A motorcycle, commonly referred to as a motorbike, bike, or, when equipped with three wheels, a trike, is a motor vehicle with either two or three wheels, steered using a handlebar from a saddle-style seat.
Motorcycle designs vary significantly to accommodate different purposes, including long-distance travel, commuting, cruising, sport (including racing), and off-road riding. Engaging in motorcycling involves not only riding the motorcycle but also participating in related social activities such as joining motorcycle clubs and attending motorcycle rallies.
The 1885 Daimler Reitwagen, crafted by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Germany, marked the inception of the first internal combustion, petroleum-fueled motorcycle. In 1894, Hildebrand & Wolfmüller achieved the milestone of producing the first series production motorcycle.
Globally, motorcycles are a popular mode of transport, comparable to cars. In 2021, approximately 58.6 million new motorcycles were sold worldwide, slightly fewer than the 66.7 million cars sold during the same period. As of 2022, the top four motorcycle producers by volume and type were Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki. Particularly in developing countries, motorcycles are considered utilitarian due to their lower prices and greater fuel efficiency. Interestingly, 58% of all motorcycles worldwide are located in the Asia-Pacific and Southern and Eastern Asia regions, excluding car-centric Japan.
According to the US Department of Transportation, the number of fatalities per vehicle mile traveled is 37 times higher for motorcycles than for cars, highlighting the importance of safety considerations in motorcycling.
A Beginner’s Guide to Types of Motorcycles
If you’ve been riding motorcycles for a few seasons, you might be contemplating a change or an upgrade to a bike with a larger engine or a different style altogether. In the world of motorcycling, everyone starts from the same starting point. When the time comes to switch bikes, the type you choose is a highly personal decision. The array of motorcycles available for an upgrade can be overwhelming, whether you’re considering a new purchase or looking into used motorcycles. It’s crucial to have a clear understanding of your options. Here’s a breakdown of the various types of motorcycles available, along with a solid recommendation to consider for each one:
The standard motorcycle is a popular choice due to its straightforward design and versatility for various purposes. Ranging from 125cc to 1,000cc, it can be customized with luggage, a tank bag, and a different seat. This makes it an excellent first and all-around motorcycle suitable for riders of different skill levels. The Yamaha SR400 is a recommended choice for a versatile town motorcycle, striking a balance between beginner-friendly and satisfying for experienced riders. It typically lacks a large front fairing.
Known as a chopper, the cruiser is designed for laid-back cruising, featuring a slightly lower seat height, making it ideal for around-town rides or extended weekends with added luggage. Engine sizes vary, with options from small displacement to over 1,000cc. Brands like Harley-Davidson, with models like the H-D Low Rider, exemplify the cruiser style—low-slung and perfect for both new and seasoned riders. It provides a comfortable and stylish option for quick trips or extended rides.
Sportbikes are built for speed and agility, characterized by forward-leaning ergonomics for nimble cornering. They are typically lighter and constructed with aluminum and other lightweight materials for enhanced maneuverability. Sporting a higher seat height, they aim for increased lean angles without scraping foot pegs or fairings. Suzuki’s GSXR600, a part of the GSXR lineup that originated in the 1980s, stands out as a reliable choice. It offers sufficient power and can be transformed into a reasonably comfortable weekend sport-touring motorcycle with additional accessories.
Touring motorcycles are larger and designed for cross-country adventures with ample amenities. They feature extensive storage, comfortable ergonomics for extended rides, and large fairings to shield against wind and weather. Known for their ability to maintain highway speeds and carry substantial gear, touring bikes are epitomized by the iconic Honda Goldwing. Often seen with high mileage, these motorcycles endure the test of time and are perfect for everything from a simple trip to an adventurous weekend exploring the country’s landmarks.
Sport Touring motorcycles strike a balanced blend between Sport and Touring models, offering a versatile riding experience. With a slightly taller seat height than Touring bikes and improved luggage options compared to Sport motorcycles, they are well-suited for both quick trips and longer road adventures. Engine sizes typically fall in the mid-range to larger categories, providing ample power. The Kawasaki Concours14 ABS is a commendable choice in the Sport Touring category, equipped to carry extra gear for extended journeys while delivering a powerful performance ideal for highway cruising.
Dual Sport motorcycles, also known as Dual Purpose or Adventure Sport, are designed for versatility—equally at home on or off-road. Featuring aggressive off-road suspension and potentially knobby tires, they maintain road functionality with lights and a horn. With a slightly taller seat height, these bikes navigate backroads and off-beaten paths effortlessly. While limited in storage, they can be customized with additional bags for a weekend camping adventure. The BMW G 310 GS exemplifies this category, blending off-road capability with a sporty look and feel suitable for various riding experiences.
Though some debate their classification as motorcycles, Scooters provide a convenient and stylish means of urban transportation. Ideal for metropolitan areas with lower speed limits, Scooters are lightweight and easy to maneuver through city streets. Coming in sizes from 50cc to 500cc, they offer enough power for commutes or a night out. With a smaller fairing and limited storage, Scooters like the Honda Ruckus offer a practical and fun way to cruise around the city.
Distinct from Scooters, Mopeds have a bicycle-style frame, a smaller engine (50cc or less), or even an electric motor. Lightweight and often considered “vintage,” Mopeds lack significant power and storage, featuring minimal or no fairings. Major motorcycle brands may not offer true Mopeds but imported brands like TaoTao provide simple options. The TaoTao Titan 50, with 50cc, offers minimal storage and fairing options, embodying the retro-cool charm of Mopeds.
Off-road motorcycles are purpose-built for exploring uncharted territories, featuring tall seat heights and robust suspension for tackling rough terrain. Lacking lights and turn signals, they are typically transported to off-road destinations. Lightweight and ready for back trail adventures, Kawasaki’s KLX110 offers an affordable option with a 4-speed transmission and clutch-less design, ensuring a comfortable ride for exploring steep hills and enjoying scenic views over a weekend getaway.