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A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thinking Small

I started with one of these, a 60cc Yamaha
I've heard long time riders express concern about a dearth of new riders entering the sport of motorcycling.  I believe that one of the things that's become a limiting factor for new riders, especially women riders, entering the sport is the notion that people should start on a 250cc machine that weighs almost as much as the long ago Triumph 500 weighed. 

Too often new riders are told their first bike should be at least 500cc or 650cc.  To an experienced rider a 350lb - 500lb machine is nothing, to a new rider it's darned heavy and awkward, a choice that intimidates and makes it more difficult to develop the instinctive reactions needed to survive on the street.  Experienced riders have long forgotten how confusing it can be to coordinate clutch, brake, throttle, and seat position in an endless number of riding scenarios.  Adding too much weight and too much horsepower to the equation only makes it more intimidating and difficult, if not more dangerous.

Long ago many of us started on cheap 50cc or 100cc machines and developed a skill set that wasn't tied to lots of weight and horsepower.  As our skills grew, the size and performance of the bikes grew and we were more amenable to the higher costs.
My second bike. To me it was big.

"Don't buy a 250cc machine, you'll be bored with it in 6 months."

Our "bigger is better" attitude is holding people back because faced with the idea they might be bored with a major purchase within 6 months or spending even more on a bigger, more intimidating machine they opt to not enter the sport at all.   Telling them they must also have another $500 - $1000 in bizarrely colored, special riding gear adds to the idea that motorcycling is just too expensive when they are still uncertain whether or not the sport is for them.

The perceived bar to entry has been raised by the people within the sport and I believe it's keeping people out of the sport.

image via Honda.

I contend that the sport would be better off if we'd get back to starting people on 100cc motorcycles and letting them grow from there -- except that the bike companies no longer sell such machines in the USA (save as dirt bikes for kids).  100cc machines are fast enough, easier to handle, and less intimidating for many new riders for whom motorcycling is still quite an adventurous and "crazy" thing.  There are still lots of small displacement scooters being sold, why not small displacement bikes?  Bigger is not always better.  Starting small is a better, more logical way to get into the sport of motorcycling.  Back in the days of "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" it got millions of people started including me.


Unknown said...


Up here, I see the problem more of non enforcement of the speed limits which make small displacement bikes unsafe. Plus the licensing which should follow the UK formula of 125cc max for 2 years, on a graduated system. After 125cc you retest and then you move up to 33 BHP max for another 2 years.

back then (60's) a 305cc Honda Dream was considered a big bike. My friend had a Suzuki X-6 Hustler 2-stroke and it would fly, if it had wings

Riding the Wet Coast
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Geoff James said...

I hear where you're coming from - I did the same as you. There are plenty of lightweight bikes with reasonable performance but they're not well-advertised for whatever reason.

I know some countries such as the US permit inexperienced riders to purchase heavy high performance machine which I'm sure contributes to accident statistics. In NZ and Australia, new riders are restricted in what they ride with a power to weight ratio formula and an approved list of motorcycles which meet that criteria. Hopefully, this is a positive move to curb accidents but give a wide choice to would-be riders.

Trobairitz said...

I agree we need more smaller displacement bikes. It was hard as a new rider as there weren't many options especially for one like me with longer legs that didn't want forward controls and the salesmen always tried to sell me a bigger bike. I had a salesman at a Harley shop in Portland tell me the XR1200 was mild enough for me after I told him I was a beginner.

It is nice that Honda has come out with a few new 500cc motorcycles for 2013 and that Kawasaki has the Ninja 300cc now. Will be hard to find anything much under a 250 cc except of a dirt bike in these parts.

I was happy with my Suzuki TU250 as a learner bike and still miss it at times but I love the v-twin power of my Gladius. Makes highway riding and riding through the mountains so much easier.

The City Mouse in the Country said...

I actually think that one of the reasons scooters are so popular now (other than the gas savings) is because of the lower cc's. Although personally I think 50cc scooters are more dangerous than many of the bigger bikes.

I started off on a 125 Yamaha Zuma. Moved up to a 400 cc Burgman. My next bike will probably be in the 650 range if not a little higher. For me this gradual stepping up just makes sense, plus I see no need for 1200 cc when all I'm doing is commuting and weekend rides.

I am also seeing more automatic bikes out there, which I know are anathema to a lot of you old guys. So is the industry dying? Depends on your point of view.

WooleyBugger said...

Okay Doug, let me say this, I agree with you in the department of safety gear, perhaps, there are affordable options but don't skimp on a helmet. Folks can find very affordable gear on places like Craigslist for jackets and pants and on-line now. But a helmet needs to be bought in person and not on line.
On the subject of smaller bikes, to co horts and I have been talking this over for three years or so ourselves. One of my partners in business ventures has been searching out smaller displacement bikes at his billystwowheeledmusings site and we have been trying in vain to open a shop to sell them. The Suzuki and Honda rebels make sound first bikes, seating is low, easy to control, cheap to repair and very forgiving little dependable lightweight machines and actually fun to ride even if you have a larger bike.
had one friend ride from his Las Vegas home to North Carolina and back again on his Rebel. Another rode with us on larger bikes on a three day trip and had no problems keeping up at 70mph at times. Contrary to popular folklore you can tour on a smaller bike.
I suggest a new rider first learn riding in the dirt on a small dirt bike - not a racer. Easier on the drive train, falls are far more forgiving, no insurance or license to worry about and lots less parts to break. What all new riders need is simply seat time on the dirt before even thinking about moving to the street. I'll close by saying I've known a few first timers who went out and bought high powered and weighty bikes only to crash them in less than a months time. Who would think of putting a new race driver in a Nitro methane powered funny car for a first ride? So why do these riders think a first bike should be 500cc or larger? Peer pressure and embarrasment factors I should think. I always tell new riders to to ride your own comfort level even when jeered on by others, because in the case of a crash it's your ass hitting the pavement and not theirs.

Anonymous said...

Hey Doug,

Although one of my bikes is an 800 pound pig, I still find it great fun to run up and down the gears on my TW200.


Dar said...

I started out on a small 50cc scooter and went onto taking an MSF course and I can remember the first time I rode a course bike, it was a Honda 150 and to me it felt huge! It was heavy and awkward because I wasn't used to the weight. Venture forward a year almost two years and I am riding a 1985 500cc Honda Shadow and can't ever see myself getting onto anything bigger, it is perfect for me and at times the weight of it still can be cumbersome.

There wasn't much to choose from on the market and found being only 5'3" that everything was to tall and too top heavy. I think the bike manufacturers need to rethink the whole bigger is better mentality, in my opinion its not better and limits the choice of new riders. I also think graduated licensing would be the way to go for new riders and that 50cc scooters also need to fall under licensing restriction as a motorcycle and that some training is required to ride them.

I am a firm believer that a rider needs to master their skills and become proficient. I don't think hopping on a huge bike allows a rider to do this, if it is too heavy and too powerful you spend more time being afraid of the darn thing than enjoying the ride.

The City Mouse in the Country said...

Interesting enough your call seems to be answered. Suzuki is putting out several different models and styles of bike under 400cc in the 2013 model year.

Jac Brown said...


Great topic. I agree totally. I see a lot of people on expensive and powerful bikes. In general, while riding with them, they seem uncomfortable, uncoordinated, and incapable of using the bikes performance.

Maybe we will see more options at higher gas prices. For me, I would love to see full size frame bikes with small engines. My first bike was a used 30ish HP standard. The only problem was that I had to sit so far back on the small frame that the front wheel became very light at highway speed. Little engine, shouldn't mean small frame bikes alone.


Gary France said...

Me too Doug. My motorcycling started on a 90cc Honda and I have never regretted it. With much to learn, those new to biking need to concentrate on cornering, braking, road position, road surfaces, gears, and 101 other things.

Adding the complication of needing to control a heavy bike is, well, just not sensible.

My bike sizes got progressively bigger as my ability grew. 90cc, 350cc, 750cc suited me just fine.

Greybeard said...

Agreed, to a point.
My first two-wheeler was a Sears-Allstate/Cushman with a centrifugal clutch... top speed of 35.
I was bored with it in six months. Sold it a year later and bought a 250cc Harley Sprint. That bike was fast enough to exceed the speed limit on the Interstate, an important point for a bike today.

They had several Suzuki Rebels at the MSF course I took. Those bikes reminded me some of my old Sprint.
Honda makes a similar bike.
I recommend 'em.

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