Here’s the deal on that:
Sport bikes typically have plastic covers (“fairings,”) high footpeg clearance for cornering, stubby, steeply raked “clip on” handlebars and a tucked-in riding position. They also have high horsepower (often, enough to easily wheelie the bike just by throttle alone) and very aggressive power delivery, too. Some rev to more than 14,000 RPM! Several have more than 150 hp in a 400 pound package – a power to weight ratio better than a 911 turbo. These kinds of bikes can do 0-60 in less than 3 seconds, run the quarter mile in 10 seconds at more than 130 mph and have top speeds in the 150-plus range. Some can get close to 200 MPH.
It’s not just the tremendous power, either. Sport bike suspensions can be very unforgiving of newbie mistakes; the steering is typically rattlesnake quick and the chassis is set up on the assumption that the rider is experienced. Many of the latest sport bikes are basically the same as full-on race bikes. They are extremely aggressive machines – and very easy to get in over your head on. Examples of this type of bike include the Kawasaki ZX-10R and the notorious Suzuki GSXR Hayabusa (the ‘Busa) as well as smaller cc but often even more aggressive “middleweight ” bikes such as the Honda CBR600.
Such bikes are great fun but not for a person who has not thoroughly mastered basic riding techniques and is at least somewhat prepared to deal with the very aggressive riding characteristics and capabilities of such machines. My personal opinion: No one who hasn’t been riding regularly for at least a year (and taken the MSF class) has any business on any sport bike. This is the type of bike that is most likely to help get a young kid with little or no experience as a rider but who feels invincible and has little fear of death killed. Riding such a bike as your first bike is not unlike trying to learn to drive in a Ferrari or ZR-1 Corvette. It can be done, but it’s not a good idea.
You also don’t want a large cruiser/touring bike; they are too heavy (some weigh close to 1,000 pounds) for a beginner and very easy to drop/lose control of in a corner and during low-speed maneuvering if you are not experienced. This is the type of bike that is most likely to help get a middle-aged, first-time rider having a mid-life crisis killed. A 45 year old guy thinks he’s too mature to start on something smaller – or take the MSF class. And soon finds himself dead. Examples of this kind of bike include big Harleys, the Honda Goldwingand so on.
So, what does that leave?
Standards and four-stroke dual sports – in the 250-650 cc range. (Avoid two-stroke off-road motorcycles; these also are not for beginners.)
These bikes have moderate power and mild power delivery; they are not too heavy; they are predictable and easy to ride – and will help you learn to ride without getting in over your head (and getting hurt).
I’ve mentioned bikes like the Kawasaki KL/KLR series and the Honda XLs as examples of good-natured/forgiving and easy to ride dual-sport motorcycles. These types of bikes are my personal recommendation for a new/beginner rider. You can learn to ride on the lawn/dirt. And if you drop the bike, it will not hurt it (even cosmetically; they are rugged and don’t have a lot of chrome to scratch, etc.)
Examples of standards include bikes like the thoroughly excellent Honda Nighthawk, which has been made in sizes from 250 to 750 ccs (the latter being a fine bike for almost any purpose, including commuting). The Suzuki SV650 is a little more aggressive, but it’s ok, too.
Another option: a 500-650 cc Japanese bike from the late ’70s or early ’80s. These are much like current standards such as the Honda Nighthawk. They’re docile, easy to ride bikes. For example, something like an early ’80s Suzuki GS500 or, the standard version of the touring bike I recently got, the Honda GL500/GL650 v-twin.
Bikes such as these have the Coolness Factor and also have the advantage of being really inexpensive; you can pick up a nice one for less than $2,500.
As long as you stick with standards and dual-sports, you’ll be fine.
No sport bikes; no big cruising or touring bikes!
Not for your first bike, anyhow.