Beginner’s Buyer’s Guide To Motorcycles: Best Retro Bikes of 2021

New motorcycle riders are always asking a great question: Which motorcycle should I buy? Our experience tells us that a bike with a smaller-displacement motor is the way to learn, as it lessens the consequences of inevitable throttle errors. Based on that, we have a 400cc limit on our recommendations for new motorcycle riders. You’ll want to make your mistakes on a bike with a modestly powered engine, and then move up.

In the retro category, the choices are limited. Fortunately, there are four good choices. Let’s take a look at the Best Retro bikes of 2021 for new motorcyclists.

Best 2021 Around Town Retro For New Riders: Honda Super Cub C125 ABS

Beginner's Buyer's Guide Motorcycles Retro: Honda Super Cub 125
Honda Super Cub C125 ABS. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

It might look like a scooter, but with an automatic-clutch four-speed transmission, footpegs, and 17-inch wheels, the 2021 Honda Super Cub C125 ABS is a motorcycle. Although the styling is straight out of the 1960s with the step-through frame and leg fairing, the Super Cub has fuel injection, ABS for the front disc brake, an electronically locked seat, LED headlight, and a smart key.

Thanks to the auto-clutch, the learning curve is much flatter. All you have to do is back off the throttle and use the heel-toe shifter to change gears. The solo seat means you’ll have an excuse when your friends beg you for a ride, and there’s an optional rear rack for just $73 to make the Super Cub a bit of a workhorse.

Read our test of the Honda Super Cub C125 ABS.

2021 Honda Super Cub C125 ABS: $3749 MSRP

Best 2021 Go-Anywhere Retro For New Riders: Honda Trail 125 ABS

Beginner's Buyer's Guide Motorcycles Retro: Honda Trail 125 ABS
Honda Trail 125 ABS. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

New riders who want that rugged outdoorsman look will find exactly what they’re looking for with the 2021 Honda Trail 125 ABS. The good news is that the Trail 125 isn’t just a styling exercise—you can take it down dirt roads and friendly trails. Thanks to the automatic clutch, pretty much anyone can quickly learn to ride the Trail 125. A heel-toe shifter runs you through the transmission, which won’t allow you to stall it—as revs drop, the clutch disengages the transmission.

There are plenty of modern features lurking in the Honda Trail 125 ABS’s 1960s and ’70s styling, including full LED lighting, fuel injection, and dual discs brakes with front-wheel ABS.

It is fantastic around town, with a distinctive look and lower gearing for improved acceleration. For those who do venture off the pavement, the Trail 125 has 17-inch spoke wheels with appropriate rubber, good ground clearance, a skidplate, and a spark arrester integrated into the muffler. Plus, that low gearing comes in handy again.

Read our test of the Honda Trail 125 ABS.

2021 Honda Trail 125 ABS Price: $3899 MSRP

Best 2021 Retro for Smaller New Riders: Honda Monkey

Honda Monkey
Honda Monkey. Photo by Kevin Wing.

Many new riders are intimidated by taller motorcycles with a higher seat. The Honda Monkey takes care of that with a 30.6-inch seat height and a weight of just 232 pounds. Recalling the Honda Mini Trail of the 1960s and ’70s, the Monkey has compact ergonomics that make it easy to handle. The 125cc motor has a four-speed transmission, along with a traditional manual clutch.

Twin disc brakes (220mm front and 190mm rear) work with fat 12-inch tires for strong braking. Those wide tires also give a new rider a great feel for the road, along with plenty of agility, thanks to the small wheel diameter. The suspension doesn’t look like much, but it has a full-size four inches of travel at both ends.

The high front fender, fork-sliders protection, and ADV-style tires may encourage you to go off the pavement. If you do, stay away from rocks, as there is quite a bit of highly vulnerable exhaust plumbing underneath the motor. However, for riding around town and eliciting smiles wherever you go, the Monkey is as fun as its name. 

Read our test of the Honda Monkey.

2021 Honda Monkey Price: $3999 MSRP

Best 2021 Retro Sport Motorcycle For New Riders: SSR Buccaneer Classic

Beginner's Buyer's Guide Motorcycles Retro: SSR Buccaneer Classic
SSR Buccaneer Classic. Photo by Hal Wang.

Here’s a choice that’s a bit out of left field. While you might not be familiar with the California-based importer of Chinese-built motorcycles, SSR Motorsports has hundreds of dealers across the country. The company imports Benelli motorcycles and sells motorcycles, scooters, and ATVs with the SSR name. SSR sells a huge number of off-road-only pit-style bikes, along with the 2021 SSR Buccaneer Classic street bike.

This is a full-sized adult retro-styled motorcycle with a 249cc V-twin motor that puts out over 18 horsepower at 8000 rpm. With a seat height of 31 inches and weighing in at around 300 pounds, the Buccaneer Classic is an easy way to learn to ride, and it sports a distinctive retro and scrambler vibe.

The 2021 SSR Buccaneer Classic is a capable freeway performer. In the city and through the twisties, the five-speed transmission works well, and the dual disc brakes are good. Despite an unusual 17-inch front and 15-inch rear wheel pairing,  its handling is impressive, and the suspension does fine.

Fit and finish on the SSR Buccaneer Classic is a bit touch-and-go. If you want to buy this motorcycle, we recommend that you approach it as you would a used bike, even though it’s new. Bring along an experienced motorcyclist to test-ride the exact bike you want to buy. We have tested two seemingly identical SSR Buccaneer Classics, and they definitely didn’t feel the same; we clearly preferred one example over the other, primarily due to motor vibration.

The price is right at $3499, and SSR provides you with a 12-month/12,000-mile warranty. Make sure you pick a dealer you can trust, just in case you need to avail yourself of that warranty.

2021 SSR Buccaneer Classic Price: $3499 MSRP