Later questions to follow about zen.
November 16, 2012 10:55 AM   Subscribe

What commuter motorcycle should I buy? Complications: I'm 5'0" and received my driver's licence motocycle endorsement this week.

I don't think I'd be particularly happy on a Honda Rebel/Suzuki GZ250/V Star 250 – even though they fit my small stature, I wouldn't be too fond of struggling to go up hills in Seattle. Unless that's exactly what I should be buying?

Eventually, my husband has graciously offered to buy me a Ducati Monster 696, which can accommodate my short inseam with some modifications, but for the next year or so I need something with less power than I won't be heartbroken to drop. I'm open to buying both used and new, and obviously, know very little about motorcycles.

I've looked at all the lists that recommend motorcycles for short riders, but still don't know what to get. Help?
posted by halogen to Shopping (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I rode a honda shadow 600 cc VL DLX (or whatever it was called) as a 5'5" person and thought it worked out well -- the seat was low enough that shorter people could certainly ride it. It had enough power for highways (no hills in Chicago). It was light enough it was possible to pick up if dropped.
posted by garlic at 11:02 AM on November 16, 2012

It's been over forty years since I lived in Edinburgh and rode a 250 but it had no trouble at all on hills with my 140 lbs. Unless bikes have got a lot less powerful over the years, I'd expect the bikes you mention to be OK for a beginner.
posted by anadem at 11:09 AM on November 16, 2012

250 is more than fine for hills in town.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:10 AM on November 16, 2012

I second the Honda Shadow 600. I think they stopped making them a few years ago? Not sure about that but they should be available used. It has one of the lowest seat heights around- which was one of the reasons I bought it- and it was fabulous.
posted by shornco at 11:11 AM on November 16, 2012

Another thing that bothers me about the above three motorcycles is that their technology is so incredibly outdated. Carburators? Fuel valves? There has to be something better.
posted by halogen at 11:12 AM on November 16, 2012


Carburators aren't such a bad thing. They are mechanically simple, and do the job. Why do you need injection?
posted by b1tr0t at 11:13 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

outdated technology means easier / cheaper to work on, though it will eventually mean getting parts is more difficult.
posted by garlic at 11:17 AM on November 16, 2012

Consider buying a mildly scratched up bike on craigslist, riding it for a while, then selling it on craigslist for almost as much as your bought it for. If you go this route, choose something popular, like an SV650 or F4i.

I need something with less power
Just so you know, 600cc 4-cylinder sportbikes are incredibly docile wrt to power until you hit something like 12,000 rpm. I'd be far more concerned about the sharp handling than engine power.

A 250cc has plenty of power for hills. It's on the freeway that you'll really notice the lack of power. As a smaller rider, I suppose this will be less of an issue for you.

In conclusion, buy a used SV650.
posted by ryanrs at 11:19 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ninja 250 FPP
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:26 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Buell comes to mind. There was a short time a few years ago where I was interested in riding and sat on a few bikes. I'm 5'4" and the Buell was petite and very comfortable. I don't remember what model it was.
posted by E3 at 12:13 PM on November 16, 2012

You might be thinking of the Buell Blast, which is still frequently used in learn to ride classes. One of its virtues for that use is its low seat height.
posted by tommasz at 12:28 PM on November 16, 2012

Don't look down your nose at the older technology, sometimes it's the most reliable. My Sportster has carbs and it's a great bike (I'm not recommending this for you, but just wanted to put that fear of carbs aside).
posted by HuronBob at 12:31 PM on November 16, 2012

SV650 beater off Craigslist (especially if you plan to buy it now and ride it through the winter). I much prefer twins to 4-bangers, and I'd be especially wary of a 600-4. (Nothing wrong with them, but they stop being docile and get exciting extremely quickly when you get into their powerband. V-twins tend to have good torque down low, and don't come on quite as enthusiastically when you wind 'em out.)

Oh, and congrats on passing MSF! Hope you have a long & enjoyable riding career.
posted by spacewrench at 1:04 PM on November 16, 2012

from the /motorcycles FAQ on reddit: (not an exhaustive list by any means)
Q: What is a good starter bike?

A: The ideal starting bike will inspire confidence in a new rider. Generally this means it will be light, small, slow and ugly. Light bikes are preferable because they allow new riders to prevent a bike from tipping over when they become unbalanced. Should the bike fall, it is desirable for a new rider to be able to pick the bike up on his/her own. New riders tend to feel most confident when they can rest both feet flat on the ground thus smaller bikes with lower seat heights are preferable. Finally, the bike should have a predictable power delivery and should not punish new riders with jerky throttle inputs. Some examples of good starters bikes are listed below:


Suzuki TU-250

Suzuki GS500

Suzuki DRZ-400

Suzuki Bandit 400

Kawasaki ER-6N

Kawasaki Versys

Kawasaki KLR650

Suzuki Gladius

Suzuki SV650

Suzuki V-Strom 650 (DL650)

Honda CB 350/400/750

Triumph Bonneville/Scrambler/Thruxton


Kawasaki Ninja 250R (EX250)

Kawasaki Ninja 500 (EX500)

Kawasaki Ninja 650r (ER6f)

Honda CBR 250R


Honda Rebel 250

Harley Davidson Sportster 883

Yamaha Virago 750
I started on a Sportster. it was an OK starter bike, but a little on the heavy side for a smaller person, i think. My fiancee is starting out on an old Honda CB400T, which is just about perfect; light, and just enough power to be fun, without getting into scary territory. Similar bikes would be a Kawasaki Ninja 500 (EX500) or the Suzuki GS500.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 1:06 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am (depending on which doctor's office I am in) either 5'5" or 5'6" call with a 26/28 inch inseam. The first bike I rode was a Honda Rebel 250. Simple bike, enough power to get around, fairly stable. I then "graduated" to the Honda PC-800 (which continues to be one of my favorite bikes)

Both were sized pretty well for me without modifications. The only modification I am interested in doing is possibly putting a book with a 1 - 2 inch heel on it. I like to be sure of my footing when I put my foot down and NOT have to lean the bike way over to be able to stand over it stably.

I do not recommend this but when I took my class, the instructor that taught it was 5 foot nothing, probably about 130 lbs of muscle. I finally pulled him aside and asked him about what I should get because I was afraid of getting something too tall after all the training we did about how you should be able to stand over your seat. He then went out to his Gold Wing 1200 climbed up on it (I'm sure if he had a step stool, he would have used it) and rocked forward off the center stand and took off. He couldnt have put his feet down on the ground if he wanted to. He went through a number of chrome scraping turns and then jetted back to where I was standing with my jaw on the ground. He came to a stop shifted to one side and came down on the kick stand, putting it back up on the center stand.

"Don't tell anyone else but its not about the height of the bike, its more about your comfort and skill level. I'm the Central Illinois Tight Circle champion several years running."
posted by BLuR at 1:57 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

My mom (4'11") rides a Virago 250. She's looking to move up to something a little more powerful, but that 250 fits her really well. She's able to straddle it flat-footed at a stop light, and it's not a heavy bike. I'm no giant at 5'7", but the seat feels almost too low to me. It's plenty peppy in town, plenty of low-end for city hills, but you won't be passing anyone on the freeway.
posted by xedrik at 3:23 PM on November 16, 2012

You know, you'll be fine on a 250. Get a used one, ride it, get confidence in traffic with it. When you're ready to move up, you can sell it and recoup most if not all of your purchase price. Don't be in a rush to get something that you think you'll be happier on for a longer time - you're buying your first bike, not your last. My 250 helped me become a better rider because I was more concerned about being safe in traffic than I was about trying to keep a lot of horsepower under control.
posted by azpenguin at 5:00 PM on November 16, 2012

Yamaha WR250r with street tires on it. Dual sports give you an upright riding position, good for seeing around traffic. You can always drop the forks a inch or so.
posted by youthenrage at 6:32 PM on November 16, 2012

Dual sports are the tallest motorcycles around (by a pretty big margin).
posted by ryanrs at 6:36 PM on November 16, 2012

The probably outdated and incomplete short bike list! Check out the Honda Shadow and the Suzuki Marauder.

I'm betting an SV650 is gonna be too tall for you.
posted by SampleSize at 9:10 PM on November 16, 2012

I'm 5'4". My first bike was a 250 Rebel. I loved it, rode it everywhere, including a couple of trips in the Smokey Mountains. No problems going uphill and it would do about 80 on the highway (but not comfortably!). I now have a 600 Shadow, which has more power, but almost feels to big for me. Anything other than a cruiser-style that I've tried has been too tall for my short inseam. Like has been said, you can always trade up for something bigger, but if you start with more bike than you can handle as an inexperienced new rider, you could end up with some trouble.

Ride safe and keep the rubber side down!
posted by lawhound at 5:16 AM on November 17, 2012

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