Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A man is shown riding a black 2022 Harley-Davidson Street Glide on an open highway.

Shopping for Your First Bike? Our Top 5 Tips for Beginning Riders

What draws you to the saddle? For some new riders, it’s the immersive experience with the landscape, while others appreciate the opportunity to join a community of riders to travel with on future adventures. Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer, but every rider has a reason. That reason likely inspired your search for a Harley-Davidson dealer and the perfect bike to introduce you to the ever-inspiring freedom and thrilling adventure of the open road.

As a new rider, you have a significant decision in front of you that will set the tone for your early time in the saddle. This decision comes down to one pivotal question: what bike best suits you and your riding needs? Answering this can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few tips for beginning riders that will help you navigate your search and put you on the road to a new, unimaginable, and ever-rewarding adventure.

#1: A Cautionary Tale: Taking Advice

Riders are genuinely passionate about riding and are happy to share that passion with new riders, especially when giving advice. Shopping for a motorcycle is already overwhelming if you’re new to the industry, and advice can further muddy the waters. For example, your best friend rides a BMW R 1200 GS and promises it’s the best bike ever built. Last weekend, you met someone who swears by his Ducati, while another rider told you there’s nothing better than a Harley-Davidson.

The truth is that there are plenty of exceptional bikes to choose from, but some are better than others at meeting your specific needs. So while the BMW, Harley-Davidson, or Ducati might work for your friends and acquaintances, that doesn’t guarantee they are perfect for you. Knowing this is half the battle and allows you to take well-meaning advice with caution rather than letting it set far-reaching expectations or standards for your performance and capability as a first-time rider.

A black 2022 Harley-Davidson Low Rider ST is shown after leaving a Harley-Davidson dealer.

#2: Explore Your Riding Dreams: Where Do You Want to Go?

Searching for the perfect bike requires asking yourself, “Where do I want to go, and what kind of riding do I envision myself doing?” For example, do you see yourself planning a cross-country trip with friends, or do you plan to ride around town, making your commute more efficient and enjoyable? Perhaps you dream of venturing off the pavement and need a bike that can handle itself on technical terrain.

Answering these questions gives you a better idea of the type of bike to look for as you start shopping. For example, Harley-Davidson established the Grand American Touring genre and is renowned for models like the Road King, which is ideal for cross-country adventures. Cruisers like the Softail Standard can add style to your commute, while an Adventure Touring bike like the Pan America 1250 proves its capability when adventure calls. These bikes and models from many other leading manufacturers, like Kawasaki, Honda, BMW, Ducati, and Suzuki, have something unique to offer riders, allowing you every opportunity to explore your options and what you want your future in the saddle to look like.

#3: Be Open to Change: When the Dream Doesn’t Match the Reality

You frequently see groups of riders traveling together and have even chatted with a few to learn more about their cross-country camping trips. As a new rider, the idea of a cross-country adventure sounds life-changing, so much so that it’s prompted your search for your first bike. While this vision is undeniably worthy and can be a lot of fun, don’t let that vision obscure your view. What do I mean?

As you hone your skills as a new rider, you may realize the cross-country camping trip you once dreamed of no longer excites you. You opened yourself to possibility and took a shorter ride with friends one weekend, rediscovering the beauty of the landscape in your proverbial backyard. You’ve been hooked ever since, acknowledging that the dream that might’ve led you to ride has evolved to suit your passions, riding style, and needs.

#4: Shop Smart: The Value Behind the Investment

Many new riders limit themselves to new models because they’ve fallen in love with a particular bike, like the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide. While new bikes are enticing, they aren’t always the best or wisest investment for a new rider. Why is this the case?

There’s a steep learning curve for new riders, and sometimes, a lot of pressure to get it right without making a mistake. I dropped my husband’s BMW GS 1200 in the parking lot during a morning lesson, and by that afternoon, I had a used Honda CB500X parked next to his bike (damaged and all) in the garage. My point is simple: you’re likely going to drop the bike.

Dropping a brand new bike (or one that isn’t yours) is gut-wrenching because it usually falls much harder and hits heavier on the wallet. Investing in a used model makes more sense and is akin to why so many off-roaders invest in used rigs like the Toyota Tacoma or 4Runner to take off the pavement. Dents, dings, and scratches on the trail become part of the adventure and less of a gaping hole in your wallet. The same can be said for the dents and dings when your motorcycle hits the pavement.

Investing in a used bike has several other benefits as well. First, think about what drew you to riding initially and how that vision will likely change with time in the saddle. For example, the touring bike you purchased for your American road trip is a bit excessive now that you’ve discovered you prefer shorter rides that a cruiser or sport bike could handle. Buying a used bike minimizes this initial investment, making it easier to trade in for a different model without obliterating your budget.

A red 2022 Harley-Davidson Low Rider El Diablo is shown driving on a city highway.

#5: Personal Factors: You as a Rider

The most practical tip I can offer you as a new rider is to consider your size, capability, and expectations. My husband always tells me, “Ride your own ride.” This quip reminds me to ride to my abilities without apology. It also eliminates the pressure of trying to impress or prove myself to others, refocusing my attention where it needs to be–on the bike and my control in the saddle.

You can “ride your own ride” long before you get in the saddle by focusing your search on finding the perfect bike for you as a rider, not one based on others’ opinions or recommendations. This is integral to your success on the road and is one most motorcycle dealerships will encourage. It often starts with understanding your capabilities and how your stature can help you further narrow your search.

For example, you should be comfortable in the saddle with your feet securely on the ground, such as in a stopped position. Your height will determine what bikes put you in this position, just as your strength and comfort will help you discover the size of bike you can control. Ideally, you never want to buy a bike that’s more than you can handle or one you plan to “grow into.” This usually sets new riders up for ongoing frustration, stealing their confidence and any semblance of joy or excitement.

The Road Is Calling, How Will You Answer?

It’s hard to explain the thrill of riding, but it’s what draws so many of us to the saddle. Whatever is calling you, I encourage you to take your time as you search for the perfect bike for your needs. Don’t be afraid to dream big, but also know that your initial dream will likely change with more experience. And, as always, ride your own ride and enjoy every ounce of freedom the open road offers.