If you’re new to the world of motorcycles, then knowing the difference between all of them can get confusing. While many types of motorcycles ultimately have similar functions, there are certain nuances that can make one fit your riding style better than the other. This guide to different types of motorcycles will help you know exactly what motorcycle you should be riding.
Nine times out of ten, when you think about motorcycles, this is the bike that comes to mind. Simplicity at its best. The standard motorcycle, also known as naked or roadster, is commonly used for commuting. While origins of the standard are often disputed, the most recognized origin of the first mass-produced motorcycle dates back to 1894 in Germany. The rise of the modern-day motorcycle was widely influenced by the wars in Europe. A fast, fuel-efficient and discreet vehicle was needed for soldiers to move across warfronts, and thus the new-age motorcycles were built.
Standard Motorcycle Use
Just like the standards of the late 1800s, modern bikes too have wide-ranging capabilities that make them perfect for maneuvering down highways and city-streets. Most standards have a straight-up seating position, with varying engine sizes ranging from 150cc-1000cc. The height differentiates depending on the brand you ride, but most standards stay in the short-middle range of seat heights. If you’re a beginner a standard bike would be a solid choice for you to learn on.
Best Standard Motorcycles
As given away in its name, cruisers are a more laid-back style of motorcycle. These motorcycles were first popularized in the 1930s and saw a global boost in production throughout the 1950s-60s. The cruisers of today were all inspired by the two American powerhouse motorcycle companies of the early 1900s. Indian Motorcycle and Harley-Davidson motorcycles both were fashioned during World War I, and their popularity in style and speed influenced many generations of cruiser bikes to come. In fact, for both these companies, their widely popular competing cruisers, Indian 101 Scout and Harley-Davidson Model D, pushed them through the Great Depression.
Cruiser Motorcycle Use
Despite cruisers in today’s markets being produced by nearly every international motorcycle company, they’re all still made with the iconic American style. You might find some variants of cruisers such as: choppers, bobbers, baggers and power cruisers. Each of these are modified to maximize the rider’s comfort and improve style. With a lower frame and seat, you can take cruisers around town, commute to work or take it for a weekend getaway. They’re often powered by large V-twin engines and were popularized by Americanized styles and adopted around the world. These bikes offer some of the best comfort and style. Cruisers feature swept back handlebars, rear-leaning seating and forward footrests that allow riders to feel supported. You can often point them out with their chrome finishes and their classically-cool style. Since cruisers aren’t really meant to blaze through the track or down the trail, these bikes are another good selection for a beginner seeking to ride.
Best Cruiser Motorcycles
The 1970s brought the modernization of what we now know as sport bikes. Until then, the lineage and usage of sport bikes were closely tied to that of standards. For a long period of time, sport bikes were traditionally used for racing and competitions. By the 70s and 80s, the popularity of sport bikes grew exponentially with the rise of affordable and powerful bikes such as the 1969’s Honda CB750 and other bikes such as the 1983 Honda VF750 Interceptor. In these years, the designs would include more fairings, more power and better ergonomics. These were called ‘race-replicas’ but the attachment of this term to sport bikes would evolve into a subclass of bikes known as super bikes/super sports. The rush of adrenaline sport bikes give riders, has made them increasingly popular amongst younger riders.
Sport Bike Use
Sport bikes are built for speed and sharpness. These bikes err on the taller side, when it comes to height, but they are some of the lightest in weight. Designed with forward facing ergonomics, sport bikes carve corners and are sleek enough to help you cut through traffic. Most sport bikes have higher power and can reach higher speeds, so if you’re a beginner looking to get a sport bike, I would recommend doing your research. Additionally, they are equipped with rear-positioned footrests. While most would not recommend a sport bike as a first choice, there are a few beginner-friendly ones out there that could potentially fit your riding style better than some other beginner bikes.
Best Sport Bikes
When it comes to touring motorcycles, there is one model in particular that stands out as the grandfather of touring bikes, and that is the iconic Harley-Davidson FL ‘Knucklehead,’ which was first introduced in 1941. Since then Harley-Davidson has influenced motorcycle brands on an international level to create world-class heavy-hitter touring motorcycles. Some other important touring motorcycles that would be the foundation of this class are: the H-D Hydra-Glide, Honda Gold Wing and the Electra Glide.
Touring Motorcycle Use
Touring motorcycles are some of the heavier and more expensive motorcycles, given all the amenities that come with them. These big bikes offer comfort and mileage for long-distance touring, thanks to their larger engine sizes. Most touring motorcycles come with decent storage compartments and even passenger seats available. The ergonomics on these bikes allow riders to truly go the distance. A good portion of touring bikes also come with weather-resistant features such as large wind fairings, hand grip warmers and larger wheels (more traction surface). For beginners, you can probably find a solid touring bike used for under $10,000. I wouldn’t recommend going for a brand new touring bike, as these models can cost you anywhere from $15,000-$45,000.
Best Touring Motorcycles
- Harley-Davidson Road Glide
- Honda GL1800 Gold Wing
- BMW R1200RT
- KTM 1290 Super Duke GT
- Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager
Scooters are some of the oldest types of motorcycles to date. Some of the very–first motorcycles that were invented in the late 1800s, featured similar step-through frames that we see in today’s scooters. The 'Motoped' is said to be the first scooter, made in 1915. By 1919, scooters that resemble the same frames of modern scooters began production across the United States and the United Kingdom. However after both World Wars was when motorized scooters really got to see improvements in engineering and popularity, especially those returning from war. By the 1940s and 1950s, Japanese, Italian and German brands took over the market with the famed Fuji Rabbit, Italian Vespa and NSU Prima, changing the scooter class forever.
Scooters, while not as powerful and mighty, are still part of the motorcycle family. These vehicles are funky and perfect for metropolitan areas and commutes around dense cities. They’ll get you from point A to B in a timely manner, while not compromising safety and style. Scooters often feature a step-through design that have storage compartments beneath the driver's seat. One key difference between other motorcycles and scooters is that they more often than not have an automatic transmission, which makes these perfect for beginner riders living in the city, as they get to enjoy the two-wheeled experience all while skipping the sometimes strenuous process of shifting. Scooters are very lightweight and have low-seating, which makes them easily operable and very forgiving. Most engine sizes range from 50cc to 250cc but there are some scooters that have 500cc.
Best Scooter Motorcycles
The evolution of dual-sports is synonymous with the rise of motorcycles. In the early 1900s, there were hardly any roads that spanned nationwide, as cities were still being developed. So with the first models of motorcycles, they of course had to be able to drive on pavement and on dirt roads—thus giving way to the class of dual-sports. However as more laws regarding motorcycles were created, dual-sports had to evolve to become both street legal and off-road friendly. Some of the earliest true dual-sports were the Yamaha DT-1, made in 1968. Despite dual-sports being around for decades, it wasn’t until Suzuki released the DR350 and marketed it as ‘DualSport,’ that we actually saw the term dual-sport be adopted by riders globally.
The Dual-Sport offers motorcycle riders the best of both worlds. Designed with the qualities of a dirt bike and street legal bikes, dual-sports (also called Dual-Purpose) give riders the experience of off-roading adventures as well as a general commute. Some key features include: knobbed tires for extra traction, higher suspension for ground clearance and tall seating. There are many dual-sport options available for beginner riders, as these motorbikes have a pretty wide range of engine sizes and frame sizes/weights.
Best Dual-Sport Motorcycles
Off-Highway Motorcycles (Off-Road Motorcycles)
The following section includes the most common off-roading bikes. These are all very similar bikes, if you’re just considering looks but there are slight differences that could potentially make your riding experience change for better or worse. Off-roads offer riders more adventure and a grittier riding experience.
Enduros were originally made solely for the purpose of competition and endurance. The International Six Days Enduro competition which first took place in 1913, was one of the first events that included enduros. This event would go on for years, and inspire the progression of these bikes. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the commercialization of enduros would hit the market, enabling manufacturers to create road legal enduros. For a period of time, enduros were actually marketed as dual-sports. Motorcycle legends Steve McQueen and Bud Ekins would eventually make popular enduros with the Greenhorn Enduro competition. This would give way to enduros being developed and separated into their own class.
Enduro Motorcycle Use
Enduros are used for recreational and adventurous activities like riding through forest or desert trails. One key difference between enduros and the other two off-roading bikes is that they sometimes feature a headlight and taillight. Another reason enduros are so popular is because a majority of them are street legal, meaning you get the best of both worlds with these
Best Enduro Motorcycles
The seeds of motocross were first planted in the United Kingdom in the 1900s, where timed trials would be hosted by Auto-Cycle Clubs. Eventually these competitions, called ‘Scrambles,’ would pop up around the UK and the popularity of motocross bikes would grow as well. As is the case for many of these motorcycles, the war effort would help push innovation of motocross bikes, specifically the suspension, engine capacity, and swinging arms. As motocross races reached across the Atlantic and into the United States in the 1970s, the international popularity of these bikes would soar to never before reached heights. Today motocross is one of the most popular motorcycle industries globally and new innovations are constantly pushing the limits of these motorbikes.
Motocross bikes are best used for competitions on closed courses. Their high suspension and gritty tires make them perfect for closing out on obstacles such as jumps and bumps that may appear on the track. Due to motocross popularity, there are many motocross bikes made for riders from age five and beyond. With good research beginner riders can certainly find a good bike to get their racing started.
Best Motocross Motorcycles
The origin of the trials motorcycle begins in Scotland, just before 1910. The trials bikes of these times were typically four-stroke singles. Just like the competitions of the early 1900s, modern trials are not so much focused on speed, but rather efficiency and capabilities to clear obstacles. During the mid-century, the specialization of these bikes took place, further pushing the craft of trials racing, as well as the engineering. During the late 50s and the 1960s, Spanish companies asserted their dominance in the trials industries, with brands such as Bultaco and Montesa. By the 1970s, countries outside of Europe began to see the potential in these bikes and raced to release their best versions of trials motorcycles, such as the Honda TL125 and TL250. Throughout the following decades to present-day, trials bikes would see great new designs and improvements and eventually come to a peak during the 2000s. Some popular brands of trials bikes include Montesa, GasGas and Beta.
Trials Motorcycle Use
Trials motorcycles are used for slower, obstacle based performance racing. These bikes are designed without seats, as riders are usually expected to be in a standing position that makes it possible to clear obstacles and jumps. One obvious giveaway is the big back tire.
Best Trials Motorcycles
Hopefully, this article was able to educate you a little more about the wide-ranging world of motorcycles. Whatever your riding style may be, knowing the nuances of each different type of motorcycle is extremely important, so you can be 100% in control of your bike when riding. Now that you're more familiar with the different types of motorcycles, here's some quick tips that have been given to me by some of the most skilled and experienced riders, that I'll pass onto you before you make your first big purchase.
- Never ride over your skill level; While a really big tour bike may turn heads, if you're unable to handle the weight and power, it will just put yourself and others in danger.
- Buy a used bike when starting out; You don't want to buy a brand new $17,000 motorcycle when you're a fresh newbie; it's just a recipe for disappointment.
- "If you can't fix it, don't buy it." This is in reference to both motorcycles themselves and different custom mods you may want to buy. If you're a beginner, this may not be a smart idea as you will likely fall within the first 6 months of riding and you don't want an expensive purchase to go to waste.
- Always budget for gear. Don't just save up for your dream bike, save up for the gear you will need as well.
- Consider buying safety accessories that prevent your motorcycle from being stolen or left unprotected.
- Have fun and stay safe.
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