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Motorcycle Training and Safety
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USA's Motorcycle Safety Foundation:

CANADA's Gearing Up Training Program:
Welcome - Canada Safety Council's Gearing Up - Canada's National Motorcycle Training Program

How To Stay Alive Aboard a Motorcycle (written by me)

Quick Safe Riding Tips
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Well well well. You want to get a bike, do ya? I don't blame you, motorcycles are a ridiculously good time. Before you jump onto that Hayabusa for your first cruise though, it's important to know a number of things about bikes and riding in general. When I was looking for my first bike and wanted information about what models were good for beginners, what safety precautions I should take, etc etc, I found there wasn't much in the way of beginner tailored articles. So here's what I've come across in my travels. Hopefully if you're looking to buy your first bike you can get lots of good information here and can make an informed decision. Cheers!

The Bikes!
Intro and Purchasing Tips

First, the basics; you’re shopping for your first ride, there’s about a million different bikes out there, and most of them people will say will kill you. So, I give you some things to consider when buying your first bike:

-Weight: Heavy bikes are easy to drop, often difficult to handle, and are NOT fun to pick up if/when you drop them. They CAN provide some extra highway stability, although the aerodynamics of the bike is a bigger factor here.

-Handling: Basically, the more forgiving and responsive the handling, the better. A slug of a bike will make you crash if you run a corner a bit too wide or hit the brakes too hard, while a good handling bike will give you the extra edge that may allow you to recover. A good handling bike also inspires confidence, which I suppose could also be a bad thing depending on your personality (ie. will you realize you are not Valentino Rossi after you've been riding for two months).

-Upkeep: Obviously, cheaper is better here. Cheap means fuel consumption, reliability (and the associated maintenance) and cost of parts and labour. You’ll notice I don’t mention any Ducati Monsters as good beginner bikes below; that’s because they’re Italian. Lots of routine maintenance, pricey parts, and pricey dealer labour are the norm with Duc’s. Buy a nice 748 or something as a 2nd/3rd bike.

-Power: This is an obvious one. You want a bike that will not loop (flip over backwards) when you screw up with the throttle, or slide out from under you coming out of a corner or something. Power delivery is usually much more important than peak power and torque figures, however. A sub 700cc twin is great for beginners, as it’ll provide smooth, linear power delivery (more traction with the power on…Google "Big Bang engines", used in MotoGP bikes). Most of the bikes I recommend have such an engine.

-Resale: You will eventually want to sell your first bike. Because of this, and the fact that you will likely cause at least a bit of damage to the bike during the learning process, I fully recommend a safe, serviceable, but older and used bike as your first. The devaluation of a few scratches won’t hurt NEARLY as bad on an already scratched ’95 EX500 as it would with an ’08 fresh from the dealership.

Also, a general note on insurance costs: Anything classified as a "sport bike" will be obscenely expensive to insure. Usually anything over 750cc will be obscenely expensive to insure. Bikes under 500cc are pretty cheap to insure, and under 250cc are VERY inexpensive. But if you're 19 and want a 1000cc sportbike, I hope you're independently wealthy. Oh and you'll probably die before you make your first insurance payment anyways.

Voila, Beginner Bikes

Okay, now what I want to do is list specific models that are suitable for beginners along with pros and cons for each model. I also recognize that some people will refuse to start on anything but a 600cc or bigger supersport, so I've included a "Not Recommended But Okay For Beginners" sports bike section near the end of the guide. Read on!

First up, the Honda Rebel 250. It’s small, light, cheap, reliable, excellent on gas, low to the ground semi-decent handling, and the list goes on. It is probably *the* bike for your first 15 hours of riding. The problem is that if you weigh more than 140lbs you will probably get very bored very quickly with it’s motor. Additionally, because of it’s small size, it can be a bit of a chore on the highway. It is, however, unquestionably the cheapest bike here to buy, maintain, and insure.

Weight: A few pounds heavier than your Huffy.
Handling: Light, good for a cruiser. Cheap suspension, obviously.
Upkeep: About the same as your Honda lawnmower. You changed the oil on that maybe 5 years ago right? Yeah….
Power: Just right for an absolute beginner, but a bit pedestrian for full size adults after logging a few thousand miles.
Resale: They’re cheap to buy and cheap to sell. Minimal/no body work means dropping it won’t destroy resale like dropping a sport bike would.
Overall: If you’re smaller build, it would be a fantastic first bike. If you’re edging up to 180lbs or more, you’ll probably want to pass on this bike (LOL CUZ U WON’T BE DOING THAT ON THE HIGHWAY LOLOL)

Next, the Yamaha Virago 250. This little bike is quite similar to Honda's Rebel, but is a little more upscale. It rides a little nicer and is of slightly higher quality.

Weight: Same as the Rebel
Handling: Same as the Rebel, but with slightly uprated suspension and brakes.
Upkeep: Same as the Rebel.
Power: More than the Rebel. About 7-8hp more, in fact. This sounds like nothing, but when you're moving from 15hp to 22hp, it's significant.
Resale: Same as the Rebel
Overall:Same as the Rebel

I'm not sure if this is available in the US, but in Canada and elsewhere the CBR125R is a fantastic bike to look towards as a starter. Even smaller, lighter, and easier to handle than the Ninja 250 listed below, this little four stroke, single cylinder bike will be sure to put a smile on your face. Last year Honda had a deal with the bike and all the required gear for about $4000 CAN...pretty impressive. The 2008 looks even better with an underseat exhaust. It even has fuel injection, a luxury that should not be overlooked in this price category.

Weight: 280 lbs....WITH ALL FLUIDS AND A FULL GAS TANK. That is ridiculous. Messed up a parking job? Just lift up the rear end and move it.
Handling: Perfect for an urban setting, it's small, quick, and stable. Brakes and suspension are more than enough for any beginner. The definition of a light, flickable bike.
Upkeep: As with the Rebel, it's a simple, reliable Honda engine that will last longer than you. It gets an almost unbelievable 94 mpg. Take that OPEC!
Power: Well...honestly not much at all. It will get you up to highway speed, and you'll have fun rowing the gears, but don't be expecting to get going much faster than 130 km/h downhill with a tailwind. More than enough for around town, however.
Resale: Hard to say...the bike is pretty new still. It's very cheap to start with and a good looker, so it would be tough to lose a lot of money by selling one after a year or so.
Overall: A great option for someone who is pinching pennies, does a lot of urban riding/commuting, or is of small/light body type. It looks great, can dash through a 30" hole in traffic, and gives a big hug to mother nature and your wallet while simultaneously telling OPEC where to go and how to get there.

Now here's a beauty...the new Ninja 250. It's an updated version of the venerable 250R that survived for about 7 eons relatively unchanged. Now it's got great looks and a bit more performance than the old one, and just about anyone could feel cool riding it. So you can buy the new one if you need great looks for your first bike, or you can save about $1500 and get an older one in decent shape.

Weight: Picture a butterfly dancing on the breeze
Handling: Good brakes, lots of lean angle, light steering, forgiving. Excellent for the beginner.
Upkeep: The engine is a carbureted parallel twin of 80’s design, and it’s bulletproof and cheap to maintain.
Power: It’ll do zero to 60 in about 5 seconds and can even wheelie if you REALLY work it, but it won’t spit you on your ass if you get a bit hamfisted. Power is pretty peaky, though. You’ll have to rev the heck out of it to get it really moving.
Resale: Buy one of these from the early nineties and you’ll almost get your entire investment back when you upgrade. A new one is only $3500 MSRP though, so how much can that really depreciate?
Overall: The definitive small-person sports bike and the baseline for which all other beginner bikes are judged. And rightly so: it handles well, has enough power to be entertaining, gets great mileage (about 80 mpg), is cheap, and looks a proper sport bike.

Some people simply must buy American, and for these people there is the Buell Blast. Overall, the Blast IS a good bike for beginners, but there are myriad quality and maintenance issues that must be recognized and dealt with.

Weight: Light as a feather dancing on the breeze.
Handling: It's light and maneuverable, BUT the suspension is noticeably cheap, and it won't impress or instill a ton of confidence in corners as a result. Keep speeds reasonable (which you should be doing anyways) and it handles better than a beginner needs. It's also got a very low seat height, which is perfect for small-of-stature folk.
Upkeep: Yikes. Earlier generations were so unreliable that Buell's parent company Harley Davidson actually faced lawsuits. Apparantly there was a problem with oil leaks springing and spraying oil on the tires, resulting in a crash. Newer models (2002+) should be fine, but the Blast still won't be as reliable as it's Japanese counterparts. Expect to pay for regular maintenance. Also, there are many reports on the net from people who have had problems with Buell/Harley dealerships. Problems range from jerkoff customer service people ("buy a REAL bike kid", while nodding at the Harleys in the corner) to incompetent mechanics. There are also reports of frames cracking and random manufacturing/quality control issues. So basically your shiny new Blast might break down right outside the dealership and their tech guy won't be able/willing to help you. You've been warned!
Power: Not bad, it puts out just under 35hp in a very mild manner. Just about perfect for lighter riders or for your first thousand miles on a bike.
Resale: Really, really not very good. They ARE cheap to begin with, so you won't lose a whole bunch of money, but in terms of percentages you won't do very well.
Overall: A light, low, nimble little bike that is perfect for new riders (especially lighter ones/ladies) and is made in the US of A. Just beware maintenance, and stay far away from older models.

Next up is the Suzuki GS500. It was originally made as a naked bike, which was discontinued. I recommend the naked/old/used variant because of the upright riding position and the lack of expensive fairing. If you absolutely MUST have a new sport bike, however, the faired version is a great way to go. The bike is powered by an old, air cooled Suzuki twin that is low tech (cheap to maintain) and sufficiently powerful.

Faired Version

Weight: Pretty light. Slightly heavier than modern supersports.
Handling: Cheap suspension, but it turns, brakes, and accelerates as well as a beginner will ever need.
Upkeep: Minimal. It’s made of a bunch of old Suzuki parts that you could probably find at a bike wrecker for the approximate cost of DIRT, if need be.
Power: Somewhat spirited. Enough that it can be wheelied if you thrash it hard enough, and you’ll have passing power on the highway. It has a very linear (easy to control) power delivery.
Resale: Buy a used one and your resale will leave you happy. Buy a new one….probably not so much, but you’d get a pretty fairing.
Overall: Very good bike for a beginner. The suspension is it’s biggest limiting factor, but unless you’re doing track days regularly in your first year of riding you won’t care. It’s cheap, decently quick, and forgiving.

Now I bring you my first bike, the Kawasaki Ninja EX500 (500r in Canuckistan). This is where things start to get a little sporty: you can in fact get into trouble in a hurry on this bike of ~50hp. It gets upwards of 45mpg, handles reasonably well, and is easy to maintain. This is usually what is recommended for riders who feel they are too big to start out on the 250 Ninja. It’s powered by a liquid cooled parallel twin that is basically an old ZX-9 engine chopped in half.

Weight: It’s no Harley, but is actually heavier than the supersports of today.
Handling: Budget suspension, but better than the GS500. Good brakes, good tractable motor, good highway manners.
Upkeep: Minimal, and parts are plentiful at any wrecker’s.
Power: Spirited; its undeniably faster than the vast majority of the cars on the road, but it isn’t peaky like 4 a cylinder motor.
Resale: Pretty good. You’ll lose some for scratches on the body work, but you were smart enough to buy used anyways right? RIGHT?
Overall: Great bike to get if you don’t plan on upgrading within a year. It’s a good compromise of power, gas mileage, handling, and cost. Naturally I’m biased because I
ed my bike, but in my mind this could be the bike that keeps the most beginners both entertained and alive.

A not-so-subtle competitor for Suzuki's very successful SV650, the Kawasaki Ninja 650r is very similar in all respects. It has a more upright seating position, lower seat, slightly less peak power, and more compliant suspension, making it a better choice for the commuter. It's attributes are so comparable with the SV650, however, that I won't go into more detail; for all intents and purposes, beginners will have the same degree of success on both bikes.

Weight: See SV650
Handling: See SV650
Upkeep:See SV650
Power: See SV650
Resale: See SV650
Overall: See SV650

The Suzuki GSX 650F is basically a Bandit with a revvier engine and sporty bodywork. It has fuel injection, slightly fancier body work, better suspension, a more advanced instrument cluster, and a price that's $2500 higher than the GS500F. This is Suzuki's attempt to catch some of the SV650's glory. As it is based off of the Bandit (which was NOT a sport bike), the GSX650F will have softer suspension and less sporting pretensions than the SV650 and the Ninja 650r. Otherwise, it is very similar.

Last of the "recommended" sporty bikes is the bouncy and playful Suzuki SV650. It comes in both faired and unfaired versions. The faired version may be more expensive to insure due to it being classified as a sport bike. Both have plenty of get-up-and-go, look great, and handle superbly. This bike is so popular, in fact, that it has it’s own racing series. The newest generation has angular styling and fuel injection. I recommend the older ones, as they’re cheaper, look better (imho) and handle the same.

Unfaired Version

Weight: Competitive with modern supersports. It’s light.
Handling: The best in this bunch by a good margin. It has a very stiff chassis, solid suspension components, good brakes and a smooth, tractable engine.
Upkeep: Because it’s the only bike here that essentially wasn’t designed in the 80’s, parts can be a bit more, but still reasonable. It’s very reliable, however, and easy to work on.
Power: Verging on too much for a beginner. It’s torquey, so a quick twist of the throttle can and will lift the front wheel. It has a smooth, linear power delivery but there is enough there to get you into trouble in a big hurry if you aren’t paying attention.
Resale: Decent, but worst of the bunch. You will lose some money when you resell, unless you buy a crashed one and have a dealership hookup to get it fixed on the cheap or something. However, this is a bike you could keep for years, so maybe it’s not as big a deal.
Overall: It’s an amazing bike, really; the issue is whether or not a beginner should have it. *cue video of jackass plowing into a tree from a standstill on an SV*. If you’re mature, wouldn’t call yourself a ‘speed demon’, and you have some extra cash to burn, this could be the one for you.

Sport bike not your speed? Don't want a piddly little "toy cruiser"? How about the Yamaha V-Star 650. It comes in Classic or Custom styling and is a nice blend of quality components, light weight, and good style. It looks a lot bigger than it really is (in fact, it has a very low seat height).

Weight: Pretty chunky in comparison to the other bikes here, but light and manageable for a cruiser. If you're planning on ending up with a 1600cc power cruiser sometime down the road, this might be a good entry point for you.
Handling: Very good, for a cruiser. It basically hasn't changed in design since it's inception in 98, but it was effective then and it still is. Don't expect to be taking on sport bikes in the corners (if you were expecting that, you're looking at the wrong bike anyways).
Upkeep: Almost nil. It's bulletproof, and a proven design. You really can't go wrong. It's also good on gas because it's not a high revving race engine.
Power: Tame and controllable, but plenty for highway cruising. Sufficient on the highway, more than sufficient in the city.
Resale: If you buy used, you won't do too badly. As always, buy new, you'll lose quite a bit.
Overall: A great entry point for heavyweight cruiser afficiendos. It's lighter and easier to handle than a big cruiser, but it looks like a big cruiser. This is pretty much the bike that started the small-bike-with-a-big-bike-look that has become so popular.

Now, something a little different: the Triumph Bonneville. It's got the "classic" look, with fairly modern suspension and brakes. It's powered by a 750cc twin, which is comparable in performance to the SV650, but is has tamer power delivery (ie. it's not high strung like a sport bike). It's one of the more expensive bikes to purchase here if you're anywhere but the UK, but is overall a pretty good bike for beginners.

Weight: About 450lbs dry, so it's not exactly a lightweight. Still, light and low enough to the ground to be quite manageable
Handling: Decent brakes, decent suspension. It IS a classic-style bike, so it's no road burner, but it handles just fine. A good city bike.
Upkeep: Reasonable. Labour at a Triumph dealer isn't the cheapest, but this isn't the cheapest bike you could buy either (quite the opposite, actually, if you're in North America). The twin design is simple and reliable. Overall, not much to worry about.
Power: Substantial power for a beginner, but relatively easy to manage. Pretty comparable to the SV650, really.
Resale: There isn't a huge demand for bikes like these, so there aren't too many around second hand. Expect resale to be a bit of a pain, and not particularly profitable.
Overall: If the Bonnie's style is your style, you're probably mature and level headed enough to handle it's power. If you're not into "those racing bikes", and don't want the heft and sluggish handling of a cruiser, this could be a great bike for you.

Lastly, for those that absolutely will NOT do without a supersport bike, there is an option for you: buy an older model. The 600cc supersports from the early 90's (generally 89-93) are less powerful and less "track ready" than current supersports. They are still very fast, with most having about 90hp, but they are also nimble and handle well. Resale on these is really good, because they've already lost most of the value that they will ever lose. I've grouped together the Yamaha FZR 600, the Kawasaki ZX6-D, and the Honda CBR 600 F2 together in this group. Suzuki's entry at the time was considered to be the raciest, and it was hard and unforgiving by comparison, so I won't recommend that one.

Let me be very clear on this: I do NOT recommend these bikes for absolute beginners. They are fast, they are furious, and they will get inexperienced and uncautious riders killed. I am merely suggesting them as an option for those who refuse to ride anything but a "real" sport bike as their first bike

Yamaha FZR 600
Kawasaki ZX6-D
Honda CBR 600 F2

Weight: Heavier than modern supersports, but pretty damn light in this crowd.
Handling: These were the best bikes of the time, so the suspension is as good as it got...at the time. Premium suspension with dated technology means that overall these are pretty solid handling bikes. Brakes are strong.
Upkeep: They're all carbureted and simple by today's standards in terms of technology. They're also high strung racing machines, however, and have probably been ridden as such by their previous owners. Expect to have to start replacing things that you would normally replace at high mileage, and some examples might even need an engine rebuild.
Power: All of these bikes put out more than 85hp. They are rev-happy, peaky race engines. They can and will be a handful for the beginner, and they will be dangerous for the beginner lacking caution and restraint.
Resale: They've already done most of their devaluing. You'll probably lose relatively little money reselling them.
Overall: I don't recommend these bikes as a first. They are very fast, with peaky power delivery and rather stretched out ergonomics (read: racing position). They have high seats. They get the worst mileage of the bunch. They will burn through tires faster. They were probably used and abused by previous owners. They are almost bulletproof, very good handlers, and fulfill the racebike feel that so many people want, though.

source: Beginners Bike Guide
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