A guide to motorcycle types

Adventure 5 min read

A guide to different types of bikes

Looking for a new or your first motorcycle? Perhaps you’re confused by the vast array of choices available for two-wheeled fun? This will help you find the perfect bike.

Make no mistake, there is a motorcycle for everyone and anyone. Whether you’re an experienced rider or first-timer, this overview is a quick guide to the most popular types of motorcycles available today.


Sometimes referred to as classic or naked bikes, a traditional or standard motorcycle is a simple bike design. This doesn’t mean it’s any less fun. Hardly. With no windshield or fairing, traditional motorcycles evoke the classic romantic image of motorcycling: the open road with the wind in your hair. The traditional bike is for the minimalist in all of us.

Equipped with moderate-sized engines, traditional bikes position handlebars and foot pegs that put the rider in a more upright and comfortable seating position. Mostly, standard or traditional bikes are for the fun and sake of riding. They rarely provide room for luggage cases though most can be fitted with a tank or tail bag for carrying the essentials.

Traditional motorcycles usually are priced more moderately than other types and are a great choice for beginner riders or those looking for a weekend ride or occasional commuter bike.

Examples: Triumph Bonneville, Yamaha SR400, BMW R nineT, Suzuki SV650, Kawasaki Versys, Ducati Scrambler, and others.


Some riders refer to touring bikes as the RVs of motorcycles. If you want to set out for a long weekend, or longer cross-country cruise, a touring motorcycle will make the ride more comfortable. Touring bikes come with larger displacement engines and fuel tanks, a wind-free cockpit, and luggage cases.

With a more upright seating position, touring bikes are comfortable for long-distance riding. Many offer a host of luxury features such as heated seats and grips, backrests, and electronically adjustable windscreens. Plus many feature technology enhancements such as computer-controlled suspension, Bluetooth, navigation, and satellite radio.

If you want to hit the open road in comfort and style, get a touring bike. However, they are more expensive. Plus, due to their larger size and heavier weight, touring motorcycles are better suited for experienced riders.

Examples: Honda Goldwing, Yamaha Venture, Kawasaki Voyager, BMW K1600 GTL and more.


When the loud rumble and roar of a motorcycle catches you by surprise, it’s likely a cruiser creeping up on you. Though most motorcycle manufacturers offer a cruiser-style bike, the low-slung design and lean-back riding position is uniquely American—a nod to the heritage of the most recognized cruiser bike: Harley-Davidson.

With its large displacement V-twin engine and high handlebars coupled with forward foot pads and a low seating position, a cruiser is designed for laid-back riding. The V-twin engine delivers massive torque at low RPM, and that’s just where they should be ridden—slow and steady and in tune with the rhythm of the throaty growl of the engine.

Cruisers are best suited for moderately to experienced riders. Beginner riders may initially struggle with the riding position. Plus, these bikes can be big, heavy, and hard to handle for new riders. Though some Japanese manufacturers offer smaller entry-level models.

Examples: Just about any model from Harley-Davidson, Indian or Victory. Others include the Kawasaki Vulcan, Honda Shadow, Yamaha V Star and others.

Dual-sport adventure

A dual-sport or adventure bike goes most anywhere. Dual-sport refers to its ability to perform well both on- and off-road. This is what I ride when I travel the world.

Like off-road or dirt bikes, dual-sport adventure bikes can handle rough terrain because they have a high seat height and center of gravity, long-travel suspension, and knobbier tires. As with street bikes, they’re equipped with lights, mirrors, and turn signals. Dual-sport motorcycles are versatile and suited to riding paved highways, gravel roads, or dirt trails. As such, they’re durable and sturdy and can handle the abuse of even the toughest roads.

Dual-sport bikes range anywhere from 250cc to 1200cc, which means there are options for both experienced and new riders. However, they tend to be tall, making it difficult to plant both feet flat on the ground. Though some manufacturers offer lowered versions that you can.

Examples: BMW GS line, KTM Adventure, Kawasaki KLR650, Honda Africa Twin, Suzuki V-Strom and many more.

Sport bikes

Consider a sport bike as you might consider a sports car: not always practical, but looks great with streamlined and often exotic looks. They are extremely high performance, corner well, and built for speed. With forward handlebars and higher foot pegs, sport bikes have a more forward-leaning seating position—important for high-speed riding, but uncomfortable for longer rides or more casual cruising.

Sport bikes share DNA from professional track bikes such as those used in MotoGP races. They feature lightweight frames, aerodynamic fairings, and wind-cutting body ports with flashy graphics. Available in a wide range of sizes, sport bike engines have wide power bands optimized for maximum torque at high RPM.

If you enjoy spending afternoons carving through canyons, climbing mountain roads, or winding around twisty roads, then this is your bike. However, because of their touchy throttles and forward riding position, sport bikes might not be the best choice for new riders. Though less aggressive beginner bikes are available.

Examples: Ducati Panigale, Yamaha YZF-R1, and most any model from the Honda CBR line, Kawasaki Ninja ZX line, or Suzuki GSX-R series, and many more.

Sport touring

A sport touring motorcycle combines the comfort and practicality of a touring bike with the performance and looks of a sport bike. Sport tourers are much lighter than touring bikes and are usually equipped with removable storage and a larger wind-cutting fairing. Plus, they’re designed with a more relaxed and comfortable seating position.

Most sport touring bikes use a shaft drive, making them easier to maintain than a sport bike. Some offer advanced technology including electronic suspension, ABS, GPS, Bluetooth, and advanced security. They typically come with larger engines (over 1,000cc) so they are big and powerful. However, with the relaxed riding position and lower center of gravity, they can also be easy to manage.

Sport touring bikes are an ideal hybrid between comfort and performance and are well-suited for both beginner and experienced riders.

Examples: Yamaha Tracer GT, Honda ST1300, Kawasaki Concours, BMW F800GT, Ducati Multistrada and many others.

Off-road/Dirt bikes

Designed to be ridden in the dirt, gravel, and sand, dirt bikes are built for off-road riding. To handle the rigors of most any terrain, they are equipped with knobby tires, small, yet powerful engines, beefed-up, long-travel suspension, and lightweight frames with little or no cosmetic body parts.

Sometimes referred to as motocross bikes, dirt bikes typically don’t have any lights or mirrors and aren’t street legal. So, depending on where you live, a dirt bike may have to be transported by truck or trailer to an off-road park or wilderness area.

They don’t require a driver’s license to operate, so they can be a great starter or learning motorcycle for young family members. As such, dirt bikes are a great solution for family outdoor activity, as dirt bikes are available from very small 50cc for the kids to 650cc and larger for the experienced.

Examples: Honda CRF450X, Yamaha YZ450FX, Suzuki DR-Z125L, Yamaha TT-R50E, KTM 250 EXC-F, and many others.

Even more

The motorcycle types discussed above are certainly the most popular, but the vast array of two-wheeled fun doesn’t stop there. Specialized off-road bike models include competition, motocross, trail-riding, and enduro.

For the street, there are choppers, supersport bikes, custom, and vintage motorcycles. Some pure motorcyclists might have an issue with me including scooters on this list, but the fact is they are powered two-wheel machines and are a great solution for commuting in urban environments. Soon most of these types of bikes will be available as electric or e-bikes.

No matter your wish, style, or dream, there is a motorcycle for anyone and everyone. Now it’s time to find the right one for you.

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