The Definitive Guide to the Different Types of Motorcycles with Infographic – Updated for 2020
Written by Jordan Stokes and Duke of DC.
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Like the Jets and the Sharks, motorcycles also have differences too. Too much of a stretch? Eh, I’ll be the judge of that. Regardless, like any motor vehicle generalization, there are countless sub-varieties within the overarching term, motorcycle. Here, we’ll break down some of the most popular types of motorcycles on the market these days.
Back in the day there were only two types of bikes: street and dirt. It wasn’t until the early ‘80’s that manufacturers started tailoring their bikes to focus on performance for different kinds of riding. Thus, all of these awesome specialized bike categories were born. From practical dual-purpose bikes to laid-back cruisers, you will surely find a category that’s perfect for you.
What Types of Motorcycles are There?
I’m not one to judge someone that is simply ill-informed, but whenever someone asks me if I ride a “crotch-rocket,” they’ve just earned themselves a place on my sh*t list. Super sport bikes, synonymous with the “not to be named crotch-rockets”, are one of the most notable genres know by cagers, second to the traditional cruiser bikes that most O.G. motorcycle gangs are made up of.
Next in popularity and easiest to spot are dirt and enduro bikes that frequent trail and motocross tracks across the world. These bikes with off-road focus are close cousins to the dual-sport and adventure lineups that have had a resurgence in popularity as more riders are taking to the path less traveled (even if it only leads to a Starbucks parking lot).
Less known by individuals outside of the motorcycle community, but incredibly popular, are the standard or naked bikes that take super sport powertrains and implement them in more upright, comfort-driven wheelie kings.
Finally, that leaves us with the Hipster specials, consisting of; brats, café racers, scramblers, bobbers trackers, and modern classics. Think 1969 James Bond meets Brooklyn Microbrewery.
Now, of course, there are bikes I’ve left off this list (cough, cough… choppers) but generally speaking, this covers all you’ll need to know when looking at different types of motorcycles across the industry.
7 Types of Motorcycles at a Glance:
- Standard/Naked Motorcycles
- Café Racer/Scrambler Motorcycles
- Cruiser Motorcycles
- Sport Bikes
- Touring Motorcycles
- Dirt Bikes/Off-Road Motorcycles
Standard bikes, also called “naked bikes” or “roadsters”, are versatile, general-purpose street bikes. They have an upright riding position with mid foot pegs and handlebars where you don’t have to reach too far forward. This places the shoulders directly above the hips for a more natural and comfortable riding position.
Naked sport bikes have taken the world by storm in recent years. Manufacturers in this ultra-competitive space are working to create the most powerful, technologically advanced, and safest bikes that money can buy. Bikes in this category range from entry-level single cylinders with affordable price tags, to stripped-down superbikes that would make Moto GP riders grin.
Cafe Racer/Scrambler Bikes
It’s 1975, you and your buddies just watched Jaws for the third time in theaters, the Vietnam War is coming to an end, and you’re trading your Mr. Potato Head for a brand new Honda CB550F. The pinnacle of motorcycle performance is finally yours, and nothing….. Woah that was a weird dream. Lucky for you, in 2019 the dream of owning a mid 70’s classic motorcycle is more attainable than ever before. With the Cafe Racer and resto-mod (restoration modern) class taking on a new life. From used rebuilds to new reimaginations, you’ll find classic styling meets modern tech and safety.
The modern cafe racer is a mix between standard seating position, form-over-function, and retro engine configurations to give owners a rolling time machine. With new advances in motor engineering, long will be the days of tuning up your carbs on those cold morning starts. You’ll be polishing your Red Wings more frequently than changing the oil, and if you didn’t have a thing for high-end denim, well… you do now. All jokes aside, these are fantastic motorcycles for beginners and experts alike, and you’ll find them highly capable in most riding conditions, from commuting to work all the way down to tearing up some backcountry fire roads.
Cruiser bikes are what riders typically think of when they think of a motorcycle, and the popular Harley-Davidson brand makes up the bulk of this category. With low to moderate top speeds and a lower seat height so you can plant your feet on the ground easily, cruiser bikes are both comfortable and best suited for casual and relaxed riding. They also have a low center of gravity which offsets the higher weight, and with engines tuned for low-rpm power, it makes clutch and throttle coordination nearly a breeze.
Pro Tip: Keep in mind that there are some huge cruiser bikes out there. They can be heavy, very expensive, and even pretty intimidating, especially at slow speeds. You should be able to find your fair share of small to mid-sized bikes though. Check out the Honda Rebel 300 a blacked-out bike with midrange power that’s all about style, or the Yamaha V-Star 250, an entry-level cruiser bike that has a 249 cc, air-cooled, 60-degree V-twin engine and a top speed of 85 mph. Growing up, this may have been my first introduction into the world of motorcycles, with the Discovery Channel classic American Choppers showing me the ropes.
Check out our full video review of the Honda Rebel 300 here.
Choppers fall into the cruiser bike category, as they are usually extreme custom “chopped” versions of cruiser bikes. Choppers typically have long front ends, large front wheels, frames without rear suspension (hard tails), and either very tall or very short handlebars.
Sportbikes are used for speed and handling on paved roads. While these sleek and swift bikes used to be something you worked up to as a more experienced rider, there are several sportbikes designed for entry-level riders that are lightweight and easy to handle. However, with high-performance engines often tuned for a higher rpm power delivery, you need to be careful on some of these lightweight road rockets. Most brands manufacture an iteration of a sportbike, but brands like Ducati, BMW, Aprilia, Honda, Yamaha, and Kawasaki are some of the most notable for this category.
Sportbikes have a longer reach to the clip-on handlebars and higher foot pegs that position the legs closer to the body for higher foot position, giving the rider a higher available lean angle for sharp curves. This type of riding requires riders to keep weight in the balls of your feet to promote weight shift from side to side. Inline-four engines make up most the sportbike category, however twin cylinders, and newly re-engineered V4’s are beginning to take home in top of the line models. The combination of strong low-end torque and extreme top-end horsepower make these bikes the poster-worthy feats of engineering they are.
Watch the Duke of DC discuss the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400 below, or read his full Ninja 400 review.
Pro Tip: At lower speeds the riding position can leave too much weight on the arms and wrists, which can cause some discomfort and fatigue. Make sure whatever bike you choose, you can ride comfortably.
Dual-sport or dual-purpose bikes are road-legal versions of off-road models and are becoming increasingly popular among riders who want to spend their weekends hitting up dirt bike trails. These bikes range from small thumpers to larger displacement multi-cylinder Adventure leviathans developed for comfortable on-and off-road riding. In fact, adventure models have become strongly favored for long distance riding. Dual-sport bikes also have a higher seat height than other types of bikes.
Pro Tip: Some bike sizes, as well as their weight and their tires, might limit their off-road capabilities. While most dual-sport/adventure motorcycles do well on graded dirt, gravel roads and well-groomed trails, they are often less ideal on more difficult single-track terrain.
The 2019 Honda Africa Twin is a perfect combination of raw power, refined electronics, and hyper-comfortable ergonomics, which make it a well balanced dual-sport adventure bike for both on and off-road riding. On-road, its got great ergonomics, good gas mileage for long trips to your off-road destination, and is built to be comfortable at higher highway speeds. Off road, the long travel Showa suspension with nearly nine inches of travel at each end and 21-inch front/18-inch rear wheel makes navigating over tough obstacles painless. The highlight of the 2019 Africa Twin is the technology combined with the historic adventure body, and don’t forget the Honda reliability.
Check out the Duke’s review of the 2019 Honda Africa Twin here:
Interested in taking your bike on a long-distance road trip? Touring bikes are perfect for travel and have significantly transformed over the years. They’re great if you’re interested in group riding, or if you plan to spend your weekends hitting up the best motorcycle rides in the USA. Now, there are a range of models with an even wider range of features that offer comfort no matter how long you’re riding.
Equipped with large displacement engines, large detachable saddlebags for luggage, and great weather protection for travel, these bikes are built to eat up the miles. Also featuring a relaxed upright seating position and space for a passenger, it’s important to keep in mind that these bikes can get a bit pricey, especially with all the extra features. Some manufacturers in this category are even going as far as including airbags, automatic transmissions, cruise control, and heated seats in their top-of-the-line models. If price is a concern, it’s good to understand the cost of motorcycle ownership to ensure you choose the right bike for you.
Sport touring bikes are built with features from both sport and touring bikes, as you can guess from the name. These bikes are lighter than regular touring bikes with space for passengers and luggage, as well as a rider position that is much less extreme than a sportbike for greater long-distance comfort on the road. They are normally equipped with detuned versions of their more sport focused brethren.
The Duke reviewed the 2018 Honda Goldwing Tour and was pleasantly surprised with this experience, watch the full video now:
Dirt Bikes/Off-Road Motorcycles
Not afraid to get down and dirty? Built for the rigors of rugged trails, off-road dirt bikes are lighter than street bikes and can handle sand, gravel, river crossings, mud, and snow like a champ. They have long suspension travel, a higher ground clearance, and a robust structure with limited fairings to decrease damage if (rather when) you take a spill.
So, how do you like to ride? Remember that some bikes might belong to or fit into multiple categories, just make sure to do your research and make sure you are choosing the best bike for you! Consider what you will be using it for (on or off-road), how much power you can handle, and your budget so you can be comfortable on your new ride. Need inspiration? Check out 9 Best Bikes for Beginners to help you get started with your search.
You may also be interested in:
18 Tips on Purchasing Your First Motorcycle
The True Cost of Motorcycle Ownership
10 Famous Celebrities Who Ride Motorcycles