Getting out on a bike and enjoying the open road is on many people’s minds after the year that was 2020, with all of its twists, turns, and hardships. In truth, there has been a significant increase in motorcycle training and safety course registrations, at least in the city where this author is based.
More and more individuals want the freedom, thrill, and excitement of throwing a leg over a mechanical saddle and riding into the sunset on their powered horse.
The greatest bike for new riders, though, isn’t the $30,000 Harley-Davidson you’ve been lusting over, nor is it the new Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade.
2021 Kawasaki Z400 & Z650
The Kawasaki Z400 returns from our 2020 list, this time joined by the marginally revised 2021 Z650. These two naked bikes are among the best on the market, and despite their intimidating appearances, they can be tamed with time and effort.
Both are equipped with robust Kawasaki parallel-twin engines, one with 399cc and 45 horsepower and the other with 649cc and 67 horsepower.
Because Kawasaki crams as much technology and rideability into the lower end of the Z family as possible, these earn the nod for the naked sector.
Dual-zone ABS (which, honestly, every beginner bike should have), an assist-and-slipper clutch that won’t throw you off the bike if you jerk the clutch a little too hard, a linear and controllable power curve, and supportive, confidence-inspiring suspension that won’t squish in a corner but won’t jar your fillings loose on a bump are all standard features.
2021 Honda Rebel Range 300, 500 and 1100
Three-sport cruisers, to be exact! This year, the Honda Rebel 1100 debuted, powered by the Honda Africa Twin’s torture-tested and time-proven 1,084cc parallel twin. This engine produces 86 horsepower and enough torque to propel the Rebel forward.
The 1100 is featured as a starter bike because, despite its powerful engine, it remains the same basic, unfrightening sport cruiser that Honda created to welcome new riders to the two-wheeled world.
However, if you are a shorter or lighter rider, the Rebel 300 and Rebel 500 are still excellent entry-level cruisers for learning the ropes of the bicycling world.
2021 Suzuki SV650A
This one was obvious to anyone who knows anything about starter bikes or has viewed more than three suggested starter bike YouTube videos. Since its introduction in 1999, the SV650, in all of its guises and forms, including the Gladius, has consistently been on every year’s recommended beginner bike list.
Have you ever pondered why this is? Is it the 645cc v-twin engine that produces 75 horsepower? Is it the six-speed manual that can withstand a sledgehammer and still function? Is it the Tokico race brakes on cast-aluminum wheels, which are sprung by Suzuki motorsport suspension? In a nutshell, yes
2021 Yamaha YZF-R3
To be absolutely serious for a moment, the 2021 Yamaha YZF-R3 is not a bike to be taken lightly, much like its similar R sisters over the years. It is, in all seriousness, a mini-supersport, despite the title being attached to the quickest and most difficult 600cc and 1000cc sportbikes.
If you plan to ride Supersports as a hobby, we recommend checking out our Best Full-Face Helmets Under $500 list (our own sport riders recommend the Shoei RF1400 or Arai Regent-X if your budget allows) to find an appropriate helmet, as well as our other gear guides to find sport riding protection to keep you safe!
2021 Honda CB500X
The CB500X, like most adventure tourers, has a tall windshield, a conventional riding position, and mid-mount pegs, providing the rookie rider with superb visibility of the road and traffic ahead while also being comfortable for multi-hour trips.
The CB500X excels in that it can accommodate new riders of practically any height and weight, ranging from 5’9″ 180 lbs to 6’1″ 270 lbs (including this author!)
The only real issue that adventure tours adventure motorcycles have is putting their feet down when coming to a complete stop. Most adventure bikes are a little higher than ordinary street bikes, so you’re more likely to be on your balls with both feet down, or on one foot mostly down.
2021 Indian Scout Sixty
We warned you not to swoon over Harley-Davidson cruisers in the introduction. The same can be said for Indians, but if you must have some American iron in your garage or driveway, the 2021 Indian Scout Sixty is a good place to start. And, while it’s more of an introduction to Indian than a real starter bike.
The Scout Sixty is a smaller bike than its Scout siblings, but it’s no slouch. You’re seated in a low, comfy seat behind a hefty 999cc liquid-cooled 60 degree V-twin that rumbles out the soundtrack of the United States of America.
The v-twin produces 78 horsepower and 65 pound-feet of torque, which is more than adequate for the bike’s 544-pound weight.
2022 Honda GROM
Despite its small size, the GROM, which belongs to the “minimoto” class, is a superb beginner bike. It chugs out a good 10 HP from its big fuel-injected 125cc four-stroke single and will propel nearly any rider 200 lbs or under up to 50 MPH with a little effort.
Being such a small little munchkin, it’s also a lot of fun to ride, with plenty of power that won’t get you into any trouble, and high-quality Honda equipment like the ABS system, suspension, wheels, and, of course, the nearly unkillable engine.
And the thing is, even after you’ve upgraded to a bigger second bike, the GROM is still a blast to ride around the neighborhood on, or to putter down the street to the corner store without having to warm up the bigger brother you’ve purchased.
2021 Kawasaki KLX300
The classic KLX250 was retired in 2021, to be replaced by the KLX300. It’s the thinking man’s dual-sport, with a 292cc liquid-cooled four-stroke single producing a hefty 33 HP and capable of commuting on the street while still being ready to rip up the trails on the weekends.
The KLX300 is tuned to have usable power at practically any revs and to be predictable and controllable in its delivery, unlike its new 2021 KLX300 SuperMoto brother. This makes an inadvertent wheelie difficult, and fully looping the bike considerably more difficult.
However, at just over 300 pounds wet, it is still considered a lightweight on the street, so a mature attitude to the throttle is advised.