Sport Bike Buyer's Guide
by Chris Sedition


One of the most common questions new sport bike riders have is, “What kind of bike should I get?” This question is asked so often that I created a standardized response. Please keep in mind that these are the views and opinions of one person (albeit countless other also hold them) With that said, on we go…

Getting ANY modern 600cc sport bike for a first ride is a bad idea (far, far, far worse is a 1000cc) In fact, it may be nothing more than an expensive form of suicide. Here are a few reasons why.

1.      Knowledge of Subject Matter

When anyone starts something new they find themselves at the most basic point of the “beginner’s mind”. This is to say that they are at the very start of the learning curve. They are not even aware of what it is that they don't know. A personal example of this is when I began Shotokan Karate. The first day of class I had no idea what an “inside-block” was, let alone how to do it with correct form, power, and consistency. After some time, and a lot of practice, I could only then realize how bad my form really was. Then, and only then, was I able to begin the process of improving it. I had to become knowledgeable that inside-blocks even existed before I was aware that I couldn’t do them correctly. I had to learn what the correct elements of inside-block were, before I realized that I did not have those elements. After I learned, I was then able to aspire towards the proper elements. This example is to illustrate the point that it takes knowledge OF something in order to understand how that something works, functions, performs, etc. Now lets return to the world of motorcycles. A beginner has NO motorcycle experience. They are not even aware of the power, mistakes, handling, shifting, turning dynamics etc. of any bike, let alone a high performance sport bike. Not only do they lack the SKILL of how to ride a motorcycle, they also lack the knowledge of WHAT skills they need to learn. Acquiring those skills comes only with experience and learning from your mistakes. As one moves through the learning curve they begin to amass new information…they also make mistakes. A ton of them.

2.      The Learning Curve

While learning to do something, your first efforts are often sloppy and full of mistakes. Without mistakes the learning process is impossible. A mistake on a sport bike can be fatal. The things new riders need to learn above all is smooth throttle control, proper speed, and how to lean going into turns. A 600cc bike can reach 60mph in about 3 to 5 seconds. A simple beginners mishap with that much power and torque can cost you your life (or a few limbs) before you even knew what happened. Grab a handful of throttle going into a turn and you may end up crossing that little yellow line on the road into on-coming traffic…**shudder**. Bikes that are more forgiving of mistakes are far safer (not to mention, more fun) to learn on.

Ask yourself this question; in which manner would you rather learn to walk on a circus high-wire (1) with a 4x4 board that is 2 feet off the ground (2) with a wire that is 20 feet off the ground? Most sensible people would choose (1). The reason why is obvious. Unfortunately safety concerns with a first motorcycle aren’t as apparent as they are in the example above. However, the wrong choice of what equipment to learn on can be just as deadly, regardless of how safe, careful, and level-headed you intend to be.

3.      “But I Will be Safe, Responsible, and Level-Headed While Learning".

Sorry, but this line of reasoning doesn’t cut it. To be safe you also need SKILL (throttle control, speed, leaning, etc). Skill comes ONLY with experience. To gain experience you must ride in real traffic, with real cars, and real dangers. Before that experience is developed, you are best suited with a bike that won’t severely punish you for minor mistakes. A cutting edge race bike is not one of these bikes.

Imagine someone saying, "I want to learn to juggle, but I’m going to start by learning with chainsaws. But don’t worry. I intend to go slow, be careful, stay level-headed, and respect the power of the chainsaws while I’m learning". Like the high-wire example, the proper route here isn’t hard to see. Be “careful” all you want, go as “slow” as you want, be as “cautious” as you want, be as “respectful” as you want…your still juggling chainsaws! The “level-headed” thing to do in this situation is NOT to start with chainsaws. Without a foundation in place of HOW to juggle there is only a small level of safety you can aspire towards. Plain and simple, it’s just better to learn juggling with tennis balls than it with chainsaws. The same holds true for learning to ride a motorcycle. Start with a solid foundation in the basics, and then move up. Many people say that “maturity” will help you be safe with motorcycles. They are correct. However, maturity has NOTHING to do with learning to ride a motorcycle. Maturity is what you SHOULD use when deciding what kind of bike to buy so that you may learn to ride a motorcycle safely.

4.      “I Don’t Want a Bike I’ll Outgrow”

Please. Did your Momma put you in size 9 shoes at age 2? Get with the program. It is far better to maximize the performance of a smaller motorcycle and get “bored" with it than it is to mess-up your really fast bike (not mention messing yourself up) and not being able to ride at all. Power is nothing without control.

5.      “I Don’t Want to Waste Money on a Bike I’ll Only Have for a Short Period of Time” (i.e. cost)

Smaller, used bikes have and retain good resale value. This is because other sane people will want them as learner bikes. You’ll prolly be able to sell a used learner bike for as much as you paid for it. If you can't afford to upgrade in a year or two, then you definitely can't afford to wreck the bike your dreaming about. At the very least, most new riders drop bikes going under 20MPH, when the bike is at its most unstable periods. If you drop your brand new bike, fresh off the showroom floor, while your learning (and you will), you've just broken a directional, perhaps a brake or clutch lever, cracked / scrapped the fairings ($300.00 each to replace), messed-up the engine casing, messed-up the bar ends, etc. It's better and cheaper to drop a used bike that you don’t care about than one you just spent $8,500 on. Fortunately, most of these types of accidents do not result in serious physical injury. It’s usually just a big dent in your pride and…

6.      EGO.

Worried about looking like chump on a smaller bike? Well, your gonna look like the biggest idiot ever on your brand new, but messed-up bike after you’ve dropped it a few times. You’ll also look really dumb with a badass race bike that you stall 15 times at a red light before you can get into gear. Or even better, how about a nice R6 that you can’t ride more than 15mph around a turn because you don’t know how to counter-steer correctly? Yeah, your gonna be really cool with that bike, huh? Any real rider would give you props for going about learning to ride the *correct* way (i.e. on a learner bike). If you’re stressed about impressing someone with a “cool” bike, or embarrassed about being on smaller bike, then your not “mature enough” to handle the responsibility of ANY motorcycle. Try a bicycle. After you've grow-up (“matured”), revisit the idea of something with an engine.

7.      "Don’t Ask for Advice if You Don't Want to Hear a Real Answer".

A common pattern:

    1. Newbie asks for advice on a 1st bike (Newbie wants to hear certain answers)
    2. Experienced riders advise Newbie against a 600cc bike for a first ride (this is not what Newbie wanted to hear).
    3. Newbie says and thinks, "Others mess up while learning, but that wont happen to me" (as if Newbie is invincible, holds superpowers, never makes mistakes, has a “level head”, or has a skill set that exceeds the majority of the world, etc).
    4. Experienced riders explain why a “level head” isn’t enough. You also need SKILL, which can ONLY be gained via experience. (Newbie thinks he has innate motorcycle skills)
    5. Newbie makes up excuses as to why he is “mature” enough to handle a 600cc bike”. (skill drives motorcycles, not maturity)
    6. Newbie, with no knowledge about motorcycles, totally disregards all the advice he asked for in the first place. (which brings us right back to the VERY FIRST point I made about “knowledge of subject matter”).
    7. Newbie goes out and buys a R6, CBR, GSX, 6R, etc. Newbie is scared of the power. Being scared of your bike is the LAST thing you want. Newbie gets turned-off to motorcycles, because of fear, and never gets to really experience all the fun that they can really be. Or worse, Newbie gets in a serious accident.
    8. The truth of the matter is that Newbie was actually never really looking for serious advice. What he really wanted was validation and / or approval of a choice he was about to make or already had made. When he received real advice instead of validation he became defensive about his ability to handle a modern sport bike as first ride (thus defending the choice he had made). Validation of a poor decision isn’t going to replace scratched bodywork on your bike. It isn’t going put broken bones back together. It isn’t going graft shredded skin back onto your body. It isn’t going to teach you to ride a motorcycle the correct way. However, solid advice from experienced riders, when heeded, can help to avoid some of these issues.

I’m not trying to be harsh. I’m being real. Look all over the net. You’ll see veteran after veteran telling new riders NOT to get a 600cc bike for a first ride. You’ll even see pros saying to start small. Why? Because we hate new riders? Because we don't want others to have cool bikes? Because we want to smash your dreams? Nothing could be further from the truth. The more riders the better (assuming there not squids)! The reason people like me and countless others spend so much time trying to dissuade new riders from 600cc bikes is because we actually care about you. We don't want to see people get hurt. We don't want to see more people die in senseless accidents that could have been totally avoided with a little logic and patients. We want the “sport” to grow in a safe, healthy, and sane way. We want you to be around to ride that R6, CBR600RR, GSX-1000, Habayasu, etc that you desire so badly. However, we just want you to be able to ride it in a safe manner that isn’t going to be a threat to yourself or others. A side note, you may see people on the net and elsewhere saying “600cc bike are OK to start with”. Look a bit deeper when you see this. The vast majority of people making these statements are new riders themselves. If you follow their advice you’ve entered into a situation of the blind leading the blind. This is not something you want to do with motorcycles. You may also hear bike dealers saying that a 600cc is a good starter bike. They are trying to make money off you. Don’t listen.

8.      HELP IS ON THE WAY!!!

Speaking of help, this is a great time to plug the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) course. The MSF course is an AMAZING learning opportunity for new riders. The courses are offered all over the USA. A link for their web site is listed at the bottom of this post (or do a Goggle search and check you local RMV web page.). The MSF course assumes no prior knowledge of motorcycles and teaches the basics of how to ride a bike with out killing yourself (and NO, just because you passed the MSF course it does NOT mean your ready for an R6, GSX, CBR, etc). They provide motorcycles and helmets for the course. It is by far THE BEST way to start a life-long relationship with motorcycles. In some areas if you pass the course your motorcycle license will then be directly mailed to you. This means that you DON’T HAVE TO GO TO THE RMV, AT ALL!!!). That alone should be enough reason to take the course. Also, in some states you will get a discount on your insurance after you’ve taken the course. But wait, there is more! Some manufactures (Honda, Yamaha, etc) offer rebates if you take the course and then buy one of their bikes. Check their web sites / local dealers for details. I can’t plug the MSF course enough. It the best deal going for new riders. Period.

By the way, the short answer to the question, “What should I get for a first bike?” is as follows; (1) First choice, a used bike that is 500cc or under. A new 500cc bike is good, but it would suck if you dropped it. Plus, it will depreciate in value the second you drive off the dealers parking lot…not good when you want to resell it for that brand new R6, GSX600, CBR600, etc. (2) Any used OLDER 600cc sport bike (like 1980’s, early 1990’s). Go here for the most compressive guide on “how to buy a used bike” that has ever been written. (3) Any other used “standard” style of motorcycle.

Good “sport” type bikes for a first ride are as follows:
Honda: early 1990's Honda F2, F3, F4, 599
Kawasaki: Ninja 250cc, Ninja 500cc, early 1990’s ZX-6E or ZZR600.
Suzuki: GS500E, early 1990’s Katana 600cc, SV650*, SV650s*
Yamaha: early 1990’s Yamaha YZF600R*
*Suzuki’s SV650 and Yamaha’s YZF-600R can be quite a handful for a new rider, but they can also make great bikes.


Also, a GREAT book to check out is “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motorcycles, 3rd edition”. The book coves everything from picking out a first bike, simple repair, anatomy of an engine, how to buy a used bike, riding gear, tips for surviving on the road, racing, etc. You can check this book out almost any major bookstore,, or MY ADAVICE FOR ANYONE LOOKING TO GET INTO MOTORCYCLES WOULD BE TO BUY THIS BOOK AND READ IT COVER TO COVER ABOUT 2 OR 3 TIMES. AFTER YOU HAVE DONE THAT, THEN TAKE THE MSF COURSE. You’ll go into the course with some great information that will greatly enrich and hasten your learning experience. It will also give you a HUGE advantage on the written test at the conclusion of the MSF course. Trust me on this one, buy the book. At the very least, go hang out at Barnes & Nobel for an afternoon and read as much of the book as you can until they kick you out of the store.

I hope this information was helpful, and feel free to email me with any questions. I haven’t even mentioned riding gear. Get it. Wear it. People who wear a tank top, flip-flops, and shorts while riding don’t look so cool when it comes time for a skin-graft (or when a bee goes up their shorts). There are two types of motorcycle riders: those who have crashed, and those who will. Dress for the crash, not the ride.

A number of people have emailed me recently and asked the following question, (1) “I have ridden a friends street bike a few times, and grew up riding off-road bikes. With this history, would I be OK on a modern 600cc bike?” (2) I’m a bigger person, should I get a larger cc bike to compensate? The answer to both is “No”. Off-road and street riding are totally different worlds. Granted, someone with off-road history knows things like shift patterns, how to use a clutch, etc but the power, weight, and handling of street bikes are a different ball game altogether. As for larger people, additional height or weight does not mean that a bike is going to go “slower” to a degree that would in anyway justify a larger bike. Someone who weighs 250lbs can get themselves in trouble just as fast on a R6 as someone who weighs 150lbs. If you are taller, you’re going to be cramped on almost any sport bike. The best advice is to sit on a number of bikes and see which fits your body the best. Note, this does not mean that you should get a new GSX-750cc as first bike because it fits you better than a 1991 Honda F2 (a much better choice for a first-time rider). Once you got the basics down, then you can go for that better-fitting GSX-750cc, but not beforehand.


-chr|s sedition
Boston, MA  (web site for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation)

Contributors to Content:
“Drewser600” / Sportrider
“Z_Fanatic” / sbw.sportbikes
“Ancosta” / NESR
“Tevo” / Sportrider


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