I ride a Kawasaki ZX14. It’s an incredibly fast bike with a lot of power. It’s not a beginner bike and not a bike that just anyone can hop on and ride.
Despite this, every time I go out for a ride, at least one person will ask me if they can ride it.
If I had a nickel for every time I received this question from a stranger, I’d be a very rich woman.
I didn’t always ride this beast; I started on a 250cc motorcycle, then moved up to a race tuned 600cc, and then eventually traded that in for the bike I have now.
It’s this gradual increase in engine size that has made for a safe and enjoyable motorcycle riding experience.
There are several factors that you should consider when choosing the right motorcycle engine size, including experience, height, weight, budget, and intended use.
Before getting into the specifics of engine CC size, there are several factors to consider. The one everyone focuses on is experience, and while this is important, it isn’t the only thing to focus on.
Riders should also think about their budget, intended use, height, and weight.
Available Sportbike Motorcycle Engine Sizes
Knowing what each motorcycle manufacturer offers helps you narrow down what sportbike engine sizes are available. Some manufacturers offer a broad range of sizes, while others are limited to a single size.
Not all motorcycle manufacturers make sportbikes in a broad range of sizes. Knowing the motorcycle engine size that you want can help you narrow down your options to the manufacturers that make bikes in the size you’re looking for.
The bigger manufacturers that specialize in sportbikes like Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Yamaha tend to offer the widest selection range.
This makes it easy to start with a small engine size and then transition into progressively larger engines from the same manufacturer as you become more experienced.
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Best Motorcycle Engine Size For New Riders
If you have never ridden a motorcycle, dirt bike, or anything that requires you to shift, then you are new rider who should start with a 125 to 500cc engine. These smaller motorcycle engines are perfect for learning the basics without overpowering you.
As a new rider who has no experience with motorcycles, dirt bikes, or shifting, it’s best to start with a small engine.
This reduces the risk level as you make mistakes and develop the necessary muscle memory.
The overall motorcycle weight is also lower, making the bike easier to control and handle. Look for a bike that’s anywhere from 125cc to 500cc.
Additionally, these smaller bikes tend to be the most affordable, so you don’t have to make a large financial investment while you’re figuring out if motorcycle riding is something you really want to commit to.
Bike to Consider: Kawasaki Ninja 400
If you are new to motorcycles, you can’t go wrong with the Kawasaki Ninja 400. You don’t have to sacrifice features and style with the smaller bikes from Kawasaki.
They also hold their value well for when you’re ready to upgrade to something bigger.
If Kawasaki isn’t your style, check out our more in-depth article on The best sportbike for beginners for more options.
If you are new to motorcycles but have experience with dirt bikes or something similar, then you can consider a slightly larger engine size in the 500 to 750cc range.
If you are new to motorcycle riding but have experience with dirt bikes or manual engines, then you have a base of knowledge to work from.
This makes you a beginner, but also capable of handling a bike that’s slighter larger with a bit more power.
A motorcycle engine in the 500 to 750cc range will give you a little extra performance capability but not so much that it outpaces your experience.
Bike to Consider: Suzuki GSX-R750
As a beginner, you have a basic understanding of the mechanics required, you just need to get experience on a motorcycle.
The Suzuki GSX-R750 will deliver just enough performance to be safe yet fun to ride.
It’s a lightweight bike that makes it nimble and fun to throw around the curves.
Experienced Riders Who Are Ready to Upgrade
When your experience and confidence outgrow your current small engine motorcycle it’s time to consider upgrading to a larger engine, typically around 1000cc.
The more you ride, the more experience you gain and the more confident you’ll become.
A time will come when you’ll outgrow your smaller engine beginner bike and feel ready for a new challenge. When this happens, it’s time to upgrade to a bigger and more powerful engine.
For many sportbike riders, this means upgrading to a 1000cc engine, also known as a liter bike.
These motorcycles don’t just have bigger engines, they have performance tuned engines that accelerate faster, reach higher top speeds, and handle curves better.
Bike to Consider: Honda CBR 1000RR
The Honda CBR 1000RR is one of the most popular liter bikes because it delivers usable midrange performance and a rider position that’s more ergonomic than some of the other comparable bikes from the other manufacturers.
You’ll enjoy more noticeable engine responsiveness while also having a bike that’s mechanically reliable and holds its value well.
Type of Riding Influences Engine Size
The type of riding you want to do will influence the size of engine that you should buy. A smaller engine is better suited for short rides within city limits, while a larger engine is better suited for longer, cross country rides.
If you plan to primarily ride locally on city streets, then you don’t need a large touring bike.
A smaller and lighter engine in the 400 to 750cc will be easier to maneuver on smaller streets and in heavier traffic.
Conversely, if you want to take long trips and give touring a try, you’ll be much more comfortable on a larger bike.
A larger engine will perform better and experience less stress on a longer ride at highways speeds. Typically sport touring engines are 1200cc and above.
Think about the performance you want to get out of the motorcycle.
For example, let’s look at the Kawasaki ZX-14 and Concourse. These two bikes are very close in engine size with the ZX at 1,441cc and the Concourse at 1,352cc.
They are essentially the same bike with the same engine, but one is tuned for all out track and drag race performance while the other is tuned for touring.
The ZX has a more aggressive rider position while the concourse is going to make your back much happier on those long rides.
The ZX gives you heart racing acceleration off the line while the Concourse delivers smooth performance and handling on the open road.
If you only look at engine size without considering anything else, you could choose the wrong bike and be disappointed with the bike’s performance.
Commuter Bike to Consider: Yamaha MT-07
The punchy performance of the Yamaha MT-70 makes it a good commuter bike as it has the handling you need to navigate traffic Monday through Friday and the curves on the weekends. Its naked styling means you can easily add some luggage and have a bike that still looks good.
Touring Bike to Consider: BMW R 1250 RT
Known as the king of sport touring by many, you can’t go wrong with the BMW R 1250 RT.
This beast of a machine comes with every bell and whistle you could want while out on the road.
The engine delivers smooth power, the handling is responsive, and there’s an impressive luggage system.
Your Height Can Influence Engine Size
If you are especially short, tall, or heavy, you need to take this into consideration when choosing your engine and overall motorcycle size. Generally, engine size relates to motorcycle size, and you may need to adjust your expectations on engine size to accommodate your size.
There is no minimum or maximum height or weight for riding motorcycles. However, you should consider your height and weight when choosing your bike.
Sport bikes tend to have a higher seat stance than other types of motorcycles. This is something to consider if you have short legs.
Buying a big bike with a larger engine can mean that you need to make some additional adjustments before you feel comfortable on the bike.
For example, I am 5’ 10” and in my boots I can put my feet flat on the ground when sitting on my ZX.
However, my husband is 5’ 8” and he struggles on his toes when sitting on my bike. Part of this is our height difference but it is also our leg length difference.
Conversely, if you are especially tall or have a higher-than-average weight, you may be too large for a smaller engine bike.
Remember, that the engine needs enough power to move the combined weight of the bike and you.
A small engine will struggle, and you will hear it scream as you crank the throttle coaxing the engine to generate enough power.
Bike to Consider: Ducati Panigale V2
With a seat height that’s just over 33 inches, the Ducati Panigale V2 has one of the tallest seat heights, making it a great option for someone who is tall or has especially long legs.
Check out our guide for The best sportbike for your height for more seat heights.
Remember you may be able to lower a bike if you find the perfect bike but it is just a bit too tall.
However, not all sportbikes can be lowered, so do your research before buying a bike that is too tall for you.
Budget Influences Engine Size
A smaller budget will limit you to a smaller engine size while a larger budget means you can consider larger motorcycle engines.
Your budget will influence the size of engine you can afford. A smaller and less powerful engine will be more affordable than a larger and more powerful engine.
Additionally, the more performance tuned the engine is and the more features it comes with, the more expensive the bike will be.
Many manufacturers will offer a base model of a particular engine size that is several thousand dollars lower than specialty tuned models of the same engine.
If you are budget conscious, the base model engine is a better option than the high-tuned engine model.
How do I know if a motorcycle is the right size for me?
Sit on the motorcycle with your feet on the ground and your hands on the handlebars.
You need to be able to comfortably reach the ground and the controls without stretching, twisting, or contorting your body in any way.
If you cannot do this, then this is not the right bike for you.
Is a slower motorcycle safer?
There is a certain level of danger that comes with riding any motorcycle. You are riding on the same roads and in the same traffic.
However, a slower motorcycle can reduce the level of risk because it accelerates slower, and you ride at slower speeds.
This enables other drivers to see you better and helps you stop faster in an emergency situation.