Classic, Affordable Motorcycles for Beginners

on June 28, 2018

Honda Hawk GT, Triumph Bonneville, Ducati Monster 600. A trip down memory lane? No, simply some of the classiest, most stylish motorcycles ever made that also would make good rides for beginners. Rounding out the seven-model list of recommendations from Motorcyclist magazine are the Kawasaki W650, Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster, BMW F650GS or G650GS, and the Suzuki SV650.

All of these bikes have origins going back 20 years or more and lasting into the mid-2000s and even to current times, which speaks to the staying power of their designs and universal appeal. All feature small to midsize displacement recommended for new riders, but the engines are not so small that they scream newbie. And you can’t beat used motorcycle prices, that’s for sure!

The downside, of course, is that these bikes come with no warranties and greater risks because, well, they are old and probably have seen a lot of mileage. That’s when you need to bring your friend who’s a motorcycle expert with you when you go to look at one, and insist on a thorough once-over by a trusted and qualified motorcycle mechanic before finalizing any sale. Most of the bikes no doubt will require some upgrades, like new tires and a GPS system, that won’t mess with the “coolness” factor while adding safety and modern convenience.

Classy Rides for Motorcycle Beginners

Here’s some detail about the recommended rides:

Honda Hawk GT 650
Years Built 1988–1991
Engine 647cc V-twin
Price $1,000–$2,000
One of the first “sport bikes” on the market, the Honda Hawk GT’s “naked,” angular design was considered revolutionary in the late 80s when it was first introduced. “Naked” means no fairings, which gives it a cool, modern look that offers no wind protection, but means there’s little to damage if the bike is dropped. The seat is lower, a benefit to beginners and smaller riders.


Triumph Bonneville
Years Built 2001–current
Engine 790cc–865cc (through 2015) parallel twin
Price $1,500 and up
This British bike still features all the coolness of its 1960s origins, but has been updated over the years to modern standards. The latest design was introduced in 2001 and continues to be manufactured. In 2007, all models were boosted to the larger 865cc engine, and two years later received fuel injection. The Bonneville American has a 28-inch seat, great for beginners. Although this bike has a reputation for low-maintenance, it also has been a popular customization platform, so buyers should be sure to look for poorly executed modifications.


Ducati Monster 600
Years Built 2001–current
Engine 600(ish)cc desmodromic L-twin
Price $3,000–$8,000
A mini version of the Ducati M900 Monster, the 600 has always been a hit with beginners who want the cache of the Italian brand without the price tag. Buyers beware: parts and servicing on the Ducati M600 Monster can be pricey if the bike has been abused.


Kawasaki W650
Years Built 1999–2007
Engine 676cc parallel twin
Price $4,000–$6,000
The Japanese introduced this bike in 1999 as an homage to the British bikes of the 1960s, but discontinued it after only seven years, so this bike may be hard to find. Be sure to check out all the metal parts for rust and other signs of fatigue. Still, this bike is hugely popular with beginners for its smaller size and classic touches, like a real kickstarter along with an electric starter.


Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster
Years Built 1957–current
Engine 883cc V-twin
Price $3,000–$7,000
No list of cool bikes would be complete without a Harley. The 883 Sportster was introduced in 1957 as a midsize bike designed to compete with British bikes flooding the American market after WWII. Its size appealed to smaller riders, including women. The 883 Sportster boasts Harley’s iconic low-slung looks, but regular performance and safety upgrades have kept this bike popular.


BMW F650GS or G650GS
Years Built 1997–current
Engine 652 cc single, 798cc parallel twin (starting in 2010.)
Price $3,000–$4,000
Starting in 2009, BMW changed its model designations, G for single cylinders and F for parallel twins. These are BMW’s entry-level dual sport adventure bikes, enormously popular with beginners because of their size, affordability and ease of use. The G650GS has been upgraded over the years and features ABS and heated grips.


Suzuki SV650
Years Built 1999–2008
Engine 645cc 90-degree V-twin
Price $1,600 and up
The SV650 is considered a great beginner motorcycle because its half fairing means less plastic to break in case of a drop, it’s 70 hp engine is enough for the experienced, but not too much for the new rider, and now that it is no longer being actively manufactured, you can get them at a great price. It’s also touted as a good “transition” bike from dirt to street. In 2003, the SV received new styling, electronic fuel injection, and an all-new chassis.


Being seen on any of these bikes won’t immediately make you an “insider” in the motorcycle world, but it sure goes a long way toward making you a cooler beginner.