Recommend me a used motorcycle - new rider, older standard bike
July 11, 2019 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Looking for recommendations for motorcycles to keep an eye out for. I'm a new rider, and prefer the style of the older standard bikes and UJM's.

I just completed my MSF course, and looking for a used bike. I love the looks of older Japanese standards and enduro bikes, the Honda CB/CL, the Suzuki GS, the Yamaha XS. Ideally I'd like to find an older bike that has been well maintained mechanically for under $2k. I'd like to find something in the 350cc to 650cc range, and a lighter bike that is relatively easy to handle as a beginner(less than 400lbs would be great).

I'd also like to learn to work on this bike, so ease of wrenching on it, and availability of parts is also a consideration.

Can you recommend any specific models and/or years for specific bikes? Any setups I should avoid (I've seen some people say stay away from 4-cyl carbureted engines) if I want to work on this myself and have something semi-reliable? Any other considerations?

The bike will mainly be used for lazy riding around country back roads (top speed limit 45mph). I don't plan on commuting with it or taking it on the highway.

posted by pilibeen to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have a certain bias in favor of Honda, because I own one, but I also think they're very well-designed, efficient, reasonably easy-to-work-on motorcycles (which is why I own one...).

For the minimum of maintenance and hassle, I'd avoid carbs altogether and get a fuel injected bike, and maybe look at single-cylinder engines if you don't mind the vibration they tend to produce.

I have a CBR250R and think modern 250 singles are underrated; they ride like a much higher-displacement bike from the 80s or 90s, but have many fewer moving parts. No, you won't win a drag race against a liter bike, but they're a heck of a cheap thrill if you're used to driving a car. Particularly since you don't plan to go on the interstate, I don't know why you wouldn't consider 250cc rather than starting at 300. It adds in a bunch of additional options.

In that vein, you might look at the CRF250L which is the same (or very close to identical) powerplant as the CBR250R but in a much more off-road capable configuration. Note that if you are searching, you'll probably see CRF250s (no "L") which are the older non-FI model, which you might want to avoid if you don't want a carbureted bike. The CRF250L was made starting in 2012 I think. The problem with any dirt-oriented or ADV bike is that you're likely to find them with a bunch of aftermarket parts added on, which will drive up the price and you may or may not care about. But if you can find a stock one I think it'd be in your price range. Cycletrader is full of new ones (2018 model years mostly) for under $4k which is a good sign; the only issue you might run into is the market is thin.

The ideal bike for your criteria is probably the Honda CB300R (which despite the name is actually a 286cc single), but since it just went into production in 2017 you'll probably have a hard time getting one in your budget.

On the other end of the spectrum, you could probably pick up a decent CB350 / CB360 for under two grand (Cycletrader is showing some nice examples), and as long as you're not put off by the carbs and associated maintenance, they're fun. I have a friend with one and he loves it, and they churned them out like aspirin tablets in the early 70s. Air cooled inline twin, good parts availability and easy to work on... but you'll spend more time working on it than a newer FIed bike, although not as much as a 4-cyl UJM (I mean it has half as many carbs and everything else). The lower weight will also help if you lay it over and need to get it back up again. Note that, true to Honda's abuse of their own naming scheme, the post-72 CB350Fs are a 4-cylinder bike, while the 68-72 CB350s (no "F") are the two-cylinder ones. Many people drop the "F" in ads and listings, so just be sure what you're looking at is what you think it is.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:13 AM on July 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

I had a Yamaha YBX for backroad riding when I lived in Mexico. It's a light, fun to ride bike and I really loved it. They seem to be pricier in the States, but it was a good bike, and easy to fix. I rented mine from a local mechanic who helped me learn about it and let me use his tools. If I didnt live in motorcycle death land (sf bay area) I would totally get one again.
posted by ananci at 12:42 PM on July 11, 2019

First off, congratulations on doing the MSF course. It's a great starting point.
Secondly, good for you on looking for a smaller bike that fits the kind of riding you want to do.

I'll agree with almost everything Kadin2048 has said above. Personally, I don't find carburetors *significantly* more trouble to maintain. But all else being equal, fuel injection does tend provide better gas mileage. Air-cooled engines are simpler (and a bit noisier). Singles have fewer moving parts than twins, and likewise twins to fours. If the looks work for you, you could do a lot worse than a Suzuki GS500.

If you are expecting to plonk around in the dirt at all, the Honda XLs or Suzuki DR series could fill the bill, though the 650cc models are pretty tall. I hear the Yamaha TW200 is a hoot, but I am put off by the lack of variety in tire selection.
posted by coppertop at 12:56 PM on July 11, 2019

I agree that four carbs aren't significantly more day-to-day work than two, but you do notice it when it comes time to do more major maintenance tasks like carb rebuilding. It's not a huge burden, IMO. I'd prioritize availability of parts if you're looking for a UJM, so my recommendations will lean that way.

Anyway, you pretty much named the bikes I'd suggest, but the 80s XS650 is a great bike with a famously bulletproof in-line twin engine, but my sense is that since it's so in favor as a platform for modding that you're going to see pretty elevated prices for it, i.e. in the high $2K range. It vibrates pretty aggressively (and this is after Yamaha added vibration damping in 1974) since the pistons move in tandem. It sounds like a lot more displacement than the 250 you were probably riding during the MSF course, but its power delivery is quite gentle and not at all difficult for a new rider to manage or feel comfortable with. It's worth looking for one, as they're very solid all-rounders. Also, the benefit of such an active modding scene is widely available parts.

The GS650 from the same era is also well-represented in the parts market and has a smoother ride by virtue of its inline 4. It's also a great all-rounder, although probably not in the same reliability tier as a Yamaha or Honda. It's significantly heavier than the Yamaha, weighing in closer to 500 lbs wet.

I only don't mention CBs because I don't really have any experience with them, but I wouldn't be surprised if they're even easier to find parts for than the Suzuki.
posted by invitapriore at 1:50 PM on July 11, 2019

Sounds like we have similar riding and aesthetic interests. Congrats on completing the MSF! I rode a Suzuki TU250X for my MSF course, and if I had to pick a first bike again I would strongly consider one. It's a 250cc single available in the US starting in 2009 that looks like a classic bike, but lighter, fuel injected, with better brakes, etc. I've seen used bikes for sale in the 2-3k range locally. Yamaha makes a similar modern classic bike, the SR400, but it's a bit spendier.

I've heard good things about the bikes you're interested in, but that's in a more general 80's UJM sense than knowledge of specific models. I think 1970's CBs and CLs are gorgeous too. They were produced in large quantities, so parts shouldn't be too hard to come by.

I purchased a 1985 Honda Nighthawk 450 in fair condition as my first bike. While I love the look of it, three years later I've definitely spent more time working on it than riding. Older bikes, even well maintained ones, will likely need more work. More cylinders means more carbs to tune and sync, as you mentioned.

Think about how much time you want to spend riding vs. wrenching. The condition of the individual bike you purchase will probably matter more than which UJM you go for (the U stands for universal, after all). Here's a pretty exhaustive used bike buying checklist (which I ignored completely) that may help: Used Motorcycle Evaluation Guide
posted by peakfrivolity at 9:10 PM on July 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Honda Rebel 250 was sold in the US from the mid-80s until 2016. The Nighthawk 250 was sold in the US from the mid-80s to 2008. One of these is the bike you want.

Kadin2048's advice is excellent. I wouldn't buy a used dual sport bike if you want a street bike. For one they are more likely to be abused in unusual ways.
posted by bdc34 at 7:37 AM on July 12, 2019

Just an update for anyone who stumbles in here later:

I ended up getting a used 2012 Suzuki TU250X. I've been riding it for about 3wks now and loving it. It's got some resemblance to the old UJM bikes of the 70's, but in a modern bike with fuel injection. I haven't had to do much work on it yet, but it's supposed to be a very easy bike to work on. There's a good community of TU250 owners, newbies like myself and veteran riders who love this bike, on this forum, which has been a great resource. I don't think I'd take this bike on the highway (though some people do), but for commuting in town and cruising around back roads it's a blast.

Thanks for the suggestions!
posted by pilibeen at 7:42 AM on August 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Congrats on the bike!
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:43 PM on August 9, 2019

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