New Rider’s Buyer’s Guide to Motorcycles: Best Sportbikes of 2021

Sportbikes are an outstanding way for new riders to get involved in motorcycle riding. Sport motorcycles have good handling and brakes, along with motors that are docile at low rpm and offer good power as the revs climb. Add in their light weight, and they are great motorcycles for learning solid riding skills

We recommend that new riders stick to motorcycles with engines displacing fewer than 400cc. More power accentuates errors, and if you are a novice rider, you will make mistakes. Let’s look at six motorcycles we recommend for getting started on two wheels in 2021.

Best Sportbike of 2021 For a True Beginner: KTM 200 Duke

For the true beginner who wants to play it safe, yet have a motorcycle that looks like a serious performer, the 2021 KTM 200 Duke is a perfect choice. The 200cc motor is a DOHC single-cylinder design that puts out a respectable 26 horsepower, making it capable of freeway riding for short distances. At 330 pounds and a seat height of 31.6 inches, it’s not quite the lightest or shortest motorcycle on our list. Still, it’s an easy way for a new rider to get involved in sport motorcycle riding.

The KTM 200 Duke's handling is quite good, and for less than $4k, you get WP Apex suspension, Metzeler Sportec M5 Interact rubber, and plenty of high-performance styling. The 300mm front disc gets a ByBre caliper, while the two-channel Bosch ABS has a rear-wheel-only supermoto mode. This is especially good for a new rider who will be buzzing around town and in local canyons, rather than spending a lot of time on the freeway.

Read our test of the KTM 200 Duke.

2021 KTM 200 Duke Price: $3999 MSRP

Lightest Sportbike of 2021 For New Riders: Honda CB300R ABS

2019 Honda CB300R for sale - sport bike

The 2021 Honda CB300R ABS has the smallest displacement in this New Rider’s Buyer’s Guide for Sportbikes. The DOHC single is a 286cc short-stroke design, so it is willing to rev. With a six-speed transmission, it is capable of freeway riding, though you have to be careful because acceleration is limited at 65 mph. The Honda CB300R is happier at lower speeds, where you can enjoy its agility.

With a curb weight of just 317 pounds, the CB300R is an exceptional urban motorcycle. Although the seat height is a bit tall at 31.5 inches, it’s still easy to maneuver the Honda at parking lot speeds and through traffic. Its handling is excellent once you get out of the city and into the twisties.

There is also a fairing-equipped Honda CBR300R, that is very similar. However, we think new riders are better off with the more comfortable, taller handlebars on the CB300R.

Read our test of the Honda CB300R ABS.

2021 Honda CB300R Price: $4949 MSRP

Best Sportbike of 2021 For New Riders On A Budget: 2021 Yamaha MT-03

Combining a list price of $4599 and a parallel-twin motor that displaces 321cc, the 2021 Yamaha MT-03 positions itself as a bargain motorcycle with an impressive pedigree. It is the spinoff of the Yamaha YZF-R3 sportbike, which has a fairing and lower bars. As we’ve said, new riders should stick to the upright naked models for learning their craft.

The Yamaha MT-03 has a seat height of 30.7 inches—lower than any other motorcycle in this buyer’s guide. That is offset a bit by its weight, however. At 373 pounds, it’s the heaviest bike in the buyer’s guide. If you have good upper body strength, the weight shouldn’t bother you too much, and the lower seat height makes everything easier. Handling is up to sportbike standards in the canyons, and the twin spins up enough for a comfortable ride on the freeway. This is a lot of motorcycle for the price.

Read our test of the Yamaha MT-03.

2021 Yamaha MT-03 Price: $4599

Best Sportbike of 2021 For Single-Cylinder High-Performance For New Riders: KTM 390 Duke

2016 KTM 390 Duke Review

From the perspective of performance, the 2021 KTM 390 Duke is pushing the edge of the envelope. It uses the same 44-horsepower 373cc motor found in the Husqvarna Svartpilen 401, and exploits it with aggressive ergonomics. It has everything you need to go fast, including WP Apex suspension, Metzeler Sportec M5 tires, and a 320mm front disc brake with Bosch 9.1MP two-channel ABS. Handling is impeccable in-town, and on any twisties you can find.

The seat height of 32.3 inches is a bit tall, but the curb weight is just 324 pounds. As long as you aren’t intimidated by the height and power, the 2021 KTM 390 Duke is a fantastic entry-level motorcycle with more performance headroom than other motorcycles in its class. The prospective rider needs to be honest with oneself about needs, wants, and judgment before going with the 390 Duke over the more friendly 200 Duke, which is $1700 less expensive.

Read our test of the KTM 390 Duke.

2021 KTM 390 Duke Price: $5699

Best Sportbike of 2021 For Twin-Cylinder High-Performance For New Riders: Kawasaki Z400 ABS

2019 Kawasaki Z400 ABS for sale

With a 399cc parallel-twin powerplant, the 2021 Kawasaki Z400 ABS has the most motor on the list. Kawasaki doesn’t make horsepower claims, but its torque peak claim of 28 ft-lbs at 8000 rpm tops any other engine in this buyer’s guide. It’s based on the Kawasaki Ninja 400, which will also work for the new rider. However, as we have said repeatedly, it is our contention that a new rider is better served with a fully upright naked motorcycle rather than one with a fairing and a lower handlebar.

Even though the Z400 is the most powerful motorcycle in this class, it is still extremely easy to ride. The power requires you to rev that twin up. If you can resist that temptation, you’ll find the Z400 to be docile around town. Rev it up, and it’s ready to do battle on the freeway without any serious concern about power, especially on lower-speed urban freeways. Handling is outstanding in the twisties, and it leaves lots of room for a new rider to grow. The seat height is an agreeable 30.9 inches, and the weight a manageable 364 pounds. At $4999, you get a sophisticated motor and chassis, making this a compelling choice.

Read our test of the Kawasaki Z400.

2021 Kawasaki Z400 ABS Price: $4999

Most Stylish Sportbike of 2021 For New Riders: Husqvarna Svartpilen 401

2018 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 review

You may not be familiar with the Husqvarna brand if you are new to motorcycles. Husqvarna is a formerly Swedish marque now owned by the Austrian concern KTM AG, which also owns KTM and GasGas. The 2021 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 is a stylish upright naked that is best suited to a taller and heavier rider. Its DOHC 373cc motor puts out a beastly 44 horsepower, it weighs 350 pounds at the curb with the tank full, and the seat height is a lofty 32.9 inches.

The Svartpilen has plenty of high-quality parts, including WP suspension, ByBre brakes, chromoly steel trellis frame, and wire-spoke wheels with ADV-style tires. Although the handling is not overly aggressive with 25 degrees of rake, this is a more demanding ride for a rider dipping a toe in for the first time. This is a potent motorcycle that is more than capable of doing battle on the local freeways, and will shred in the canyons.

Husqvarna also makes a sportier Vitpilen 401 with lower bars. Again, we recommend the high-bar Svartpilen for new riders.

Read our test of the Husqvarna Svartpilen 401.

2021 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 Price: $5299 MSRP

Most Ergonomically Adjustable Sportbike of 2021 for New Riders: 2021 BMW G 310 R

2017 BMW G 310 R First Ride Test- The Snake

Yes, you can get started on a sportbike from a premium marque with a long heritage of unique, desirable motorcycles. The 2021 BMW G 310 R is a DOHC single that puts out an impressive 34 horsepower, if you’re willing to spin it up to 9250 rpm. Torque peaks at over 20 ft-lbs at 7500 rpm, so there’s lots of power at the top of the powerband. With a top speed of 88 mph, you can ride it on the freeway with confidence.

At lower rpm, the BMW G 310 R is welcoming to new riders. The standard seat height is an approachable 30.9 inches. BMW offers an accessory seat that drops the saddle height to 30.3 inches, as well as a tall seat that raises the perch to 31.5 inches. The curb weight of 362 pounds is heavy for a single-cylinder model in the class, yet the BMW is easy to ride in town and through rural canyons.

Read our test of the BMW G 310 R.

2021 BMW G 310 R Price: $5295 MSRP