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Is it a bad idea to skip the beginner bike?

It’s important to nail your fundamentals down before getting a bigger bike.

KTM 790 Duke

In the Philippines, we’re not limited by which bike we want to buy. As long as we have motorcycle restriction codes on our licenses, we can hop on the biggest bike that we want. However, making the decision to go big right away may be good for getting the motorcycle you’re really after, but it can also play host to a bunch of problems not too far down the road. 

While the process of getting a license may be easy, let’s just say that the shiny big bike you just bought won’t stay shiny for long, as is the case if you drop it or if you unwittingly crash it—knock on wood. We have to look past the shiny new plastics and metals of a motorcycle and remember that piloting any two-wheeled machine is dangerous, no matter how light or heavy it is. 

As such, I do recommend that you start out on a smaller motorcycle. While the big bike waiting for you in the dealership may keep you up at night, it’s important to remember that these two-wheeled machines are quite dangerous. As such, a question we get asked a lot is, “Should I skip the beginner bike?” 

What is a beginner bike anyway?

Honda CL500
KTM 390 Duke

Depending on where you live, what kind of riding you will do, and what bike segment you are looking at, what determines a beginner bike is not that clear cut. For example, some riders in the United States will say that a beginner bike is something with about 650ccs or lower. Riders in Europe are required to start out on a 125cc machine and graduate to a higher displacement when the time comes, and in the Philippines, it’s not so clear what a beginner bike is given what Western media seems to be saying. 

However mixed the signals are, perhaps the 400cc highway rule is something of a marker for determining how “beginner” a motorcycle is. There are varying opinions on the matter, with some people saying that a 650cc motorcycle, like the Honda CB650R or Triumph Trident 660, can be for beginners. Others say that you should start with a 400cc motorcycle. Others, still, are saying that 400ccs are too much and that they should start with something that is 150ccs or lower. There are many ways to justify that a certain motorcycle can be a beginner bike whether it’s a low seat height, smooth power delivery, or easy operation. 

So what is a beginner bike? In my opinion, a sub-400cc motorcycle is a viable choice as a beginner bike (an exception can perhaps be made for the Rebel 500 and CL500 among other 500cc Honda bikes). Your mileage may vary and I will say that it is possible to start on a 400, with a little more caution thrown in the mix. I will also begrudgingly say that it is possible to start on a 650, with a lot of caution thrown in the mix (and I do mean a lot of caution). 

Is it a bad idea?

BMW R18 First Edition
KTM 790 Duke

In my honest-to-goodness opinion, I think that it is a bad idea to start on anything larger than a 400cc motorcycle unless you're an absolute beginner then perhaps it'll be wise to start even smaller—"absolute beginner," meaning no experience with driving, manual transmissions, bicycles, or scooters etcetera. 

For starters, weight plays a part in how much of a handful a motorcycle can be, whether in parking lots, in traffic, or at home. A good number of people drop their motorcycles while they’re moving them around in the garage. Whether it’s because they lost their footing, they forgot to put the side stand down, or they simply lost their balance on or off the bike. In whatever case, picking up a small bike is easier than picking up a big one. 

Seat height also plays a big role in determining whether a bike is fit for beginners, at least in the context of adventure, sport, and sport-naked motorcycles. I totally understand where beginners are coming from, as they’re not used to one-foot stops. Two feet firmly on the ground is great for beginners as it promotes confidence, and a bit of insurance should balance be lost. 

Motorcycle Accident

Power and torque are what can get you into trouble, but also slow perception. You always have to be faster than your bike. In other words, you need to think a few steps ahead of your motorcycle whenever you ride. As a beginner, you might be preoccupied with getting your gear shifts down, your clutch engagement spot on, and your balance while taking a turn or going slow. As such, a bike that isn’t too fast will give you a little more breathing room to think about your next move and more margin for error. Bigger and more powerful bikes may give you little to no time to react as a beginner, so a slower and smaller bike would be preferable. 

To close off this section, I believe it’s a bad idea. Even if it is a small bike, drops may happen, accidents may be unavoidable, and it’s in human nature to make mistakes. Even if you start on a small bike, dropping or falling off it is likely, speaking from first-hand and second-hand experiences. However, the idea isn’t the worst in the world. If you’re very methodical about your approach it’s possible to start on a bigger bike. 

The secret? Training is the best recipe, and practice is the secret ingredient

KTM 790 Duke Gymkhanna

Rider courses, training programs, and curriculums come in many shapes and sizes, whether it’s for small bikes, big bikes, or really big bikes. Whether through the turns of a track or through pavement or dirt, training courses are the way to go. I do recommend that you enroll in a motorcycle training program/course in order to get professional instruction and help getting started. 

Yamaha WR155 Off Road

I did say that it is possible to start on a motorcycle that is bigger than 400ccs, and enrolling in a rider training program or course is one way to get a lot of experience in a short amount of time. It’s easy for someone to watch a YouTube video on how to operate a clutch on a motorcycle or how to set off on a scooter, but getting real people on the ground training you and instructing you how to do it is something else. Courses in the Philippines may also offer to teach you other basic skills like picking up a motorcycle after a fall, negotiating through tight u-turns, swerving to avoid obstacles, and also how to stop smoothly. 

Honda Safety Driving Center ADV 160

Enrolling in a course will surely help your skills progress, but to really keep the good habits coming, practice is the secret ingredient that’ll keep you going. After every course, I do take a few sessions on my own to really clamp down on the skills that I’ve just learned. 

My backstory

KTM 390 Duke

Every motorcycle I had so far was a stepping stone. I set goals for myself in order to progress my skills and training in order to handle bigger and more powerful bikes. Starting out with a 150 that I knew I was going to scratch up and drop, I didn’t feel too bad nor did I feel uneasy on top of a small machine. The 400 class, as is the case with my KTM 390 Duke before, was a stark contrast to the first 150cc motorcycle I learned on. After that, the 650cc class with the Honda CB650R gave me a new perspective on riding motorcycles with more power, and it managed to teach me a lot more without overwhelming me too much. Finally, the KTM 790 Duke was the bike that I had to earn up to in terms of skills. 

Honda CB650R

We review a lot of bikes here on MotoDeal.com.ph and when a bike isn’t for beginners, we feel the need to mention it. The 790 Duke was one of the bikes tagged with such a label, so it took a while to get to where I am right now. Regardless of whether I went to a special training program or watched a ton of videos on YouTube, I still think that a beginner bike is an essential part of a motorcyclist’s journey not only because it’s logical, but also because it’s safer and promotes more confident learning. There is no rush to get the fastest bike that you think you can handle. I believe that the steps you take to "earn" that bigger bike in terms of skills makes everything all more worthwhile. 

KTM 790 Duke

Regardless of whether you take my advice to heart, please understand that motorcycling is dangerous and perhaps one of the most fun activities you could ever get into. I understand that you may want a big and shiny bike now and that’s totally fine, as long as you keep your wits about you, you have fun, and you ride safe. 

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