The best motorcycles for absolute beginners in 2023

The best motorcycles for absolute beginners in 2023
There are few better ways to get away from it all than on two wheels, but the prospect of getting started with your first motorcycle can be a daunting one. Sales staff and private–party sellers have their own motives, and without a knowledgeable sidekick, it can be tough to decide which motorcycles are best for ABSOLUTE beginners in 2023. Having personally increased my weekend riding party from three to a dozen guys and girls, I’ve given more than my fair share of wisdom over the years.

Let’s get a few things out right away. Yes, a second-hand machine is usually a more affordable option, but it’s one that’s not always inclusive. If you’re really just getting your feet wet, haggling with a Craigslist seller and attempting a mechanical inspection might not be your thing.

2023 Yamaha XT250
If you go off the showroom floor, you know what you’re getting, and a trusted dealer can also be a good source for parts and maintenance as well. Buying new isn’t always the best option, but if you’re just getting started on your own, it could be the right one.

Next, remind yourself that a motorcycle is not one-size-fits-all. Think about your strength and height before getting starry-eyed over a big HD or gnarly KTM; you’ll ride a whole lot more if you’re comfortable on the machine, rather than being concerned with the image. Some of the most important considerations for comfort are the size and weight of the bike, ease and ergonomics of the controls (and perhaps most importantly) seat height. Now that I’ve come off like a full-fledged weekend motorcycle instructor, let’s look at some bikes.

Best motorcycles for beginners in 2023
Best all-rounder: Yamaha XT250
Humble, but endearing, the Yamaha XT250 is a super accessible motorcycle that’s at home almost anywhere. Beyond opening doors where the pavement ends, the XT boasts a super-low 32.7-inch seat height, air-cooled mechanical simplicity and one of the slimmest curb weights around at 291 pounds. The Yamaha XT250 is one of my first choices—especially for smaller riders—and there are still a couple racking up miles in my riding group today.

The XT250 is one of Yamaha’s long-standing offerings based on simple air-cooled architecture, but unlike the TW200, it’s been updated some over the years. The more modern 249 cc, SOHC four-stroke single puts out a modest 19 hp, but it’s enough to make the XT a lot of fun in the twisties. While the highway isn’t its natural habitat, the XT will handle it and is capable of over 75 mph.

2023 Yamaha XT250 Engine
Equipment on the XT is pretty basic, but its controls and LCD display are easy to use, and the fuel-injected engine starts with the press of a button. The cable-operated clutch pulls easily, and the hydraulic discs front and rear provide smooth, predictable braking. Most any rider can comfortably get both feet flat on the ground given its low seat height, which greatly improves confidence while you’re learning the ropes or riding off-road.

Priced at $5,299, the 2023 Yamaha XT250 is a super affordable motorcycle with everyday usability. The XT will take you off-road, haul a passenger and is a bit more confidence-inspiring in traffic than a mini—just a few reasons why this one always makes our list. [Yamaha]

Best motorcycles for beginners in 2023
Best café hopper: Honda Rebel 300
Maybe dirt’s just not your jam, and you need something a bit more pavement-oriented. In that case, there are plenty of beginner-friendly cruiser machines in the 300 cc range, but given its super relaxed geometry and ultra-low seat height, my first stop is the Honda Rebel 300.

The 286 cc liquid-cooled single in the Rebel 300 powers several of Honda’s models, including the CRF300L, CB300R and CBR300R, so why choose the Rebel? For one, the bobber-esque aesthetic might be more your thing, but beyond that, it’s all about ergonomics.

2023 Honda Rebel 300
Seat height is number one, as the Rebel’s 27-inch saddle is over 7” shorter than the CRF300L and 4.5” shorter than the CB300R. Beyond inspiring confidence at stops, you’re sitting more relaxed on the Rebel, meaning less weight on your hands, and less fatigue while you’re learning. The Rebel 300 also carries its 364-pound curb weight low in the chassis, making the bike stable and easy to handle through intersections.

2023 Honda Rebel 300
Clearly, the Rebel is safe, but is it fun? Honda’s DOHC 300 kicks out around 25 hp, meaning it’s no barnstormer, but it’s definitely enjoyable in all sorts of conditions. In sixth gear, the Rebel will do nearly 100 mph, so there’s enough passing power when you need it, and a sizable 296 mm disc up front to slow you down.

Honda’s Rebel 300 is a surprisingly affordable offering at just $4,749 for the non-ABS model, making it the cheapest of Honda’s 300 cc offerings. [Honda]

Best motorcycles for beginners in 2023
Best beginner sport nakeds: Yamaha MT-03, BMW G 310 R and Honda CB300R
A small cc bike doesn’t have to look like one, as this group of 300 cc class sport/naked bikes from Yamaha, BMW and Honda all take inspiration and attitude from their larger cc siblings. Packed with aggressive styling and sharper handling, these featherweight flyers provide an accessible entry point into sporty street riding.

Some of our favorite 300 cc class street machines are Yamaha’s MT-03, BMW’s G 310 R and Honda’s CB300R, and each brings something different to the segment. All three bikes offer low seat heights between 30” and 31,” manageable weight in the mid-300-pound range and low centers of gravity. With low saddles and mid-height bars, all three bikes can be easily handled by anyone of slightly below-average height, and are a bit more comfortable than sportier machines like the CBR300R and Kawasaki Ninja 400.

Best motorcycles for beginners in 2023
All three bikes compete closely in price—separated by less than $200—and as such, hardware is pretty standard between them. Inverted forks, single discs and modern LED lighting are benchmarks in the class, and all three have sharp, naked appearances. Splitting hairs, we’d choose to ride the Yamaha, maintain the Honda and be seen riding the BMW.

Yamaha MT-03
Pressured to pick one, we’d have to go home with Yamaha’s MT-03, as its 321 cc parallel-twin puts out considerably more ponies than the single-cylinders in the BMW and Honda, but it is almost 60 pounds heavier than the CB300R. Point is, it’s a wash between them—pick the one you like. [Yamaha] [BMW Motorrad] [Honda]

2023 Honda CRF300L
Best beginner dirt bikes: Kawasaki KLX300 and Honda CRF300L
Not everyone gets to live in a place where dirt roads and two-track are a short ride away, but if you are, there’s nothing better than riding small cc enduro bikes with your friends. With just enough power to get you places, and enough suspension to have some fun when you get there, small cc enduros are a great way to (more or less) do it all on a budget.

2023 Kawasaki KLX300
The 250 cc enduro class took a hit after Yamaha dropped the WR250R back in 2021, leaving Honda’s CRF and Kawasaki’s KLX to duke it out, and both models have since grown to 300 cc. Both bikes are based on a steel chassis with long travel suspensions, inverted forks and 21F/18R wheel combos. They both weigh right around 300 pounds at the curb and offer about 30 hp, meaning neither bike is all that much fun for long highway jaunts.

2023 Kawasaki KLX300
Choosing one is really a matter of personal preference—Team Red versus Team Green—but there are a few differences when you get past the spec sheets. The Honda CRF300L excels on pavement, soaking up bumps better, running smoother and feeling more planted at highway speeds.

The Kawasaki KLX300 has the edge in suspension feel off-road though, and the front end doesn’t dip as hard when you grab the righthand lever. That off-road prowess does come at a price though, as the KLX sells for $6,199 compared to the CRF’s $5,399 (both non-ABS models).

2023 Honda CRF300L
For beginner riders, both the CRF300L and KLX300 offer fun and predictable performance, but even these bikes aren’t for everyone. Seat height—we say it again and again—but a 35-inch seat height is too high for many new riders. Riders under 5’6” or so will find these bikes put them on their toes during stops, and more ground clearance moves the center of gravity up in a big way. [Kawasaki] [Honda]

Honda Monkey mini bike
What About the Minis?
There’s a whole lot to love in today’s mini-moto sector, and we’re big fans of the Monkey, Grom, TNT135 and Z125 Pro. These bikes are super affordable, easy to handle and (above all) fun! For buzzing around town and carving backroads, minis are a riot, and if that’s where you’ll be riding, definitely consider one. It is, however, worth noting a couple of things that come with the territory.

2023 Kawasaki Z125 Pro
These bikes are small (duh), but you’re going to feel that in traffic. Other motorists might not see you as easily, and passing a semi-truck in the opposing lane is downright terrifying at highway speeds—ask me how I know. Also, everything is smaller on a mini, including brakes and suspension travel, and a hard bump at speed isn’t always enjoyable.

We’re not here to scare anyone off minis, but these are a few things I’d definitely want to make a new rider aware of. There are benefits to a full-size motorcycle we don’t always consider, especially if you’re just learning the ropes.

2023 Benelli TNT135

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