Beginner motorcycle buying guide — from a woman’s perspective

Looking for a beginner motorcycle buying guide? Investing in a beginner motorcycle is a major decision with many factors to consider. It’s a decision to be made calmly, based on clear thinking and adequate research.

beginner motorcycle buying guideThere’s plenty of opportunity for fun and spontaneity in acquiring your first bike, but starting with some homework before getting excited about a specific style or model or deal (like the one that your best friend is offering you) is the way to go. Get yourself a foundation upon which to build your decision. You’ll be glad you did.

Beginner motorcycle buying guide tip:
Your first motorcycle won’t be your last

If you’re uncomfortable with how little you know about motorcycles, remind yourself that this is the one and only time that you have such limited knowledge of motorcycles. Down the line, you’ll be able to compare motorbikes you’ve owned and you’ll have a personal baseline for “next time.” You’ve probably already received lots of advice from friends and family, been bombarded with advertisements by various manufacturers and formed impressions and perhaps even prejudices that you don’t realize you have.

Try to be a blank slate. Put aside everything you think you know. Open up your mind to new ideas. Ask yourself the following questions, and take time to write down some answers. It works, and it’s worthwhile.

Beginner motorcycle buying guide tip: Set your budget

If you’re wide open on this, so are you choices. But it’s smart to set a range that’s comfortable and leaves some money in your checking account for the many “after market” accessories that are going to tempt you. There’s all kinds of items you “need” for your bike — tank bag, luggage and racks, specialty lights, heated grips, crash bars, a short windshield for summer, a tall one for winter, a different seat. You get the point. Just about everything on your bike can be customized so don’t start out “bike poor.”

Beginner motorcycle buying guide tip:
Leave margin in your budget for riding gear?

Although this might not sound like a question to consider before actually selecting a motorcycle, it is an important safety and budget consideration that you should keep in mind. As a minimum, you must have a good, Department of Transportation DOT approved helmet ($100 – $500). Even if it’s not required in your state, you must!. Don’t take a chance — we’re talking life and death, a head bump or a broken head! And the better (mostly the more expensive) helmets provide a pleasant, quiet ride vs. a loud and wind-filled one. Your choice.

You need to go to a helmet shop and try them on — they come in different sizes and shapes (round, oval) and you’ve got to find out what works for you. Wiggle the helmet around on your head when you try it on. If you can move the helmet without also moving your head, try a smaller size. Snug is good, and helmets get looser over time.

That’s just the beginning with regards to the gear and required budget
Just to provide some overview of costs you’ll incur: jacket ($100 – $300), gloves ($40), boots ($150) and if you ride throughout the year, you’ll more than likely need seasonal changes of each of these. You can get away with substitutes, such as wearing your hiking boots, but it’s not recommended. There’s laces to get caught on foot pegs; there’s extra protection given by real riding boots that can save a foot. You could wear leather gloves that you already own, but you may lack the grip, fit and protection you deserve.

There’s also a zillion other items that will tempt you — the neck piece that keeps you warmer than you’d ever believe, the beanie cap that goes inside your helmet to keep it clean and might prevent some helmet-hair problems, the plug-in heated vest and pants and gloves, the T-shirt that says, “Does this bike make my butt look fat?”

Go shopping where you can ask a lot of questions and not be rushed. Plan how much money you’re going to need to get involved in this sport. It’s money well spent if you are safe and comfortable, and you’ll enjoy the new bike a whole lot more.

Beginner motorcycle buying guide tip:
Decide what type riding do you want to do

Place the following 5 types of riding in order from what you are most likely to do to least likely:

  • On street, commuting, daily
  • On street, for fun, pleasure, weekends
  • On street, touring, vacations, distances (interstates)
  • Off-road, some gravel or rough road
  • Trail riding, up and down the mountains and in the woods

Your answer to this will provide a lot of clues for what you should look for in your first motorcycle. Different categories of motorcycles are suited to different types of riding. There are sport bikes, scooters, luxury touring bikes, dual sports and trail bikes, cruisers and standards.

Note that the question here is not what type of riding you expect to be doing in two years but rather, what kind of riding you want to do NOW. Your first bike, like your first house, isn’t the “end goal”; it’s the place to start. Bikes are constantly being bought and sold, through dealers, eBay, and the classifieds. Getting a reasonably-priced used bike from any source isn’t a difficult thing to do and likewise, it’s fairly easy to sell your “trainer” when your riding needs and interests change.

Beginner motorcycle buying guide tip:
Decide what features are important

This question relates closely to the one above — it depends mostly on the type of riding you will be doing. Here are features you will want to learn more about and decide what’s right for you.

Engine size

Engines are measured in cc’s (cubic centimeters.) Engines range in size from 50cc to more than 2,000cc. Generally, more cc’s means more power. The size you choose will certainly affect your riding, so you need to decide how much power you actually need. If you just want to keep up with the speed limit, any motorcycle on the market will do. A 250 is certainly up to the job. If you want to carry a passenger, you need more power. If you’re going to be running on the Autobahn at 100 miles an hour, then purchase a bike with appropriate engine size. The engine size of choice for many accomplished riders who are not “power hungry” is 650cc.

Bear in mind, the bigger the engine, almost always the larger and heavier the bike. That equates to an extra challenge in handling the bike when starting, stopping and maneuvering at slow speeds. Once you’re moving along, you’ve got momentum and balance and there’s no real disadvantage to a new rider with a large engine (i.e. large bike). However, you’ll be painfully aware of the potential problems of a big bike when it comes to parking and “unparking” that big bear. Even getting it up off the side stand (especially if it’s loaded with gear or parked on a downhill slant or both!) can require that you get a buddy to help you. That doesn’t increase your feelings of independence and self-confidence. Better to buy smaller to start.

Transmission… automatic or manual?

Be honest with yourself. Do you like manual transmissions? If not, consider a scooter; they all have automatic transmissions so you don’t have to deal with shifting. They can go just as fast (almost) and have lots of nice features like great storage capacity. Don’t let your embarrassment over the fact that you’re driving an automatic spoil the fun for you. Guys usually can’t let themselves make this choice — it’s just not manly — but you can. If you’re a newbie rider, you’ll appreciate the extra ability you have to concentrate on matters other than shifting. There’s a lot to think about as you begin to become one with your bike. You don’t have to take it all on at once. And remember, you can always trade in your starter bike.

Transmissions vary by manufacturers

Not all transmissions shift the same way. Some are smoother and easier; some are clunkier. Some are “forgiving.” They give you a wide range of speeds within which you can operate before lugging or over revving. Another way to put it is that they have a broad “happy” range. If you’re talking with a dealer, they are unlikely to reveal to you that their brand is on the clunky end of the continuum. Ask friends who ride. You can most likely get used to anything, but it’s nice to know what you’re getting.

Height of seat and adjustability

The lower the bike, the lower the center of gravity, the easier to maintain balance at slow speeds. There’s nothing more satisfying that solid footing when you’re starting and stopping your bike. Being flatfooted is grand. If you’re on tiptoes, you’re vulnerable. Why add that complication to the equation of owning your first motorcycle? Seat height is included in the description of every bike model — take a look and begin to compare for yourself. Once you sit on a few bikes and learn the seat height, you’ll quickly get a feel for what works for you.

Seating position

Seating positions range from a long, low stretch over the handlebars to fully upright and even “couch potato” style in which you lean back and stretch your legs forward. Sitting upright is the most athletic position from which you can perform any needed quick maneuvers and is most comfortable in the long run. The sport bike position looks “cool” but your back and wrists may never forgive you. Forward control footpegs are common on cruisers, but questionable for maximum safety. Seat position is a very important feature.

Gas tank capacity

It’s nice to know how far you can go before you need a fill up. If you select a model that has an especially small gas tank, you might find it inconvenient to have to stop so often, especially if you’re riding with other folks who have significantly more capacity. If you know you’ll be riding a lot in areas with gas stations few and far between, this will be an even more important factor to consider.

Storage capacity

Some bikes, especially sporty models, do not offer much storage capacity. Think about this decision like you would make a car choice — do you want a sporty model that only carries 2 bags of groceries or do you want a van to bring home a week’s worth? Will you be carrying camping gear on your bike? Clothes for several days? Groceries? There are many racks and bags that can be added for increased storage but be sure to ask a salesman or knowledgeable friend about what choices you’ll have with the model of bike you are considering.


Personal. Sit on a lot of bikes. See what fits you.


Personal. Enjoy! Your bike says something about you.

Are some motorcycles easier and less expensive to repair?
Yes. Just like cars. Ask around. Know what you’re getting into. The internet is a great source of information.

Where to start?

Once you’ve got this homework done, you can start anywhere. You know what you’re looking for and you will recognize it when you find it.

  1. Go to a dealer and sit on lots of bikes, ask lots of questions. If you’ve got your license, they might let you try one out.
  2. Look around, but don’t expect test rides from individuals. If you’re buying from a private individual, you generally pay for the bike before your test ride. If there’s a problem and you choose not to buy, you get your money back. If you crash it, you own it.
  3. Attend a motorcycle rally or two. Most motorcycle rallies include manufacturers’ models that can be sat upon and in some cases test ridden.

Have fun! And remember, trading and selling are not hard to do. If your first bike choice turns out not to be the perfect choice, you’ve learned something. Your slate is no longer blank, and you’ll make a better choice next time.

Donn Brous