A Beginner’s Guide to the Different Kinds of Motorcycles

If you’re like me, looking at motorcycles from the outside in, then there’s a lot to try and understand. After all, there are over 8.3 million motorcycles registered in the US, so clearly there’s something to like. And no matter what kind of motorcycle you get, another tethers you to the open road quite like it. So let’s look at the types of bikes that let you experience this unadulterated freedom in their own, unique ways.

2022 Honda Grom Standard Motorcycle
2022 Honda Grom Standard Motorcycle | Honda Powersports

Standard motorcycles are about as basic as they get

There are a few important things to mention before diving into different bike classifications. For starters, these bikes will all have different engine sizes, and they’ll have different ride positions. They’ll also have different weights to them, which is important to know about in case you fall (after all, if you tip a bike, you gotta pick it back up). Keep all this in mind before picking a bike.

With that said, standard bikes are about as average as they come. Not terribly heavy, which makes them easy to balance. Not terribly powerful, with anywhere from 150cc to 1000cc engines. And a standard, upright seating position that makes them comfortable for most riders. If you’re new to the world of motorbikes, chances are you’re in the market for one of these.

The Honda Grom is a decent example of a standard motorbike for new riders, coming in at $3,999. The engine is a bit smaller, with just 124cc of displacement. But it’s light, and lightness is good. However, a very “standard” standard bike would be something like the Kawazaki Z400. With 399cc of displacement and weighing in at 363 lbs, it’s the Goldie-Locks of motorbikes.

Sportbikes are for those who crave speed

Yamaha YZF R6 Sportbike
Yamaha YZF R6 Sportbike | Yamaha

Many sportbike riders paint a bad picture of all motorcycle riders since they’re the ones blasting down the highways and splitting lanes. In this case, a few bad apples don’t ruin the bunch, as sportbikes can be lots of fun. They’re controlled adrenaline rushes, getting you closer to the road than any other bike, while still keeping you from death (so long as you’re responsible).

Sportbikes are often light and powerful, but the defining feature of a sportbike is the seating position. The cushion will be way back on the bike, which requires the rider to lean forward. This is good for weight distribution, as well as aerodynamics, that’ll let you reach intense speeds.

A good sportbike would come from the Yamaha YZF Series. The YZF R1 is the flagship of the bunch, with 200 horsepower from a 998cc engine (for comparison, 1000cc is a liter, and my car makes 201 horsepower from a 2.4-liter engine. This bike also weighs only 440 lbs, whereas my car is close to 4,000 lbs).

The R3 is the entry-level sportbike, which has 42 horsepower from a 321cc engine. Though entry-level sportbike doesn’t mean they’re for entry-level riders. There’s still a learning curve when learning to ride a motorbike built for speed.

The YZF R6, oddly enough, is the mid-range bike with a 599cc sportbike that makes 116 horsepower. That means the range goes out of order from R3, to R6, and then to R1. But semantics aside, these are all considered sportbikes due to their seating positions, lightweight chassis, and high speeds.

Cruiser bikes are great at looking the part

RELATED: Should You Buy a Cruiser Motorcycle or Standard Motorcycle?

On the other end of the spectrum, there are cruiser bikes. They’re big, heavy, and not necessarily fast. Though the engines often exceed 1,000cc of displacement depending on the manufacturer.

The big key to cruiser bikes is that you’re usually reclined while sitting on them. In other words, your feet stick forward and your back goes… backward. They’re also fairly low bikes, which makes them easy to get on and off of and generally more comfortable. But above all else, cruisers just look badass.

No brand does cruisers quite like Harley Davidson. And there’s no better example of a Cruiser than the Fat Bob. It’s got a 1868cc (1.8 liter) engine that makes just 94 horsepower and has low-end torque. At 3,500 rpm, you’re looking at 118 lb-ft. Because of this, they’re easier to control without being ludicrously powerful, and make decent beginner bikes as well (minus the weight).

Mopeds are the motorcycle’s baby brother

2019 Honda Metropolitan Moped
2019 Honda Metropolitan Moped | Honda Powersports

RELATED: What Are the Differences Between a Moped, Scooter, and Motorcycle?

While a cruiser bike is big and tough, then a moped is tiny and nimble. Basically a motorized bicycle, mopeds have less than 50cc of displacement, and a top speed of around 30 mph. 40 mph if you didn’t eat breakfast. They’re not exciting bikes, though they do have one trick up their sleeve.

All the aforementioned motorbikes on this list require a special license, or at least an endorsement, in order to ride them. Mopeds can be operated with just a driver’s license. This makes them excellent starter vehicles for anyone that wants to learn how to ride. You don’t have to go through the hassle of getting a new license, and if you hate it, you probably haven’t sunk more than $2,000 into the thing.

The Honda Metropolitan is about as moped as mopeds come. Though if you’re looking for something a bit more ridiculous, the Honda Ruckus is known for squeezing every bit of power from the bike and stuffing in some offroad capabilities, just for kicks.

Touring and Sport Touring motorbikes are built for distance

Indian Roadmaster Cruiser
Indian Roadmaster Cruiser | Indian Motorcycles

Like cruisers, Touring and Sport Touring bikes are built for comfort. They have reclined seats and, more often than not, room for two. Unlike cruisers, Touring bikes are built to be practical and make long road trips. They often have larger gas tanks, loads of cargo room, and some are even able to tow small trailers.

The main difference between a Touring bike and a Sport Touring bike is that, simply put, Sport Touring bikes are sportier. They often have more power and a slightly taller ride height, which improves handling.

For Touring, you can’t go wrong with the Indian Roadmaster. It looks a lot like a chopper (cruiser) motorcycle, but with more luxuries tacked onto the back. I mean, both passengers get seat rests. The pictures alone make me feel comfortable. And with a 1.8L engine that makes 92 horsepower and 126 lb-ft of torque, it’s about as comfortable as a cruiser too. In other words, a tourer is an even more comfortable, long-distance cruiser.

Dual Sport Bikes can tackle any terrain

KTM 1290 Super Adventure R Dual Sport Motorbike
KTM 1290 Super Adventure R Dual Sport Motorbike | KTM

Also known as adventure bikes, dual sport bikes are built to perform well on both dirt and asphalt. So if you ever get bored of the pavement and want to hit trails no Jeep could tackle, a dual sport bike might be for you. Think of them like street-legal dirtbikes, with taller suspension and slightly chunkier tires. They’re not exactly practical, as weight is saved to make them sportier.

A good example of a dual sport bike is the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R. It’s got a 1301cc engine that makes 118 horsepower, and weighs around 470 lbs. The seating position is somewhere between a standard and a sportbike, but with it you get the best of both worlds.

Off-Road bikes are specialized for the dirt

2022 Honda CRF250R
2022 Honda CRF250R | Honda Powersports

Lastly, if you live somewhere that’s mostly dirt backroads, or want a bike dedicated to trails, then an off-road bike (or a dirt bike) is the bike for you. They’ll have higher suspension to cope with any bumps, and a lightweight frame so you can duck between the trees. They also have ridiculously chunky tires that wouldn’t feel great on the road, but on the dirt, they’re beyond capable.

The Honda CRF250F has a 259 cc engine that makes just 39 horsepower. But you’re never going to get up to highway speeds on a trail, so you really don’t need much more. But for off-road bikes, it’s best if you have an on-road vehicle for daily use.

No matter how you choose to ride, there’s no wrong answer… unless you’re an irresponsible speeding lunatic on a sportbike. If you want to ride like that, get to a track where you won’t risk an accident or endanger yourself. But take into consideration your riding experience and preferences before picking the bike that’s right for you.

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