It you are planning on getting your first motorcycle, you may have wondered whether you are physically strong enough to handle a heavy motorcycle. How important is motorcycle weight for beginner riders really?
Here’s what I’ve learned from years of riding anything from light weight 125 cc commuters to heavy 900+ pound Goldwings and Harleys.
Due to the balance of a moving motorcycle, the weight of the bike is less important while riding. It is only when moving the bike at walking pace or reversing out of a parking bay that the weight of the motorcycle has a significant impact. If you drop your bike, the weight of the bike will determine whether you are able to pick it up.
The weight of some motorcycles can be intimidating if you are not built like a football player. For female riders, or riders that aren’t tall, a heavy bike can be down right scary. While it does take some getting used to, it doesn’t have to prevent you from starting to ride.
Is Motorcycle Weight Important for Beginner Riders?
The weight of different types of motorcycles can vary greatly. This might make you wonder which bike to get as your first motorcycle, especially if you are not tall or physically strong.
The quoted weight, however, is not the full story. If you sit on a low slung Harley Sportster or a narrow Honda CBR 1000 RR Fireblade is may not seem that heavy. But get onto an old BMW 650 GS Dakar, a lighter bike than the former two but with a higher center of gravity, and you may reconsider your decision to start riding.
The effect that a motorcycle’s weight have on how easy it is to control it, depends on the conditions under which you are riding, particularly the speed. As you become more experienced, you’ll find bike weight becomes much less significant.
The effect of motorcycle weight at standstill
The weight of a motorcycle is only really a problem if you lose your balance. Most motorcycles are very well balanced around the center point and if you sit on it, may feel much lighter than another bike that weighs less. It is when you lean the bike over or have to move it manually that the weight will become a bigger factor.
Before you decide on your first motorcycle, sit on it and get a feel for the bike. I remember sitting on a Honda CBR 929 RR Fireblade when I was still in school and I was amazed at how light if felt (even though it weighed more than 400 Lbs). The balance was just perfect.
If you do ride a heavy motorcycle, you have to be careful where you park it. Try to stop on a flat, hard surface. If you must stop on a slight incline, stop with the front pointing upward or so that you don’t have to reverse paddle your way out again. Reversing a heavy motorcycle out of a parking spot can be daunting and you risk dropping it, possibly in view of some spectators.
Most bikes get dropped at one point in their lives, often during the first few weeks. Don’t stress, this happens to experienced riders too (even through they might deny it). Make sure you are able to pick up your own bike. You can practice this at home where you can lay down the bike carefully to avoid damage. It will give you a lot of confidence knowing that you can get it upright again, should you drop it in front of a cafe somewhere.
Before you think you are too small or weak to pick up anything larger than a 50 cc scooter, watch how this young girl picks up this monster of a Goldwing.
Dropping your bike is not an issue if you can easily pick up your own bike.
Seat height is arguably much more important than the weight of the bike. It is for this reason that my wife bought an old BMW 650 Funduro. Even though it was quite a bit heavier than my KLR 650 (I’m not a strong fellow by any means, but I am just above 6 feet tall), she managed fine since she could touch the floor. Being able to put your feet flat on the floor makes a big difference.
You don’t have to be strong to ride a heavy motorcycle. The bike will balance itself when you are moving. It is only when the bike leans over beyond the balance point when standing still that you will need to be strong to keep it upright. If you drop a heavy motorcycle, you may need to be strong to pick it up again.
The only problem was, as soon as my wife leaned over her heavy BMW too far while standing still, there was no way her tiny frame could keep the bike from tipping over. She had a few very frustrating moments on that bike, especially in soft sand or parking lots. That’s why we bought two 200 cc Chinese road bikes to travel through Africa. For more on that epic 9 630 miles, 3 month road trip, check out this post.
The effect of motorcycle weight at a slow pace
Once you get going, your balance will will keep the bike upright. Beginner riders often struggle with balance when they are still learning clutch control at walking pace. The main reason for this is not looking up ahead toward where they want to ride. Instead, they look down at the controls and as a result can’t keep straight and lose balance.
At walking pace speeds like this, the rider plays a bigger role in the balance of the bike. A heavy bike will not be more difficult to pull away on or to ride slowly, it is only when you lean over beyond the balancing point that the weight becomes a problem. You may not be able to catch it with your leg resulting in a fall. With experience, the weight of your bike becomes much less of a factor. Just ask Jocylen Snow:
Reversing your heavy bike is probably the trickiest situation you’ll encounter and one where the weight will play the biggest role. If you plan ahead, this should not be an issue. Stop in a way so that you are facing the exit of the parking bay and can simply ride off once you get on again.
Making a u-turn in a confined area is a tricky maneuver for many beginner riders. This is not because of the weight of the bike, but rather the skill of the rider. With practice, it is quite easy to turn even the biggest bike in a small space without putting your feet down.
Getting stuck in a traffic jam may have you walk your bike inch by inch as the traffic stops and starts. This will have you alternate between slow crawling and stopping, which requires balance. Again, the weight of the bike plays a much smaller role than the seat height and your ability to put your feet down on the ground. It is only if you lose your balance that the weight will very quickly become an important factor.
The effect of motorcycle weight while riding
Once you start riding, the weight of the motorcycle becomes irrelevant. the forward momentum will keep the bike upright. In most normal riding conditions, you don’t need to be strong at all to make the bike lean over to turn. A heavy bike can turn just as easily as a light bike. In fact, some turn better due to the design of the chassis and the profile of the tires.
On a trip through the desert I got offered a ride on another rider’s KTM 950 Adventure S. The bike had taller WP suspension as the rider was nearly 6 foot 8 and a hooligan. I could barely touch the ground with my tip toes which was quite scary initially, as I had my wife on the back. If this bike leaned over, there was no way I’d be able to catch it. As I started moving, the bike just felt small and nimble. We did 80 mph on gravel roads with ease and confidence.
When I taught my wife to ride, I sat on the back of my own bike to keep it upright while she pulled away with both feet dangling in the air. Her legs were too short to even touch the ground. Initially she weaved a bit as she looked down at the controls. As she got used to looking at the horizon, she was soon riding a tall, heavy bike with me on the back. The weight on a moving motorcycle is just not a problem.
What is a Good Weight for a Beginner Motorcycle
Okay, so if weight is not a problem on a moving motorcycle, does that mean you can learn to ride on any bike? Well, theoretically, yes. But you will save yourself a lot of frustration starting out on something lighter and less intimidating.
For some, the idea of riding a motorcycle is already a scary concept. Add to that the concentration required to master clutch control and to learn to balance the bike when stopping, and you’ll be glad you don’t have to worry about dropping a heavy bike on your foot. Like I mentioned earlier, the seat height plays as much of a role.
Yes, once you have practiced and gained experience, you’ll get used to the bulk and weight of the bike. But initially, you will have so much more confidence if you start on a small, light motorcycle that you are able to pick up yourself if you drop it.
My wife is a great example. She learned on an old 1976 Yamaha MR 50 which she still owns. It is so light, I can put it on the back of my truck by picking it up myself. Two weeks after she got onto a bike for the first time, we traveled around South Africa for 19 days and covered nearly 3 500 miles. She rode her own 125 cc Chinese road bike. She dropped the bike often, but because it was so light she could easily pick it up herself and park it anywhere.
When we returned, she had so much experience that she transitioned to her 420 pound, top-heavy BMW without (much) problems. The only issue with the weight of the big bike was pushing it around or picking it up.
Many riders will disagree and tell you to just get the bike you want so you don’t have to sell your starter bike again. I suggest getting a small, light bike to start on and move up when you are confident. I once rode a Honda CBR 125 R and a Honda CBR 1000 RR Fireblade in the same week and guess which was more fun?
On the little 125 I could ride it flat out, in the power band, all the time without getting into trouble. It made me feel like a MotoGP rider, even though I was going at safe speeds. On the Fireblade, I couldn’t use more than 20% of the power. It redlines at 96 mph in 1st!
What I am saying it that starting on a small bike is not as boring as you think. You will master the bike that much easier and you’ll soon learn to ride it hard. Skills that will be valuable once you move up to a bigger bike.
What About the Stability of a Heavy Bike in Strong Wind?
A heavy motorcycle is not necessarily more stable when riding in strong wind. The stability of a motorcycle in strong wind depends more on the aerodynamics of the motorcycle and the rider. A heavy motorcycle with a large fairing will be affected more severely by the wind than a more aerodynamic, lighter bike.
I once rode a 600 Lbs Honda VFR 1200 F through a strong side wind. I wasn’t doing more than 60 mph and the next moment a gust of wind pushed me right off the road. I was lucky not to hit anything and managed to power the bike through the gravel and back onto the road.
The weight of the bike plays a much smaller role keeping the bike planted on the road while riding in a strong wind. It is all about the area caught by the wind. A motorcycle with an aerodynamic fairing and windscreen will carve through a headwind much better than a bike with a wide touring fairing or a cruiser with an upright rider acting like a parachute.
In a side wind, it is the side-on profile that counts. On a tall dual sport bike you will be blown around more than someone lying flat on the tank of a sports bike. In Namibia we rode through a sand storm and we had to lean very far over to avoid being blown deep into the Namib Desert.
Make Sure You are Protected
Beginner riders often skimp on protective riding gear as it can be quite expensive. Most motorcycle accidents happen during the first few months of riding, and a study published in the Journal of Trauma showed 56% of injuries happen to lower extremities (ankles and legs). Bike boots are therefore a must.
A helmet is a no-brainer, and so is a jacket. The hands are also high up on the list of injuries, due to the natural reflex to catch yourself when you fall. While I always recommend getting the best gear you can afford, it doesn’t have to be the most expensive. Below is a list of some good value gear available on Amazon that I recommend:
Helmet: HJC i70 (Street) or HJC DS-X1 (Dual sport)*
Boots: Fly Racing Maverik
Jacket: Alpinestars T-Faster Air
Gloves: Alpinestars SP-8 v2
* To find out whether you should get a full faced street helmet or a dual sport, check out this post.
The weight of a motorcycle is not that important while you are riding at normal speeds. It is only when you have to maneuver through tight spots at walking pace, or when you are standing still that the weight will be felt. For beginner riders, the seat height is arguably more important than the weight of the bike, especially for shorter riders.
If you are a complete beginner, take your time and practice on a smaller, lighter bike. It won’t be long before you are able to ride that heavy motorcycle that made you want to get into biking in the first place. And the confidence you gain by starting out on a light bike will benefit you for years to come.