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Ride On: The Ultimate Guide To Motorcycle Types

If every day you feel like you’ve come across a new motorcycle style in accordance with a never-ending search for the perfect ride then not to worry. You are not alone. It’s a seemingly endless world of bikes out there and for the novice rider or beginner looking to introduce themselves to the vast world to two-wheeled bliss, things can get a little confusing quite quickly. It’s also something to be expected thanks to the growing interest in custom rides and bespoke motorcycle workshops around the world. Literally every day a new iteration is released, working to adjust our notions of “normal” for the better.

But if getting granular with the subject isn’t exactly how you wanted to get introduced to the subject of motorcycle types, then maybe some basic knowledge is in order before pressing forward. And to make things even more digestible, you’ll be pleased to know that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation recognizes just three distinct types of motorcycles out there. Of course, from here there are multiple variations to discuss as you dive deeper into each category, but it is worth noting nonetheless. In that regard, we went ahead and outlined the major types of motorcycle out there today, from which just about every bespoke and custom variation lies within.

Types of Motorcycles

The Basics

Three Distinct Types

As stated above, there are three basic types of motorcycle types as designated by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. They are: street bikes, dual purpose bikes, and off-road bikes. While self-explanatory, we’ll provide a bit of further explanation below as to what makes each category so special.

The Three Basic Styles

Street bike: Naturally, these are any street-legal motorcycles that are built only for the asphalt. This is where most motorcycles exist. From standard bikes to sport bike to cruisers and tourers this is the largest category of bikes no doubt.

Dual Purpose: As you might have guessed, dual purpose bikes are equipped with both on and off-road capabilities. Here, you’ll find your adventure touring bikes, and street-legal dirt bikes from brands like KTM. For both the off-road enthusiast and the daily commuter, dual purpose bike popularity is on the rise.

Off-Road: Built for, you guessed it, backcountry trails. These are your motocross dirt bikes and other non-street friendly or legal rides that can take quite the beating in the outdoors. However, since their utility is a bit myopic, the variations in this category are lacking compared to the other two.

It’s from here that we get several additional motorcycle styles that range based upon their intended use. For example, two completely different riders could both ride a street bike, one upon a sport bike with the other enjoys a classic cruiser as their preferred means of getting around. On the flip side two dual purpose bikes, the adventure tourer and dual sport bike both possess the capability to hit the offload trails but with different intentions. Needless to say, it’s out of these three types of bikes that we get everything else under the sun, and it’s from the following six that the majority of other versions exist, even electric motorcycles.

Standard Motorcycles


Straightforward Fun

Recognized as some of the less glorious and “sexy” motorcycles out there, Standard bikes are also referred to as the naked or traditional bike. However, what these bikes lack in flair they make up for in reliability, fuel efficiency, and comfort. Of their handful of “standard” traits, perhaps the most notable is that the foot pegs and shifter are located almost directly beneath the waist of the rider. Such a setup allows the rider to enjoy a more ergonomic upright position as opposed to a more “sporty” forward leaning position we find with other options.

Additionally, with standard bikes, the handlebars also favor an upright seating position and the overall style of the bike boasts a bare-bones-esque appearance. Typically an exposed engine, minimal or nonexistent fairing, and a long seat are featured as well. However, all these standard and unremarkable features allow for custom bike builders across the globe to have their hand in customizing these bikes into something more. Here, custom jobs can adjust these rides into more sporty and off-road-friendly rides with the addition of performance hardware, suspension, and knobby tires in some cases. Simple but with endless potential; that’s the Standard motorcycle for you.

Cruiser Motorcycles


The Easy Rider'

When looking for your first or second bike, remember this: It’s nearly impossible for anyone to look uncool riding a cruiser bike. Within this category lie your choppers, muscle cruisers and of course custom bikes. What makes them cruisers you may ask? Well, it’s all in the positioning of the foot pegs and shifters -set in a forward position allowing you to stretch out your legs a bit more while riding – and handlebars that lend themselves to a laid-back riding style. These types of bikes have been around for a while now, but with each passing decade comes an adjusted style. It’s for this reason those in the custom bike world often pull their projects from this lot.

Just about every motorcycle manufacturer offers a cruiser option so if you’re in the market for one of these rides then you’re certainly in luck because this style is currently in big demand. They also ride low to the ground for an added level of cool and more often than not feature the most amount of chrome in the motorcycle family.

Sport Motorcycles


Speedy and Agile

Known, – rather unflatteringly so – as the “crotch rocket,” these are some of the more difficult yet fastest bikes around to ride. We’ve all seen these before. Often times with a rider revving the engine at a stop light only to speed off into the distance once the light turns. Sport bikes boast a more aggressive riding style, complete with a more streamlined and aerodynamic seating position. The position of both the handlebars and the read-ward foot pegs and shifter make the rider position themselves in such a pose. As far as performance is concerned, these rides are equipped to be fast, quick and agile.

Sport bikes are also modeled after racing track motorcycles and are commonly equipped with the latest performance technology such as aluminum alloy frames and multi-cylinder engine designs. From here, you’ll find the likes of both the Super Sport and Hyper Sport Bikes, reserved mainly for professional riders on the track. And for that matter, it’s typically suggested that unless you are yourself a professional rider – riding for sport no less – it would be wise to get some practice under your belt before attempting to tackle one of these, or at least get a beginner version.

Adventure Sport

Adventure Sport

Off the Grid

The spirit of adventure lives within you. And it’s when you have free time on your hands that the backcountry calls your name. So for extended stays in this realm, the adventure bike can be a great option. These too feature an upright and ergonomic seating position thanks to the bike’s foot pegs and shifter located directly below the waist. Here, the adventure bike features a higher performance engine as well as room for your gear to get you through the wilderness. These bikes also offer comfort where you’d otherwise wouldn’t expect it.

In addition, adventure sport bikes are built for both on and off-road exploring and can serve as a reliable and comfortable option to see the lesser traveled regions of the country. Here, you get the best of both worlds, durable utility combined with the balance and handling capability of a sport bike, making them the crossover SUVs of the two-wheeled world, and are a great addition to any collection of motorcycles you may already own.

Dual Sport Motorcycles

Dual Sport

On Again, Off Again

Yet another ergonomically and terrain-friendly ride, the dual sport bike is your low maintenance single cylinder ride that’s fit for both the tough off-road trails and the city streets. Here the foot pegs and shifter are located directly below the waist and the handlebars of the bike are positioned to provide the rider with a more upright riding style that other options out there. The purpose? To facilitate slow turning speed while reducing pressure on the wrists while riding.

Typical of these bikes, they tend to feature uncluttered lines along with your standard and legal riding gear such as headlights, turn signals, and mirrors. They’re designed to perform equally well on both the asphalt and the dirt and typicality boast great balance and are lightweight due to their more stripped-down nature. They’re a blast to ride, are versatile, and typically easy on the wallet.

Touring Motorcycles


A Road Trip Favorite

The big boy of the group, the Tourer is built for those long cross country hauls with a significant other, or just a whole lot of luggage. The setup here allows for a more natural sitting position, thanks to the foot pegs and shift located directly below the waist, making the Tourer one of the more comfortable rides around. There are two types of Touring bikes in this lot: Performance Tourers and Luxury Tourers. The difference? Enhanced comfort, a smooth engine, large storage space and additional luxury items of course.

No matter what the differences though, all Touring bikes feature widescreens, luggage bags for your gear, larger gas tanks for extended journeys between fuel ups, and just about every comfortable amenity you’d find in a luxury Lincoln sedan. They’re also their heavier, resulting in a more powerful engine with may be more difficult to handle for beginning riders.

A Handful Of The Best Beginner Bikes Around

All this bike talk got you itching for one of your own? Be sure to check out this list of the best beginner motorcycles before heading out to the nearest dealer.