Not All Created Equal: 12 Different Types of Motorcycles
If you were to close your eyes for a second and picture yourself riding a motorcycle, which one would it be? There’s a good chance you’ve got a specific make, model, or style underneath your posterior. You gravitate towards certain types of motorcycles for a reason: color or graphics, riding position, power, speed, handling, or something else entirely.
There are—count ‘em—12 different types of motorcycles on the market, and it would be a shame to picture yourself on just one of them. Some categories are similar while others have stark differences. For example, a chopper is nothing at all like a sport bike. What you’ll discover, though, is that each style shares one indisputable thing in common: a love for riding on two wheels.
12 Types of Motorcycles
When you think of a typical motorcycle, it’s probably going to be a cruiser. We’re talking bikes that have a comfortable, upright seating position or a slight lean back. Handlebars are placed naturally for long rides without too much strain. Some even have saddlebags, a clear sign that cruisers can be ridden for the long haul. Chrome certainly has its place on cruisers. The motor, trim, handlebars, screw caps—they’re all shiny chrome.
Cruisers are meant to be easy to ride, and are often more bark than bite. That is, they aren’t overly powerful even though the exhaust could rupture your eardrums. If you’re looking for a cruiser with more power, it’s fittingly called a power cruiser.
Most motorcycle manufacturers have at least one cruiser bike in their arsenal; some have several. The Honda Rebel 500, the Suzuki Boulevard series, the Triumph Rocket III Range, and the Kawasaki Vulcan series are just a few of the popular ones. But standing out among cruisers are the Harley Davidson bikes. The HD Sportster and Softail motorcycles are among the Harley Davidson models because they’re a comfortable cruiser.
If you were to take a cutting torch, a fine-tip paintbrush, and a mind full of crazy ideas to your cruiser, you’d end up with a chopper. Literally, a chopper is a cruiser that has been chopped, modified from its original form, into a custom bike.
Here are bikes that have long, raked out front forks in the suspension. You’ll see tall handlebars that require a long stretch to reach them, fittingly known as monkey bars. Custom backrests with designs or completely chromed out are common. And a small, custom-painted fuel tank is usually between the rider’s knees.
Choppers are all about the rider. From the modifications to the paint and engine work, it all boils down to being what the rider wants. It doesn’t matter how bold, crazy, tacky, or impractical.
This is my favorite category, personally. Sport bikes are visceral, connected, and have one central focus: speed. Alright, it’s more than just top speed. It’s the bike’s ability to corner well, handle like a rocket on rails, scream to 100 miles per hour in seconds, and screech to a halt on a dime.
Design-wise, sport bikes are very different than cruisers. Aerodynamics play a much larger role for sport bikes to achieve the best performance. Front and side fairings cover almost all the bike, providing a slippery surface for air to slide off of.
Seating position is also very different on a sport bike compared with a cruiser. Instead of sitting upright, the rider leans forward, almost hugging the tank. Handlebars are tucked lower on the chassis for better control and stability.
Many motorcycle brands have a sport bike in their lineup. The Kawasaki Ninja and Suzuki GSX-R series are among the most popular. Ducati has the Panigale series, and Honda has the CBR lineup. Are you looking for one solid performer you’ll love, whether newbie or novice? Pick the Suzuki GSK-R750—you won’t regret it. Needless to say, there are many types of motorcycles that will fit your needs.
As if a sport bike isn’t enough, there has to be another niche for the absolute diehards and purists. Supersport bikes take the “average” sport bike and make them insanely fast. Most supersport bikes are designed for the racetrack, but can be ridden on the street as well. Some are expressly built for track-only applications. That tells you a little something about it off the hop.
Lightweight, aerodynamic, and perfectly proportioned are the keys for supersport bikes. Your life literally depends on a supersport motorcycle being engineered and balanced immaculately. Carbon fiber and lightweight aluminum are primarily used to build these high-performance bikes.
Performance is often jacked up beyond what you’d think reasonable on two wheels, and for barely 300 pounds. Superchargers have been used lately for the ultimate in performance, outdoing many production sports cars handily. For example, the Kawasaki H2R has up to 326 horsepower from the factory and can hit 249 miles per hour! It’s the fastest production motorcycle on the planet today.
Other types of motorcycles in this category are the Suzuki GSX-R1000R, Ducati Supersport S, and Honda CBR1000RR.
Don’t get the wrong idea about a naked bike. It has nothing to do with the rider’s choice of clothing. Rather, it refers to how the motorcycle is dressed up.
A naked bike is also known as a standard motorcycle. It means it’s a basic type of motorcycle without all the fanciness. They’re built as a general-purpose bike; an all-around type of motorcycle that appeals to the masses. But why call it “naked”? It’s simply because the fairings have been stripped off, there’s usually no windshield, and the frame and engine are exposed.
The naked bike design is great for a wide range of riders thanks to its design. The rider’s stance is halfway between that of a cruiser and a sport bike. The reach is relatively close and natural, there’s a slight lean forward, and footpegs are comfortably positioned directly below the rider. Naked bikes are often less costly, have moderate engine output, and are suitable for beginner riders through to novices.
Need a few good choices? The Honda CB650F, Suzuki SV650X, and Ducati Monster 797 are all good options.
Sometimes you don’t want to leave your couch to go for a cruise. If that’s how you feel, a touring bike is perfect for your needs.
But seriously, touring motorcycles are designed to be extremely comfortable because they are for touring. If you’re going to be sitting in the saddle for hours on end, you need to be comfy. The seating position is upright, with low-slung handlebars that draw in toward the rider. A backrest isn’t uncommon either.
For structure, touring motorcycles are markedly different. They often have higher-displacement engines, designed to haul its 800 or 900-pound body around the highways. Why so heavy? There’s usually a massive fuel tank for long rides and saddlebags for carrying your gear. Plus, that weight makes the bike ride much smoother for a better long-distance riding experience.
Touring bikes are found across the board. The Honda Gold Wing is one of the most popular ever, although Harley Davidson’s Road King, Street Glide, and Road Glide bikes are among the best out there.
Taking your La-Z-Boy on the road doesn’t appeal to everyone, but the functionality is hard to argue. That’s why the sport touring category exists. These bikes combine the best functions and comfort of touring bikes with a bit more of the performance aspect inspired by sport bikes.
Sport touring bikes have a more natural seating position than sport bikes. They are more upright, but not as much as a touring bike. There’s room for a passenger, and like a touring bike, luggage bags or compartments are a standard feature. The fuel tank has a higher capacity than sport bikes, too. But that’s where the similarities to touring bikes seemingly end.
A typical sport touring bike will be a couple hundred pounds less than a touring bike. That means it’s much nimbler. Suspensions and engines are designed for better performance, meant for aggressive riding. You’d take a sport touring motorcycle on the Devil’s Backbone.
One of the best examples is the Ducati Multistrada. Other top sport touring bike choices are the Yamaha FJR1300 and KTM Super Duke 1290 GT.
There’s some crossover happening between sports touring motorcycles and adventure bikes. Yet, while the line is a little muddy, there’s enough distinction to create its own category.
Adventure motorcycles are meant to be more of a day tourer, if you can call it that. There’s usually not a provision for saddlebags, but that’s not out of the question completely. Typically, adventure bikes are designed for a single ride, or a small seat for the occasional tagalong.
One of the most recognizable differences would be the tread on the tires. While sport touring bikes have street-only tires, adventure bikes may have a more aggressive tread that can handle dirt or gravel slightly better. Suspension travel is longer than your average street bike, and fairings give more clearance with the wheels and ground.
Adventure motorcycles are still higher-displacement engines, often 650cc to 1300cc. It’s this power that defines them as a street bike still. You’ll find the seating position is very similar to a sport touring bike.
The Suzuki V-Strom 650X, Triumph Tiger 800, Honda Africa Twin, and Ducati Hypermotard are all class-leading adventure motorcycles.
There’s a bit of mischief in each of us. Everyone wants to go play in the dirt once in a while, but you’d never try that with a touring, cruiser, or sport motorcycle. An adventure bike? Maybe. A dual sport motorcycle? Definitely.
Dual sport motorcycles are intended for a combination of on-road and off-road use. Everything is street legal about these bikes: fenders, lights, signals, and a decent non-aggravating exhaust system. But there are differences that allow dual sport bikes to switch to off-road travel in a flash.
Long, soft suspension, knobby tires, and high ground clearance are the sign of a dual sport motorcycle. It looks more like a dirtbike than a road bike. You’ll see plenty of handgrip guards and skid plates.
For dual sport or dual purpose motorcycles, displacement isn’t as important anymore. You’ll find most have somewhere between 250cc and 650cc, and that’s more than enough to do what you need.
Choose from bikes like the Kawasaki KLR650, Suzuki DR-Z400, and the Honda CRF250.
A nifty little category is exploding in popularity once more. Café racers were once a big thing in the post-war era. They’re coming back with a vengeance.
Basically, these bikes are like old-school naked bikes. There aren’t fairings or windshields. They have small-displacement engines for efficiency, but they can be tuned for power. Café racers are light and fast. There’s a connected feeling when you ride a café racer with rudimentary suspension, and the rider sits leaned forward slightly, much like a sport bike.
Who does café racers well? The Ducati Scrambler or Café Racer, the Triumph Thruxton, and Kawasaki Z900 RS Café are all good options. Plus there are many outstanding custom builders for these types of motorcycles.
Many people would discredit mopeds as a motorcycle, but they’ve earned a place on our list thanks to popularity alone. Mopeds are low-powered motorized two-wheeled bikes. Motor plus cycle? I think that qualifies, doesn’t it?
You’ll easily identify a moped because of its step-through design and tiny tires. They’re street legal and have a maximum speed they can travel at, which is often 30mph or so. As such, most places license them differently than motorcycles, much to the chagrin of all other motorcyclists.
The most recognizable brand for scooters is the Vespa, but it’s not the only one. The Honda Metropolitan, Aprilia Motard, Yamaha SMax, and Piaggio Typhoon are all mopeds of distinction.
Motorcycles strictly designated for off-road use are often referred to as dirt bikes. If you grew up in a rural area, there’s a good chance the first motorbike you road was a dirt bike. There are a huge number of distinguishing characteristics for dirt bikes and off-road motorcycles, although some are shared with dual sport bikes.
Off-road bikes have extreme suspension travel, knobby tires to grip dirt, and tall ground clearances. They may or may not be equipped with signals or any lights for that matter. Displacements range from 50cc to 450cc. Some are just for kicking around trails or the backyard, while others are for intense dirt track competitions known as Motocross.
Take your pick from the dozens of off-road dirt bikes available. The Honda CRF250R, Suzuki DR-Z125, and Kawasaki KX450 are all fine choices.