Congratulations on getting your motorcycle license! This is a big event—for anyone, but here we’re addressing women riders in particular—and the adventure continues with choosing your first motorcycle as you start off on your way to many enjoyable years in the saddle. Choosing that first bike takes time and research, but that’s all part of the fun. With such a variety of motorcycles available, where do you start looking for the best match for your wants and needs? Finding the bike that keeps you in your comfort zone and is suited for you and your riding style is key.
Typically, the most important priority for beginning female riders is being able to touch both feet on the ground while straddling the motorcycle. You want to confidently support your bike when stopped, be able to back it out of parking spaces and maneuver it at slow speeds. For short women, seat height is a big factor, but also realize that some bikes have taller seats that are also narrow and thereby compensate for the higher saddle. Or maybe you’d be more interested in a step-through, twist-and-go scooter, which Honda offers in multiple choices spanning 50cc to 600cc.
The best approach is to spend time at your Honda dealership and sit on a number of motorcycles to see how they fit you. At this stage you may not even know whether you prefer a cruiser over a sportbike, for instance, but when you sit on different bikes to see how the ergonomics (your riding posture on the motorcycle) works for you, you’ll begin developing an idea of what feels right. Sit on the bike, place your hands on the handlebar, reach for the controls and get your feet up on the pegs or footboard. Can you reach and pull in the clutch and brake levers easily? Do your knees/legs bump up against a fairing or part? Is there a windscreen cutting through your line of vision? Do you think the seat will be comfortable enough to spend hours in? And as you contemplate seating comfort, don’t forget to factor in the wind pressure that will be flowing onto your upper torso at higher speeds.
As you work through your decision-making process, look ahead and think realistically about the type of riding you plan to do, the kind of roads you want to ride and how much time you’ll spend in the saddle. Resist the temptation of falling into the fantasy of thinking, “I want a bike that does everything all the time because I want to ride everywhere”—that kind of enthusiasm is lots of fun, but doesn’t always lead to practical decisions! Generally, sportbikes have more aggressive ergonomics, cruisers have more relaxed ergonomics and may be easier to attach luggage to, tourers have greater comfort and saddlebags for stowing, and adventure bikes have taller seats and are more versatile but lack full wind protection at highway speeds. Read reviews in magazines and online, join forums and talk to your Honda dealer. Talk to other riders because their experiences can help point you toward the right bike for you—if your Honda dealership has a rider’s club, that’s a great way to meet experienced riders who will be more than happy to lend assistance.
In general, it’s better to start out riding a smaller-displacement bike and work your way up, rather than struggling with a bike that’s out of your league. Such an overambitious choice may zap your confidence and dull the joy of riding. So choose a bike that’s well suited for both your body build and level of experience. Obviously, a petite 5-foot woman is going to have a different opinion of the ideal first bike than a 6-foot woman with some meat on her bones. Lightweight, smaller bikes are easier to maneuver and will build up skill and confidence.
The beginner-friendly 125cc Grom, Rebel CMX250C and CBR250R are excellent, affordable choices to hone skills and gain experience. The Grom starts at $2999, while the 250s feature MSRPs just over $4000. The new Grom has yet to be rated, but the Rebel and CBR250R boast test MPGs of 84 and 77, respectively—they’re all truly transportation bargains and also loads of fun! (Honda's fuel economy estimates are based on EPA exhaust emission measurement test procedures and are intended for comparison purposes only. Your actual mileage will vary depending on how you ride, how you maintain your vehicle, weather, road conditions, tire pressure, installation of accessories, cargo, rider and passenger weight, and other factors.) The sporty single-cylinder CBR250R has more horsepower, a higher seat and weighs more at 357 pounds, while the parallel-twin Rebel cruiser’s 26.6-inch seat will have most women confidently straddling a bike flat-footed at stops. Both bikes are powerful enough for highway speeds and have enough acceleration for dealing with traffic. The CBR250R comes in a version with ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), technology that’s especially valuable for beginning riders who may be more likely to grab a big handful of brake during a rapid stop. If you’re thinking you want to keep your adventure going when the pavement ends, the versatile dual-sport CRF250L at $4499 has a test MPG of 73, although it does have a higher seat in keeping with off-road motorcycle performance parameters.
If you’re shopping for a bike with more performance than a 250cc, take a look at Honda’s trio of parallel-twin CB500s priced at under $6000. These bikes, which weigh in the low 400s, are offered in models that include naked, sport and adventure-style versions. Seat height moves up to 30.9 inches (the adventure model is 1 inch taller) but because they feature a slim seat on a slim bike, these models also should be a good alternative for shorter riders to check out.
Bump it up 200cc and Honda’s CTX700 line has riders nestled into a low 28.3-inch seat on a good all-around bike that is particularly appropriate for beginner riders when equipped with the optional fully automatic Dual-Clutch Transmission and ABS. The CTX has a compact engine with a super-low center of gravity, and a relaxed riding position with forward-set controls and footpegs. While these bikes also are offered with a manual six-speed, the DCT version is a huge plus for newbies, as it lets the bike do the shifting for you unless you select the “paddle shifter” function that allows you to shift gears with the press of a handlebar-mounted button—sans manual clutch manipulation. The DCT allows riders to focus more on riding and less on the simultaneous manipulation of various controls, which can be a true blessing. Along those lines of thought, as you progress in your riding capabilities, Honda offers several bikes in choices of manual or DCT automatic transmissions ranging from 700cc to 1200cc.
Many women gravitate toward cruisers not only because of their stylish looks, but also because they feature low seats. The 750cc Shadow line of bikes are excellent alternatives for those who want a cruiser with a low seat height, as they range from 25.7 to 29.4 inches in saddle height. The Shadows are also good choices because of the way mass is distributed down low and their abundant low-end torque simplifies riding away from stops.
Here are a few more tips: A bike with adjustable suspension allows you to set it up to work for your weight and riding conditions. Compare the test MPGs of the bikes you’re interested in if getting a more fuel-efficient bike is especially important to you, and check into insurance rates before purchasing the bike. Buying used has its advantages such as a lower price tag, while buying new means it’s all yours, and you’ll also get a warranty for peace of mind. Your Honda dealership is a great place to shop, as it can offer attractive financing packages whether you buy new or used.
With so many choices and styles available, choosing your first bike can seem a bit daunting. But just relax and have fun during this stage of your adventure—you’ll find the right motorcycle for you. To each her own; it’s about what works for you.
Cheers! Here’s to many happy and safe miles in the saddle.