I’ll just come out and say it: your first bike should be total crap. It needs to run and ride but honestly, that’s about it.
I know it sounds sexy to roll up in front of your friends on a shiny perfect bike. Thing is, they probably don’t know a damn thing about motorcycles. To them you’re just a badass on a bike, a 1000% cooler version of the person they knew before. To them, those cracks in the plastic are there for “aerodynamic efficiency” or something. So long as the entire bike doesn’t look like literal crap, you’re in the clear.
Let me explain.
Don’t Get a POS
Leave those spray-painted, rhino-lined, plastidipped “crotch rockets” for your friendly neighborhood hooligans. I’m not saying go out and buy some ancient bucket of bolts that might not make it down the street, just find a bike you won’t make any worse by rubbing your inexperience all over it.
Buy one of these: a lightly damaged small-displacement motorcycle, 2000 or newer, in good operating condition. Consider finding a “high mileage” bike with 30,000 to 50,000 miles. Look in the $1000-$2000 range (definitely not over $3000) for bikes with small engine displacements – under 500cc for road bikes and under 100cc for dirt bikes.
Whatever you settle on, bring a friend to test ride it for you. It needs to handle the way it should, or you’ll pick up bad habits from trying to compensate for the bike’s problems. If you can, take the MSF RiderCourse. In addition to reducing your insurance, everything you’ve heard about it making people better riders is true. Because let’s face it…
You’re Gonna Drop It
By not sinking tons of money into your first bike, and by not getting one that’s in perfect shape, you’re literally one-upping fate.
The phrase “it’s not if, but when” is a favorite of track-day junkies, the guys with fat chicken strips who hardly ever ride on the street because “it’s just too dangerous.” There is some truth to that statement, though – the odds of dropping your first motorcycle are pretty high if you’ve never ridden before.
But maybe you’re a really smart cookie, someone who takes their time and doesn’t push the limits until you know where they are. You may be of the lucky few that never drops their first motorcycle. But even if you beat the odds and escape the training-wheel phase unscathed, there are plenty of reasons your first bike shouldn’t be a shiny new Ducati.
It’s Gonna Get Old
My take on the 250 vs 300 vs 600 vs 1000 argument is that it all depends on who you are. That horse has been beaten to death by every writer and vlogger alive, so instead I’ll give you a different piece of advice: no matter what your first bike is, you’re going to get bored of it someday.
That’s not to say you couldn’t get years of fun out of your first bike. Hell, I wish I’d never sold mine. But if you truly bought the right first bike – an ugly one with limited performance – your skillset will outgrow it. That or you’ll want more speed or more moxie, whichever happens first.
At that time you’ll be tempted to sell your bike, and if you bought a newer model – especially if you damaged a nice bike in the learning curve – that puts you in a pickle.
It's Smart Spending
Crappy bikes are easy to buy and sell thanks to something weird that happened a few years ago: used bikes stopped depreciating.
Around 2012 I bought two 2005 Honda CBR600RRs, undamaged, modded to the hilt and showing about 30,000 miles each. I paid $3500 for one and $4000 for the other. That was six years ago, but if I still had them today I could ask the same price I paid – maybe even more – even though they’re now twice as old. Say what?!
Long story short: we’re living in the future. Back in the 1990s the peaks of technology were tube TVs and CD-ROMs. Most motorcycles, even sport bikes, were still carbureted. The 2000s improved everything so vastly that the world hasn’t seen such a drastic change ever since. As a result, a 2005 Honda CBR can go toe-to-toe with a 2018 model and hardly fall behind. That same bike back in 2005 walked all over bikes from the 1990s, no contest.
The world keeps on spinning.
Money Management 101
What’s more, most motorcycles have a hard floor price. If you score a well-used but still decent bike at the “hard floor” price, you’re not going to lose money even if you add a scratch or two and pile on the miles.
Those old carbureted Kawasaki Ninja 250s will almost never dip below $1000 in running condition, and they never have. Newer 300s drop to $2000 at best, and Honda Groms rarely dip below $1800 (unless they’re really rough).
Better yet, find a deal on a lightly used bike. Find a two-year-old Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS that someone dropped and you’ll get a huge discount off the sticker price. Going a step further, a damaged or salvage title motorcycle costs up to 30% to 50% less than a minty one. Just watch for hidden damage and make sure it rides the way it should.
Buying a showroom-new bike as your first motorcycle is borderline insane. Unless it’s a future classic, nobody will ever give you what you paid the dealership. Leave the zero-mile bikes for when you’re a seasoned rider. After all…
You Might Not Even Like Riding
I get that you’ve spent every waking minute of the last 2 weeks watching YouTube tutorials about counter-steering and clutch-up wheelies. Your Instagram feed has changed from cars, guns, and women to motorcycles and women. You already have one of those “REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT” things to put on the keyring and you’ve picked out the perfect flat-brim to tuck under the passenger seat.
But I’m telling you, you might not actually like riding.
Being a motorcycle rider is nothing like being a normal person. You’ll start dreaming in speed, making excuses to go ride in circles around town, and taking the long way home no matter what. And you’ll make new friends faster than ever, united by the shared experience of risk and reward that cars just don’t offer.
It’s not for everyone.
Your Tastes Will Change
You’re far more likely to get tired of certain things about your first motorcycle that about riding in general. The biggest one is power: especially if you started on a 250 or 300 road bike (or < 100cc dirt bike) there will probably come a time when you want more oomph.
You’ll really start nitpicking your bike once you start playing the field. A friend’s supermoto might move you in ways your Harley never has. Your roommate’s Yamaha R6 might open your eyes to how unforgiving your Triumph Daytona can be. You might enjoy the smooth power curves of an inline four better than the rough torque of a twin.
Whatever the case, it’s best not to get too attached to your first motorcycle – chances are it won’t be your last.
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