AlphaSports (Hyosung) GV250, Honda Rebel, Kymco Venox, Suzuki GZ250, Yamaha Virago
Photography by James Brown
In the cruiser market, in case you haven't heard, the oft-repeated conceit is that size matters. "If you're not packing at least a liter between your legs, son, well, then you must still be in grade school," goes the implication, or something to that effect. In this might-makes-right environment, entry-level bikes naturally get the short shrift, since large-displacement cruisers sell in vast numbers and are very profitable for their makers.
A less-than-enthusiastic response to smaller bikes is understandable in an industry where each year the Next Big Thing looks more like a semi than a scooter. Not only are small-displacement beginner bikes nearly ignored by manufacturers, experienced riders inevitably look down their noses at them, dismissing them as playthings, "not real motorcycles." Which is why, when we were planning this year's entry-level shootout, we decided it wouldn't be appropriate to have veteran riders test 250cc lightweights; impartial analyses from beginning riders would provide us with more realistic conclusions. So we sent the power-monger types packing and recruited five newcomers to the sport—fresh-faced enthusiasts for whom "biggest" doesn't necessarily mean best.
Stow The Ego, Buddy
It's not surprising that many riders enter the sport of motorcycling on 250cc cruisers—they're light, low and maneuverable, and most have been around for so many years you can usually pick up a used model for a song. (And even if you want a new one, they're cheap enough to put on a credit card.)
But anyone thumbing through the classifieds should also realize that beginner bikes are built to a price point that usually doesn't place style as a priority, but rather anvil-tough simplicity. Fashionable or not, however, the lightweights are usually designed to warrant inclusion into Motorcycle Safety Foundation riding courses. If you've ever taken a motorcycle training class, you've seen these bikes at ranges across the country. Our source at the MSF explained that a motorcycle must fit two out the following three criteria to qualify as a trainer for its curriculum: