The $4000 Newbie Challenge
When it came time to test the four bikes for our $4000 Newbie Shootout, we drafted some of our own aspiring riding talent from around the MCUSA office.
When learning to ride motorcycles, it helps to have a forgiving mount that still makes the process fun. Beginners are faced with making the plunge into buying a bike without enough experience at their disposal. Often times the uninformed newbie makes a bad decision for a first bike. A common problem is for inexperienced riders to jump right off into the deep end and pick up their dream bike only to take it home and realize the large-displacement machine is unwieldy for their skill level. On top of it all, a rider often has no idea what it is they even want in a motorcycle. With all those concerns in mind, we decided to organize our first-ever Newbie Bike Shootout.
All four bikes in our Newbie Shootout register 250cc and under, making them tame enough for a learner to keep under control. The amount of cubic centimeter (cc) displacement affects the overall power of the bike and, to an extent, its weight. A general rule of thumb is that bigger is not always better for the newb. The bikes utilized in motorcycle safety courses across the country are 250cc and below, and a smaller displacement platform is proven to give the new rider a safer base from which to develop their skills.
Our Newbie Shootout test day at the kart track included some instruction from our experienced in-house test riders, like MCUSA President Don Becklin (left) and Editor Kevin Duke (center).
To address concerns over price, we capped off the list of entries at the $4000 mark. The aspiring rider need not be dismayed by the still lofty amount (come on, 4 grand ain't cheap), as used versions of the models we chose are often available, owing to beginners advancing to larger machines after some seasoning out on the road. Since many riders bring with them preconceived notions of what type of bike they want (i.e. one person may drool over a 2007 R1, while another's life-long ambition has been to one day own a Harley), we picked a machine from each of the four main divisions of street riding - a sporty Kawasaki Ninja 250, Yamaha's Virago 250 cruiser, a dual-sport DR200SE from Suzuki, and a Piaggio Fly 150 for the scooter set.
Since the newbie shootout is one of the more unconventional comparos we have ever conducted, raw power numbers are not a focus of attention. What matters most to beginner riders should not be the dyno sheet, but whether the power generated by the engine is appropriate and controllable. As such, we evaluated our four newbie rides based on how actual newbie riders should be selecting their first mounts. Is it easy to ride and control? Are the ergonomics comfortable? And does it offer good value for the dollar?
As our resident newbie bike tester, I evaluated the machines with frequent rides commuting to and from the office, as well as plenty of extra-curricular jaunts around the backroads near our MCUSA HQ here in Medford, Oregon. But what better way to evaluate these entry-level machines than by handing them off to a half-dozen newbie riders?
Rachel, Shona, Laurel, and Jameson were four of our volunteers who donated their burgeoning talent to test our four newbie test bikes through laps around the kart track and our parking lot obstacle course dubbed "The Gauntlet."
To that end, we drafted some of the aspiring riding talent employed (or the significant other of an employee) here at Motorcycle USA and our sister company Motorcycle Superstore. With a bit of instruction from the crusty old salts who have been riding motursickles since just after exiting the womb, like MCUSA Editor Kevin Duke, Editorial Director Ken Hutchison, and the MCUSA Prez himself, Don Becklin, we took a day off from our regular duties and set our newbie riders to work out riding at the local kart track and through a challenging obstacle course which we set up in the track's parking lot.
Dubbed "The Gauntlet," our parking-lot obstacle course incorporated all the skills tested in the Team Oregon motorcycle safety class, which I had taken a few months prior. After taking off from the start, our newbie testers would begin the course by navigating a lengthy cone slalom, where they would be forced to keep a low speed and feather the clutch while weaving around the short orange markers. After the slalom section, the course then threw a low-speed 90-degree turn at the testers with a less severe at-speed turn at the exit. Following the two turns, a couple pairs of offset cones were set up for riders to practice evasive swerves. The final test of the course came upon exiting the swerve where the rider would speed up and head towards a final cone marking the finish. Upon reaching the finish, the riders would make a forceful application of the brakes to simulate an emergency stop.
Our test day included plenty of laps out on the twisty kart track to get a feel for how these newbie bikes handled.
After our day-long session of testing out at the kart track, we weren't surprised to discover our tester's opinions varied by taste and personal preference. Even with that disclaimer, judging by value and overall sentiment, we were able to determine one bike that stood above the rest. The other three bikes are all capable machines in their own ways, and it was a toss-up ranking them - it all depends on what the prospective newbie is looking for. The following bikes are listed with the Newbie Shootout winner first, followed by the remaining three in no particular order, with the intent of giving the reader more data to make an informed decision when determining which machine would be the right fit for them.