My idea of a motorcycle might conjure up a different image than yours. That’s because there are so many varieties of motorcycles on the road, and you may imagine a big, bulky, decked out Honda Goldwing when you think about motorcycles. I, on the other hand, might bring up an image of a sleek, fast, Kawasaki Ninja. But motorcycles can be categorized into several groups that distinguish them from each other. What follows are basic descriptions of each type of motorcycle you might encounter.
Choppers – Choppers are reminiscent of Harley-Davidson’s Panhead, Captain America, made famous in the film, Easy Riders. They are a type of cruiser, are often show bikes, and usually have long frames, raked out forks, high ape hanger style handlebars, reclining seats, custom paint schemes and lots of chrome. They can be either built from scratch or modified to change their appearance. They usually don’t have any rear suspension and, therefore the handling is more difficult, maneuverability is compromised, and the ride is bumpier.
Cruisers – Typically the design of these bikes are reminiscent of the Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycles of the 1930 to 1950 era. Large displacement, V-Twin engines are the norm, but smaller models do exist. Riders sit in a straight up position with arms often high and can be easily exhausted from the wind blasting them and an unnatural arm positioning. Cruiser ground clearances are limited, thus cornering ability is also impacted. Cruisers are designed for shorter rides.
Dirt Bikes – Dirt bikes are off road motorcycles, usually light weight and have small engines. Their characteristics include high ground clearance and long suspension travel. The large wheels and knobby tires make the bike easier to handle in the dirt, rocks and off road conditions. Most have a rugged construction, limited bodywork and paint, and are sans fairings. These bikes are not for show and are often dropped, scraped up and beat up from off road riding. Many dirt bikes are not street legal, and are only designed to be ridden off road.
Dual Sport/Adventure Touring – Many riders now enjoy the convenience of a dual sport motorcycle, which like dirt bikes are used for off-roading fun, but like touring bikes are street legal and are used for long distance motorcycle adventure tours. They have upright positions and comfortable seats for long rides, and their rugged, hard saddlebags can carry tents, additional fuel, and items needed for this type of travel.
Enduro Bikes – These motorcycles are designed for long distance, off road competitions. They are often outfitted with timers and roll chart reading devices to aid riders with navigation and timekeeping. All have headlights and tail lights so riders can be visible while riding at night.
Naked Bikes or Standard Bikes – Naked bikes or standard bikes are exactly what they sound like; they lack fairings, accessories and bodywork. They are reminiscent of the British bikes of the 50′s.
Scooters – Scooters are small in size with engines as small as 50 cc and not usually larger than 250 cc and have an enclosed motor that makes them cleaner and quieter than larger motorcycles. Another big difference in a scooter as opposed to the other types of motorcycles is the automatic transmission that makes them easier to learn and ride. They were popular in the oil crisis of the 70′s and have had a resurgence in the last few years. Under the category of Scooters there are also “Power Scooters”, which still feature an automatic transmissions, but have much larger engines – up to 650 cc, and generally include commuter-friendly accessories like increased storage.
Sport Bikes – Sport bikes are modeled after high performance racing bikes and require a leaned over, arms-forward posture. They have powerful motors and tight handling, capable of speeds of over 150 mph and more. They have high performance engines in a lightweight frame and emphasize speed, power, braking and cornering ability. Most have fairings that deflect wind at high speeds. Fuel tanks are smaller, and the high performance engine utilizes the fuel quickly, making them unable to travel long distances without frequent fuel stops. The uncomfortable rider posture also discourages long rides.
Supermoto Bikes – These bikes are modeled after the racing bikes that compete both on and off road. They combine the off road characteristics with roadworthy tires and deep suspension.
Trials Bikes – These motorcycles are specialty competition bikes used for trials that focus on balance and precision rather than speed. Most have small engines, 125 to 300 cc, and are of the two stroke variety. Most don’t have seats, and feature stiff suspension. Fuel tanks are small, and range is limited, but these bikes are not used for travel, so the small amount of fuel contributes to a lower weight and contributes to the precision requirements in competitions where riders are required to maneuver around obstacles without letting their feet touch the ground.
Touring Motorcycles – These motorcycles, often called dressers, are intended not just for day to day commutes, but excel at handling the needs of long distance, cross-country travelers. Equipped with comfortable seats, back rests, windshields or fairings, saddlebags, touring packs, floorboards, and often music systems, GPS and cruise control, these motorcycles are big and comfortable and have large fuel tanks (5 or 6 gallons) for long distance travel. They have large displacement engines and can weigh as much as 900 pounds, and handle a fully loaded weight of up to 1,400 pounds or more while carrying a rider.