A buddy of mine is considering a fix it upper road bike for fun and to learn (prior dirt bike rider). I still go by the rule of thumb that 600cc is iffy for beginners but a lot of used 1980s bikes are 600cc-1000c and less powerful than their modern equivalent.

Is the performance somewhat comparable to modern engines with same CC? Weight?

  • What size dirt bikes did he ride and what was his experience with them? Dec 15, 2015 at 20:37
  • All - I removed the new rider pieces from this and made it a comparison between older bikes and newer bikes regarding performance and weight and deleted my new rider based response to convert the question from subjective to a comparison of facts. Dec 22, 2015 at 22:52
  • What style of bike are you trying to compare the Sabre with? When you say "a 600 is iffy" do you mean it's too big? Dec 28, 2015 at 8:29
  • This question bugs me. There's too many factors at play which we're trying to answer beyond the obvious mechanical question. Will a new motor make the same power as an old one? Maybe. Depends on the bike. Is this a good bike for a learner? Probably not. But... maybe. Depends on the rider. Are there better learner bikes to choose from? Yes. For a variety of reasons. Dec 28, 2015 at 9:03

5 Answers 5


I don't think the engine size is as much a factor as the geometry for a new rider. Of course mentality is the most critical. Geometry is function of the type of riding. If this is in a city with congested roads I'd opt for something more upright with better visibility. Back then you could get trail bikes and ride them on the road, and they were very easy to ride unless you were on a very windy freeway. My first bike was a Honda FT500 and it was good for a learner.

You are correct in hesitation to put the new rider on a modern liter bike, or even a modern 600cc sport bike.

Until the late 90's motorcycles always had much better acceleration than cars so it was easy to get ahead of the traffic from a red light and get away from the other cars. In the late 90's cars started getting much faster off the line and motorcycles started getting ridiculously fast and light. Regular riders on their 80's bikes lost the assumed lead they had off the line and had to adjust riding style (usually this was subconscious as the learned to check their sides more)

  • +1 all good points. Learner + big heavy bike + delusions of grandure or nostalgic memories of how fast he used to be... good recipe for a messy ending. Dec 28, 2015 at 8:10

If he is an experienced motocross rider on a 450cc, he might be comfortable on the road with a 600cc. Granted, riding on the street is a different beast than on the track. Most of the time it's not yourself that you have to worry about, but everyone else. People will make a habit of not seeing you. On top of that, you don't want the added risk of a bike that you cannot control.

I would still recommend starting on a small cc bike.

Performance all depends on the manufacturer and specific bike. Some bikes of old can still lay down the rubber compared to bikes of today.

  • 1984 Honda Sabre 1100 is bike in question near his house...1100cc of fun. He's not that level of motocross or dirt biking but can drive down a road fine and shift.
    – deek
    Dec 15, 2015 at 20:34

The Honda V-engines were very powerful for their times. When the V65 Magna came out, it was the fastest street bike for its model year. IIRC, the Sabre uses the same engine. That makes the Sabre a very formidable bike, whether it's an 80's bike or what. If the rider is new to riding, it would be my suggestion they not get it because it is a lot of bike. Learn how to ride on a 600cc (or less) bike, because chances are the 1100 is going to be way too much for any beginner.

  • 1
    The Interceptor used that same engine platform as well. Dec 15, 2015 at 20:45
  • 1
    @DucatiKiller - The Interceptor used a chain drive over the Magna/Sabre using a shafts drive, making them very smooth riding bikes, which makes them even more difficult for a new rider ... at least that's my opinion. Dec 15, 2015 at 20:49
  • 2
    Good point. I would think the challenge would be shaft lash on those platforms. In the 80's the shafties would rise in ride height with power and drop with none. The variance could be several inches. That hopping up and down can really get you in a corner. Dec 15, 2015 at 20:51
  • I will say I love the V engines. Dec 15, 2015 at 21:31

The design of the engine is going to have a lot to do with how easy the bike is to ride. Is it a V-twin, parallel twin, single, or inline 4? Different engine designs handle throttle response very differently. An inline 4 might get you into trouble if you accidentally give it too much throttle at the wrong time. V-twins tend to have a lot more low end torque. Parallel Twins and Singles are great beginner bikes, but they tend to not have very high displacement. Also the style of bike (Cruiser, Standard, Touring, etc.) will have a lot to do with it as well.


You have mentioned he's looking at a VF1100 Sabre. I am assuming you are asking about comparing it with a modern sports bike.

To answer your question directly: The short answer is that a modern 1000cc bike will have significantly better performance than 30 year old 1000cc bike. In fact a modern 600 will probably have better power to weight ratio.

Rough comparison a 1980 GS1000 made about 100hp. A modern 1000cc sports bike will make nearly twice that.

A modern CBR600 makes about 100hp. However it's probably about 50kg lighter.

However your post and other people's replies raise a few issues. Yes modern bikes are lighter, faster and more reliable, they also handle better and stop faster. But they're also more expensive and not everyone wants a modern sports bike.

Maybe you should be asking your friend what type of bike he wants to ride. What does he want to do with it? If that's what he wants.. well that's what he wants.

A VF1100 was and still is a capable bike. But by today's standards it will be considered heavy, and it's handling and braking will be considered poor. Also as it's now 30 years old it's probably in need of significant maintenance.

Think: 589lb/100hp+ bike capable of >120mph with soggy suspension and crappy brakes.

My other thought is that if your friend hasn't ridden for a long time and his last experience was on a dirt bike he might be in for a nasty surprise. Big heavy 30 year old road bikes don't turn or stop like a dirt bike or sports bike. He'll learn that the hard way the first day he tries riding fast on a windy road or wants to stop in a hurry.

However... Provided your friend is realistic about this bike, maintains it, and rides it within both his and the bikes limits he'll be fine.

If he really is a novice. There are a lot of other bikes out there that are more learner friendly that will help him gain confidence and proficiency faster.

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