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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey guys,

So you want to start on a 600cc or 1000cc? Please read:


Well, another riding season is upon us and as it always happens, we get lots of inquiries from potential new riders on how to get into the sport, what's a good first ride, where to take safety classes and so on. One particular type of inquiry that pops up with almost clockwork frequency is from a small number of new riders who wish to buy 600cc and up sportbikes as their first ride.

For the past year and a half, I, along with lots of other BB forum members, have entertained this question of 600cc sportbikes for a first ride with patience and lots and lots of repetition. It seems this small group of newbies keep coming back with the same arguments and questions over and over again. As a result, I am going to take the time in this column to try and put into words, answers that get repeated over and over on the BB forums.

Allow me to state first and foremost that I am a sport rider. My first bike was a Ninja 250R and I put nearly 7000 miles on it in two seasons before selling it. I am presently shopping for my next ride and it will almost certainly be a sportbike or sport tourer in the 600-1000cc range. I am also building a track bike in my garage which I hope to complete this season (a Yamaha FZR600). Although I am not an expert rider by any stretch, I have tinkered enough and done enough research along with talking with other riders to be able to speak with some degree of knowledge on the subject.

This column is split into two parts. First, I would like to address the common arguments we see here as to why a 600cc sportbike simply must be a first ride along with rebuttals. Second, I want to cover the rationale behind why the BB community-at-large steers new riders away from these machines.

False Logic

On about a three month interval, a whole slew of questions pop up on the BB forum from potential riders trying to convince the community that a 600cc sportbike is a suitable first ride and then proceed to explain to us why they are the exception. I can almost set my clock to this pattern of behavior since it is almost swarm-like. I guess the newbies figure by swamping the forum with the same questions in lots of places we might trip up and endorse such a machine. Hasn't happened yet but they keep on trying.

For those of you that come to Beginner Bikes trying to convince us to endorse a 600cc sportbike, I offer you the following responses to your arguments.
I can only afford to get one bike so it might as be the one that I want.

I don't want to go through the hassle of buying and selling a used bike to learn on.

These two lines of reasoning pop up as one of the more common arguments. I am going to offer first a piece of wisdom which is stated with great regularity on the forums:

This is your first bike, not your last.

Motorcycle riders are reputed to change bikes, on average, once every two to three years. If this is the case (and it appears to be based on my observations), the bike you learn to ride on will not be in your garage in a few years time anyway whether you buy it new or used. You're going to sell it regardless to get something different, newer, more powerful, more comfortable, etc.

Yes, buying a bike involves effort and a financial outlay. Most of us simply cannot afford to drop thousands of dollars on a whim every time we want to try something new. Getting into riding is a serious commitment in time and money and we want the best value out it as much as possible.

However, if you can afford to buy outright or finance a 600cc or up sportbike that costs $7000 on average, you can probably afford to spend $2000 or so on a used bike to learn on. Most of the beginner sportbikes we recommend here (Ninja 250/500, Buell Blast, GS500) can all be found used for between $1500-$3000.

Done properly, buying and selling that first bike is a fairly painless process. Buying a used bike is no harder than buying new. I would argue it is a bit easier. No different than buying a used car from a private seller. If you've done that at least once, you'll know what to do in buying a used bike.

Selling a beginner bike is even easier. You want to know why? Because beginner bikes are constantly in demand (especially Ninja 250s). These bikes spend their lives migrating from one new rider to the next to act as a teaching vehicle. It is not uncommon for a beginner bike to see four or five different owners before it is wrecked or junked. There are a lot of people out there looking for inexpensive, reliable bikes and all of our beginner recommendations fit into that category.

If you buy a used Ninja 250R for $1500, ride it for a season or two, you can be almost guaranteed that you will be able to resell that bike for $1300 or so when you are done with it provided you take care of it. And on a bike like the Ninja 250R, the average turnaround on such a sale is two to three days. No joke. I had five offers on my Ninja 250R within FOUR HOURS of my ad going up on Cycle Trader. I put the bike on hold the same day and sold it four days later to a fellow who drove 500 miles to pick it up. My bike never made it into the print edition. Believe me, the demand is there.

And look at it this way: For those one or two seasons of riding using the above example, excluding maintenance costs which you have no matter what, you will have paid a net cost of $200 to ride that Ninja. That is extremely cheap for what is basically a bike rental for a year or two. Considering it can cost $300 or more just to rent a 600cc sportbike for a weekend (not including the $1500-$2000 security deposit), that is economic value that you simply cannot argue with.

Vanity Arguments

The beginner bikes you recommend are dated and ugly looking.

I want something that's modern and stylish.

I want a bike that looks good and that I look good on.

I call these the vanity arguments. These are probably the worst reasons you can have for wanting a particular bike.

I will not disagree that aesthetics plays a huge part in the bikes that appeal to us. Motorcycles are the ultimate expression in personal taste in vehicles. Far more than cars. Bikes are more personal and the connection between rider and machine is far more intimate on a bike than a car. On a bike, you are part of the machine, not just a passive passenger.

However, as entry into world of riding and with the temporarily status that most beginner bikes have in our garages, looks should be the least of your concerns. As long as the bike is in good repair and mechanically sound, that is usually enough for most new riders to be happy. Most riders are happy to ride and they will ride anything given the choice between riding or not riding.

If you are looking at bike mainly because of how it looks and/or how you will look it and how others will perceive you on it, take a good, long, honest look as to why you want to ride. There are lots of people out there who buy things strictly because of how it makes them appear in the eyes of others. It's shallow and vain but it is a fact of life. It shouldn't be a factor in choosing that first ride but it is. I won't deny that.

The difference is: a BMW or Mercedes generally won't leaving you hanging on for dear life if you stomp on the accelerator or throw you into the road if you slam on the brakes a little hard. Virtually ever sportbike made in the past 10-15 years will do both of those things given a chance to do so (for reasons that will be explained later in this column).

The population at large may think you're cool and look great on that brand new sportbike and ohh-and-ahh at you. The ohhs can quickly turn to screams of horror should, in your efforts to impress the masses, you wind up dumping your bike and surfing the asphalt. Will you still look cool with thousands of dollars in damage to that once-beautiful sportbike and with the signatures and well-wishes of your friends on the various casts you'll be wearing months afterwards?

You Be The Judge

I'm a big rider so I need a bigger bike to get me around.

I'm a tall rider and all of those beginner bikes just don't fit me the way the sportbike does.

I'll look huge and foolish riding on such a small bike.

My friends will laugh at me for riding something so small.

These arguments are almost as bad as the vanity arguments. The difference being is they simply show a lack of motorcycle knowledge for the most part.

Unless you are over 6'3" tall or are extremely overweight (meaning well over 300lbs), even the smallest 250cc motorcycle will be able to accommodate you without difficultly. To provide an example, the Ninja 250R has a load limit of 348 pounds. That is more than sufficient to accommodate a heavier rider in full gear and still leave plenty of space for cargo in tank, tail and saddle bags. Or enough to allow two-up riding between two average weight individuals.

The idea that bigger riders need bigger bikes is almost laughable. It's like saying small drivers need Honda Civics but bigger drivers only 100 pounds heavier need to drive Hummers to get around. Or Corvettes with plenty of power to pull their ample frames, as the analogy goes. It is only because of the small physical size of bikes compared to their users that this train of thought even exists. It simply doesn't hold up to scrutiny. A look at any motorcycle owner's manual will confirm that for you.

Tall riders suffer more from fit issues than weight issues. On this, they do have a point. I'm a taller rider (6'1"). I do fold up quite comfortably on the Ninja 250 which is considered a small bike. I found it perfect for my frame. Others haven't. Then again, my knees hit the bars on bikes like the Rebel 250 and Buell Blast. Just different ergonomics that didn't fit me.

For taller riders, a much better beginner fit is a dual-sport machine rather than a sport machine. They offer the high seat heights that make them comfortable rides and their power is well within acceptable limits. We have a small but vocal dual-sport community here and they will tell you, quite rightly, that a dual-sport is just as capable on twisty roads as a sportbike. The same properties that give sportbikes their cornering ability is also possessed by dual sports (high center of gravity).

As to peer pressure, I admit to taking more than my fair share of ribbing from my 600cc riding friends. Some of it good natured, some of it not. In the end, this argument falls into the vanity arena. Which is more important: Your safety and comfort on a bike or what your friends think?

The ways to deal with friends giving you a hard time about a smaller ride is very simple. Tell them to ride their rides and you'll ride yours. It's your ride, after all. Most true riders will accept other riders, no matter what they are on. Only posers and losers care that your ride doesn't measure up to their "standards". And if so, do you really want to be riding with them anyway? It's more fun to stand out than to be a member of a flock anyway. And if they don't buy that line of reasoning, try this one: "Well if you don't like my ride, why don't you go buy me something that you will like?". THAT will shut them up REALLY fast. It works too. Unless their name is on the payment book or the title, it shouldn't be their concern.

If your friends can't deal with your decisions, you're probably better off looking for new friends. And if you can't deal with the peer pressure, then you are putting your own safety at risk solely because of what others think. Revisit the vanity arguments above and think about why you want to ride.

Decision Justification Arguments

I'll take it easy and grow into the bike.

I'm a careful driver so I'll be a careful rider and not get into trouble.

I drive a fast car so I'll be able to handle a fast bike.

Other people have started on a 600cc sportbike and didn't get hurt. So why can't I?

These arguments are the most common ones put forth and the ones that are hardest to deal with. These are the arguments that start flame wars. Because it is on these arguments that you have to convince someone the idea of what a beginner bike is over their preconceived notions.

The arguments also often surface in what I call the "decision justification arguments". Many new riders have their heart set on a specific bike and often come to BB to ask about it not to get real advice but to get confirmation that their decision is right. In cruisers, standards, scooters and dual-sports, more often than not these "pre-decisions" are generally good ones. In sportbikes, more than 3/4 of the posters are trying to get the community to approve their choice of a 600cc machine as a first ride. Their shock is quite real when they are barraged with answers that don't meet their expectations and that is when a flurry of oft-repeated discussion ensues.

Let's take each argument in turn since these are the ones that turn up with regularity.

I'll take it easy and grow into the bike.

The purpose of a first bike is to allow you to master basic riding skills, build confidence and develop street survival strategies. You don't grow into a bike. You develop your skills on it. As your skills develop, so does your confidence and with it, your willingness to explore what the bike is capable of.

But you are also entering in a contract with the bike. It is two-way. You are going to expect the bike to act on your inputs and the bike in turn is going to respond. The problem is, your skills are still developing but the bike doesn't know that. It does what it is told. You want a partner in a contract to treat you fairly. On a bike, you don't want it fighting you every step of the way. And like most contracts, the problems don't start until there is a breakdown in communication or a misunderstanding.

In sportbikes, the disparity between a new rider's fledgling skills and the responsiveness of the machine are very far apart. That is a wide gulf to bridge when you are still trying to figure out what the best inputs and actions on the bike should be. Ideally, you want your bike to do what you tell it and do it nicely. You never want the bike to argue with you. Modern sportbikes, despite their exquisite handling will often argue violently right at the moment a new rider doesn't need them to.

Remember, riding is a LEARNED skill. It does not come naturally to the majority of us (save those like the Hayden brothers who were raised on dirt bikes from the moment they could walk). It must be practiced and refined. Riding is counter-intuitive to most new riders. It doesn't happen the way you expect. For example, at speeds over 25mph, to get a bike to go right, you actually turn the bars to the left. It's called counter-steering and it eventually comes naturally as breathing once you've been in the saddle for a while. But for new riders, this kind of thing is utterly baffling.

You want your skills to grow in a measurable and predictable fashion. You have enough to be fearful of riding in traffic. The last thing you need is to be fearful of what your bike might do when you aren't ready for it. It's never a good situation.

It is interesting to point out that only one manufacturer, Suzuki, explicitly states in their promotional material that their GSX-R family of sportbikes are intended for experienced riders. This also applies to several of their larger, more powerful machines (such as a GSX-1300R Hayabusa). If Suzuki issues such a warning for its top-flight sport machines, it is reasonable to say that the same warning would apply equally to similar machines from other manufacturers.

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Form Equals Function: Part Two

In Part One of this article, we covered a lot of the excuses that new riders give for wanting to start on a 600cc sportbike. This second half finishes off our discussion of this reasoning and discusses why high-powered sport machines are not the ideal beginner machine.

False Logic Completed

Last month, we covered many of the reasons new riders give to justify why they want or should get a 600cc sportbike. Now we finish with the last and most common excuses given.
I'm a careful driver so I'll be a careful rider and not get into trouble.

This is what I call the "I'm responsible and mature" argument. This one is a general excuse and does not apply to sportbikes in particular.

Recent studies have shown that 90% of all drivers feel that they have average to above-driving abilities compared to other drivers on the road. These drivers also said that they think 60% of those on the road are less skilled than they are. It's an interesting perception as it indicates a mentality that everyone else is sub-par, not you. Obviously someone has to be wrong because the percentages just don't add up.

A proper attitude towards driving as well as riding is essential. But these same drivers who see themselves as superior also engage in dangerous driving habits (aggressive weaving, illegal passing, bad merges, following too close, lack of attention to traffic/road conditions, etc). Very few drivers are truly honest with themselves and their ability to handle a vehicle.

The problem is, on a bike, the perception that you are responsible is not enough. On a bike, you must be. You either learn to be or you are going to be in trouble really quick. In talking with other riders I have found that they tend to be much more defensive and thoughtful drivers behind the wheel because riding raises their perception of their surroundings.

Ultimately, responsible and mature does not equate to riding skill. It has nothing to do with it except how you will approach riding in general. You want to know the sign of a responsible rider? Look at their gear. Are they in full safety gear? Watch them ride. If you are seeing them turn their heads to clear their blind spots, making careful and smooth maneuvers, leaving a nice, safe amount space around them and working to maximize your chance of seeing and knowing what they are doing, then you are looking at a responsible rider.

Now do the same exercise and watch the drivers around you. How many turn their heads to check their blind spots, signal lane changes, leaving several car lengths of space in front of them, weave in and out of traffic or dash to the end of a ramp and then attempt to force themselves onto the highway rather than yield like they are supposed to? I'm willing to bet it's not going to be a pretty significant percentage. Now imagine these same individuals on a bike. I'm sure you'll be able to spot more than a few of these types on bikes to (just look for the T-shirts and flip-flops as they blast by you at 100mph on the Interstate on the right).

How you approach the task of driving is how you will approach riding. Attention to the task of riding is the number one way you avoid trouble by not getting into it in the first place. Study your own driving habits. Good habits will definitely keep your chances of getting into trouble but they have little to do with controlling a motorcycle. Any motorcycle. Many lax drivers often become much better drivers as the result of riding a motorcycle. It is far less common for it to go in the other direction.

I drive a fast car so I'll be able to handle a fast bike.

Of all the excuses and justifications, this one is my personal favorite. It is in the top three most common excuses given and it shows a complete and utter lack of motorcycle knowledge. It is a statement made out of naivety rather than ignorance.

Most of the folks who make this statement own fast cars (Corvette, Mustang, Acura, modified Civic, etc) or think they do. The belief is that if you can drive fast in a car you can handle a bike that can go fast. I would argue unless these folks race cars on weekends, driving a car that can go fast does not make them a experienced high-speed driver. And for those that do understand how to handle a car at high speed, it gives you knowledge of braking and traction but even that knowledge is useless for one simple reason:

Bikes are not cars.

Braking, traction control, acceleration and handling are totally different on a motorcycle. Cars do not lean. Bikes do. When bikes lean, it changes the part of the tire contacting the ground (the contact patch/ring) and changes the stability and dynamics of the bike from moment to moment. The physics of motorcycle control are in a league of their own. Even the ability to race cars will not give you instant godhood on a motorcycle.

Are you aware that a racing motorcycle (any 600cc supersport made today basically) when it is turning is touching the ground with an amount of rubber equal to a couple of postage stamps? The same applies to any street bike at deep lean angles except they don't have the advantage of a smooth surface to hold on to or sticky race tires. Now imagine having to control the power and the amount of traction you are getting in that space.

Like being responsible, the ability to handle a car at high speed has nothing to do with handling a fast motorcycle. You are missing two wheels, a cage and a seatbelt on a bike. Turning at 70mph becomes a whole different world on a motorcycle compared to car. Braking is a different experience too. It is fairly hard to stand a car on its front fender if you stomp on the brakes. It can be done with two fingers, a good amount of speed and a moment of panic on a sportbike. The only cars that have brakes equal or better than that of a sportbike built in the last 10 years is a Formula One race car.

The skills to handle the potent combination of acceleration, instant-on power and brakes are best learned on a smaller machine so when you finally get on that ultimate sportbike, you have an idea of what to do and how to handle the machine. Driving a car won't give you that. Only time in the saddle, the more, the better.

Other people have started on a 600cc sportbike and didn't get hurt. So why can't I?

This is probably the number one reason that pops up. However, it isn't so much a reason as an observation. And it is a true one. Every year, lots of new riders go to their local dealerships or scour their local ads and bring home a brand new or used 600cc sportbike. And many of those riders do successfully manage to get through their learning process on these machines.

The purpose of a first ride more than any other is to get the risk of riding for the first year or two as low as possible. You want your margin of forgiveness in the bike to be as wide as possible. A 600cc sportbike gives you very little of that. Yes, a 600cc down low is a tame if sensitive machine. However, it takes very little twist on the throttle to induce a large jump in rpm's. A brief bump on a pothole with a death grip on the throttle can introduce a 4000rpm jump in the blink of an eye (speaking from personal experience). In an experienced rider's hands, this is alarming but recoverable. A gentle rolloff or a little clutch feathering manages the surge nicely. In the hands of a newbie trying to figure out the best reaction to such a scare, a rapid closeoff or a panic brake is often the result and can get you into trouble very, very quickly.

Yes, a new rider can start on a 600cc sportbike. It is NOT RECOMMENDED! The reason this line of reasoning pops up so often is because everyone feels they are the exception rather than just another new rider. It makes sense. It's hard to think of oneself as just another face in the crowd. As a rider, I know I am just another average rider. Although I have track aspirations, I have no doubt as to where my skill level is and it is definitely not in (or ever was) in the "start on a 600cc exceptional group".

In the end, to deal with this line of reasoning is going to involve the new rider, not the one giving the advice. No one can stop that person from going out and buying a 600cc sportbike as a first ride. And maybe they will succeed and crow about all the bad advice they received on starting small. Great! They were the exception.

What you don't hear about are the non-exceptional people. Very, very few new riders who start on 600s come back to talk about their experiences if they aren't in the "I've had no problems." group. On the forums recently, there have been a couple folks who admitted they got 600cc sportbikes to start on and indicated that it had been a less-than-ideal choice. This type of honesty is refreshing and it is very, very rare. I am grateful these riders stepped up.

Most of the time, we never learn the fate of those riders who start on 600s. Some make it and simply never bother to tell their tales except to friends. Some wind up scaring themselves so badly (by getting out of control or by actually dumping the bike and injuring themselves) that they sell off and never ride again. These types can be found. Just troll the ads for new supersports with one owner and low miles. The worst of this class of riders are the ones who become "born again safety advocates". These riders who scare themselves out of riding occasionally become preachers that tell anyone who will listen that "motorcycles are dangerous and should be banned". What they don't tell those they are preaching to is how they got that way. It's bad enough having to deal with the general public (who are at least honestly unaware of what riding is about) but a lot worse to be sabotaged from within by someone who did it to themselves and got in over their head.

Then there is the last group of these "started on a 600cc sportbike" riders that never tell us their tales. They never do because they can't. Instead, they enjoying peaceful surroundings and occasional visits by bereaved family and friends. They made that one mistake, that one error that compounded into a tragedy of inexperience. They can never tell us what that error was so we can learn from it and maybe also tell us that they should have started on something smaller. They were successful right until the point their skills and luck ran out. This can happen to any of us on any bike. But, in the end, new riders on a powerful sportbike can be a recipe for disaster.

Be honest with yourself. Very honest. Take the advice and wisdom of others more experienced than you and consider what they are saying. They may have a point. But if you opt for that 600cc sportbike, be assured you will still be accepted as a rider and still encouraged to act as safely as possible at all times.

The Final Equation

We've covered the reasons why people justify or want to get a 600cc sportbike. But we have one more thing to answer and it is simple: What makes these bad bikes to start on?

Sportbikes are built as racing machines, pure and simple. They are built in response to guidelines laid down by racing bodies for a particular class and made to win races in that class. Ducati, for example, spends most of their existence building bikes to win races. Since 1950, Ducati was always a racing bike manufacturer first and their products reflected that philosophy. A by-product of winning races is the fact that people see those winning machines and want to ride them (if you're going to ride, you might as well ride the best as it goes). It didn't take the motorcycle manufacturers long to figure out that there was a market demand for these machines and reacted accordingly.

Sportbikes represent a technological arms race. This has really become apparent in the past 5-10 years where new models eclipse last years models with better performance and capability with each passing year. To compare a 1989 Honda CBR600F Hurricane (the original CBR) to a 2003 CBR600RR is pointless. There is no comparison except in the model designation showing a distant family relation. The new CBR is lighter by at least 50 pounds and packs 30 percent more power, handling and braking ability that makes the original CBR look like a ponderous dinosaur. But just because that original CBR dinosaur has been eclipsed doesn't make it any more tamable. If anything, older sportbikes are far more temperamental than the descendants.

Consider the fact that this year a privateer (independent racer) bought a Yamaha YZF-R1 off the showroom floor, took off the lights and mirrors, added a race belly pan, exhaust and tires and placed in the top ten at the AMA Superbike race at Daytona. The bike was two weeks off the floor and basically stock (the modifications with the exception of the pipe are required). Since factory sponsored teams tend to take the top slots, any privateer that can break in the top ten is doing well by anyone's definition.

Because sportbikes (and especially 600s since they compete in the most populous racing class out there) are designed first as racing machines, they are built with handling, acceleration and speed in mind. Not just one quality at the expense of others but all of them in abundance! Centralizing the mass of the bike at the center of gravity (CoG) gives the bike neutral stability. The high riding position and the perching of the rider over the CoG gives the bike the ability to flick over rapidly.

The steering geometry and short wheelbase of these bikes is designed to provide short and rapid directional changes. Combined with the higher CoG and mass centralization, the steering setup is what gives sportbikes their amazing turning ability.

Engine designs vary but have settled on V-twins and inline fours as the preferred choices. The sportbike V-twins are liquid-cooled, high-rpm engines designed to generate massive torque (hence acceleration) and power in the mid-range of their design limits. Witness the success of Nicky Hayden and Miquel Duhamel on the Honda RC51 in AMA Superbike as testament to the massive grunt these engines put out. So potent in fact that the AMA changed the rules for the following season to even the odds between the V-twins and inline fours. The inline four equipped bikes simply couldn't outpower the twins on curvy portions of the race circuit.

The inline four is by far the most common engine layout in sportbikes including all 600cc sport designs (the Ducati 620SS has a V-twin but is air-cooled and the bike is not a racing machine). All of the sportbikes that new riders lust after are equipped with this engine design. High-rpm capability (redlines vary between 11K and 16K rpm), liquid cooled and designed to produce peak power at very high rpms. The inline four delivers smooth and increasing power as the throttle is opened. Power tends to build to the peak point, at which power the engine will tend to surge to peak power and fall off as the peak point is crossed. Although nowhere near as bad as a race-tuned two-stroke (which literally double their horsepower as the engine transitions to peak power), the engine displays its roots as a racing thoroughbred.

A 1mm or 1/16 of an inch twist of the throttle can easily result in a 2000-4000rpm jump. You can be cruising along at a sedate 4000rpm, hit a pothole and suddenly find the bike surging forward with the front end getting light at 7000rpm. Definitely unnerving the first time you experience it.

And then there are the brakes. Braking technology has gotten progressively more potent over the past ten years. Even older sportbikes sport twin disc setups with two or four piston calipers designed to get these bikes down from 150mph to 60mph as quickly as possible. Current generation bikes are unreal. These brakes have grown to six piston calipers with massive discs whose sole job is to slow a 180mph missile down to corner speed in the shortest distance possible. If you ever watch racers, notice that they tend to only use two fingers to brake. They don't need anymore than that. The brakes are almost too powerful. And accidents happen on the track a lot due to bad or late braking.

All of these qualities produce an exquisite riding machine. The problem is, all of these qualities are designed to operate at extremes since it is under extreme conditions that these bikes are intended to operate. For the street, these capabilities are overkill. A hard squeeze of the front brake on the street can easily get a sportbike to lock its front wheel. Same applies to an over-aggressive stomp on the rear brake. No matter which way you slice it, highsides hurt.

The powerful engine can literally get you from 0 to 45mph in the blink of an eye in first gear. Come up one gear and you can be at 70mph with the slightest drop of your wrist. Add in one bump at speed without knowing what the throttle is going to do and suddenly you aren't at 70mph anymore. You're at 90+ mph and the bike is tickling its "sweet spot". At this speed, you better not panic. If you botch the slowdown from this error (either by a rapid rolloff or a shift), you can find yourself in serious trouble.

The handling capabilities of sportbikes actually make them wonderful machines to ride once you are used to thinking where you want to go. This actually gives them great beginner qualities (if on the extreme end). The downside is this perfect handling is slaved to amazing power on tap and the brakes that can back it off just as quickly.

In the final equation, a 600cc sportbike is little more than a racing machine with street parts bolted on. They aren't designed for street use; they are adapted to it. But no compromises are made in that transition. The same R6, GSX-R600, ZX-6RR or CBR600RR you can buy off the showroom floor can be converted in an afternoon, be at the track the next day and wind up winning races. And the sportbikes from 10 years ago were the R6s, Gixxers, Ninjas and CBRs of their day. They possessed the same qualities that their modern descendants do just not with the same maximums. Even today on the street, a 15 year old sportbike is little different than its 2003 cousin. The 2003 might accelerate quicker, stop shorter and lean farther but at the speeds us mortals ride at, there will be little difference.

Sportbike technology has gone an amazing distance in twenty years. Performance and ability has almost doubled in that time. But rider ability has not and a new rider from 20 years ago would still have the same challenges then as a new rider would today on an R6.

Sportbike form evolved to meets its function: to win races. Always has, always will. And riders will lust after these technological marvels for that reason. Can you start out on one? Yes. But you can also pretend to be a GP racer on a smaller sportbike that gives up nothing to its bigger brothers where most of us spend our riding days. It is always more satisfying to smoke a 600cc or 1000cc sportbike in the twisties on a Ninja 250 or GS500 than a bigger bike.

But when you are ready to answer the call of the Supersport, they will be waiting for you and you'll be better off having honed your skills on the smaller sportbike. Supersports are not beginner bikes. But they make great second and third bikes.

The choice is yours.

By kawadef.

Thanks kawadef.

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376 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Before you buy a motorcycle, you need to buy some gear, and you need to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's basic training course. The MSF course will teach you the basics of riding a bike on the road. It's not terribly expensive, it's not hard, and it will give you a huge advantage when you start riding on your own. Plus, in many states the MSF course counts as your driving portion ofthe license test. To find a course, go to http://www.msf-usa.org

As far as gear: at the very minimum, you need to buy a HELMET, JACKET, GLOVES, and BOOTS. Any time you are on the bike you should have all ofthat stuff on. Every time. Riding a motorcycle is DANGEROUS, there is always a risk of an accident, even if you do nothing wrong. Protect yourself.
You don't need to spend a lot, but you will probably spend close to $500 on decent stuff. Make sure the helmet is DOT- or Snell-certified, and everything you buy is motorcycle-specific. You should also really get some kind of leg protection - jeans last about two seconds while sliding across asphalt at 60 mph.

The best rule of thumb for a starter bike is this: Two or fewer cylinders, 750cc or less. Any bike that follows those guidelines will be an excellent starter bike. But perhaps a list would be more helpful. The most common beginner sportbikes are, in no particular order: Ninja 250, Ninja 500, GS500, Ninja 650, SV650. There are others, but these are by farthe easiest to find and the most reliable. Each bike has its pros and cons, so do some research and find out what fits foryou and your budget.

Unless you have money to burn, buy a used bike. Two reasons for this. One: used beginner bikes hold their value very well, so you'll be able to sell it in a year or so forvery close to the price you paid for it. Two: you will probably drop yourfirst bike. It might be at 50 MPH, it might be at 5, it might be stopped at alight, but it's probably going to happen, and when it does you're going to feel awful about scratching and denting a brand new bike you're still making payments on. Buy a used bike, and it's probably got a few scuffs already, so you can pick it back up and move on.

Don't. Just don't. Don't even think about it. These bikes are little more than racebikes with lights, designed to instantly and unforgivingly respond to whatever input they get from the rider. These bikes do not tolerate mistakes, and as a new riderYOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES!

It's not simply a matter of speed or horsepower.

1. Four~cylinder motorcycle engines make huge amounts of power by rewing to very high RPMs, and this means they have a very peaky powerband. Twins have linear power delivery, meaning you get the same sort of response from the engine at 3500 RPM and 8000 RPM. are very sluggish at low RPM but extremely powerful at high RPM. Meaning the engine's response to more throttle will be wildy different in different situations.

2. Throttle response is very twitchy, due to a number of design features like lightweight flywheels and how the throttle itself is built. Supersport motors rev extremely fast and respond more quickly to changes in throttle position. Meaning if you hit a bump that upsets your right hand you'll get a huge burst of power, or if you use too much throttle on a downshift and let go ofthe clutch leveryou'll do an unintentional, uncontrolled wheelie. In the middle oftraffic.

3. Riding position on these bikes is extreme. On the track you want to be tucked down and forward, so the grips are set low and forward--so it's hard to ride at street-legal speeds without leaning on the grips, which is not only hard on the wrists, it makes fine control inputs difficult. There's a reason dirt bikers sit upright and have high, wide handlebars--they don't need to tuck down against 200mph headwinds, or crawl over the tank and hang half off the bike to one side at full lean, so they set up their bikes for best control.

4. The brakes are extremely strong. More than strong enough to eitherflip the bike or lock up eitherwheel and make you crash.

Putting all these elements on one motorcycle and puttingthat bike underneath a new rider is a recipe for disaster. A new motorcyclist DOES NOT KNOW WHAT HE'S DOING and needs to learn on a bike that will put up with the errors of inexperience. Additionally, insurance on these bikes is much more expensive than on proper starter bikes. Full coverage on a 1999 GSSOO: $300/year. Full coverage on a 2006 GSX-R 600: $1800/year.

Note that older 600s are not any better for a beginner. Bikes like and early cbr 600f4's, early 2000's GSX-R's and ZX-6's may not be quite as powerful as the brand new stuff, but they all share the same design features that make supersports bad for beginners. Any bike that was a top—of-the-line sportbike should be avoided.
But maybe you're still not convinced, and you've got some other reason to start on a supersport.

The purpose of your first motorcycle is not 'survival,' it's learning to be a skilled, capable rider. It's idiotic to say that starting on a supersport guarantees your impending doom. But it makes the risk of an accident monstrously higher, and even if you don't wreck you're going to be awful at riding. A skilled rider on a 250 will easily outpace a bad rider on a 600 on a twisty road, because it's so difficult to learn properly when you're concentrating on ‘survival.’ No successful motorcycle racer in the world started riding on a 600cc-class race bike.

If appearances are the reason you want to buy a supersport, you need to seriously ask yourself why you want to start such a dangerous, expensive hobby in the first place. If you want to ride because it looks fun, because it's a unique and exhilerating experience, you need to be willing to put offyour dream bike for a while. It's a tad cliche, but it's true: your first bike is not your last.
If you want a bike because you want too look cool or impress people, then it doesn't really matter what I say, does it? Going fast in a straight line takes no skill, and cruising past the mall in a wifebeater and sandals takes even less. Hopefully you'll get bored and sell your bike before you end up in a situation you're not prepared for and wind up dead.

Whoever told you that is a moron. This is usually a justification for starting on a big bike or even for not wearing gear. I've already explained why supersports are bad for beginners and why horsepower isn't the only reason; and the fact is that even the most perfect rider in the world is always at risk of an accident. Traffic is almost as likely to cause an wreck as the rider is. All it takes is someone driving an SUV to not notice your presence fortwo seconds, and all of a sudden you're off your bike. Maybe they didn't look carefully enough when pulling out from a stop sign, or maybe they were too busy on their cell phone to see you before they merged. Rider vigilance will go a long way towards avoiding a wreck with a cager, but it's not a guarantee. Wear all your gear, all the time.

The linear powerband of a twin is great for a beginner, but the bigger twins make huge amounts of torque. The big liter twins trade top-end power for enough low-rev grunt to get a new rider in serious trouble. Power wheelies in second gear kind of trouble. They also share similar suspension geometry and brakes with their 4-cylinder cousins. All told, a 1000cc twin is just as bad as a 600cc I4 to start out on.

1. Motorcycling is not something you do for convenience. You have no cargo room, you get wet if it rains, you've got to carry a helmet around with you, you get hot and you get cold. Why is the mild inconvenience of dealing with a vehicle sale such a concern? 2. You really shouldn't get bored. Many riders who've been riding foryears and years buy Ninja 250s for the sheer simplicity and easy handling, or commute on 650cc twins because they're so much fun in everyday traffic. These people are more than qualified to be riding around on brand-new literbikes but they choose not to. They probably know a few things that you don't. 3. Again, your first bike is not your last. Be patient.

Unless you weigh at least 400 pounds, it just doesn't matter. A Ninja 250 can hit 90+ MPH easily with a 250lb rider, and it has two seats, for crying out loud! If one of the smallest motorcycles available can do highway speeds with two human beings aboard, using your weight to justify a 600cc bike is just bull
Height is a different matter. From personal experience I can say that legroom on the new 250R is rather cramped if you're taller than 6'2". Be sure to at least sit on the bike before you buy it. If you're on the tall side, look for a naked bike like the GSSOOE orthe SV650N, or you could look for a dua|-sport/supermoto, basically a road-legal dirtbike. In any case, full-on supersports are going to be even less comfortable, because of the position of the seat, handlebars, and footpegs.

This is probably the worst argument for anytning ever. Driving and riding are nothing alike. You're really reaching for excuses now, aren't you?

There comes a point in conversations with wannabe riders, especially on the Internet, when it becomes apparent that the guy only wants to be told what he wants to hear. He's already made up his mind, and the only reason he's asking is to hear people tell him "yeah, go ahead!" Any advice to the contrary just gets ignored. I don't know of anything else to tell you. Starting on a race bike is not a good idea, but in America at least you have the right to purchase whatever motorcycle you like. If you're lucky, you won't crash. If you're not lucky, you could be seriously injured or killed. You've come asking the advice of those with much more experience than you have; ignore it at your peril.

This has been "Sportbikes are not Beginner Bikes" by Matt Pickering

Safe Riding!

Thanks Matt Pickering

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Wow, this is a huge article. I completely agree that people don't need a super-powered bike as their first bike. There are options out there that are cool, but still more reasonable in terms of power and price. People just want the best, and they equate the best with the most powerful.

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Seems like an article like this would be better to post on the site of a high-powered bike. I think the people that are here on this forum probably agree that they should be getting a modestly powered bike as a first bike. Otherwise they'd probably be on a different forum.

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Seems like an article like this would be better to post on the site of a high-powered bike. I think the people that are here on this forum probably agree that they should be getting a modestly powered bike as a first bike. Otherwise they'd probably be on a different forum.
Not really, i think it's fine here, there are those that have considered going for a bigger CC bike as their first bike and they can relate to this. Even for those who haven't it still is a good read

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well there are plenty that are on the fence at this stage. We have a few members who said explicitly that friends of theirs suggest going 600 or 1000, so we must combat that any way possible.

Its just too dangerous for a rook. I mean we're talking about Liter bikes now with near 200 hp on tap STOCK. Thats absurd, GP bikes are just into the 200's, its asinine to sell that to a kid in flip flops when even Marquez still chucks them up the road from time to time!


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I'm sure that it depends on the rider as well. Some people may be able to handle a higher powered bike right off the bat. I think it is more of a general rule, but obviously each person has to make the decision for themselves.

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no some people can't handle a 1000cc right off the bat, they can mitigate it if they have sufficient feelings of self preservation but no one can harness a 1000cc bike right off the bat. Not even the greats, Liters are just so heavy and so powerful, as a rookie you have no reactions and no "bike" strength...

sure you can hang on for dear life but thats not fun!

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no some people can't handle a 1000cc right off the bat, they can mitigate it if they have sufficient feelings of self preservation but no one can harness a 1000cc bike right off the bat. Not even the greats, Liters are just so heavy and so powerful, as a rookie you have no reactions and no "bike" strength...

sure you can hang on for dear life but thats not fun!
I think that you are probably right. I'm sure there are people out there who would say something like, "I bought a 1000cc bike as my first bike and it was difficult at first but I picked it up after a while."

Maybe it wasn't the best choice for them objectively, but try to convince them of that.

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that's why i stated 600... it's easier to manage than a 1000.
going for a 1000 as your first bike is almost like a death wish.
and by that logic a 300 is even easier to handle, discussion over? Even 600's are a handful for new street riders. I've known people to get away with it, but they also didnt really ride it for the first little bit. I've known people who had the thing cooped up in the garage and would take it out just in the neighbor hood getting familiar, or I also knew a few guys who grew up riding dirt that had no issues jumping straight to 600.

But you're really not giving good advice. Don't you know everyone thinks theyre special, and when you say on the internet "some people" ALL people think they are som people and somehow the exception. All new riders are invincible didnt you know?

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I believe people who start off with high cc make decision base on other people opinion on their current decision. Instead of understanding that all structure/skill require the basic building of a foundation. People who start out with a 600cc or 1000cc never really learn how to ride except in a straight line. I can bet a lower cc person with 3 years vs a person 1000cc/600cc 3 years on the a track would either get demolish because track is all base on skill and mentally.

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Let's put this in perspective by comparing it to cars. What if for your first car you bought a Corvette Stingray? I think that giving someone that car as the one they will learn to drive in is asking for trouble, but at the same time, they would learn to handle it over time. The difference with motorcycles is that if you do crash, there is a much higher risk of injury or death.
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