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Heavy vs Light Motorcycle: Which One Is Right For You?

If you’re interested in riding a motorcycle, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to options. There are a huge number of motorcycles available for sale in most places, and that’s not including the used market. Many prospective riders wonder what weight of motorcycle they should be looking for.

Whether a heavy or light motorcycle will be better for you depends a lot on your physical characteristics, riding experience, and general preference. However, if you have to research this question at all, or if you’re a beginner, I’d recommend starting on a light(er) motorcycle.

There’s a bit more to it though, as you might imagine. There are lots of different types of motorcycles and lots of things to evaluate as far as what weight and type will fit you best. I’ll be covering some of these things in more detail below.

Why Does Weight Matter On A Motorcycle?

There are several reasons motorcycle weight matters. First of all, a heavier bike will be much harder to muscle around at low speeds. At higher speeds, pretty much anyone can ride any bike, but given that you’ll spend a lot of riding time at lower speeds, low speed maneuverability is key.

If you’re a bigger person, this may not matter, and you may have no problem yanking your bike around to fit in parking spots and do tight turns. However, if you’re a smaller person, having a big bike can make these situations unnecessarily difficult, which will make riding heavier bikes a lot less fun overall.

Part Of A Whole

If you don’t have much experience with motorcycles, it’s important to stress that they’re not the same as cars. Pretty much anyone of any weight and build can drive any car. Sometimes larger people or smaller people may have issues with a specific large or small car model, but overall, anyone can usually control a car (if they know how to).

In the case of bikes, there’s a lot of physical motion and work that the rider does. A bike without a rider is an incomplete machine, a piece of design missing a necessary element. A car can be driven by a computer, more or less. Physically, it only needs you to be there to use the controls.

A motorcycle requires leaning, turning, modulating your body, and being aware of your center of gravity. It requires you to move and flow with the machine. Some bikes are more physical than others, but all operate under this basic principle. Given this, it’s important to have a motorcycle that is well suited to your size and preference.

This is not to say that only certain people can ride only certain bikes, because realistically anyone can ride anything given enough training and effort. This is merely to say that there are bikes sized for different sizes of riders, and you’ll probably have a nicer riding experience if you are riding a bike sized well for you.

Heavy vs Light Motorcycle Characteristics

Beyond the relationship of bike size to rider, larger and heavier motorcycles will handle differently than smaller and lighter ones. Heavy motorcycles are great for cruising, they tend to have more stability at higher speeds, and they get less blown around by wind. They will feel planted and solid, and usually have enough power to make long, high-speed trips easy.

The heavier bikes tend to struggle more when they’re not doing things like high-speed cruising. At low speeds, especially around town, they may feel bulky and ill-suited for the situation. A cruiser bike, after all, is made to cruise, not so much to run to the market a few blocks away or to ride to work in a dense city.

A lighter bike will excel in the opposite conditions. In the case of riding around a densely populated city, nothing beats a small and light motorcycle. Their low weight makes them agile and fun to ride at low speeds. They never feel too big, and they never feel like they might fall over if you take a corner too slowly.

A light bike, however, will also suffer in the opposite conditions as a heavier one. If you’re trying to cruise at high speeds on a small and light bike, while it might do so without complaint, I doubt you’ll feel remotely as comfortable. Wind and other road hazards will seem to affect you a lot more, and you may also not have enough power to cruise comfortably.

Accidents And Drops

Another notable consideration for motorcycle weight is how it will affect drops or accidents. In the event you drop your motorcycle, a lighter bike will be far easier to pick up, while a heavier bike may be a challenge to get back on its wheels again.

In the event the bike falls on you in an accident, a lighter bike will be less likely to cause you personal injury, while a heavier bike can be much more dangerous. Many riders have sustained injuries due to their bike pinning them down to the road, sometimes while sliding.

While these concerns may not matter for the majority of your time riding, they could still make a difference when it counts. For some types of riders, off-road riders in particular, dropping a bike can happen quite frequently, and it usually isn’t a huge deal, although it certainly can result in some injuries here and there.

If you ride off-road, even some of the time, having a bike that won’t slam you to the ground if it falls over can prevent serious injury. It also means that you won’t break your back every time you have to pick it up, which if you’re riding off-road, will probably be quite a few times.

What Is Considered Heavy For A Motorcycle?

In general, a heavy motorcycle will probably be anything upwards of 450 or 500 lbs. Anything above that I would consider to be a heavy motorcycle. For most people, any bike over 500 lbs will start to feel very heavy, and bikes closer to the 800 or 900 lb mark can feel downright unrideable.

However, everyone who rides has a different perspective on what is considered a heavy bike.

The current heavyweight champion (i.e. the heaviest) production motorcycle is the Boss Hoss, a motorcycle produced in Tennessee with a V-8 from a Corvette. These bikes churn out over 350 horsepower, but they also weigh over 1100 lbs, so it comes as a bit of a tradeoff.

While the large bikes of more common manufacturers are a bit lighter, they still can be pretty heavy. Some of the high trim cruiser bikes from Harley-Davidson, Indian, BMW, and Honda weigh around 800 or 900 lbs, which is still quite heavy.

While these are still well-designed bikes, and you can certainly learn to ride them, for many people there’s just no need to get a bike with that much weight.

What Is Considered A Light Motorcycle?

I consider lighter bikes to be roughly anything under 350 lbs. There are lots of bikes that fall in between heavy and light, often referred to as “middle weight” bikes. Lots of sportier offerings fall within this category.

While many may prefer medium-sized bikes, if you’re in the market for low weight, it’s not hard to find options at very reasonable price points. There are many small scooters and motorcycles that easily fall below the 200 lb weight mark.

The truth is, if the motorcycle in question doesn’t have a big engine, it’s not that hard to make it pretty light. While heavy frames are certainly a thing, engine weight is often a huge part of what makes a motorcycle heavy in the first place. A big engine means big weight.

One of the most fun things to look for is a bike that’s somewhat powerful and also light. They just often end up being more expensive, as most people want those traits in their bikes. This type of bike is usually harder and more expensive to make.

Heavy vs Light Motorcycle: Which Is Best For Beginners?

Light motorcycles are almost always better for beginners. There may be a few exceptions to this, but in general, beginner riders will have a far easier time starting on a lighter bike. Usually, the lighter a motorcycle is, the easier it is to learn how to ride.

Light motorcycles are much easier to learn how to maneuver, as their low weight makes them very forgiving and easy to correct mistakes on. A heavier bike will be much less forgiving, and a beginner rider could end up dropping it very easily.

Experience Matters

Most people who start riding motorcycles have some amount of experience on two wheels, usually from a pedal bicycle. Smaller bikes, especially the really small ones, are really not too far from a bicycle, handling-wise, and so are much easier for someone who has never ridden a motorcycle to pick up and ride.

Heavier bikes tend to take a good deal of not only raw strength but also coordination to use properly at low speeds. It takes some time and practice to understand how to move a bike around and work with it instead of against it. This learning process will simply be much more difficult on a heavier bike.

Less Power

The other reason that lighter bikes tend to be better for beginners is that they’re often also less powerful. A lot of middleweight motorcycles really have quite a lot of power for the amount they weigh. Motorcycles in general tend to have really good power to weight ratios – even the cheaper and slower ones.

The result of this is that it’s really easy for a beginner to start on a bike that’s way too powerful and end up injuring themselves – or worse. Lighter and smaller bikes tend to have engines that are a bit less powerful, so they’re much easier to learn to ride without riding past your skill level.

Many people who are interested in riding motorcycles often attempt to buy large bikes as their first motorcycle. While some do it successfully and safely, many end up in the hospital or writing off an expensive bike because they weren’t willing to start on something smaller and slower.

Learn The Basics First

No matter what your first motorcycle is, learning how to ride is probably going to be a lot of fun. There’s no real harm in graduating to a bigger bike after you’ve mastered some riding skills. If you hone your skills safely on a smaller bike, you’ll have a much easier learning curve if you decide you want something larger down the line.

In most cases I recommend a scooter as a first bike. Scooters are usually not only light but also have a lower center of gravity than most motorcycles, which makes them very easy to handle, especially for beginners. They also usually don’t require shifting gears, so you can really just focus on riding safely and figuring out how to handle a motorcycle.

Are Heavier Motorcycles Better In The Wind?

Heavier motorcycles are better in the wind in the sense that they have more mass than lighter bikes, making them less resistant to gusts of wind blowing them around. However, the shape and height of the bike also affect how well it will handle in the wind.

There are a few different physical characteristics that determine how a motorcycle in motion will respond to windy conditions. In the case of weight, heavier bikes will have more inertia, making them much harder to blow over. A heavy bike in motion has a lot of mass, so it will be more resistant to gusts of wind.

A lighter bike in the same conditions may be more likely to be blown around. The lower weight means less mass and less inertia, so overall it will be easier for the wind to physically push around. So, in this respect, higher weight corresponds to being better in the wind.

Size And Shape Matter Too

However, weight itself is not the only factor at play when it comes to how a bike rides in wind. What matters as much, if not more in some cases, is the shape and height of the bike. A taller and less aerodynamic motorcycle will be more likely to get blown around by gusts, regardless of the bike’s weight.

A tall motorcycle will be more prone to moving around in high wind conditions, as the top of the bike isn’t rooted to the ground like the tires are. So, the higher it is, the easier it is for the wind to push it. A motorcycle with good sideways aerodynamics will allow wind to flow through it more smoothly and so will be less prone to movement.

So, if you’re looking for a motorcycle that will do well in windy conditions, a heavy bike is probably going to do better. But make sure that bike is also not overly tall and is relatively aerodynamic. If it doesn’t meet those criteria, a lighter bike with less surface area might do just as well or better.

Are Heavier Bikes Harder To Ride?

Heavier bikes are often harder to ride than lighter bikes. This is not always the case, and it definitely will depend on the motorcycle itself. In general, lighter bikes usually have an easier learning curve, and are much more forgiving when trying to learn how to handle a motorcycle.

Also, beyond the learning process, some bikes just require less effort to ride, even if you can competently ride them. A scooter will require far less physical effort to use than a super sport bike. Some cruisers may be very easy to use while moving on the highway, but in town will require much more focus and effort to ride.

Different Bikes For Different Things

A lot of it will depend on the situation. Different motorcycles are simply made for different types of motorcycling. If you want a bike to log a lot of freeway miles and carve easy country roads, but never spend time in cities or go off-road, a cruiser motorcycle will be the easiest bike to do that comfortably on.

If you want to ride off-road, a light dirt bike or dual sport will be the easiest motorcycle to do that on. If you want to buzz around a city, a small bike or scooter will be much more suited to that. Weight certainly plays a role, but it’s most important to get a motorcycle that matches the type of riding you want to do.

How Do You Choose The Right Motorcycle?

Choosing the right motorcycle is a very personal thing. In the ways I mentioned earlier, bikes are very different from cars. Because of the nature of their design, you (the rider) are a much-needed part of a whole, a key component of the beautiful two-wheeled machine that has inspired the enthusiasm of so many of us.

Your motorcycle can be thought of as an extension of yourself. It’s not merely a machine that you operate but it is a part of you and the way you interact with the world. Given this important relationship, choosing a bike that fits your personality and needs is paramount to having the best possible riding experience you can.

Questions To Ask

So, what kind of rider are you? What kind of riding do you want to do? Do you want a street weapon that will power through the corners? Do you want to cruise on the highways and relax, looking at the sky and the endless horizon? Do you want to ride around town, getting groceries, and zipping through traffic on a little scooter?

These are good questions to ask when trying to pick the right motorcycle for you. Many motorcycles are made to function in a few of these different situations, but no bike will function well in all of them. You must choose a motorcycle that most matches what you want to get out of motorcycling.

Do Your Own Research

When looking at purchasing your first motorcycle, there are a few things I’ll recommend to new riders to help this process go as smoothly and painlessly as possible. The first one is to do your own research.

If you mention to people that you’re interested in motorcycling, you will hear countless opinions, probably a lot of which will directly contradict each other. These opinions will have a huge range between everything from “Don’t do it, you’ll definitely die” to “It’s easy, buy a sports bike, scooters are for wimps.”

Get Lots Of Advice

Statistically, you will probably get some good advice, but you’ll probably also get a lot of advice that’s completely wrong. Here’s my tip – if you want advice from peers about motorcycling, get as much advice as possible from different people. Feel free to reach out to riding communities online, or find local groups, as they both may be able to offer words of wisdom.

Either way, this advice should be tempered with personal research. There’s a tremendous amount of information available online about motorcycles and motorcycling, and not any single person’s opinion is going to be 100% right for you.

Looking For A Good First Bike

So, if you’ve made it past this stage and are not deterred, let’s talk about some good things to look for in a first bike. The first step is determining what type of motorcycle is right for you. Regardless of the type of riding you want to do, I recommend that most beginners start on something small.

As I mentioned before, my personal favorite beginner motorcycle is a scooter. There is often some semi-subtle animosity towards scooters in the larger motorcycle community. Don’t pay any attention to it. Scooters are a great type of bike to learn on, and they’re fun to ride at any level of experience.

Motorcycling is (at least to me) about much more than raw speed. It’s about the feel of the road, the elements, and everything being amplified because you’re so exposed. Motorcycling is a raw experience, unfiltered by the protection and isolation of cars. That raw beauty can be experienced on any motorcycle, no matter how fast it goes.

Buy A Cheap Motorcycle

So, you’ve picked a motorcycle or style of motorcycle you want to look for, and now it’s time to start shopping. Another recommendation I have for new riders is to buy cheap. Lots of people pick up motorcycling as a hobby but end up not being that interested in it after a while, so the bike they bought just sits in their garage or is sold.

Many others may think they have a clear idea of what type of bike they want, but after some time spent riding they decide their bike isn’t the right type for them anymore. Others might just want an upgrade. The end result of all of these situations is the same – that bike gets sold.

Now, if you bought a cheap used bike, no worries. You didn’t pay much, and you can probably sell it for around what you bought it for. No harm done, little money lost (if any), no problem. But, if you bought an expensive new bike, you may be looking at a significant loss to resell it.

Damage Is Inevitable

The other reason I recommend cheap and especially cheap and used bikes to beginners is that you will probably damage your first motorcycle. The learning process of riding is rarely without mistakes. While some may not do this, most new riders will drop their bike at least once or twice, if not get into a small accident.

Again, if you went for the budget used bike, no worries here. A few dents and dings aren’t an issue, it probably already had a few when you bought it. However, if you bought a pristine new showroom motorcycle, your investment has now lost a lot of value in the learning process.

So, these unfortunate situations are usually avoided by just getting a cheap motorcycle to start with. You can always sell it and upgrade later, so a cheap and preferably used motorcycle is always my recommendation to first time riders.

Motorcycle Maintenance

The other part of purchasing a cheap and/or used motorcycle to consider is potential maintenance issues. If you’re not mechanically inclined, getting a troublesome bike can be an easy way to get rid of your enthusiasm for riding and lose interest in it entirely.

There are a few ways to counter these worries. The first is to become mechanically inclined. There’s no machine easier to learn basic engine maintenance on than an old carbureted single cylinder motorcycle. The internet is full of guides and tutorials to help you learn about basic motorcycle maintenance and repair.

If your bike is common enough, you may even find easy to understand YouTube videos on your specific motorcycle. These tutorials can provide step-by-step instructions to walk you through everything from replacing a spark plug to an oil change to tuning a carburetor.

I truly believe anyone can learn to work on engines. A small and simple old motorcycle is not very complicated, and so it provides an excellent platform to improve your understanding of how engines work and how to maintain and fix them.

Reliability

If you have no desire to work on your bike at all, or at least don’t want to do any maintenance past basic things like oil changes, then looking for a reliable bike is crucial to a positive experience. I still recommend looking for a cheap used bike, but there are certain brands to look for and avoid.

For example, an old Honda single cylinder motorcycle will probably run forever if it has been well maintained. Finding a fuel-injected motorcycle helps you avoid cleaning carburetors, but most motorcycles haven’t been fuel-injected for as long as cars have, so it can be difficult to find one for cheap.

Others may have different opinions, but in general, I recommend Honda and Yamaha over most other brands. They have proven themselves as producers of reliable motorcycles over the years. Their motorcycles are usually easy to maintain and fix, and they tend to break less than a lot of other bikes.

I’ve also heard good things about some Kawasaki bikes, although I have less personal experience with this brand. In general, Japanese motorcycles are some of the most reliable and well-built bikes available on the market.

Which Motorcycles Do You Like?

So, now you may have a clearer idea of what price range, size, and condition of bikes to look for in a first motorcycle. You may also have a good idea of what type of riding you want to do. So, all that’s left is to figure out which specific motorcycles you like.

As stated before, motorcycle preference is a very personal thing, but many people never try different types of motorcycles before settling on one thing. I recommend trying to test ride as many different motorcycles as possible, as this will help answer some questions as to what you prefer.

There are a few ways to do this. The first is through a motorcycle training course. In some states this is a legal requirement if you want a motorcycle license. Motorcycle training courses offer a lot of important information, but they also allow you to ride a few different bikes.

Most course instructors probably won’t have an issue with you trying a variety of different bikes out during the practical riding sections of the training course. This is a great opportunity to try a few different bikes and see what style fits you best.

The other easy way is if you have friends that ride motorcycles. See if they’ll give you a lesson or are willing to let you ride their bikes around for a little while. Even if it’s just in a parking lot, this can help you better figure out which kinds of bikes you like. Most motorcyclists enjoy helping others get involved, so you may be able to ride a few more bikes this way.

Final Thoughts

When deciding whether a heavy or light motorcycle is right for you, it’s really best to try both if you can and see what you prefer. While lighter motorcycles are usually better for beginners, it really depends on your experience level, what you like in a motorcycle, and your riding style.