When I was shopping for my first bike, nearly everyone told me, “Buy small. Small frame, small engine. Go bigger later.”
Seemed like sound advice. But there was a big part of me that didn’t want to “go small.”
Stevie Pedersen, of Wild Prairie Harley Davidson in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, doesn’t necessarily agree with the “go small” advice: “New riders don’t need to start on a small bike; they can really ride anything they want.”
And she’s right.
I focused my shopping to Harley Davidson® motorcycles – I’ve had an affinity for Harley’s since I was a kid, and it felt right to shop this brand alone.
After testing out mostly Sportsters, a friend encouraged me to test ride a Heritage Softail® Classic.
“Seems so big,” I said.
“Try it,” he said.
I did, and it was right. It felt big, but for my larger frame, it was a perfect fit.
With a 103 cu. in. displacement and cruise control, it has the power and function I need to ride the way I want – long road trips, long hours on the bike (in 6 months of owning the bike, I have put on 6,000 miles). Weighing 755 lbs and a seat height of 25.5” (laden — which considers a rider of a certain weight in place) I have a comfortable center of gravity, and my footing is grounded and stable. It also has anti-lock brakes, which, for me, is important as a new rider. I want to be as safe as possible, and with ABS on my side, I have more piece of mind.
Considerations for first-time riders:
- How do I want to ride? Buzz around town, lookin’ good on city streets, or take to the road for 7 days?
- What is my body type? Long legs, short arms? Short legs, long torso? Your body type will help guide you to what type of bike is the right fit.
- How do I want to sit on the bike? Laid back, or in a more aggressive posture? How do I want my feet to rest? Do I want to stretch the legs?
- How comfortable am I riding? Every new rider has a learning curve — what’s yours? How often will you practice your figure eights? Backing up? How often will you realistically be able to ride and get good at riding?
I recently set out to test a few more rides at Wild Prairie Harley Davidson in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, with an eye towards sharing information for first-time riders — just as others had done for me. The information contained here will not include many specs (see hyperlinks to the bikes to get all that info). I share what feels good, based on the above considerations.
With the help of the great folks at Wild Prairie we took out a smattering of great bikes for the first-time rider:
Softail® Fat Boy®: This is a GREAT bike for a new rider. It sits fairly low to the ground, which helps a new rider feel secure in their footing. The handle bars are low, so there is no need to feel like you are reaching. This allows for greater control of the bike. It’s got the horsepower and torque one would want for a higher performing bike, and for touring. Throw some bags on this honey, and take it on the long road. Keep as is, for cruising around town and shorter day trips.
Displacement: 103 cu in
Engine Torque: 99.5ft-lb
Weight: 706 lbs running
Seat Height: 25 in (laden)
Street® 500: This is a pretty small bike, comparatively, to the Softail® Fat Boy®, and my Heritage Softail® Classic. It’s the perfect get-around-town bike, and suitable for day tripping. It handles very light, runs quick and tight, and is very easy to handle. The posture has you sitting more forward, which I really enjoyed for a change. The gear shift lever took a little getting use to — it’s much smaller and has no heel shifter, but for a beginner who wants only one option for shifting, it’s perfect to keep the learning curve of shifting easy to master.
Displacement: 30 cu in
Engine Torque: 29.5ft-lb
Weight: 514 lbs running
Seat Height: 25.7 in (laden)
Road King®: I know several people whose first bike was a Road King®. And I know there are many women out there who fall in that category as well. When I sat on the Road King®, I felt like I had sunk into a Lazy Boy recliner — it was that welcoming, that soothing. Took it out on the road, and the ride was like butter: smooth, luxurious, supple. The heft of the Road King®, compared to the others I rode, including my current Softail®, provided an assuredness in the ride, a grounding and stability, that can only be felt in a slightly bigger bike. The classic design and styling of the Road King, including the windshield, is what makes this bike a favorite among both new and veteran riders.
Displacement: 107 cu in (2017 models)
Engine Torque: 111.4ft-lb
Weight: 826 lbs running
Seat Height: 26.3 in (laden)
The options for new riders are endless, and this is just a quick look at a few from Harley Davidson®. There are excellent choices by other makers, which we will review here as well.
If I were to buy my first bike over again, what would I buy?
I’d still go with my Softail®, simply because of the way I want to ride my bike. I want to tour, hit the road for a long time, and put on long miles. If shorter trips were my desire, I’d go with the Softail® Fat Boy® in a heartbeat. It’s such a solid ride, and as part of the Softail® family, gives me the lower ride, lower handle bars (LOVE that) and the power of the 103 cu in engine.
My next bike? (Of course I’m getting another bike….)
A Road King®. I’ll be more than ready for that ride soon. I’ll keep my Softail®, because she’s my first. And you always keep loving your first, right?!
To your wild,