The Different Types of Motorcycles

By Psquared - November 22, 2019

Understanding the different types of motorcycles can be a bit confusing. We’ve got you covered.

Honda's Africa Twin

Credits: Sean MacDonald

Adventure bikes. Sportbikes. Cruiser. Dual Sports. Dirt Bikes. Supermotos. These are just some of the many terms we use when describing the types of motorcycles we ride. For the uninitiated, that can all be a bit confusing and likely feel a bit unfriendly, but we’re here to change all of that.

One of the great things about motorcycles is that changes to their design can drastically impact the way they perform. This has spawned not only an incredible aftermarket catalog for every bike under the sun but has encouraged brands to create bikes as we’ve never seen before.

All of that has changed, and today there are tons of different types of motorcycle classes, with many of those getting their own caveats and subsections. There are terms we tend to use often when talking about bikes or on sites like this, and many of you have been asking for a bit of an explainer, so here we go.

Sportbikes

Credits: Caliphotography

Sportbikes are built for going fast on a race track. They have a crouched or tucked riding position and a fairing to help shield the rider from the wind at high speeds. They use clip-on bars, which are mounted to the front fork, and have high footpegs so you have more clearance when leaning over while turning. They typically have motors with an inline four-cylinder configuration, Triumph a triple, Aprilia likes their four in a V configuration, and Ducati fills in the holes with their V twin shaped like an L and their new V4.

These are divided into two main categories. The term superbike is used for bikes in the 1000cc class, while supersport is generally reserved for those in the 600cc class. I’m not sure what that does to the Suzuki GSX-R750, but I like it so maybe we’ll just call it the “super awesome” class.

AKA: Crotch Rocket

Touring Motorcycles

Credits: Samson Hatae

Touring bikes are large, heavy motorcycles with big engines, wind protection, and luggage to haul you and maybe a pal/significant other long distances. The Japanese and Euro options feature some of the best technology our world has to offer, while the American options prefer to leave the ride less altered.

AKA: The real old-man bikes

Examples: BMW K1600 GTL, Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra

Sport Touring Motorcycles

Credits: KTM

Sport touring bikes combine touring sensibilities like more comfortable ergonomics and luggage with large sporty motors. They’re designed so that both the bike and the rider can do a ton of miles, but in a way where they can still enjoy taking the long way without taking long to do it.

This is a class that is constantly growing and changing. It was initially filled with bikes like the Kawasaki Concours 14 and Yamaha FJR 1300, but lately bikes like the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT have really pushed the sport side of sport touring by decreasing the size and massively increasing the power.

I also think that bikes like Ducati Multistrada, Suzuki V-Strom, and BMW S 1000 XR belong in the sport touring category. They look more like adventure bikes, which we’ll get to next, but have stiff suspension, sport sized wheels, and sportier rubber which make them better for doing long distances fast than getting anywhere near the dirt. BMW’s entrance to the field is only further evidence to this claim, since there would be no reason to add the S 1000 XR unless it filled a different roll than the R 1200 GS.

AKA: The first bikes are the real old man bikes while the latter are often called “adventure bikes.” They aren’t any good off road, but they are awesome for everything else.

Examples: Kawasaki Concours 14, Kawasaki Versys, Yamaha FJR 1300, Yamaha Tracer 900 GT, Suzuki V-Strom 1000

Adventure Motorcycles

Credits: KTM

The best way to describe an adventure bike is to say it’s a giant dirt bike that’s meant to go long distances and stay in the easy stuff when it comes to off-road. These bikes almost always have beaks, because beaks are cool these days, and are fitted with long-travel suspension, crash protection, dual sport tires, and luggage options. Their upright riding position makes them comfy for long-distance, and the bars are usually a bit higher so you can use them while riding standing.

AKA: The old man’s bike (if he’s a nerd), the one that actor rode in that movie around the world

Examples: BMW R 1250 GS Adventure, Ducati Multistrada Enduro, KTM 1290 Super Adventure, Yamaha Ténéré 700, Honda Africa Twin

Dirt Bikes

Credits: Sean MacDonald

A dirt bike is a small, lightweight bike with long-travel suspension and knobby tires. It has a single-cylinder motor and is usually covered in brightly colored plastics that are cheap to replace because the owner is going to fall. A lot.

AKA: Braaaaap

Example: Honda CRF250R, Yamaha YZ450F, Suzuki RM-Z450

Dual Sport Motorcycles

Credits: Sean MacDonald

Dual sport motorcycles are dirt bikes that are legal to ride on the road/public trails as well. Their motors make less power (for the same engine size) because of emissions restrictions, and they usually have tires better fit for double duty.

AKA: Medium fun off road, but you don’t need a truck to get there or a track to have it.

Example: Honda CRF250L, Suzuki DR-Z400, Yamaha WR450F, KTM 500 EXC-F

Supermoto

Credits: Patrick Flynn

Supermotos are dirt bikes with street wheels, tires, suspension, and brakes. They’re the greatest things on Earth—I asked science and it agreed—except they do this weird thing where they turn even the most responsible of riders into complete idiots. The torque of a single-cylinder motor and fast side-to-side transitioning of a dirt bike make them exceptionally well fit for public roads, and I have no idea why more companies don’t make them.

AKA: Fun time only

Example: Suzuki DR-Z400SM, Husqvarna 701 Supermoto, Ducati Hypermotard 950

Cruiser Motorcycles

Credits: Harley-Davidson

Cruiser motorcycles are big, heavy, motorcycles with a relaxed seating position, mid/forward foot controls, and classic styling. They’re almost always powered by twin motors that make lots of low-end power. Lots of people equate them to combining the freedom of motorcycling with the comfort of sitting on a couch, but I just think they make my tailbone sore.

AKA: Pirate bikes

Examples: anything from Harley-Davidson

Power Cruiser Motorcycles

Credits: Ducati

Within the cruiser motorcycle genre, lurks a motorcycle, not cruiser and not a sportbike. Its torquey motor pulls you down any stretch of road as you hang on to the bike. You’re never sure if you’re in control of it, and that’s the reason why you love the power cruiser. The Yamaha VMAX has been around since the ‘80s, and the Ducati Diavel 1260 is the latest iteration in the power cruiser space.

AKA: Not your granddaddy’s cruiser

Examples: Ducati Diavel 1260, Yamaha VMAX, Harley-Davidson FXDR 114

Standard Motorcycles

Credits: Suzuki

Standard bikes have current styling, a mellow motor, and adequate brakes and suspension. These bikes are unintimidating for newer riders, but can also be fun for those more experienced. They are usually powered by mid-sized twin engines.

AKA: Sporty looks, tame engine

Examples: Suzuki SV650, Kawasaki Ninja 650

Cafe Racer

Credits: Sinuhe Xavier

Cafe racers are a subset of standard motorcycles, and take all of the qualities of a standard bike and make it look retro because that’s what the kids like these days. Triumph has sort of just kept it as their thing all along, while Ducati, Yamaha, and Honda are trying to get back in the game with recent models.

AKA: Why I started riding, and what I now hate riding

Examples: Triumph Street Cup, Ducati Scrambler Cafe

Scrambler Motorcycles

Credits: Sinuhe Xavier

Scrambler is another version of retro, it too taking the qualities of a standard bike and putting knobby tires and some dirt protection on, then (hopefully) moving the exhaust out from underneath the bike so it doesn’t get hit by rocks. Like retro bikes, these too are simply about style because a true modern-day “scrambler” would be an enduro or adventure bike.

AKA: Those bikes you see everywhere right now

Examples: Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE, Ducati Scrambler

Scooters

Credits: Scott Sorenson

Scooters, while almost completely ignored by the Western World, are some of the most practical and useful in the two-wheeled world. They’re characterized by small engines, small wheels, automatic transmission, and usually, have an underbone frame that puts nothing but air between your legs.

They’re also incredibly fun, so long as you don’t have to ride anywhere where the speeds get over 50 or so. To you scooter riders, while I’m embarrassed at times when I’m one of you, I totally get it.

Examples: anything from Vespa

Alright people, what did I forget or get wrong? Let’s debate some of the categories, or help me add to this for future people who ask for an explainer.