I am sure if you have tried to do any research on the ‘net about beginner motorcycles you have run into multiple articles and forum discussions declaring that a newbie should only ride something with 250cc’s or under 500cc’s or some other statement about the number of cc’s the engine should have. Here’s the thing, cc’s are just one piece in determining the speed/power of a motorcycle. There are many folks out there that either don’t understand motorcycle engines or have a very strict view of the choices others should make. I hope after reading this article you can get a better understanding of what to look for in an entry level motorcycle.
First, here is a basic explanation of what cc’s even mean. CC’s refer to the engine displacement or capacity. In other words, how much space is inside the the cylinders. On motorcycles this is usually measured in cubic centimeters (cc’s) or sometimes cubic inches (ci’s). On cars it is often measures in liters. Most common motorcycles have 2 or 4 cylinders, although some have 1 (aka “thumpers”), 3, 5 or even 6. Usually people talk about the cylinders in conjunction with the position of the cylinders, for example a “V Twin” or “Inline Four.”
Most modern motorcycles are “four strokes,” meaning the engine goes through four steps to produce power. 1) Sucks in air and fuel, 2) Applies pressure and ignites, 3) The mixture combusts, 4) exhaust is pushed out. This process is referred to as internal combustion.
So you’ve got your two, four or some other number of cylinders of a certain size (cc) going through the four step process to combust your fuel/air mix and make power. Yes, bigger cylinders will be able to hold more air/fuel mix to combust at one time but the number of cylinders and how fast they can fire also plays a big role here. You can have a big ole cruiser with a 1200 cc engine that produces its power slower than a 600cc super sport motorcycle.
Of course weight is also a factor. The 800 lb. cruiser has twice the weight to pull of the 400 lb. sportbike. You’ll hear people talk about the power/weight ratio of a motorcycle, which is the horsepower (hp) /weight of the bike.
Let’s look at some examples
In the 250cc class you have your two standard beginner recommendations. The Kawasaki Ninja 250 and the Honda Rebel 250. Despite the 250 next to their names the bikes have nothing in common. The 2010 Ninja puts out 32 horsepower compared to the last generation of the Rebel which put out 17 horsepower*. Clearly these bikes are not comparable.
Think around 600cc’s sounds good? Let’s compare two: 2011 Kawasaki zx-6r and the 2011 Suzuki Boulevard S40. The zx-6r has a 599 cc engine and the Boulevard has a 652cc. Which one do you think would be more beginner friendly? Hopefully you guessed the Boulevard. The zx-6r, which happens to be an “inline four” puts out about 108 horsepower and can go from zero to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. Compared that to the single cylinder Boulevard’s 30 horsepower* and 8 second zero to 60 mph time. :-O You certainly can’t compare these bikes that have similar cc’s!
And to think about the weight factor a current generation Toyota Corolla puts out 132 hp and has a zero to 60 time of about 9 seconds!
So if I can’t go by cc’s, how can I tell if a bike is good for a beginner?
- Horsepower – Check the horsepower on a bike. Under 60ish hp might be a good place for a newbie.
- Physical Size – As a new rider you want to find a bike you can easily balance and move around as well as sit comfortably on for a few hours.
I’m not going to recommend a specific bike as the “best bike for a beginner.” As humans we are not all the same and there is not right answer to that question. I would just recommend new riders be informed on the basics of how motorcycles work so they can make informed judgments when buying a bike and listening to the “advice” of others.
My personal opinion: Riding a slow bike fast is more fun than riding a fast bike slow.
*Some manufacturer’s do not publish the horsepower of their bikes so these numbers are taken from riders who have done their own dyno testing.