You want to ride but don't know where to start or how to begin.
First, you need a motorcycle but with so many options on the market you might have a hard time deciding on the best motorcycle for you
You may find certain motorcycles look cooler than others or perhaps you don't want an association with a specific crowd of riders and of course cost always plays a role in deciding what to buy. Well, throw all that out and make your choice based on, of course, personal preference but just as important the expected type and style of riding.
Do you plan on commuting and riding to most places around town? Do you like agility and speed? How about day long, casual excursions or even long distance travel that requires an overnight bag? Though all motorcycles get you from place to place not all motorcycles are created equal. Many motorcycle buying guides exist, so we hope to make it easy and strip down the details so you can make an informed choice.
How to Determine the Best Motorcycle for You
This guide covers those motorcycles you ride on the street. A dirt bike is technically a motorcycle but primarily used off-road as the vast majority do not arrive with street legal papers from the factory and those that do integrate various retrofits and receive approval according to individual state standards. We will cover a couple of off-road type of motorcycles but if you plan on solely trail riding or racing motocross then get yourself a dirt bike, otherwise read on.
Several categories of motorcycles (or as others say, a street bike) exist each with its own advantages towards a specific type of riding. You probably already have an idea what type of bike interests you and the style of riding you lean towards, therefore read on and see if they match up.
Sport bikes offer speed and fun for the initiated. Usually not for beginners though smaller engine sized models keep interested rookies from ruining their whole day. Sport bikes use clip-on handlebars (mounted directly to front forks) and generally have rear-positioned footrests with a forward-leaning seat putting the rider in an "attack" position. You often see these riders zipping in and out of traffic showing off their quick and nimble ride while others save it for track days.
Mid-bore bikes (those with an engine size around 600cc) represent the most popular in the class and include the Yamaha R6, Honda CBR600R, Ninja ZX-6R and even the Suzuki GSX-R750. Most beginners start with the manageable small bore bike (300cc engine) found on the Yamaha YZF-R3, Kawasaki Ninja 300, and the Honda CBR300R.
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R - Courtesy: Kawasaki.com
As notes, all off these sport bikes have engines below 1000cc and more suitable for beginner and intermediate riders. Liter bikes or those with a 1000 cc engine blow these bikes away in terms of power and speed and enjoyed usually on the track and/or by seasoned veterans.
Sport Touring Motorcycles
Touring motorcycles have an apt name because most riders of these bikes enjoy long, and in some respects, relaxing tours of the countryside on their motorcycle. The trip consists of the ride not necessarily the destination. Touring motorcyclists might enjoy a long afternoon on paved backcountry roads thanks to the fairings and windscreens, and fill the various removable luggage compartments with clothes and other personal effects for a days or even week long riding vacation.
KTM 1290 Super Duke - Courtesy: KTM.com Courtesy
Touring bikes have large engines but their overall weight prevents overpowering the rider. Riders enjoy comfortable seats and can lean back in a natural sitting position. Popular touring motorcycles include the Yamaha FJR1300, Triumph Trophy, Kawasaki ZX-14R, KTM 1290 Super Duke GT, and Yamaha Tracer 900.
Harley-Davidson and Indian pretty much own the market on Cruiser motorcycles, at least the branding, which have a custom look with old-school styling. You can identify these bikes when the rider has his or her feet stretched forward (not back like a sport bike or resting on the pegs like a normal seating position as you see on a touring bike), the handlebars placed higher than most and protruding highway bars just behind the front wheel to protect the bike in case of a spill.
You can hear these bikes for miles (sometimes) and owners often ride their Cruisers to work and for play as the seats usually come large, soft and contoured. But, the bike's heaviness leads to more fatigue when not sitting back and cruising down the highway. As you shop, expect to find some hybrids of sorts that mingle cruiser and touring and even cruiser and sport bike.
Harley-Davidson Road King
Popular Cruiser motorcycles include Harley-Davidson Softail, Harley-Davidson Road King, Indian Chief, Kawasaki Vulcan 900 and the Yamaha Star line.
Standard and Naked Motorcycles
Though comparable and often synonymous, a difference exists between standard and naked motorcycles. Overall, you can find a standard or naked motorcycle in any number of engine sizes but you won't get the swift acceleration of a sport bike and, though more comfortable than a Cruiser, you probably won't enjoy extended seat time but the less weight makes them more manageable.
Of all the available motorcycles, you can buy a standard or naked bike fairly inexpensively when compared to the above. That's where the similarities end.
A naked bike looks much like a sport bike and uses the same engine from the equivalent model line but with minimal body work and without the fairings. The prone seating position gets replaced with a more relaxed set-up and the rider enjoys a standard set of handlebars (use of triple clamps) instead of clip-ons.
Popular naked motorcycles include the Yamaha MT series, Yamaha FZ09, Kawasaki Z900, Ducati Monster and the Triumph Speed Triple.
Standard or Classic Motorcycles
Think of a standard motorcycle like the base model of a car, a "bare bones" deal that includes only the essentials for riding. This style probably rank as the more popular type of ride for beginners and anyone who just wants a straight up motorcycle to ride around town and enjoy. Also known as Classic motorcycles, some folks also call these bikes "Retro Modern" but regardless of the name, you typically get an air-cooled, older look that would make James Dean and Steve McQueen proud to ride.
Royal Enfield Continental GT - Courtesy: RoyalEnfield.com
Popular standard type motorcycles include the Yamaha SR400 and Royal Enfield Continental GT.
Somewhat new to the motorcycle front but gaining in popularity, Adventure bikes take you from the road to the trails and back. Part dirt bike, part touring with some Cruiser mixed in, Adventure bikes handle highway roads with ease but get their kicks off Route 66 and into wherever the road less traveled travels. Dusty back roads, narrow mountain trails, stream beds filled with rocks, these motorcycle give a whole new meaning to adventure and when the ride comes to a stop simply stay on board and journey home.
BMW R1200GS - Courtesy: BMWmotorcycles.com
Adventure bikes have bigger engines to haul their weight around, come with a pretty good price tag, and require OHV stickers for the off-road. Beginners should probably learn a thing or two on something else before throwing a leg over.
Popular Adventure bikes include BMW R1200GS, Honda Africa Twin, KTM Adventure 1290 and Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro.
Dual Sport Bike
Dual sport often gets lumped into the Adventure bike category because they perform in a similar manner however a dual sport bike looks like a traditional dirt bike that functions on the street but fares far better off-road. Dual sport bikes offer a more agile and lighter approach to off-road riding than a traditional Adventure bike whereas the Adventure bike performs optimally on the street as compared to a dual sport bike.
Honda CRF250L - Courtesy: Powersports.Honda.com
Some dirt bike owners transform their regular trail or Motocross bike into a dual sport bike by adding the factory-installed basics that come with a street legal dual sport: larger gas tank, kickstand, headlight and other directional lights and speedometer. You can operate a dual sport legally on public roadways but don't forget the OHV sticker when you cross the solid white line.
Popular dual sport bikes include: Honda CRF250L, Kawasaki KLX250S and Yamaha WR250R.
Lots to digest but hopefully we have helped narrow your choice. If you remain on the fence it helps to see individual motorcycles in person to get more of a hands-on perspective and learn about any interesting available features that appeal to your experience as a rider and the type of riding expected.