Types of Motorcycles
Motorcycles have been produced in myriad configurations for innumerable purposes. We can separate motorcycles into two groups, the first is equipped with a combustion engine and the second group are electric motorcycles. Most motorcycles fall into one of three main categories — street, off-road, and dual-purpose — depending on the surface they are intended to be used on. A few specialty machines do not fall into one of these categories. Each configuration offers either specialized advantage or broad capability, and each design creates a different riding posture.
Road motorcycles are motorcycles designed for being ridden on paved roads. They feature smooth tires with a light tread pattern and engines generally in the 125 cc and over range. Most are capable of speeds up to 100 mph (160 km/h), and many of speeds in excess of 125 mph (200 km/h).
In most Southeast Asian countries, motorcycles are more popular than cars as means of transport due to low operating and ownership cost. Typical displacements are small (50–450 cc), and as a result these motorcycles give better fuel efficiency — reportedly 1.25–2.5 litres/100 km (94–188 mpg) being common.
Road motorcycles are themselves broken down into several sub-categories.
These motorcycles mimic the style of American machines from the 1930s to the early 1960s, such as those made by Harley-Davidson, Indian, and Excelsior-Henderson, even though they have benefited from advances in metallurgy and design. The riding position always places the feet forward. Usually the hands are up and the spine erect or leaning back slightly, which some riders find to be more comfortable for long-distance riding. The riding position of American-style Cruisers and Choppers evolved from the Western Saddle and riding position used by Western cowboys. This position allows greater long-distance comfort, with some compromise of control. Chopper-style motorcycles would be categorized as a type of cruiser.
Some cruisers may have limited performance and turning ability because of a low-slung design. Riders who enjoy cornering at higher speeds may need to customize to enhance lean angle, or start with a performance or sport cruiser. Cruisers are often custom projects that result in a bike modified to suit the owner's ideals, and as such are a source of pride and accomplishment. Cruisers are sometimes called custom even in the absence of aftermarket modifications.
Sport bikes, sometimes called performance bikes or “crotch rockets,” emphasize speed, acceleration, deceleration, and maneuverability. Because of this, there are certain design elements that most motorcycles of this type will share. Sport bikes have comparatively high performance engines resting inside a lightweight frame. The combination of these help maintain structural integrity and chassis rigidity. Braking systems combine higher performance brake pads and multi-piston calipers that clamp onto oversize vented rotors. Suspension systems are advanced in terms of adjustments and materials for increased stability and durability. Front and rear tires are larger and wider than tires found on other types of motorcycles to accommodate higher cornering speeds and greater lean angles. Fairings may or may not be found on a sport bike. When used, the fairings are shaped to reduce aerodynamic drag as much as possible, and generally offer less wind protection for the rider. The performance of some stock sport bikes is so high that they can be used on a race track right off the showroom floor.
These overall design traits mean sport bikes are generally less practical for street use when compared to most other types of motorcycles. There is little in the way of extra features or creature comforts present on touring motorcycles, such as center stands, provisions for saddle bags, large windshields, or fairings providing protection from rain. Rider position and ergonomics are compromised in favor of weight distribution and aerodynamics. This generally means higher foot pegs that move the legs closer to the body and more of a reach to a lower set of hand controls which positions the body and center of gravity forward and over the tank.
The sport bike type can be broken down further into different classes: Entry-level sport bikes are motorcycles that are meant to introduce motorcyclists to the sport bike design. Small capacity sport bikes are typically of engine sizes ranging from 125 cc (7.6 cu in) to 400 cc (24.4 cu in), but are also produced in as little as 50 cc (3.1 cu in). Some entry-level bikes are actually full-featured super bikes that utilize some sort of performance limiting mechanism. Super sport bikes (also known as middleweight sport bikes) are sharply focused for optimal performance on a race track and are built around a high revving, small displacement powerplant that is usually sized around 600 cc (36.6 cu in) to 800 cc (48.8 cu in). Super bikes have characteristics similar to the smaller super sport bikes, but are powered by larger engines that are usually sized around 800 cc (48.8 cu in) to 1100 cc (67.1 cu in). Hyper sport bikes emphasize top speed and acceleration and are typically powered by large motors displacing 1100 cc (67.1 cu in) to 1400 cc (85.4 cu in). Sport touring bikes are sport bikes designed with emphasis on long-distance riding.
Although any motorcycle can be equipped and used for touring, manufacturers have brought to market specific models designed to address the particular needs of long-distance touring and heavy commuting riders. Touring motorcycles commonly have large displacement fairings and screens that offer a relatively high degree of weather and wind protection, large capacity fuel tanks for long ranges between fill-ups, and a more relaxed, more upright seating position than sport-bikes. These motorcycles can be further subdivided into multiple sub-categories, which are commonly used terms within the motorcycle industry.
Sport-tourers combine attributes of a sport bike and a touring motorcycle. They are built for comfortable long-distance travel while maintaining a forward-leaning riding position, good handling, and high performance.
Also known as a “standard” or “street bike” (see below), this is the basic form of the motorcycle stripped down to its fundamental parts. The emphasis is on functionality, performance, and ergonomics rather than aerodynamic body panels and exaggerated riding positions that are most common on sport bikes.
This style of motorcycle became the “norm” in the 1970s and early 1980s (with the advent of the Universal Japanese motorcycle), but fell out of favor as motorcycles evolved and niches developed for sport, touring, and cruising. The “naked” saw a resurgence at the end of the 1990s, driven in large part by the European market, with many manufacturers releasing new models with minimal or no fairings. Current naked bikes are usually given a modern, more-or-less sporting suspension, unless they are intended to have “retro” styling. The BMW K1200R, R1200R, and F650CS, Ducati Monster, Yamaha FZ1, Honda 919, Honda Hornet (599), Triumph Speed Triple, Triumph Speed Four, MV Agusta Brutale, Buell Lightning, Buell Ulysses, Buell Blast, Suzuki GSF600 Bandit, and Suzuki SV650 are popular examples of naked motorcycles. Large engine displacement versions of naked motorcycles, especially those built in Japan, are often referred to as “muscle” bikes.
There are several different types of off-road motorcycles, also known as dirt bikes, designed and specialized for specific functions. For off road use they typically, when compared to road going motorcycles, have:
Light weight, small engines
Long suspension travel and high ground clearance
Simple, rugged construction with little bodywork and no fairing
Large wheels with knobby tires, often clamped to the rim with rim-locks
Off road motorcycles are often specialized for a variety of off road motorcycle sports, notably;
Motocross - A race over jumps - Thus these machines have small fuel capacities, extensive suspension travel, no road legal necessities (e.g. lights, indicators, instruments, etc), number plates for riding numbers, no passenger attachments, etc. Engines can be two or four stroke, typical capacities 250cc four stroke to 450cc four stroke (smaller for youth), as the weight and utility of the power of larger capacities is not needed). These are legal on Indiana and Michigan roads if licensed.
Rally raid, or Rallies - long distance racing, typically through deserts for long distances. Road legal machine (like enduro) but with significantly more fuel. Capacities tend to be larger, around 450 cc to 660 cc (two or four stroke), an upper limit is often imposed for rider safety.
Trials - An extremely specialized form of competition focused on balancing skills and precision rather than speed. Thus low weight and quick power is the priority leading to small (125 cc to 300 cc) engines, often two strokes being used. Seats are unnecessary and affect the center of gravity so they aren't installed (sometime they are jokingly referred to as banana bikes due to the lack of a seat). Fuel is kept to a minimum so range is very limited. These machines are also road legal.
Track racing - High speed oval racing, typically with no brakes, no suspension, at most two gears, fueled by methanol (not road legal machines).
Dual-sport is a broad term for street legal machines that are also designed to enter off-road situations. Off-road roots while adding equipment to become street legal.
Adventure-touring machines are large capacity road machines intended for touring like road tourers but with gravel tracks in mind. They can also be dual-sport machines equipped with larger fuel tanks and or saddlebags. Their weight and other features precludes them from tackling the extremes of off-road riding, which is the where off-road machines are found. This category can include bikes varying from the lightweight Suzuki DR-Z400S (136 kg (300 lb)) to the heavy BMW R1200GS Adventure (256 kg (564 lb)).
Enduro motorcycles are road-legal versions of a motocross machine, featuring high ground clearance and copious suspension with minimal creature comforts. They are highly unsuitable for long distance road travel. They offer several features that differentiate them from their motocross versions such as silencers, flywheel weights, and the presence of features necessary for highway use such as turn signals, mirrors, and headlights.
Supermoto motorcycles evolved from motocross and enduro machines (typically 450 cc to 610 cc and more). Fitted with road tires and rims, their other features remain very similar to off road machines. These motorcycles are quickly gaining popularity as street bikes, based on their on-road grip and light weight. Recently, much larger supermoto machines have become available, such as the Ducati Hypermotard and KTM 990SM.
Supermoto competitions are usually held over a course that mixes tarmac (road racing) and off road (motocross) sections.
Concept bikes are one-off motorcycles built as prototypes to test or showcase the desirability of a design, the integration of new technologies, cost effectiveness, or general design studies. Most concept bikes never see the light of day as full mass-production vehicles; those that do rarely match the original concept perfectly, instead representing a combination of some of the concepts presented in the proto-type combined with marketing realities and tooling capabilities of the manufacturer.