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July 16, 2011 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Have experience with/know about these motorcycles?

I'm going to be taking a motorcycle class soon (using one of their trainer bikes), and have been looking at buying one of the following for my first new-to-me (but definitely used) beginner 250cc bike.

Honda Rebel

Suzuki GZ Marauder

2007 Yamaha Virago

Honda Nighthawk

Does anyone have experience with these bikes? Or can recommend any other similar bikes? I'm looking for cruiser styles only - even if I wanted to ride a sport or, much much later on, a supersport, I have to take a separate class.

I've been reading reviews of course, but of course a fair few seem like they're trying to sell it more than trying to review it.

I'm female, 120 lbs, and plan to mainly ride this into work, with occasional trips into town on the weekends.

posted by DisreputableDog to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
One of the big issues with the petite female riders I know is height - make sure you can safely and comfortably get on/off the bike, and that you can pick it up if you drop it. You don't mention your height but that'd be my first concern.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:43 PM on July 16, 2011

Hah, I just came back when I realized I forgot to add my height. I'm 5'5.
posted by DisreputableDog at 4:49 PM on July 16, 2011

My husband has a Honda Nighthawk. It is pretty big and heavy. I could ride it ok (we won't discuss my crash, which was unrelated to the size of the bike), but it's definitely too heavy for me to move it around easily while off the bike. And getting on and off was a challenge sometimes. I would never be able to pick it up if I dropped it.

But I never took a class. (My husband taught me to ride.) Maybe a professional instructor would have better tips on bike handling that would make dealing with a heavy bike not so difficult. Maybe just wait and see what you instructor has to say about bike size?

Regardless though, you go girl!!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:54 PM on July 16, 2011

I forgot to mention that I'm 5'11".
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:55 PM on July 16, 2011

I believe the Nighthawk is more of a street bike. The seating position will be a bit more forward or upright than the relaxed position on the Rebel. I've only owned Hondas and I would recommend them as great starter bikes for their dependability. But if this was just a beauty contest, the V-Twin engine on the Yamaha Virago would make it the clear winner.
posted by cazoo at 5:23 PM on July 16, 2011

250 Viragos are very popular in Australia, where there are engine capacity restrictions for learners in a lot of States. After the Honda CB250 (Nighthawk where you are) they're the most prevalent small bike in our country and they've got a reputation for being mechanically bombproof, cheap to maintain and friendly to rough handling. If you like the cruiser style or you need a physically lower bke, you could do a lot worse than the Virago.

My State (NSW) has compulsory rider education conducted on CB250s/Nighthawks and I recall that while I didn't have any trouble getting on or off them, many of the smaller people in my class were on the tips of their toes.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:19 PM on July 16, 2011

The Nighthawk is more of a standard, rather than a cruiser. The big difference is that a standard puts your feet under you so you can stand on the pegs. This is useful when you go over bumps or debris in the road. Cruisers put your feet in front of you, which makes standing up difficult or impossible. The Nighthawk is also very low maintenance, as it has hydraulic valves (so no manual valve adjustments).

Have you considered a small-displacement dual sport motorcycle like the Yamaha XT250? I've been riding for 20 years (ye gods!) and I still love my little XT225 (the 250's older brother). I suggest the Yamaha because it has the lowest seat height AND the most ground clearance in its class. At 5'5" you can certainly ride it - I'm 5'6".

Dual sports are robust, low-tech, street-legal bikes that tolerate being dropped (which you will probably do, maybe more than once) with minimal damage. If you live in the country, you can go terrorize gravel roads and trails; if you live in the city you can hop up and down curbs or bang into potholes without damaging anything. Just a thought.
posted by workerant at 6:53 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you looking at the Nighthawk 250 or 750. World of difference there. At 5' 4" I was able to ride the Nighthawk 250 on tiptoe with no problems and found its standard position to be more comfortable than the Rebel's cruiser position even though I could flatfoot it. The Nighthawk 750 was much too tall and heavy for me as a beginner.
posted by JaneL at 8:21 PM on July 16, 2011

Those are all decent choices for a begginer. I would lean toward the nighthawk because it will handle better than the more cruiser-ish choices. The riding position will give you a better weight distribution, improving braking and turning. Maybe also consider a Kawasaki Ninja 250, if you don't mind the style. It will be much more comfortable to ride at 30+mph because of the windscreen.

Good luck! And be vigilant....especially at intersections.
posted by fzx101 at 10:09 PM on July 16, 2011

Oh...and it's unsolicited advice that you've heard before, but set some money aside for good protective gear, helmet, jacket, gloves. It could save your life and skin...enough said.
posted by fzx101 at 10:14 PM on July 16, 2011

The Rebel and 250 Nighthawk are very mature and common motorcycles that date back to the 80s. More or less share the same engine. Very reliable and economical. The Nighthawk is considered more of a standard rather than a cruiser, and may be better suited to a taller person, though not by much. I'm not tall by any standard (about 5'3"), and found the Rebel less comfortable than the 250 Nighthawk. I ended up buying an old CM250, a sort of early 80s pre-Rebel that's near identical to the later 250 Nighthawk.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:13 AM on July 17, 2011

Another suggestion if you're looking for an easy to handle used cruiser might be a Suzuki Savage/S40. They seem to go for about the same as a Rebel. They have a 650 single cylinder engine, but are quite tame for new (and old) riders. They're also relatively light, economical, simple and mature, being around since the 80s and still sold by Suzuki.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:20 AM on July 17, 2011

Will you have the opportunity to try out a few different styles of bikes at your riding school? The school I took a course at provided Rebels, Nighthawks, Ninjas, and Sherpas. I highly recommend trying out at least a couple different kinds of bikes before you decide which one to buy.

I'm 5'3", 110 pounds and I personally find cruisers uncomfortable and awkward to handle. I much prefer to have my feet planted well under me. Like 2N2222, I liked the Nighthawks much better than the Rebels, and once I got comfortable balancing at slow speeds the additional seat height was no problem. Out of the four you've listed, I'd pick the Nighthawk for the reasons workerant listed. I also second workerant's suggestion that you look into dualsports as a possibility.

As for the concern SuperSquirrel raised regarding the ease of moving a bike around when you're not on it, that just comes with practice. I can wrangle my 500 pound, top-heavy beast of an old sport beater better than full grown men with no riding experience (as illustrated by the time my bike broke down and this dude who saw me pushing it along the road gallantly insisted on helping the 'damsel in distress', and promptly dumped it no less than ten seconds after 'rescuing' me).
posted by keep it under cover at 1:18 AM on July 17, 2011

I'm the same height as you (and just a wee bit heavier) and learned on the CB250 (Nighthawk for you; I'm in Australa like Fiasco da Gama).

It was very easy to learn on - I found I could have one foot flat on the ground at the traffic lights while barely leaning it over at all and it was light enough that I managed to save it from falling the couple of times I nearly dropped it.

It was a great little bike, very reliable and economical, and it's easy to service yourself. It struggled a bit at 110 km/h on the highway, but for commuting and running around town it was perfect.

Whatever you choose, have fun! And congrats :)
posted by procrastinator_general at 3:25 AM on July 17, 2011

Nighthawk. The stance of a Rebel is too low and personally I think they look cheesy too. Someone above mentioned a dual sport and I fully agree. They're tough, fun to ride, and so much cooler.
posted by PSB at 6:28 AM on July 17, 2011

Just went to the garage and checked: the Nighthawk I've ridden is a 650. It is definitely too big and heavy for me (a Big Sturdy Girl). One of the issues I forgot to mention is it is too wide for my comfort. I always felt like my legs were sticking out to far, and I would get butt cramps.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:54 AM on July 17, 2011

While I will definitely take the recommendations for the Nighthawk (I'll ask my instructor if I'd have to take the sport bike class for it), previously unknown as a standard, I have to say again: I'm looking for a cruiser only right now. Thanks.
posted by DisreputableDog at 7:55 AM on July 17, 2011

One popular beginner bike that's not on your list is the 500 cc Buell Blast. It's a bike that's in many ways similar to the Ninja 250. The Blast is a tad faster on the start, a bit more stable and comfortable at highway speed, slightly easier to handle in traffic. The Ninja is more nervous at high rev, banks deeper in turns, and has a slightly more aggressive seating position.

Most people sell their beginner bike once they outgrow it. If you keep your Ninja 250, it's because you like to race it down twisties. If you keep your Blast, it's because you're having a good time commuting with it.

Buell Blast vs Ninja 250
posted by gmarceau at 8:59 AM on July 17, 2011

I have a 1986 Nighthawk 450 and a 2000 Nighthawk 750 and I love them. The 450 was my first bike and then I bought the 750 to have a little more power. Make sure you can stand comfortably while on the 250 - I know the 450 is tall enough that it would give you trouble.
posted by bendy at 9:42 PM on July 17, 2011

I used a Nighthawk 250 at motorcycle school. The choke was kind of weird, but it was a fun little bike. I wouldn't want to ride it on the expressway, though.

I ride a Buell Blast now and it is a very easy bike to ride. Powerful enough to take a passenger (the 250s aren't). Very nimble and easy to turn. I've picked it up without problems by myself when I've dumped it (female, 5'6"). Easy to maintain. So I'd second gmarceau. I've had the Blast for 2 years now, and while I occasionally daydream about getting something a little larger for my day trips, around the city, my Blast is about perfect for me.
posted by QIbHom at 11:15 AM on July 18, 2011

So, did you end up getting a bike? If you did, how did you find it to learn on?
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:04 AM on September 21, 2011

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