Your First Motorcycle

A 250cc starter bike and a 1500cc cruiser.

My wife and son’s 250cc Diamo starter bike parked in front of my
1500cc Victory Deluxe Touring Cruiser.

I recently reconnected with a friend of the family I haven’t seen in more years than either of us care to total up. She mentioned she and her husband were thinking of buying a motorcycle and asked me if I had any advice. As I said, it’s been a few years, so her naïve question about whether I have advice is understandable.
The first piece of advice I will give is that if you’re a boomer who hasn’t been riding since you were in high school, think of yourself as a beginner. Both motorcycles and your body have changed considerably in the intervening decades. If you’re a beginner, don’t run out and buy that monster cruiser that caught your eye and made you decide you wanted to ride motorcycles. You want a starter bike to learn on for several reasons.
The least important of those reasons is that there is a good likelihood that you’ll drop your bike, or run into something. A small bike will cause less damage to other things it hits. But you also will prefer those scratches to go on a smaller, less expensive bike. More importantly those big expensive cruisers are harder to ride, especially for a new rider.
My next advice flies a little bit in opposition to conventional wisdom. Most bikers will direct a new rider toward 250cc or smaller bike. That is what I started with four years ago when I got back on a motorcycle after several decades. It was an inline twin that was fairly sporty for a 250. It was goosey and demanded careful clutch work. In retrospect, not an ideal bike to learn on. Fortunately I grew up with manual transmissions and was able to quickly come to terms with the demands this little machine made.
Since then I’ve helped my wife and son learn to ride. The bike we selected for them was a 250 V-twin. It was geared a little lower and handles more like a mini cruiser. The clutch was more forgiving than the inline bike I’d used, but it still demanded careful clutch and throttle coordination. Neither my wife nor son had driven vehicles with manual transmissions, and they both had more difficulty learning to use a clutch.
The little 250s were adequate for buzzing around town, but they didn’t belong out on the highway for extended rides at speed. They really couldn’t keep up with the cruisers on an all-day run of 200 or more miles. So the question then is, do you jump from the 250 directly to the full-size cruiser you really want, or do you take an intermediate step first?
That’s a rhetorical question actually. Nobody is ready for a Goldwing, Vision or Ultra Classic based on the experience they got from a 250. So now you’re looking for something in the 600cc range. Two bikes just to learn to ride. Surely there must be a better way. I think there is.
The first motorcycle my son bought after learning to ride on my wife’s 250 was a one-cylinder 650. It was a small bike, about the same size and weight as the 250. Of course it had more power so one might reasonably expect it to be more demanding than the 250. But it wasn’t. It was actually much easier to ride than the 250. It was less prone to simply jump and die if you didn’t coordinate the throttle with the clutch. In fact, you didn’t really have to worry about the throttle. Just ease off the clutch until you started gently rolling, then give it a little gas to pick up speed. The one-cylinder design gives this engine a lot of torque at low rpm so that you don’t have to rev the engine to get moving. It results in a much smother start, and makes the bike even less likely to jump out from under a new rider.
Once you develop a little more confidence, you can head out on the highway with the big dogs and keep up without straining your engine. Finally, when you decide to move up to the big cruiser, you’re already accustomed to a bike with more power than a 250.
So what you have with a one-cylinder bike in the 500 to 700 cc range is a machine that is easier to learn to ride, serves your needs longer being able to cruise and better prepares you for a larger machine if you want it. If you’re looking in the used market, and you should be for a starter bike, the additional cost will probably be less than $1,000. Possibly much less.
My advice, get a thumper.

- Guy Wheatley

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