Iconic Beginner Bikes

I guess a lot of guys riding today missed out on what was considered the emerging motorcycle market of the 1970’s. Not only that, but even the ideas of what constituted a beginner bike has definitely changed. See, when I started, you had bikes like the CB125 by Honda, for instance.

This bike was actually recommended to me as a “first bike” back in 1977. Of course, I find it interesting that with with the updates in technology, (ABS, adjustable suspension, anti-lock brakes), we now have bikes that have gotten faster, better handling, with better brakes. And yet, motorcyclists and dealers are recommending 600’s and 650 twins as first bikes! Back when I started, a 650 four was considered a “big bike.” Point being, rider aides and technology, while valid safety features, does not necessarily make a new rider a better rider, in that more power and weight still have to be skillfully managed.

The next step up for me, after considering the cb125, was the cb360 by Honda. The dealer thought that would be too much bike for me. Of course, at 16 years old, he may have had somewhat of a point, although he thought it might be a viable choice, due to it being a somewhat “dual-purpose” motorcycle.

As I sauntered through the dealer showroom, my eyes landed on the breathtaking Yamaha rd400f. “Oh no, you don’t want that bike,” he said. I asked him, “Why not?” You’ll wheelie that bike, probably crash it.” He went on, “It’s a two-stroke, a race bike with turn signals. Not safe for a beginner.” I resented his words at the time, as my father nodded his head in agreement. But I appreciate them now.

Yup, there it is. The iconic two-stroke RD 400F. The Daytona Special. I wonder today, what that bike would be worth if I had bought it in late 1978… I probably would have held onto it, or sold it for MUCH more than what I paid for it.

I looked closely at one final machine, before settling on what would become my first motorcycle. And, I guess one could argue that I did indeed settle. But again, it was Honda that just seemed to have those nice, middle-of-the-road machines at that time. After all, they were the ones that had the slogan, “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” It was the Honda Hawk. And, it actually came in two different iterations. The Hawk 1 with spoke wheels and drum brakes, and the Hawk 2 with “Comstar” wheels (Honda “exclusive”), and disk brake.

In considering all this, it amazes me how much has changed in terms of our perception of what makes a good beginner bike. And obviously, there is no universal agreement on that. However, I will say that I started quite conservatively, which really helped me to concentrate on the important stuff. Other drivers. Cagers. It was probably a good decision. Because it kept me alive, and kept me riding. The dealer looked at my father, “Jim, I have one more bike you might consider. A bit more power than that 125, but still a nice little bike, and great for him to learn on.” My father said, “We’ll take that one.” And, as a young man two years from finishing high-school, it fit the bill just fine. I stayed alive, and I am still riding today.

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