Ask Moto Adventurer: What’s a Good Learner Bike?

On Monday I received a text from a good friend of mine. Turns out, a guy he works with wants to take up motorcycling. Naturally, as a great ambassador of the “sport”, my buddy wants to help facilitate this process and set his friend up for success. Thus, the text said “Keep your lids peeled for a good learner bike under $3k, must have ABS.”


I troll Craig’s List pretty regularly; I’m here to tell you, $3,000 buys a lot of motorcycle these days, especially for your “first” motorcycle. On the flip-side, because we live in America, the requirement for ABS will narrow the field, considerably (because, ‘Merica…). “Conventional Wisdom” probably suggests that one buy a Rebel 250, which I almost guarantee lacks ABS, and the crowd will also likely say “You’ll outgrow it in a year”.CBR250 CL Ad I’m typically of the mentality that any mature male can usually handle just about any bike as a first motorcycle; of course, maturity is the key point there, but stature also plays a role. I’m also of the mindset that it usually makes more sense to buy the first bike on the cheap, that way you can spend some dough on quality gear, and start saving for the inevitable “upgrade”. That’s also not a hard and fast rule; some folks know what they want, or ride in manner where “any” bike will do, and that works too.


If it were me, I would probably pick a bike that’s in the 250 to 500 cc range. Ninja 300 CL adThese days there’s a myriad of bikes that were “learners” not that long ago. Locally, I see many listings for CBR250s with ABS right now, including a 2012 CBR250R. I don’t think that’s a bad plan, the CBR250 of today is “less budget” than the go-to Ninja 250 of yore. I do agree, depending on stature, I could see that bike being “outgrown” relatively quickly, depending on your taste and who you ride with. I also found a 2015 Kawasaki Ninja 300 in the same search, again, a far cry from the “entry level” 250 of yesteryear. I think those are fair options, but if it were me, CB500x CL adI would probably spring for the CB500X I found in Lexington. I’ve been chatting with a buddy about his CB500X since I saw it in person last year; if I could find a good deal on one (in fact, this one might work), I would feasibly consider it as a second bike for myself. Easily a great commuter bike, the CB500X offers “room to grow” with its 500 parallel twin, while also the “reputation” of Honda reliability and tempered “power” for a new rider, assuming one can handle the seat height (31.8 inches). A CB500F would be another good option, but I of course couldn’t find one of those for sale right now.


The longer I ride, the more I think I have a fringe taste in motorcycles, so I’d like to know what you the readers suggest. Knowing what you know now, based on your own experience, let’s imagine for a moment that you’re buying your very first bike with three grand in your pocket and insist on a bike with ABS, what would you choose?

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11 Responses to Ask Moto Adventurer: What’s a Good Learner Bike?

  1. TedK says:

    In following the great advice of Robert Pandya of the “Give-a-shift” movement. He recommends referring to motorcycles by their size, in his words: “Instead of referencing smaller bikes in a way that can discourage ridership – I’d suggest that we start using “Lightweight, Middleweight and Heavyweight”. Regardless of the category of motorcycle, there are brands that have motorcycles that fit those descriptors”.

    The idea is that when you say “Learner or Beginner bike” it tells the would be rider that they will have to upgrade to another bike eventually. This instills fear of having to spend a lot more money. Instead, suggest a lightweight bike which can serve the new riders purpose for many years, maybe forever.


    • MotoADVR says:

      I can’t argue with your premise Ted. I admit, I’m pretty brass tacks, most people sell their first bike, it happens, love the bike, live in the now., but accept change is inevitable, but your point is still very valid.

      That said, you didn’t make a suggestion.


  2. MarylandMoto says:

    CB500X has been a great first bike for me, ABS would make mine even better. In retrospect, I do think maybe a Vstrom or Versys 650 would have been slightly better choices for me but finding one for less than 3k with ABS might be difficult.


    • MotoADVR says:

      Good info! What makes either of those bikes better than the CB500x?


      • MarylandMoto says:

        I commute on the highway pretty frequently, a bit more power would be nice for passing. Definitely not necessary though and the CB500X does very well in all other aspects.


      • MotoADVR says:

        I’m hoping to ride one myself at some point. Frankly, the new Street Scrambler could use more passing power on the Highway, so it may just be power delivery.


  3. Kimi says:

    I got the 2017 Honda Rebel 500 for my first bike. Doesn’t hit that under $3K sweet spot, but I did ride it from California to Massachusetts and I will probably keep this “starter” bike for a few more years.


    • MotoADVR says:

      I’m really glad to hear folks are buying those new Rebels. I think Honda did a good job there, and related to my comments, I think the 300 and 500 cc options were wise. You sound like you’re getting your money’s worth, which is the whole point!


  4. Jade says:

    Of course it depends on the style of bike the rider is into, but I’d suggest a middleweight jap cruiser. Shadow, V Star, etc. Low price, low seat height, low center of gravity inspire confidence right off the bat. Plenty of torque, and lazy clutches make learning to take off, and shift a breeze. Not enough power to get you into serious trouble like a modern day 600 sport bike.
    As for ABS, boy that really narrows your choices of inexpensive bikes. I’m not against the technology, and understand it’s merits, but I can honestly say that I’ve never been in a riding situation where ABS would have saved my bacon.
    My thought is that learning to ride in a defensive manner that all but removes the possibility of needing to make panic stops is a far better tool to have in your kit than relying on technology to save your ass once you’re already in trouble.


  5. RevMatch says:

    What’s ABS? You mean ABC’s 🙂 I’m a fan of the CRF 250L. CBR300. Ninja 650 and Honda Grom, H-D street 500/750. I think reliability is the most important feature of a beginner bike, There are too many additional expenses for beginning riders. No one wants a high maintenance bike as their first ride. Quality riding gear can easily out pace the cost of a used beginner bike.

    I will say, If you plan on riding a H-D, they have a program worth consideration for beginner bikes, Buy a new one and turn it back in within a year for a full refund (Minus tax, tag and title and you have to buy a new H-D).


    • Drew Faulkner says:

      Valid points here. You can easily find a $500 beater to learn on, but the propensity of landing a bike that needs significant upkeep is pretty high. I do think first-time riders should buy something sensible, in case they decide it’s not for them, and I also agree that the less time they spend wrenching and the more time they spend riding, the more likely they are to stay with it.


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