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An orange 2023 KTM 250 SX-F is shown parked on a bike stand.

The Best First Bike in Each Segment

Getting your first motorcycle is a rite of passage. For new riders, there are countless options and countless questions. What motorcycle should you get if you want something for puttering around town? Is getting a powerful, sporty bike okay if you’re still learning how to ride? The answers go a long way in determining what your experience will be like.

In this guide, we make our picks for the best beginner motorcycle in each segment. We chose them partly because they’re high-quality, affordable bikes that are great for getting the hang of riding and still let you have a lot of fun. Even if you upgrade to a mid-level or advanced bike one day, you’ll still look back fondly on your original piece.

What Types of Motorcycles Are There?

Let’s start with defining the different motorcycle categories. Although you can get deep into the nitty-gritty when talking about motorcycle types, this can be overwhelming to new riders. Some options simply aren’t practical for new riders. For simplicity, we’re going to focus on the following seven motorcycle segments:

  1.   Standard Bikes: Also called naked bikes or roadsters, these have a minimalist design and are mainly used for commuting, though you can take them on the track.
  2.   Cruisers: These popular bikes are made to ride comfortably at slow or medium speeds. They are on the heavier side, with good low-end torque.
  3.   Sportbikes: These are high-performance road bikes designed for excellent speed, acceleration, and handling, with an aggressive forward-leaning rider stance.
  4.   Dirt Bikes: These machines are made for off-road riding with a lighter, taller, and more flexible suspension. They often are not legal for road use, lacking equipment like lights, a speedometer, etc.
  5.   Touring Bikes: This is the best bike for going on long journeys, especially over the highway, with bigger engines and saddlebags to store belongings.
  6.   ADV Bikes: Short for adventure motorcycles, these are designed for on-road and limited off-road use, often with luggage options to accommodate multiple-day trips.
  7.   Sport Touring Bikes: A hybrid of sport and touring motorcycles, these are more powerful and aggressive than regular touring bikes, but still comfortable over long distances. Some may include luggage to make multiple-day trips possible.

With this in mind, let’s consider which motorcycle is best suited to first-time owners in each segment.

Best Beginner Standard Bike: Yamaha MT-03

The bare-bones version of the Yamaha “Masters of Torque” series, the MT-03 is a smooth, ergonomic everyday steed that still gives you a glimpse of what an aggressive hyper naked bike can be. It has 42 horsepower, which is plenty for a new motorcyclist. A nimble 373-pound wet weight and KYB inverted front fork make it easy to handle. The MT-03 gets an estimated 56 MPG. The MSRP on the latest model year starts at under $5,000, making these bikes a great option for buying new.

Best Beginner Cruiser: Honda Rebel 300

Even if you’ve never been on a motorcycle, the Rebel 300 will ignite your unruly side. It uses a 286cc engine with 25 horsepower for cruising urban jungles and backroads. Fitted with a slipper/assist clutch and optional anti-lock brakes, this lightweight bike defines “rider-friendly.” The blackout styling is reminiscent of classic bobbers, and the Honda Rebel 300 is designed for easy customization using factory parts. At an MSRP of $4,849, it’s another budget-minded choice for motorcycle newbies.

A green 2023 Kawasaki Ninja 400 is shown driving on a city street.

Best Beginner Sportbike: Kawasaki Ninja 400

Some riders know from the start that they have the need for speed. The Ninja 400 sportbike delivers with a 399cc engine good for 43 horsepower and 25 pound-feet of torque for darting down the course. It also has sharp contemporary supersport styling and a more relaxed riding position than high-end sportbikes. Add the Uni-Track rear suspension, and the Kawasaki Ninja 400 will give you a great introduction to track days.

Best Beginner Dirt Bike: KTM 250 SX-F

KTM is one of the leaders in MX2 competition, taking 14 of 16 championships between 2008 nd 2023. The 250 SX-F is a  title-winning bike in a package perfect for new racers and explorers. It has a class-leading 47-horsepower four-stroke engine to clear jumps and has been redesigned for better straight-line stability. Both the front and rear suspensions can be adjusted in seconds without tools. Excellent shock absorbers keep you and the bike fresh for long trail rides. Newer models have an electric starter and plenty of optional accessories.

Best Beginner Touring Bike: Kawasaki Versys-X 300

Our second Kawasaki on the list shows you don’t need a huge engine to have a good time. Its 296cc parallel engine is more than enough, given the 382-pound wet weight, and the 4.5-gallon fuel tank lets you spend more time riding. With a large windscreen and upright ergonomics, you’ll feel great no matter how long you ride. If you feel the urge to tackle dirt or gravel backroads occasionally, the Versys-X 300 can do that, too. Compatible accessories include hard saddlebags, LED auxiliary lights, and hand guards.

Best Beginner ADV Bike: Suzuki DR-Z400S

Hop on a Suzuki DR-Z400S if you want a gateway to on-road and off-road adventures. The claimed 39.7 horsepower is enough to feel a jolt while remaining firmly controllable. It also has an adjustable high-travel suspension to adapt the handling to the riding service. A tall 36.8-inch seat height means plenty of lean for aggressive turning and ground clearance for trail obstacles. You can add a cargo rack and a low-profile seat for asphalt touring. The contracting graphics inspired by Suzuki racing make it a real looker.

A multi-colored 2023 BMW G 310 GS is shown parked near a city.

Best Beginner Sport Touring Bike: BMW G 310 GS

As an entry-level version of the R 1250 GS, the BMW G 310 GS offers sporty handling that goes the distance. It brings the right amount of heat to any terrain with 34 horsepower, outstanding throttle response, a low 374-pound weight, and a slipper clutch. Four levels of brake and clutch lever adjustment are part of the bike’s high-level ergonomics. Style-wise, it combines an urban youth touch with the legendary refinement of BMW. At a starting MSRP of $5,695 for new models and a manufacturer-claimed 71 MPG, it lets you own a BMW without emptying your savings account.

Make Your First Motorcycle Memorable

Regardless of which bike type, make, and model you choose, it’s important to have the right features and qualities. Here are some general tips on what you should look for when buying your first motorcycle.

  • Get a bike designed for how and where you plan to ride.
  • Be conservative when it comes to power and weight. Smaller, more modest motorcycles are easier for beginners to control.
  • Consider a used or lower-end bike, both to save money, and so you won’t feel bad if rookie mistakes lead to scratches and scuffs.
  • Budget for the proper riding safety gear.
  • Invest in good accessories such as ABS brakes, LED lighting, saddlebags, and other useful items.
  • Take the bike for a test ride to be sure it rides the way you want and is a good fit.

More than anything else, take your time and do your research. There may be unexpected turns and obstacles in the process, but the result should be a motorcycle you’re happy riding as you gain the know-how of navigating two wheels. Although the motorcycles we’ve discussed here are all great beginner bikes, they could be your machine of choice for years to come as well.