None of these motorcycles would be a bad first motorcycle. In fact, all of these motorcycles would be great first rides. However, as a Motorcycle Safety Instructor since 1999 most students I've talked to got interested in motorcycles for the looks, sounds and mystique of the sport. Therefore there is really only one motorcycle here that will keep a new riders interest for more than one riding season, the Ducati 696 Monster. I've never liked any of the other Monsters I've ridden over the years, mostly because I never liked the lack of front-end feedback. This Ducati handled great. What also surprised me was the fit and finish of the 696. Such things as stainless steel brake lines were a really nice touch. So, while all the other bikes seem to say, beginner bike (not a bad thing, mind you), if you can afford the extra $2k or so, the Ducati 696 Monster says beginner-intermediate fun.
Siding these bikes reminds me of my humble beginnings, only any of these four could run circles around my SV. I've never quite gotten along with Ducati Monsters for one reason or another, but other than the wide bars the 696 is starting to win me over. The Kawasaki was great in the twisty stuff, but buzzed a bit too much for my liking everywhere else. The Yamaha was the exact opposite; soft and plush, for better or for worse. I can't stress enough how all of these bikes will suit the new rider well, but for the type of riding I do I'd have to go back to my roots and pick the Gladius. To me it's the best compromise between performance and comfort, and as an SV650 owner I'm all too familiar with the engine and that's really what won me over. Sure my opinion might be biased this time around, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't be happy with any of these machines.
Fresh off the liter-class shootout, it was comforting to know that none of these bikes would launch you to the moon if you grabbed a handful. The Ducati soaks up the tight stuff like a shop-vac on steroids. It also sacrifices creature comforts while offering the most aggressive design and function. In this entry level class Yamaha's FZ6R is at the other end of the spectrum, offering its pilot comfortable ergos, adjustable seat, and a full fairing that gives it a hardcore look. Kawi's inline offers capable handling and a strong power delivery, yet the funky styling and lack of stopping power prevents the ER6N from dominating. Suzuki's SV...oops I meant Gladius...offers the best overall package with its wonderful v-twin power delivery, compliant handling, and easy on the eye design. I just wish Suzuki would offer more color options.
One of the biggest fears (and myths) that we hear from prospective newbie riders is that they don't want to buy a motorcycle that they'll "grow out of after a year or so." The mistaken belief that sportbikes like these four are too tame and won't pack enough performance for their growing skills is an all-too common excuse, and it's an error that can have serious repercussions for their future. The only thing you'll learn by starting off on a motorcycle way beyond your skillset is how to be intimidated by its demanding performance; trust me, your skills will blossom much quicker by learning to access (and then later on exploit) the more user-friendly performance of machines like these
If your beginning pocketbook can handle the Ducati, by all means, it's a solid performer. But for what I'd be looking for in a first bike, the Yamaha provides the best and most cheap thrills of the bunch.