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The Best New 2023 Motorcycles for Beginners on the U.S. Market

Photo:  Husqvarna
Photo: Husqvarna

There’s never been a better time to be a motorcyclist in the U.S., where enthusiasts are often left looking abroad, staring longingly at the many cool vehicles not available in America. There’s still some of that going on (Honda!) in the world of two-wheelers, but beginner bikes have become so popular that companies are willing to bring their best small displacement or entry-level models stateside.

Even in the land of the big cubic inch bikes from Harley-Davidson and Indian, there are more small bikes available now than ever before. That’s great for new and prospective riders who no longer have just a handful of options. In fact, there are almost too many options, as we will see.

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There are so many good entry-level bikes now, that we’ll only focus on cruisers, nakeds, sport bikes and quote-on-quote ADV tourers. Basically, the meat of the small-displacement market; we’ll have to save the potatoes for another day. Of course, that’s not to say supermotos, minimotos and actual dual-sport bikes are any less tasty. They’re all welcome at the table by virtue of being two-wheelers!

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2023 Honda Rebel 300

Photo:  Honda
Photo: Honda
  • Starting at $4,749 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

The Honda Rebel badge has been around since the ’80s, and Honda did little to update the CMX250 for what seemed like an eternity. But the Rebel line got a huge upgrade in 2016 when Honda announced it was bumping the bike’s displacement to 300cc and 500cc engines, ushering in a new design that was more modern and aggressive.

2023 Honda Rebel 500

Image:  Honda
Image: Honda
  • Starting at $6,449 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

Even though the spiritual successor to the CMX250 was the new Rebel 300, there was a short-lived Honda CMX450, which was revived by the new bike’s sibling, the Rebel 500. The two have similar styling, but the Rebel 500 has a parallel twin engine while the 300 has a single-cylinder engine. The latter is more characterful than the former, but the 500 makes for a smoother ride.

2022 Honda CBR300R

Photo:  Honda
Photo: Honda
  • Starting at $4,899 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

As with the Honda Rebel, the Honda CBR300R came from the former CBR250R, which was one of Honda’s most memorable designs to date — a tiny clone of the Honda VFR1200F. The sporty CBR300R bumped up to a 286cc engine, which made the bike a slightly better fit for fast-paced American highways. But the styling lost a little something in the process.

2023 Honda CB300R

Image:  Honda
Image: Honda
  • Starting at $5,049 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

Unlike the previous bike, the Honda CB300R is definitely one of Honda’s most memorable designs. The CB300R is one of the rare bikes that a maker blesses with the best looks, despite it being an “entry-level” 286cc model. The CB300R doesn’t envy its bigger brothers in the “Neo Sports Café” line. Until Honda brings back the Hornet, or the 599, the little CB3 is my pick in Honda’s stable.

2023 Honda CBR500R

Image:  Honda
Image: Honda
  • Starting at $7,299 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

Likewise, the CBR500R is more bark than bite. Even though the R before the 500 would denote that this is a sports bike, the seating position is more upright than you would imagine. The bike’s 471cc parallel twin engine is tucked into the fairings, but this sharp and angular sports bike makes a pretty great commuter.

2023 Honda CB500F

Image:  Honda
Image: Honda
  • Starting at $6,799 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

The Honda CB500F is what you call a “streetfighter,” which is in between a fully-faired sport bike and naked bike. They’re meant to appear more aggressive than standard bikes, but, really, none of the Honda 500s are mean-spirited on the road. They’re all tuned to deliver power in predictable ways from their shared 471cc parallel-twin engines. The Honda streetfigher just puts the rider in a more upright position than the CBR above, and it looks angrier than other Hondas — though not angry as a Yamaha we’ll get to below.

2023 Honda CB500X

Image:  Honda
Image: Honda
  • Starting at $7,299 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

The last of the Honda 500s to use the same 471cc engine, the CB500X was actually one of the first major leaps for Honda, which ushered in a new design language. I still remember the radical construction of the early CB500X, built more like a scooter than a track bike. The bike is nominally an adventure tourer, but it’s more a jack-of-all trades that you would be fine riding over most roads, but not many technical trails.

2023 Kawasaki Ninja 400

Photo:  Kawasaki
Photo: Kawasaki
  • Starting at $5,299 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

The Kawasaki Ninja 400 looks sleek and comes with an excitable 399cc twin-cylinder engine that deviates from Honda’s approach. Even the Honda CBRs don’t quite deliver the same excitement of the smallest Ninja. The mean green machine from Kawasaki is not at all intimidating, but it goads you on to higher RPMs and it handles incredibly well, which inspires confidence for new riders.

2023 Kawasaki Z400

Photo:  Kawasaki
Photo: Kawasaki
  • Starting at $5,399 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

True to the streetfigher name, the Kawasaki Z400 just looks madder than the Ninja 400. It’s not as squinty or puckered up at the nose like a Yamaha later down this list, but it’s close. The Z400 has a more upright seating position than the Ninja, which is good in some cases and more rider-dependent in others. I like a tuck, myself but that can strain your back after a while.

2023 Kawasaki Versys-X 300

Photo:  Kawasaki
Photo: Kawasaki
  • Starting at $5,899 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

On a scale of comfort, the Versys-X 300 outdoes both the Ninja 400 and the Z400. Your wrists will thank you, and so will your back! The Versys-X might not have the attitude of the other beginner bikes from ’Kawi, but what it loses in displacement (with a 296cc engine), it makes up for in comfort and practicality. Don’t let the size fool you; the little Versys feels smaller than it looks once you settle into the saddle. This is a great starting place for budding ADV tourers.

2023 Suzuki GSX250R

Photo:  Suzuki
Photo: Suzuki
  • Starting at $4,999 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

I have a soft spot for Suzuki, being a former TU250X rider. So, the GSX250R is one of my favorites here, especially with that two-tone and ABS on the modern bike. My old TU250 saw me through most of graduate school, and I’ll never forget what my linguistics professor (an expat from Japan) said to me as I was donning my gear in the parking lot. “Ooh,” he exclaimed, “the big boy!” He was pointing at the engine — I think — not at me, though I was well-fed.

The thing is a 248cc is not a “beginner bike” outside of the U.S.; it’s simply just a bike. That TU250X was missing a lot of modern touches, and some fairing would have made short highway jaunts easier. That’s why I love the GSX250R.

2023 Yamaha YZF-R3

Photo:  Yamaha
Photo: Yamaha
  • Starting at $5,499 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

I was never a Yamaha fan. Couldn’t get behind the tuning forks on the badge — that is until I rode a Yamaha YZF-R3 which splits the difference between the tame 300 class bikes from Honda and the rowdy 400s from Kawasaki. The R3 comes with a 321cc engine and weighs in at 375 pounds. It handles just telepathically as the nimble Kawasaki, if not more. You’ll feel like Valentino Rossi on the R-3, even if you’re just going for cheap sushi at H-E-B.

2023 Yamaha MT-03

Photo:  Yamaha
Photo: Yamaha
  • Starting at $4,999 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

The Yamaha MT-03 “hyper naked” has the same 321cc engine as the R3, but as I mentioned before, it just very angry. It weighs within two pounds of the R3, and yet it adopts a whole different attitude. If it weren’t for the teal-colored wheels on the latest model, I’d say it came with too much attitude... at the parking lot. Once it’s moving, it’s nothing a new rider can’t handle.

2023 Yamaha V Star 250

Photo:  Yamaha
Photo: Yamaha
  • Starting at $4,699 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

Or if the MT-03 does seem like too much, too fast, then the Yamaha V Star 250 is always there. Literally. The V Star looks like the oldest bike here, and a throwback to the days of the old Honda Rebel. But before we roll this dinosaur back to the Mesozoic, let’s look at the specs: 249cc v-twin engine, a 27-inch saddle and only 324 pounds wet. That’s about as welcoming as bikes come! That’s why MSF courses still love to teach new riders on the faithful V Star 250.

2023 KTM 390 Adventure SW

Photo:  KTM
Photo: KTM
  • Starting at $7,399 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

Once riders are done learning on the old Yamaha, however, some will graduate to any of the KTMs to follow. KTM cut its teeth on dirtbikes, and to this day the Austrian bike maker remains one of the brands that best sticks to its roots. That doesn’t always make for the most comfortable adventure-tourers, but the KTM 390 Adventure is not quite at the level of its bigger brothers. That’s a good thing if riders just want ADV looks, and mild performance on the trail. The KTM 390 ADV is one of the more capable bikes here, but that’s not saying much.

2023 KTM 390 Duke

Photo:  KTM
Photo: KTM
  • Starting at $5,899 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

The 390 Duke is possibly the only streetfighter that makes me double-take every time I see one. The trellis frame, searing orange accents, and light like a snout are radical. And the looks match its capabilities, as far as beginner bikes go. The Duke’s engine is a 373cc single-cylinder “thumper,” and KTM’s penchant for performance is not dulled in the 390 Duke. New rider beware.

2023 KTM RC 390

Photo:  KTM
Photo: KTM
  • Starting at $5,899 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

The first KTM RC 390 was a watershed moment for “beginner bikes.” It was plagued by performance issues, but when it worked, it worked. The bike gained the respect of the best riders on track, and its styling was incredible. I miss the twin-orb headlight greatly, but designs change. At the very least, KTM also made the bike more reliable as time went on, and has now ironed out many of the old kinks in the RC’s drivertrain. The latest RC 390 has the same 373cc single-cylinder as the Duke, but it handles more sharply than the streetfighter.

2023 Royal Enfield Scram

Photo:  Royal Enfield
Photo: Royal Enfield
  • Starting at $5,099 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

Royal Enfield is a mystery to me. I get the charm of an old-looking bike, but not so much the charm of a bike that handles like it’s getting a little too old. That was my impression of R-E’s bigger bikes like the Continental GT 650, but if newer models like the Scram 411 (for 411cc) have managed to feel less stiff, then I’m all in on the nostalgia. The Scram also strikes me as a good bike to take flat-tracking with proper tires. Scramblers are kind of trite and stale, but the Scram 411 looks fresh to me. I’d take this version of the Himalayan over the original.

2023 Royal Enfield Meteor 350

Photo:  Royal Enfield
Photo: Royal Enfield
  • Starting at $4,699 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

The Royal-Enfield Meteor 350 is another of the company’s latest, and it’s somewhere between a cruiser and a standard. It seems immensely practical and even comfortable enough to spend hours in the saddle. There aren’t many retro naked bikes I’d have the heart to ruin by adding a windscreen, but the Meteor 350 looks awesome with one. A little wind protection and that friendly 349cc single-cylinder are likely all you need to spend a full day on two-wheels.

2023 BMW G 310 R

Photo:  BMW
Photo: BMW
  • Starting at $4,995 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

Before BMW enlisted the help of TVS in India, the Bavarian bike maker was conspicuously absent from the beginner bike market. The BMW 310s changed all that, but for those who are vertically challenged like me, or those who are just starting out, the G 310 GS can be a bit much. The G 310 R on, the other hand, feels like a great compromise between a small bike and a bigger, more capable motorcycle. BMW did a good job dialing in the 313cc engine so it feels approachable and gradually builds speed, but is still plenty fast. It’s a good fit even on Texas highways, where everyone speeds and follows way too closely.

2023 BMW G 310 GS

Image:  BMW
Image: BMW
  • Starting at $5,695 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

If a legendary GS is what you’ve always wanted and you’re a new rider, look elsewhere. The BMW G 310 GS has little in common with any other GS in the Motorrad stable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good bike. It just means that the “GS” badge gives the wrong impression of the G 310 GS. As a taller bike, the GS has greater suspension travel than the G 310 R but is better suited to roads that have been badly maintained than actual trails. Like the “ADV” bikes from Honda, Kawasaki and KTM, however, the BMW G 310 GS is a great commuter.

2023 Husqvarna Vitpilen 401

Photo:  Husqvarna
Photo: Husqvarna
  • Starting at $5,649 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

Since Husqvarna is currently owned by KTM, the Vitpilen and Svartpilen — or white and black arrow, respectively — are powered by the same 373cc single-cylinder engine as the KTM bikes mentioned above. But the Husqvarna twins have some of the best design of any modern bike, regardless of displacement. The bike’s saddle is about 33 inches tall, so some new riders might be unable to place both feet flat and firm at stoplights, but at least it’s light at 340 pounds.

2023 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401

Photo:  Husqvarna
Photo: Husqvarna
  • Starting at $5,649 (excluding dealer prep, delivery)

The Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 is much like the Vitpilen 401, but the black arrow is styled as a scrambler more than a modern café racer. The changes are small but meaningful, adding up to a bike with knobby tires relative to its stablemate, and hinting at a vague off-road vibe. It’s no dual-sport, but it is a fine bike to introduce riders to the sport of motorcycling. Both bikes borrow their looks from the past but boast new tech like a slipper clutch, ABS and traction modes.

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