Adventure bikes. Sport bikes. Cruiser. Dual Sports. Dirt Bikes. Supermotos. These are just some of the many terms we use when describing the bikes 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 like we’ve never seen before.
The original motorcycle was a bicycle with a motor. In the 1960s and 1970s, motorcycle technology and design had come a long way, but most motorcycles looked the same and were used in basically the same way.
All of that has changed, and today their are tons of different motorcycle classes or types, with many of those getting their own caveats and sub-sections. They’re 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. And yes, I’m probably going to leave some things out or view things differently than you do. Because that’s what motorcyclists do.
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 foot pegs so you have more clearance when leaning over while turning. They typically have motors with an inline four-cylinder configuration, though Ducati uses a twin and Aprilia likes their four in a V configuration.
These are divided into two main categories. The term “superbike” is used for bikes in the 1000 cc class, while “supersport” is reserved for those in the 600 cc 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 “superawesome” class.
AKA: Crotch Rocket
Examples: BMW S 1000 RR, Aprilia RSV4, Ducati 959 Panigale, Honda CBR600RR, Yamaha YZF-R1, Kawasaki ZX-10R, Suzuki GSX-R1000
Sport naked or street fighters are unfaired versions of sport bikes that often come with more comfortable ergonomics. These bikes have fast motors, fancy technology, and sport suspension and brakes - but they’re intended more for daily riding than trying to set lap records at the track.
Examples: Ducati Monster 1200 R, KTM 1290 Super Duke R, Triumph Street Triple R, Kawasaki Z1000
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 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, spot sized wheels, and sportier tires 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, 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 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: Aprilia Caponord 1200, Ducati Multistrada, Kawasaki Concours 14, Yamaha FJR 1300, Suzuki V-Strom 1000
The best way to describe and 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 all have beaks, because beaks are cool these days, and are fit 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.
I’m not really sure where we want to draw the line between dual sports and adventure bikes, so I guess we’ll do it with the number of cylinders (because more cylinders means a bigger and heavier bike that can do long distances without stressing the motor, but will be heavier and not as good in the dirt).
Or maybe just based on good ole engine size and weight are better metrics. Either way, adventure bikes are more about doing long distances and are skewed slightly more on road, while dual sports are more of a true 50/50 machine (which makes them not as good for high speeds or long distances).
AKA: The old man’s bike (if he’s a nerd), the one that actor rode in that movie around the world
Example: BMW R 1200 GS, Ducati Multistrada Enduro, KTM 1190 Adventure, Yamaha Super Tenere, Honda Africa Twin
A dirt bikes 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.
Example: Honda CRF250R, Yamaha YZ450F, Suzuki YMZ450
Dual Sports/Enduros are dirt bikes that are legal to ride on the road 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
Example: Honda CRF250L, Suzuki DR-Z400
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 assholes. 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
Cruisers big, heavy, motorcycles with relaxed seating position, 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
A standard bikes has 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.
Sometimes they’re called naked bikes, though naked can also refer to naked sport bikes - which I have to admit is pretty confusing. Also, some of them aren’t naked, or are simply faired versions of naked bikes, which is also confusing. I’m sorry.
AKA: Sporty looks, tame engine
Examples: Suzuki SV650, Kawasaki Ninja 650
Retro bikes are a subset of standard, and take all of the qualities of a standard bike and make it look retro - because that what the kids like these days. Triumph has sort of just kept it as their thing all along, while Ducati, Yamaha, 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 Bonneville, Yamaha SR400
Scrambler is another version of standard, it too taking the qualities of a standard bike and putting knobby tires and some dirt protection on and moving the exhaust out from underneath the bike so it doesn’t get hit by rocks. Like retro bikes, this too is simply about style because a true modern day “scrambler” would be an endure or adventure bike.
AKA: Those bikes you see everywhere right now
Example: Triumph Scrambler, Ducati Scrambler
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 my small engines, small wheels, automatic transmission, and usually have a “step through” design that puts nothing but air between your legs.
They’re also incredible fun, so long as you don’t have to ride anywhere where the speeds get over 50 or so. Scooter riders, while I’m embarrassed sometimes when I’m one of you, I totally get it.
Alright people, what did I forget or get wrong? Let’s debate some shit (or help me add to this for future people who ask for an explainer).