Asking that question is a lot like beating a dead horse and having worms pop out of said horse’s dead carcass isn’t it? We’ve read arguments on all sides about whether starting on a 600cc sport bike is a good idea. On the face of it, the lowest common denominator answer is a resounding NO. But what if we’re not talking lowest common denominator, is the answer still a no? Before we go any further, let us preface this by saying that this is merely our opinion and that should you read this article, go out and buy a 600cc sport bike as your first bike then promptly smash it to smithereens, it’s not our fault.
With the disclaimer out of the way, I will say that there are people who do not need to go with a 250cc or lower displacement bike as their first. We’ll take a look at three people I know personally and look at their backgrounds and how well they’ve adapted to riding a motorcycle. All names have been changed to protect those who do not wish to be named.
Jack has been riding motorcycles for close to 10 years now. He’s one of the faster ones I’ve encountered and have learned much from him. We actually met through cars in our 20’s and have been friends ever since. With a natural ability to control a car, making the leap to the motorcycle wasn’t too difficult. After all, the basics were the same. Clutch, shifter and gas. The only thing that really changes is the positions of these items. He started out riding a 750cc standard bike. So no aggressive body position but definitely sporty enough to get out to the twisty’s on the weekend. I know you’re thinking, “but that’s not a sport bike!” It’s not but its also a 750cc inline four with enough power to put a newbie into a fence like nobody’s business. Jack’s background included a bit of dirt bike riding as a child but nothing that would carry over so many years later. So how hard was it for him to learn on this 750cc bike? Not hard at all. Jack led a life much like other kids growing up in the 90’s. Running around outside, riding bicycles and unbeknownst to them, working on their ability to balance two wheels and multitask. After all, what fun is riding bikes around the neighborhood if you can’t talk shit to your buddies or to tell them to watch your dank wheelies? Jack wouldn’t have an issue starting on a 600cc sport bike but opted for the 750cc standard so he could commute on it. He currently rides a 1000cc Italian super sport.
Next we have Jimmy. Jimmy here (not pictured) is my cousin and we shared a lot of time together as kids riding bicycles around the block and just getting into shenanigans. Remember, this was pre-internet so we weren’t glued to our computers or cellphones. After we hit our teens my family moved and we grew apart. Not too long ago he found me on Facebook because he noticed some motorcycle pics on my profile. Sure enough he picked up a 2015 Kawasaki Ninja 300 ABS and wanted to hit some roads together. After my initial ride with Jimmy, I noticed immediately that he was a very dangerous rider to be around. Once he climbed into the saddle, the world around him disappeared except for anything in front of him. Even in front of him he was only able to focus on one thing at a time. He’d pass the gas station we picked to meet at because he wasn’t aware of his surroundings, on multiple occasions. Zero situational awareness. I felt that Jimmy shouldn’t be on a motorcycle period but hey we all have to start somewhere right? Well unfortunately, Jimmy low sided and although the damage to his bike wasn’t severe I think it hurt his ego and it definitely hurt our relationship—as I have yet to hear from him since the accident. Jimmy is the type of person who although is comfortable around mechanical vehicles didn’t possess the multitasking ability. Thinking back to our times as a kid, I remember he was always trying to catch us and didn’t talk much until we stopped. Who knew some things really don’t change? Jimmy would’ve probably been better served with starting on a Honda Grom. I’m not saying this as an insult–what I wouldn’t give for a Grom too! If he did, he would probably would’ve developed the characteristic he lacked to improve. He probably would have upgraded to a Ninja 300 by now and more importantly still be riding.
And now to the last person. Me, Dave! My first bike was a 2003 Honda Shadow VLX600. A cruiser of all things! In my mind I wanted to cruise and customize, the sport riding aspect of the motorcycle realm was something I wasn’t interested in. At the time I truly believed it. Before this motorcycle, my only experience on a motorcycle was laying down my coworkers Yamaha YZF-R6 in a parking lot five years before. Ouch! Yeah it was terrible, embarrassing and I didn’t even move two feet before it went down. To make matters more interesting, when I purchased my Honda, I didn’t have my motorcycle license, nor had I taken any beginners/MSF course! It was a screaming deal and the seller happened to live three blocks from my uncles house. I idled it in first gear to his house, parked it in the backyard and picked it up in the wee hours of the morning so that I didn’t have to worry about traffic. Remember, I had no idea what the hell I was doing. The incident with my coworkers R6 was a distant memory and in the time between I learned the basics of how to operate a motorcycle—at least on paper. Clutch in, down one, slowly release clutch while adding gas up on the shift lever to switch gears. I chanted this the whole time home. With my brother following me, I managed to get the thing home and taught myself how to ride a motorcycle in the process. Boy was I lucky. After that bike I got a Harley Davidson Sportster, then finally made the jump to a sporty bike, a 2014 Ducati Hypermotard. Do I wish I started on a 250cc in hindsight? Not at all. I actually outgrew the Honda Shadow within six months. The Sportster was better in terms of power since it was a 1000cc, the problem was it was kick-start only and hardly ever ran. Ha!
So the common thread among the three examples we looked at is 1) comfort with mechanical objects, 2) comfort with how they function and 3) multitasking skills. If you possess these three characteristics you can probably start on a 600cc sport bike. I say probably because there’s one more facet to this and that’s being honest with yourself. I know this sounds cheesy and cliché but it’s also true. In the deepest part of your mind, that part of the mind where you don’t let anyone into, lies the answer to the question on whether or not you can start on a 600cc sport bike. Or heck even a 1000cc bike. But if you’re like my cousin Jimmy, then you need to be honest with yourself. This sport is an inherently dangerous one so being true with yourself can mean the difference between life and death. If you check off all those boxes, know that you will need to be extra diligent while learning to not let the bike mask any bad habits you may form from learning on a 600cc sport bike. Just because you can doesn’t mean it won’t be a lot of work to get good at doing it. Some of the “old timers” I have had the pleasure of talking with still say they are a student of the sport and still learning.
Luckily today, the standard/naked motorcycle segment seems to be catching fire. With so many 600cc and below sporty, up right bikes, getting onto a 600cc bike is a lot less intimidating. Most have electronic rider aids like ABS and traction control and different throttle modes that modify how the power is delivered to the rear wheels. All tools a beginner rider should take advantage of. If you’re like most people and just want to hop on a bike to ride around on, be seen on and say you ride a motorcycle, the thought of working up to a 600cc sport bike may seem like an unnecessary and costly step. If you are equipped with the characteristics I’ve spoken about then you could probably go straight to a 600. If you’re a person who’s looking to excel at sport riding, then our recommendation is to start by building a strong foundation. Start out on a 300cc sport bike like the Kawasaki Ninja or KTM RC390. On larger tracks, the straights will probably get boring, but with the lower power on those smaller displacement bikes, you won’t be able to fake it with bad body positioning.
Did this article do anything to sway anyone from either camp? Probably not, but hopefully we provided something to think about and that even though we’re advocating the skip to 600cc’s, the connotations still point to starting on a small bike. Besides is there a better feeling than punking large displacement bikes with a “beginners” bike?