Best Used Motorcycle For A Beginner? Our Top List!
Need a little advice for buying a used motorcycle?
Updated August 23, 2018
If you’re a beginner to the motorcycle scene, it’s probably a wise idea to cut your teeth on a used motorcycle rather than throwing big bucks at a brand new model. There are plenty of good reasons to support that line of thinking. Firstly, you don’t want to invest a load of money into something you can’t use properly yet. Secondly, there’s a good chance that you might drop it. And thirdly, and most importantly, this will be your first motorcycle of many – save your cash now, so you can buy what you really want a little further down the line.
Now, when you think of the term “used motorcycles” you’re probably conjuring up images of rusty, smoke-belching, barn finds. That’s not the case. These days, the definition of a used motorcycle isn’t synonymous with a horror show. Motorcycles built within the last fifteen years are still aesthetically on point, incredibly reliable, and fitted with enough modern gadgetry to keep you upright…most of the time. And lucky for you new motorcyclists, the industry got pretty stagnant over the past few years. So, something badged up as a 2016 or 2010 model isn’t really that much different to a 2013 in most cases.
That being said, we’re leaning our choices more towards the modern side, but we’re not going to mention a particular year. Consider this a handy guide to point you in the right direction. If you’re looking for a small capacity sports bike, then check out the nearest thing that suits you on the list, and then head to Google and refine your search. Remember this though: when it comes to a learner motorcycle, put your ego to one side. It’s better to master a 250 than to stay looking like an idiot on a 600. This is your first motorcycle, so keep it simple, keep it small, and don’t forget that the only way is up after you’ve got the basics down. And if you’re going to fall, fall under something you can lift up – there is nothing more embarrassing than watching someone struggle to lift up their downed motorcycle.
So here are favorite used motorcycle choices for beginner riders!
The Honda Grom has been exciting new and experienced rider since 2014. Yeah, 2014. Despite its futuristic look and the fact it’s always being talked about in the motorcycle press, it’s already a three year old motorcycle. Of course, there are newer versions but if you’re looking at getting yourself a small, reliable and fun used motorcycle to get going on, you can’t go wrong with this iconic little 125cc machine.
Honda’s MSX125, or “Grom” as we call it in the States, is one of the best starter motorcycle models out there, and here’s why. It might not have the look and feel of a “full size” motorcycle but it does exactly what it’s supposed to. It can travel up to 65 mph (if you’re really giving it some), it can take you from A to B, and you can definitely pick it up if you drop it. On top of that, it’s a small capacity Honda, which means that it’s basically immortal and cannot be killed with conventional (or even unconventional) weapons.
What’s more is the fact that the Grom has cultivated a cult following. If you were to invest in one of these and treat it nicely, you’ll probably be able to sell it on for not much less than you bought it for – when the time comes, that is. Or, you might decide to hang on to it. There are many riders out there who keep a Grom in reserve for when their liter-class machine needs a day off.
Cheap. Reliable. Fun. That’s the Honda Grom for you. But if you’re looking for something similar but don’t fancy the Honda, you could always give the Kawasaki Z125 Pro a go – although they’re a little too new to be considered a used motorcycle yet.
Honda CBR250R / CBR300R
You’re probably more likely to find a Honda CBR250R coming up as a used motorcycle model rather than a CBR300R, since the 300 is relatively new. Having said that, there’s not too much of a difference between the 250 and 300 model, so if you want one, either one is fine. They’re not nearly as powerful as sophisticated as the rest of the machines in their class, but they’re great learner bikes. They have the right mixture of practicality and ease-of-use, and they look the part too. While they’re not going to win any performance contests, the CBR250R and CBR300R have got some serious boons: firstly, they’re very reliable. Secondly, if they do happen to break down, parts are easily procured and replacing anything on them is very affordable.
They are small machines, but they are also capable ones. And that’s exactly what you want from a first bike. What’s more, if you decide that you like the ride experience from the smaller CBRs and feel like you’re ready to graduate, you can start working your way up the pecking order. You’ll feel right at home on a CBR500R when the time comes, the supersport 600RR next, and of course, the range topping 1000RR. And if you want to lose the plastic, the unfaired CBs are also a viable option.
The Honda Rebel will be the last Honda on our used motorcycle list, but it’s probably the most enduring learner bike of all time. They’ve been a recurring theme in all motorcycle training facilities across the globe for the past 30 years and for good reason: they’re a fun, simple, versatile, practical, comfortable, reliable motorcycle. They’re the ultimate little cruiser, and while many people will try and tell you that bigger is better, it’s not always the case.
Now, the model we’re talking about it the old school style of Rebel. For 2017, Honda decided to give the Rebel line a complete overhaul. The new bikes are perfect, but you’re not going to find any affordable used ones for quite some time. So, we’re going to stick to the more well-established kind of Rebel. You can find them equipped with a 250cc or 500cc engine, and we recommend either. However, if you’re a real beginner, the 250 is a great starter machine – and not just to ride either.
Sure, you’ll be able to get the basics of how to ride any motorcycle within the first half an hour of trying, but there’s more to riding a bike than twisting a throttle and going forward. There’s a little thing called maintenance, and if you don’t know how to do the basic jobs yourself, you’re going to be throwing money at mechanics for no good reason. The Rebel is great because of its absolute simplicity. Even if you have no mechanical aptitude, you’ll be able to muddle your way through a maintenance routine providing you follow the instructions.
Easy to ride, easy to maintain, easy to procure parts for, and great fuel economy – the Honda Rebel is a great used motorcycle to consider.
Or what about something completely different? You might not want something like a grown-up minibike, a baby rocket, or a toned down cruiser, so how about this? This is the Suzuki TU250X, and it can only be described as a very traditional motorcycle. Suzuki has actually been manufacturing these little beauties since 1994, but they only arrived in the US in 2009 – and when it did arrive, it was very well received by the motorcycling press. Reviewers praised its vintage themed aesthetic, its responsive handling, and the fun nature of its fuel injected single cylinder 250cc engine. It’s no performance motorcycle, but it will get you from A to B – and you’ll have fun doing it.
In terms of power, it’s a little lacking in comparison to some of the other choices that we have on the list, but at 14.8 hp with 11.5 lb-ft of torque it’s not bad. The brakes are sharp, the suspension is surprisingly good, and it does everything that you’d expect a motorcycle to do. It looks great but it doesn’t compromise it’s functionality in the process.
If you’re into retro good looks and what a motorcycle that performs its primary function very well, then this is certainly something to consider. It’s a pleasure to ride, and you can usually pick one up used for a very decent price too.
This might seem like an odd option – because it certainly is a more expensive one – but an off-road bike may very well be the most sensible choice for you. Obviously, it depends on a number of contributing figures, but don’t discount the idea right away. You may be a taller rider who needs something more comfortable to learn on. You might live in an area with pretty rough road conditions. You might want to learn to ride a motorcycle for more than just going from A to B on. And since you’re investing in an expensive machine, you might want to keep hold of it – and having a dirt bike in the shed is always good fun.
While something like the Honda CRF250 will come up cheaper in the used motorcycle papers, the Yamaha WR250 is the superior of the two. Why? It has better suspension than the Honda, it weighs less than the Honda, and it generally rides a lot better than the Honda. What makes it a great choice as a first motorcycle is the fact that it’s as versatile as you can get. You can take this thing downtown, or you can take it through treacherous terrain in the wild. It doesn’t matter which, because it excels at both. It’s because of that dual nature that makes it a favorite learner bike for some. Also, it’s got the added bonus that you can drop it as much as you like and it won’t even matter.
They are more expensive than most of our other options, and used ones don’t turn up as regularly – purely because long term owners want to keep their hands on them.
Kawasaki Ninja 250R / 300
If you like the sound of the Yamaha above because of its forgiving nature, you might want to skip this entry. The Kawasaki Ninja 250R (or more modern 300) is arguably one of the most popular beginner bikes in recent years. In fact, you can probably go out on a nice day anywhere in the country and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see one or two of them fly past you. And consider that a sign of their quality. If you’re looking for a used motorcycle, you should probably keep your eyes out for a 250R, because the Ninja 300 only arrived in 2013, and as such, it hasn’t had a lot of time to devalue itself. Having said that, since they’re such a popular beginner bike, there are probably plenty for sale since their previous owners have no doubt graduated on to the next level.
If you’re given the choice though, you really want to go for the Ninja 300. It’s a little bigger than the older 250R and comes with fuel-injection, a better chassis, improved hardware and the option of ABS. Both are fantastic choices and provide new riders the look and feel of a modern sportsbike…just without the power to match it. And that’s really what you want out of a beginner motorcycle, really. You want something that gives you confidence, but limits you to riding within your ability.
Yamaha V-Star 250
You might be thinking that this is essentially the Honda Rebel by another name – but you’d be wrong. There are a few things that really make the Yamaha V-Star 250 stand out among the rest of the small capacity cruiser crowd: for a start, it’s made in the USA. Now, where a product is manufactured shouldn’t affect consumer preferences, but for some reason it does – so that’s one thing worth considering when choosing your first motorcycle. Secondly, and more importantly, it’s a v-twin. What gives the v-twin the edge over something with a single cylinder here is the obvious: it looks bigger in the frame. And that wonderful 249cc air-cooled v-twin really gives the V-Star 250 some road presence.
The V-Star also has some impressive specs to bolster up its beastly image. It is capable of hitting speeds of up to 85 mph which puts it comfortably in Freeway territory. It’s comfortable and very easy to manage allowing new riders to put plenty of experience building miles on the clock without any discomfort. It’s also pretty light – despite its look – and quite economical too. If we had to choose between the Honda Rebel and this, we’d probably choose the Yamaha. However, it depends on what turns up on your local used motorcycles website. With that in mind, it might be worth adding Yamaha Virago 250 to your search list if you’re interested in this.
But If You Need To Go Bigger…
Now, although we said that it’s generally best to learn the craft on something smaller and manageable, that doesn’t apply to everyone. You see, people come in different shapes and sizes, and they also need to ride a motorcycle for a variety of different purposes. As an example, let’s say you’re carrying a little more timber than would suit a small 250cc motorcycle…and you’re going to need this motorcycle to take you along long stretches of highway on a regular basis. In that example, the little Kawasaki Ninja 250R is probably a terrible idea. But that doesn’t mean you should jump onto a thoroughbred sports bike right away either. So, here are a few of our favorite beginner bikes that suit those with a bigger engine in mind. Oh yeah, they’ve also got to be readily available in the used motorcycle sections of your local auto trader too… Here they are:
The Suzuki SV650 is one of the most practical all-round motorcycles that we’ve ever had the pleasure of riding. They’ve been on the scene for a very long time now, and the SV650 is still as popular as it ever was. It has been updated in recent years, but for the purpose of this article, we recommend going for an earlier model, somewhere around the early 2000s and up. While the new ones are great, the older ones are more likely to grace the used motorcycle pages and there isn’t a hell of a lot of difference between them. You see, the SV650 is one of those weird motorcycles that doesn’t seem to look its age. Despite being the best part of 20 years old, it still looks relatively cool and fresh. And the same goes for its engine and overall ride experience.
Powered by a 645cc v-twin engine that produces a modest 69 hp, you might think that the SV is a bit dowdy and boring – but in fact, it’s an absolute blast to ride. The v-twin engine from Suzuki makes for an impressive ride experience, coupled with a very smooth gearbox and a comfortable riding position, you have an award winning combination which makes it great for beginner motorcyclists. What makes it an even more appetizing deal is the fact that you can pick these up for very reasonable prices. It’s all you really need in a motorcycle: good thrills and no frills.
Kawasaki Ninja 650
Similarly, we have Kawasaki’s entry into that very same niche. The Kawasaki Ninja 650 is also a great option for beginner motorcyclists who need a little more oomph than they’d squeeze out of the Ninja 250R or 300. Despite its ferocious look, it’s not as aggressive as you’d think and it’s a perfectly good motorcycle to start your bike career on. In fact, it’s actually a good one to stay with too. Since this Ninja 650 has been on the market in one form or another (earlier known as the ER-6 in some parts) for the past eight years, they’re very common in the used motorcycle pages. Not only are they fun, practical, and reliable – they also offer exceptional value for money.
At the heart of the Ninja 650, there’s a liquid-cooled parallel twin 649cc engine that shoots out about 65 hp at the rear wheel – which is more than enough for a newbie motorcyclist. The power delivery is one thing, but the torque spread is what really makes it great for beginner motorcyclists: you don’t have to sweat over your gear choices too much! It handles very well, and although some reviews will have you believe that the suspension isn’t as good as it should be, unless you’re punishing it around a track it’s more than adequate for your needs. So again, we have a motorcycle that looks the part, performs well, and has astonishingly good value for money. If you need something bigger than a 250 to start your riding career on, you can’t go wrong with the Ninja 650.
KTM 390 Duke
You might be thinking “there’s no way you can find a used KTM 390 Duke for a reasonable price” and you’d be…wrong! Contrary to popular belief, KTM’s do get a little cheaper as they get older. And that’s why the humble 390 Duke makes our list. It’s not a big bike. It’s not a small bike. It’s actually the best of both worlds. Since it first arrived in the USA in 2014, the KTM 390 Duke has been impressing us. It’s easy to ride. It’s got fun on tap. And if you want something that’s not a 300 or a 500, there really aren’t any other acceptable choices.
If you were to pick up the 2014 model, for example, you could enjoy the thrill of banging about on a very attractive and unique looking motorcycle. You don’t see too many of them on the road, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t great bikes. Equipped with a punchy single-cylinder engine that boasts a very respectable 44 hp, a light and nimble trellis frame, and responsive handling, the KTM 390 Duke ticks all of the right boxes for those who are in need of a simple and easy to ride motorcycle which can hold its own on the freeway and for longer stretches. It’s a lively machine and one that you won’t get bored of in a hurry.
Another bonus is that you can graduate through the whole KTM Duke series, and once you’ve “completed” the 390, you can mosey on to the 690, and further on up the line. The problem is being patient enough to find one turn up in the used motorcycle ads. They do show up, but not as often as anything else on this list – but actually, we’d make an allowance for the Duke and let you buy this one new…because it is genuinely worth it…