Motorcycling is a sensory rush you simply cannot get on four wheels. If you’re a brand-new motorcyclist, the ride is best learned and enjoyed aboard a small machine. For every heavy-hitter Vincent or Indian headlining an auction stage, there are a jillion unheralded 90–200cc bikes that can provide equal joy for an iota of the price. Read the full article on Hagerty.com:
I had a Kawasaki 90 MB1MA when I was a kid and it was great bike. Super durable, easy to work on, and anyone could ride it. My neighbor had a Honda trail 90 and back then, all the neighbor kids thought the Kawasaki was super cool and the Honda 90, not so much. Of course today I would own that Trail 90 with pride!
I bought a ‘69 SL90 new off the showroom floor, after it came a few others others like: 175 Kawasaki F7, 175 Honda MR175, Honda XR350R.
About ten years ago a bought another SL90 with 1,100 original miles and totally unmolested, this one is a keeper.
If you've got a choice of the three, go for the Honda. Some parts are still available new (as in Honda is still making some of the engine parts, forget about any of the tinware), and it's going to be the most reliable of the three.
The Hodaka is pure fantasy. The line of bikes went out of production in the early 70's when the Japanese motorcycle industry settled down to the Big 4. Restoring and keeping one running today is a matter of having a couple of parts bikes stowed in the back of the garage. Plus there's a matter of finding one in the first place. Hodaka owners tend to know what they've got, and they're usually not interested in selling.
For serious riding, actually going somewhere on the street, and resembling day-to-day transportation, the Triumph Cub is the one to go for. It's got the performance, comfort, and actually has some aftermarket support, mainly because once the aftermarket covered the Triumph and BSA 650's and 500's, the Cub was the next on the list. Just the same: All those horror stories you've heard about owning a vintage British motorcycle (electrics, leaks, vibration, fragile-ness, etc.) are here on display in spades. It's nowhere near as reliable as it's vertical twin siblings, the parts availability is at best about half the bigger bikes, and you're going to be a pretty good mechanic by the time you've owned one of these for 2-3 years. There's a reason why the Japanese motorcycle industry stomped the British industry flat, and this is a prime example. It's a wonderful example of everything that was both wonderful and horrible about British motorcycles of the Sixties.
If you really want to live a wonderful history lesson, I strongly suggest owning both a Honda 90 and a Triumph Cub, and ride them both regularly. No matter what you read in books, this will drive home the motorcycling Sixties.
The Honda 90 or the later 110 is the ideal beginner bike.
Because of the centrifugal clutch, there isn’t that added problem of starting, but the bike does require shifting so one does learn about that.
After riding a 90 for a while and becoming used to riding, going to a more powerful bike with a clutch isn’t a huge leap.
It is a travesty to omit the Kawasaki KDX200 from this list. The frame geometry, the engine and the ergonomics are beginner-friendly. It starts easily and has excellent reliability, but the best thing about it is as the skill level improves, the bike's capabilities become a help instead of a hinderance.
Normally shod with knobbies, a set of quality trials-pattern tires will suffice for pavement use, should you so desire.
These bikes have started many a racer's career and whether your goal is racing or just riding for enjoyment in dirt or on the pavement, you can't go wrong with a KDX as a beginner.
I had a Suzuki 80 as a young teen. My brother bought it and I "inherited" it when he outgrew it. I had the service manual and literally took everything apart and put it back together again over several years. As a 2 stroke it was even simpler than the 4 stroke Hondas and easy to work on. Thankfully there was a local dealer just a few miles away where I could get all the parts. It was a fun bike.
My recollection is that the Hodaka had an unbelievably high revving engine. I think the cruising speed worked out to 7,000 rpm. When it was doing 35 mph it sounded like it was going for the land speed record. Back when they were brand new and Hondas were ubiquitous I can only remember seeing one Hodaka; I can't believe there are any left.