Three reasons why your first motorcycle should be a used motorcycle

People get into motorcycling a lot of different ways, but one case I’ve seen over and over is the non-rider who spots a beautiful motorcycle that somehow fires all the right synapses in some deep primordial part of the brain and who absolutely knows in that instant, without a hint of doubt, that this is the bike he or she must own.

Yamaha XSR900

Whenever a uniquely styled motorcycle like the Yamaha XSR900 comes out, some would-be riders fall in love and consider making it their first motorcycle. The enthusiasm is understandable, but the decision is not wise.

In this scenario, knowledge may be lacking, but certainty is not.

Hey, I don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun or drain away somebody’s passion. I think you should indeed buy your dream bike. I just strongly believe it should be your second or third bike. I can think of three good reasons why your first motorcycle should be something used and probably cheap. 

I’ve written about this topic before for other publications, but it came to mind once again this week as I was doing a short test ride on a Yamaha XSR900 that we are reviewing at RevZilla. As we’ve been writing about the new XSR900, more than one person has asked if it’s a good choice for a first bike. All of us involved in reviewing the bike agree: The answer is “no.” It’s a fine motorcycle, but it’s just not noob-friendly. Yet because of its unique styling, certain non-riders fall in love with it at first sight, believe it to be their dream bike, and want to start their motorcycling career at the top with no apprenticeship.

That’s unrealistic on many levels, and also unwise. Here are three reasons why.

Your first motorcycle should be a used motorcycle because you’ll drop it

I’m thinking of damage to yourself, your bank account and your development as a motorcyclist.

Odds are that you’ll drop your bike at least once while you’re learning to ride. The bigger and more powerful it is, the more likely that mishap will be serious or painful. Also, if you buy your expensive, new dream bike as your first bike, you’ll be a lot more sad if or when you drop it than if you simply scratch up some used beater bike. Plus, it will cost a lot more to restore the beauty that made it your dream bike in the first place.

The less obvious side of the same coin is that if you buy a bike that’s too tall, too heavy, too powerful or otherwise unsuitable for a new rider, you not only increase the odds of expensive repairs to your bike or painful injuries to your body, but you also make the learning process harder. A forgiving bike will let you focus on developing your riding skills, not just surviving, and a less powerful bike will actually push you to learn to ride better. On a smaller motorcycle, it’s more important to manage engine speed and be sure you’re in the right gear to maintain brisk forward progress. If you’re riding a 160-horsepower literbike, you can just twist the throttle and go, even if you’re doing it all wrong. Having the motorcycle’s extraordinary capabilities compensate for your deficiencies as a rider doesn’t teach you anything.

Your dream motorcycle will be different a year from now

Unburdened by riding experience, the new rider often has romantic notions of what he or she will love. You imagine that a coast-to-coast solo ride will be the ultimate joyous voyage of self-discovery, but instead you just get tired and sunburned and lonely and have more fun riding down to your local Bike Night to socialize with other riders. You may think you’ll enjoy joining the guys at work who ride on weekends, but find that their kind of riding is not what you enjoy.

If you buy a cheap bike and ride it for a year, you’ll learn what you enjoy about riding and can then make a more informed decision about which motorcycle will best suit the riding you want to do. You won’t take much of a hit in depreciation when you sell a beginner bike. If you buy your new dream bike and it turns out to be the wrong choice, expect to lose a lot of money when you sell it as a one-year-old used bike. Especially if you dropped it.

Your first motorcycle shouldn’t be your last one

You may think your dream motorcycle will be your one, true, lifelong love, so why start anywhere else? In reality, you’re buying a motorcycle, not getting married. If you become one of us for whom motorcycling is not just one more activity, but rather an indispensable part of our lives and who we are, then you’ll never want to limit yourself to just one. You’ll realize there’s a wide world of motorcycling experiences to have and different motorcycles are best suited to different adventures.

You may think that if you buy a small, cheap beginner bike, you’ll just outgrow it. Yes, you will. That’s the point and the plan. Some of us have outgrown dozens of motorcycles over the years, and we’re richer for the experience and better riders because of the diversity.

Look, none of this is pure theory that I conjured up out of thin air. The best motorcycle riders in the world, in any racing series or any other discipline of professional riding, started out small. Almost all rode both on-road and off-road to develop their skills. That’s the proven route to ending up on your dream bike — probably several of them, before you’re done — and enjoying it to the max in a long and happy motorcycling life.