Choosing your first bike is exciting, you may know exactly what you want, but you may also not have the first idea what your first ride should be.
With so many amazing models, brands and styles to choose from, how do you make sure you’re picking the right one when it comes to your first bike?
We know how important it is that you start off on the right bike, it can either fuel your passion or very quickly extinguish it, so we’ve put together a guide that should help you pick your perfect partner and keep that love burning.
Types of bike
We think this is the best place to start. You want to figure which style of bike would suit you best, then you can move onto the fun stuff like choosing the brand, model or colour; it’ll be much easier to narrow things down, meaning your decision will be that much simpler!
Mopeds and scooters
Moped and scooters differ slightly, as in they are designed for different ways of getting around - mopeds are more suited for low speeds, whereas scooters are best used around town as they provide lots of storage, as well as pillion provision.
They can vary from small urban commuters to sports scooters and you can even get maxi scooters that are capable of touring. The smaller capacity models won’t be full of power, because they just don’t need it, so you can find plenty of inexpensive models, but saying that there are some pretty powerful scooters out there!
Standard, roadsters, naked bikes
These bikes are much more versatile and built for general-purpose, although you shouldn’t take them off-road – they’re not that versatile! But as long as you’re sticking to the tarmac, and you’re after something a little more than a scooter, these are excellent bikes for beginners, and an extremely popular choice for commuters.
Designed to be the jack-of-all-trades, adventure bikes can be taken off-road and are often known as dual purpose, dual-sport, ADV (short for ADVenture) and on/off road bikes. They offer good luggage options and have a higher seat height than normal to accommodate off-road use. They can be expensive compared to other styles, but because of their on/off road capabilities could potentially avoid the need for two bikes.
Sports bikes are aerodynamic, very light, very powerful and designed for speed rather than practicality resulting in a less comfortable riding position, minimum pillion provision and storage and typically higher insurance.
The potential power and insurance costs mean that sports bikes are not often recommended for new riders, but there are plenty of models to choose from if you have your heart set on one.
A bike with a very specific use. Often not road-legal and only built for competition use, these are very light and designed for dirt tracks. Other than adventure bikes, there’s no substitute for an off-road bike.
Perfect for those looking to sit back (literally) and enjoy the ride. Designed for long trips, touring bikes sacrifice the sort of aggression and aerodynamics found in a sports bike and instead, exchange it for comfort and practicality. You’ll enjoy a large luggage capacity (if you choose to have boxes attached), as well as great pillion provision. Tourers also tend to be loaded with gadgets for rider convenience. The downside is that they are very heavy and expensive, meaning they aren’t often recommended for new riders.
From Triumph to Royal Enfield, there are such a wide variety of unique and stylish designs amongst classic and vintage motorcycles, so you’ll truly be spoilt for choice. These types of bikes are owned for the sheer pleasure of owning them, you’ll need to be sure you enjoy that pleasure because due to their age, they can be more prone to mechanical failure and can require more maintenance. Parts can be both hard to find and expensive, but that being said, if a bike is more than 40 years old, it’s exempt from the need for MOTs or tax - so that’s a bonus!
Offering a relaxed riding position and low seat, cruisers are meant for looking good at lower speeds. And passengers don’t need to be excluded; you’ll find some maintain their style while offering a large dual seat with backrest. The low seats mean they can be good for shorter riders, but they tend to be heavier than other bikes.
Test ride your motorcycle
If you already have your licence or CBT, and the option is there, it’s worth asking to take the bike for a test ride and, if possible, we’d recommend taking someone with you who has a good knowledge of bikes.
When taking a bike for a test ride, watch out for these warning signs:
- bike pulls to one side or another (hold the bars lightly on a smooth stretch to check)
- doesn’t steer smoothly
- unusual noises or vibrations
It’s also important to check the gears, clutch, and brakes.
If buying used, be sure to inspect the condition of tyres. Scratches and dents suggest drops and potential damage, oil or lubricant stains suggest possible problems with the moving parts.
You might think rust is a cosmetic issue, but it can run deeper than that. British weather means a bike is likely to be exposed to water, dirt, and gritting salt that can lead to rust, and some bikes are more prone to rust than others. So, be sure to check any bare metal parts, the paintwork, suspension arms, frame, mud guards for any sign of rust. Rust in any of these areas could cost you to put right or be a general sign that the bike hasn’t been properly cared for, so just probe a little more if you do spot some.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the bike’s full maintenance history; it can tip you off to potential problems that could either tell you to stay away or help you to haggle on the price!
Finally, remember if you buy from a dealer you should receive a warranty, and these can often be extended by buying an aftermarket warranty.
Insuring your motorcycle
Like it or not, insurance is an integral part of choosing your first motorcycle. After all, you don’t want to buy a fantastic new ride only to discover you can’t afford to insure it!
Insurance companies consider a wide variety of factors, so it’s impossible to say with certainty that a specific bike will cost a lot to insure, but bear these in mind when choosing your bike:
Age (both yours and the bike!)
Many insurers tend to charge higher premiums to young riders or newer bikes, as well as when the ride and the rider don’t have a number of years below their belts. The sweet spot is when both of you have a few miles on you, but not too many. If you’re a young rider and worried about premiums, be sure to get a quote from Lexham - we specialise in policies for you!
Though there are certainly exceptions, generally a powerful engine will be more expensive to insure. But think carefully about what you need before you pick a less powerful engine – don’t lumber yourself with a bike that can’t cater for all your needs.
The bike itself
Is it a desirable bike? This might increase the risk of it being stolen. Are there many others like it on the road? That might make it cheaper and easier to repair. Are you likely to be riding with a passenger? This can potentially increase your premium (but that depends on the insurer). If in doubt, get some quotes ahead of viewing and/or test riding the bike.
There are dozens of factors that insurers consider, so don’t try to think of them all, and don’t let them put you off the bike you want, just be sensible (within reason)! Don’t buy a desirable bike without adequate security, and don’t buy a rare import without being sure you can insure it.
The best thing to do is get a quote online for that bike you have your eye on. Once you have a quote, it will normally last 30 days, so you'll have plenty of time to book your test ride and make sure the bike is for you without having to worry about the insurance.
You can also get in touch with one of our specialists – with decades of experience in scooter and motorcycle insurance, we can help you get affordable cover so you can get the bike you really want!
When you go for your test ride, the seller might be using terms you're not familiar with, don’t worry as with any other community, there's some slang to learn! You’ll pick it up quickly, but we’ve listed some of the more common terms to give you a head start!
- Aftermarket: parts that aren’t made by the original manufacturer
- Fairing: the plastic body parts
- Front end: everything in front of the petrol tank
- Headers: where the exhaust pipes meet the head of the engine
- Kickstand: keeps the bike upright when parked
- Lump: the engine
- Lung: the cylinder
- Muffler: reduces the sound created by the exhaust
- OEM: short for Original Equipment from Manufacturer, which means it was made by the original manufacturer, as opposed to a third party or aftermarket manufacturer
- Pannier: adds luggage space to either side of the bike
- Rear end: the back of the bike, incorporating the swing arm, rear wheel, etc
- Rearsets: typically where the foot pegs are placed on sportsbikes, these are further back and higher, often adjustable, to give greater ground clearance for your feet and a leaner angle
- Rebound: the distance the suspension travels when returning from compression
- Restricted: an engine that has been limited to a certain horsepower to make it eligible for a rider who doesn’t yet hold a full motorcycle licence
- Sump: part of the lubrication system which sits at the bottom of the engine. Check regularly to ensure it isn’t leaking oil into the path of your rear tyre
- Swingarm: attaches the rear wheel to the bike frame
- Top end: the top of the engine
- Yoke/Triple-Clamp: where the handlebars are connected to the top of the front forks
A question of height
If you’re worried about whether you’ll fit on a bike, don’t worry too much as most bikes can be adjusted to accommodate this one way or another, seat height is often less of an issue than you might think. Our own Brett Tinkley stands at a mighty 5’ 6”, but he can sit on a bike with an 840mm seat height with no problems.
And if you’re still worried, take a look at this tool - it takes a few details about your measurements and shows you how you’d fit on a particular type of bike – very useful!
Adjusting your motorcycle
Even if you’re buying your bike new, you may want to adjust it. Ideally, you want to be able to rest both feet flat on the ground while sat on the bike.
On some bikes you can pull out the rubber stops under the seat to lower it slightly or use larger stops to raise it. You can also replace the seat entirely. If you’re a shorter rider, think about narrowing the seat as well as lowering it, for instance some cruisers come with very wide seats.
You can adjust your suspension to alter the comfort of your ride. But only attempt this if you are confident, otherwise ask if your dealership can do this for you. This will also affect the height of the bike itself, so make sure you adjust the side stand too. For more information, take a look at our more in-depth guide to choosing a motorbike for your height and size.
You’ll also have options for aftermarket screens, rearsets (which alter the placement of your feet, often bringing them higher, or relaxing a sport riding position), and handlebars/risers (which can also alter your riding position i.e. higher bars can relax a sports position).
Any adjustments or modifications need to be disclosed to your insurance company though. They won’t all attract a higher premium, but it’s worth talking to them before you make any drastic adjustments.
I hope that’s helped you figure out which kind of bike is right for you, but don’t worry if you still have questions – choosing your first motorcycle is an incredibly personal decision! We’re more than happy to answer any questions you might have or offer any advice if we can. Just leave a comment with your question below or let us know what you think the best starter bike is!