Want a Superbike?

First things first – before you buy a bike
Before you buy a motorcycle, you need to buy some gear, and you need to take a Basic Rider Course. The BRC will teach you the basics of riding a bike on the road. It’s not terribly expensive, it’s not hard, and it will give you a huge advantage when you start riding on your own. Plus, you prove that you are a more mature person than those ignoring this. To find a course near you, visit our Training page.

As far as gear is concerned, at the very minimum, you need to buy a HELMET, JACKET, GLOVES, and BOOTS. Any time you are on the bike you should have all of that stuff on. Every time. Riding a motorcycle is DANGEROUS, there is always a risk of an accident, even if you do nothing wrong.

Protect yourself!
You don’t need to spend a lot, but you will probably spend close to R4000 on decent stuff. Make sure the helmet is DOT-, ECE- or Snell-certified, and everything you buy is motorcycle-specific. You should also really get some kind of leg protection – jeans last about two seconds while sliding across asphalt at 60 km/h. Consider upgrading to Kevlar or Ballistic Nylon Jeans at least.

Okay, so what bike is good for a beginner?
The best rule of thumb for a starter bike is this: Two or fewer cylinders, 500cc or less. Any bike that follows those guidelines will be an excellent starter bike. But perhaps a list would be more helpful.

The most common beginner sportbikes are, in no particular order: Kawasaki Ninja 250/300, Honda CBR 250/300/500, Suzuki GS500 etc. There are others, but these are by far the easiest to find and the most reliable. Each bike has its pros and cons, so do some research and find out what fits for you and your budget.

Unless you have money to burn, buy a used bike. Two reasons for this: 1) Used beginner bikes hold their value very well, so you’ll be able to sell it in a year or so for very close to the price you paid for it. 2) You will probably drop your first bike. It might be at 30km/h, it might be at 5, it might be stopped at a light, but it’s probably going to happen, and when it does you’re going to feel awful about scratching and denting a brand new bike you’re still making payments on. Buy a used bike, and it’s probably got a few scuffs already, so you can pick it back up and move on.

What’s the rush anyway? Oh, your friend/s have big bikes, and you don’t want to look like little boy. Stop! Think!

Going for your Motorcycle Test on this smaller bike will be easier than doing it on a bike as big as your ego. Only 3 to 4 months to gain positive non-manipulative experience, get more training and then upgrade once you have your full license.

I wanna start on a CBR600RR/ZX6R/GSX-R600/YZF R6/etc. Inline-4 Super Sport!
Don’t. Just don’t. Don’t even think about it. These bikes are little more than race bikes with lights, designed to instantly and unforgivingly respond to whatever input they get from the rider. These bikes do not tolerate mistakes, and as a new rider YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES!

It’s not simply a matter of speed or horsepower. It’s about your ego!

  1. Four-cylinder motorcycle engines make huge amounts of power by revving to very high RPMs, and this means they have a very peaky power-band. Twins have linear power delivery, meaning you get the same sort of response from the engine at 3500 RPM and 8000 RPM. They are very sluggish at low RPM but extremely powerful at high RPM, meaning the engine’s response to more throttle will be wildly different in different situations.
  1. Throttle response is very twitchy, due to a number of design features like lightweight flywheels and how the throttle itself is built. Supersport motors rev extremely fast and respond more quickly to changes in throttle position. Meaning if you hit a bump that upsets your right hand you’ll get a huge burst of power, or if you use too much throttle on a downshift and let go of the clutch lever you’ll do an unintentional, uncontrolled wheelie in the middle of traffic. Grow wings and bye-bye!
  1. Riding position on these bikes is extreme. On the track you want to be tucked down and forward, so the grips are set low and forward–so it’s hard to ride at street-legal speeds without leaning on the grips, which is not only hard on the wrists, it makes fine control inputs difficult. There’s a reason dirt bikers sit upright and have high, wide handlebars–they don’t need to tuck down against 150km/h headwinds, or crawl over the tank and hang half off the bike to one side at full lean, so they set up their bikes for best control.
  1. The brakes are extremely strong. More than strong enough to either flip the bike or lock up either wheel and make you crash.

Putting all these elements on one motorcycle and putting that bike underneath a new rider is a recipe for disaster. A new motorcyclist DOES NOT KNOW WHAT HE’S DOING and needs to learn on a bike that will put up with the errors of inexperience. At your level, you have not gained enough experience to manipulate a motorcycle effectively; a smaller bike will give you that time. Additionally, insurance on these bikes is much more expensive than on proper starter bikes; especially if you only ride with a Learner License.

Note that older 600’s are not any better for a beginner. Bikes like and early CBR 600F4’s, early 2000’s GSX-R’s and ZX-6’s may not be quite as powerful as the brand new stuff, but they all share the same design features that make Super Sports bad for beginners. Any bike that was a top-of-the-line sport bike should be avoided; like the hand-me-downs from family or friends.

But maybe you’re still not convinced, and you’ve got some other reason to start on a Super Sport.

My friend started on a 600 (or even a 1000) and he’s still alive!
The purpose of your first motorcycle is not ‘survival,’ it’s learning to be a skilled, capable rider. It’s idiotic to say that starting on a Super Sport guarantees your impending doom. But it makes the risk of an accident monstrously higher, and even if you don’t wreck you’re going to be awful at riding. A skilled rider on a 250cc will easily outpace a bad rider on a 600cc on a twisty road, because it’s so difficult to learn properly when you’re concentrating on ‘survival.’ No successful motorcycle racer in the world started riding on a 600cc-class race bike.

But those smaller bikes aren’t as cool or as pretty or my buddies will make fun of me if I don’t start on a 600
If appearances are the reason you want to buy a Super Sport, you need to seriously ask yourself why you want to start such a dangerous, expensive hobby in the first place. If you want to ride because it looks fun, because it’s a unique and exhilarating experience, you need to be willing to put off your dream bike for a while. It’s a tad cliché, but it’s true: your first bike is not your last.

If you want a bike because you want to look cool or impress people, then it doesn’t really matter what I say, does it? Going fast in a straight line takes no skill, and cruising past the mall in a wife beater and sandals takes even less. Hopefully you’ll get bored and sell your bike before you end up in a situation you’re not prepared for and wind up dead.

I was told if you have self-control with the throttle, you won’t crash
Whoever told you that is a moron. This is usually a justification for starting on a big bike or even for not wearing gear. I’ve already explained why Super Sports are bad for beginners and why horsepower isn’t the only reason; and the fact is that even the most perfect rider in the world is always at risk of an accident. Traffic is almost as likely to cause a wreck as the rider is. All it takes is someone driving an SUV to not notice your presence for two seconds, and all of a sudden you’re off your bike. Maybe they didn’t look carefully enough when pulling out from a stop sign, or maybe they were too busy on their cell phone to see you before they merged. Rider vigilance will go a long way towards avoiding a wreck with a “cager” (car driver), but it’s not a guarantee. Wear all your gear, all the time.

How about a 1000cc Twin?
The linear power-band of a twin is great for a beginner, but the bigger twins make huge amounts of torque. The big 1000cc twin trade top-end power for enough low-rev grunt to get a new rider in serious trouble; power wheelies in second gear kind of trouble. They also share similar suspension geometry and brakes with their 4-cylinder cousins. All said a 1000cc twin is just as bad as a 600cc IL4 to start out on.

But I don’t want to have to sell my first bike in a year when I get bored
1) Motorcycling is not something you do for convenience. You have no cargo room, you get wet if it rains, you’ve got to carry a helmet around with you, you get hot and you get cold. Why is the mild inconvenience of dealing with a vehicle sale such a concern? 2) You really shouldn’t get bored. Many riders who’ve been riding for years and years buy Ninja 250s for the sheer simplicity and easy handling, or commute on 650cc twins because they’re so much fun in everyday traffic. These people are more than qualified to be riding around on brand-new 1000cc but they choose not to. They probably know a few things that you don’t. 3) Again, your first bike is not your last. Be patient.

I’m a big and/or tall dude; these smaller bikes aren’t powerful enough to cart me around
Unless you weigh at least 120kg, it just doesn’t matter. A Ninja 250 can hit 140 km/h easily with a 120kg rider, and it has two seats, for crying out loud! If one of the smallest motorcycles available can do highway speeds with two human beings on-board, using your weight to justify a 600cc bike is just bull poop.

Height is a different matter. From personal experience I can say that legroom on the new 250R is rather cramped if you’re taller than 6’2″. Be sure to at least sit on the bike before you buy it. If you’re on the tall side, look for a naked road bike, or you could look for a dual-sport/super-moto, basically a road-legal dirt bike. In any case, full-on Super Sport will be less comfortable, because of the position of the seat, handlebars, and foot-pegs.

I drive a fast car, so I can handle a fast bike
This is probably the worst argument for anything ever. Driving and riding are nothing alike. You’re really reaching for excuses now, aren’t you? Put your ego aside and come back down from that tree before you hurt yourself.

I’ve read this whole thing but I still think I can start on a 600, I’m careful/special/responsible/awesome enough to be okay
There comes a point in conversations with wannabe riders, especially on the Internet, when it becomes apparent that the guy only wants to be told what he wants to hear. He’s already made up his mind, and the only reason he’s asking is to hear people tell him “yeah, go ahead!” Any advice to the contrary just gets ignored. I don’t know of anything else to tell you. Starting on a race bike is not a good idea, but in this country at least you have the right to purchase whatever motorcycle you like.

If you’re lucky, you won’t crash. If you’re not lucky, you could be seriously injured or killed. You’ve come asking the advice of those with much more experience than you have; ignore it at your risk.

Hein Jonker

Founder of the Motorcycle Safety Institute of South Africa Editor in Chief of Bike Talk South Africa Chief Instructor of Bike Talk Motorcycle Rider Academy Motorcycle Safety & Skills Expert for Arrive Alive South Africa

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