-gallon gas tank. Suspension duties are handled by a Showa fork and a Kabaya shock with adjustable spring preload.

Wheels are 18-inch front and 17 rear. The wheelbase is 57.5 inches with a primary focus on urban streets. Like the Vitpilen and Svartpilen, the Sixty2 is a grab-and-go bike with middle-of-the-road geometry plus a comfortable handlebar height and clean instrument panel, ideal for beginners but not too entry level in performance.

Jean is wisely not in a hurry to plunk down her Benjamins. She’s easing into extended riding and building her confidence on Henri’s SYM Wolf Classic for the time being, and it’s nice to see the options on her short list make sense for a new rider.