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The 100 Terms Motorcycle Riders Need to Know

Photo: Gijs Coolen | Unsplash

Motorcycling is far more than a mere form of getting from Point A to Point B. For many, riding is a way of life, representing a rich and vast subculture that’s slowly evolved over the last century or so. Just like with those passionate about watches or whiskey, there’s a special language utilized by bikers that includes a slew of phrases and terms that have been developed over the years. And while one could legitimately fill a book with every piece of biker or motorcycle-related lingo, we’ve pored over the enormous array to highlight and explain many of the most commonly used moto-words in this guide to the 100 terms that motorcycle riders need to know.

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1%er: Stemming from the fact that this group comprises approximately one percent of the motorcycling population, a “1%er” is a term used to describe members of outlaw motorcycle clubs — or “MCs” — like the Hell’s Angels and Mongols.

ABS: An acronym for “Antilock Brake System.”

Adventure Bike: Sometimes written out as “ADV” for short, “adventure motorcycle” is a term used to describe a genre of bike that’s designed for on and off-road use.

Airhead: A slang term used to describe older generations of air-cooled BMW models.

Apex: A word describing the point on the inside portion of a corner that a motorcycle rides closest toward. Hitting an apex is also the fastest line through a corner.

Armor: When used in the motorcycling world, armor refers to protective padding that’s designed to absorb blunt-force impacts in the event of a crash. These were previously pads but have evolved into advanced proprietary materials like SAS-TEC and D30.

At The Wheel (Vs. At The Crank): Horsepower (and torque) can either be measured at the rear wheel, or at the crank (i.e. crankshaft) — the former of which loses a percentage of its oomph. This term simply refers to where horsepower is being measured from. In order to make these figures look as big (and impressive) as possible, manufacturers tend to cite power figures measured at the crank.

A.T.G.A.T.T.: Both an acronym and a philosophy pertaining to protective equipment, A.T.G.A.T.T. is short for “all the gear, all the time.”

Back Bone: A word that describes the top rail on a motorcycle’s frame.

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Backing It In: A term that refers to riders intentionally locking up and fishtailing (or drifting) their rear wheel upon corner entry — a practice that gets the bike pointed in the rider’s desired direction more quickly, therefore allowing for faster cornering. This technique was born out of supermoto riding but has also been utilized by superbike riders at the highest levels.

Bagger: A behemoth big-bore, touring-focused cruiser motorcycle that’s equipped with a large fairing, floorboards, and a suite of hard luggage.

Beeza: This is a slang term to describe BSA motorcycles and is also where the term “Beamer/Bimmer” (slang for a BMW) is derived from.

Big Five: This term refers to the five major motorcycle manufacturers — Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha.

Big Red: A colloquial term for Honda.

Billet: A word that describes a piece of metal that’s been machined from a solid cube rather than forged or cast.

Blip: Also known as “blipping the throttle, this is a technique that involves quickly revving the throttle, downshifting, and then quickly letting the throttle out in order to match revs between gears. Consequently, this technique is also referred to as “rev-matching.”

Blown Bike: A term that refers to a motorcycle with a supercharged or turbocharged engine.

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Bobber: A bobber is a style of custom motorcycle defined by its floating tractor-style seat, minimalistic exhaust setup, a generally vintage appearance, and often hardtail (or faux hardtail) frames.

Bore: This word describes the internal diameter inside of an engine’s cylinder(s).

Bottom End: One of the more obvious terms on this list, a “bottom end” refers to the lower portion of a motorcycle’s engine.

Brain Bucket: A slang term for a motorcycle helmet.

‘Busa: This is a slang term for Suzuki’s Hayabusa model, also known as the GSX1300R.

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Café Racer: A Café Racer is a popular style of vintage (or vintage-inspired) motorcycle with an aggressive riding position that takes many of its cues from the Grand Prix racers of yesteryear. These machines exist both as custom builds and as modern production models.

Cage: This term refers to a car. On a similar note, the word “cager” is also used to describe someone driving a car.

Can: This is a slang term for a muffler or silencer on a motorcycle’s exhaust system.

Carb/Carbs: This term is simply a shortened form of the word carburetor (or carburetors).

CC/CI: This is an acronym for cubic centimeters or cubic inches, which are both measurements used to determine an engine’s displacement.

Center Stand: A center stand is a large, fold-out motorcycle stand — often found on touring models — that completely lifts the rear wheel off of the ground. As the name would suggest, center stands are located centrally beneath the engine between the front and rear wheels.

Chicken Strips: These are large unused/unworn patches of rubber on the outer portions of a motorcycle tire that show that the person riding the bike is using very little lean angle while cornering. Chicken strips are usually associated with inexperienced riders or “squids,” a term we’ll touch on later.

Chopper: This is a particular style of custom cruiser motorcycle that places a premium on form over function, with ultra-long raked front-ends (another term we’ll later touch on), low-stances, and often over-the-top accessories and paint jobs.

Clip-Ons: This is a type of handlebar that’s comprised of two individual units that clip-on to a bike’s forks, making for an aggressive, hunched forward riding position. As such, clip-ons are most commonly-found on sportbikes and Café Racers.

Counter-Steer: Just like with a bicycle (or practically every other wheeled single-track vehicle), in order to turn, motorcycles must first be turned in the opposite direction the rider intends to go — a technique that’s referred to as “counter-steering.” Whether or not you’re aware of the fact you’re doing it, if you’ve ever turned on a bicycle or motorcycle, you’ve used counter-steering.

Cowl/Cowling:A piece of bodywork that adorns part of the motorcycle, typically used to cover up unsightly ancillaries, add style, and/or bolster aerodynamics.

Crash Bars: As one might guess, this term refers to a set of protective bars that mount to the frame of the motorcycle and protect it from damage in the event of a tip-over or wreck. These items are most commonly found on adventure bikes and other off-road-focused models.

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Cruiser: This is an incredibly popular style of motorcycle that’s designed for a relaxed ride. Two examples of major cruiser bike companies would be Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle.

Displacement: Displacement refers to the size of an engine, more specifically the internal volume of its cylinders(s).

DOHC: This is simply an acronym for a commonly-used camshaft setup that stands for “Double OverHead Cam.”

Drag Bars: This is a style of handlebar most often used on cruiser bikes and choppers. Drag bars can be nearly straight and feature far less bend than other types of bars such as Ape Hangers.

Dresser: A slang term used for big-bore cruisers and baggers that are equipped with full sets of hard luggage, a large pillion (a moto term we’ll later explain), and a host of other touring-focused bits.

Dual Sport: This is a type of motorcycle that is essentially a dirtbike that’s had a headlight, indicators, and a license-plate holder tacked onto it, making it street-legal. These machines can be used on or off-road.

Enduro: Though nearly interchangeable with the term “dual-sport,” “enduro” typically describes a slightly more off-road-oriented motorcycle that’s still street-legal and competent in both the dirt and on the tarmac.

Fairing: This term refers to the main front cowl (i.e. piece of bodywork) that shrouds the fore-end of the motorcycle, bolstering its drag coefficient while also adding some style points. Fairings — or at least full fairings — are most commonly seen on sport and superbikes.

Farkle: A portmanteau of the words “function” and “sparkle,” farkle refers to genuinely useful accessories and aftermarket parts — usually of the more impressive top-shelf variety. The term “well-farkled” is often used to describe heavily-kitted and upgraded motorcycles.

Flathead: This is a type of engine design that Harley-Davidson employed from 1919 to 1973. Similar terms include “Knucklehead,” “Panhead,” and “Shovelhead” — all of which describe different Harley engine designs from different eras.

Fork: Also referred to as a motorcycle’s front-end, a fork is a telescopic piece that braces the front wheel and acts as the bike’s front suspension. Comprised of several pieces, a fork is made up of an axle, fork uppers, fork lowers, and the triple-trees that hold everything together.

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Gear Ratio: This term simply refers to the ratio between the number of teeth in the front sprocket versus the number of teeth in the rear sprocket. Gear ratios can have a major impact on a motorcycle’s performance, and depending on how they are set up — or “geared” — can either favor top speed over acceleration or vice versa.

Gixer: This is a common slang term for Suzuki’s long-running and immensely popular line of GSXR series supersports and superbikes.

Gremlin: This playful term is in reference to a problem in an engine, transmission, or electrical system that is difficult to find, diagnose, or fix.

Gray Market Bike: This term refers to a motorcycle that wasn’t available in a particular regional market but was later privately imported. Many gray market bikes come from Japan.

Hack: Also referred to as a “side-hack,” a “hack” is a slang term for a motorcycle sidecar — or a motorcycle that’s been equipped with a sidecar.

Hardtail: The term “hardtail” refers to a motorcycle with a rigid rear-end that lacks a rear suspension setup — also known as “rigid.”

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Header: This is the portion of an exhaust system that runs from the engine to the muffler (i.e. the exhaust pipes).

High-Side: One of the absolute worst fates a rider can suffer, a high-side is a particularly unpleasant type of wreck in which the bike’s rear-wheel loses traction, causing it to slide, before suddenly regaining traction and violently flinging the rider from the bike, sending them tumbling through the air. Luckily, this only occurs when riders are pushing a bike to its limits.

HOG: This is a simple acronym for the popular organization, the “Harley Owners Group.”

Holeshot: This is a racing term that describes a rider that gets out in front of the rest of the pack at the very start of a race. Basically, whoever is in the lead upon entering turn 1 has usually secured the “holeshot.”

Horsepower: Horsepower is the most-commonly-cited unit of power for engines and is calculated through how much force is required to move 550lbs by one foot in one second.

Inverted Front End/Inverted Forks: Also known as an “Upside-down” — or “USD” — fork, this term describes a front-end (or fork) where the fork lowers slide into the thicker fork uppers, providing more structural integrity than conventional forks.

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Lane splitting: Also referred to as “filtering,” this term refers to motorcycles that pass by cars in slow-moving traffic by riding between the open spaces between the lanes. While illegal in most of the United States outside of California, lane splitting is commonly practiced in the majority of countries on the planet.

Leathers: While the term “leathers” typically refers to one-piece leather racing suits, it can also be used to describe any piece of leather motorcycle gear.

Lid: “Lid” is another word for a motorcycle helmet.

Liter-Bike: Typically referring to sport and superbikes, a “liter-bike” is a motorcycle that has an engine displacement of approximately one liter (or 1,000cc).

Low Side: A more common and less violent type of motorcycle crash in which the rider loses front and/or rear traction (though more often front) resulting in the bike sliding on its side — or falling over the low way as opposed to the high way, i.e. a “high-side.”

Lump: Just like with the term “mill,” “lump” is a slang word for a motorcycle’s engine.

Oil Bag: An “oil bag” is simply a common term that means and is interchangeable with a motorcycle’s oil tank.

Panniers: “Panniers” are saddlebags that hang over either side of the rear wheel. These pieces of motorcycle luggage can be hard-sided or soft.

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Petcock: A petcock is a small two-way shut-off valve that controls the flow of liquid. On a motorcycle, the petcock is basically an on/off switch for the engine’s fuel supply (i.e. the gas tank).

Pillion: A word with two similar meanings, a “pillion” describes either a motorcycle’s passenger or the seat or pad that the passenger sits on.

Powertrain: Unlike a motorcycle’s “powerplant,” which refers to the engine, a bike’s “powertrain” describes the complete collection of components that keep a bike going, including the engine, transmission, and final drive system.

Rake: Also known as a motorcycle’s “caster angle”, this term refers to the angle of a motorcycle frame’s steering head (i.e. the angle of the front fork in relation to the ground). The term “raked” also refers to motorcycles — typically of the one-off variety — with especially long rakes, with a chopper being the quintessential example of a thoroughly raked bike while sportbikes represent two-wheelers with ultra-short rakes.

Rebound: Short for “rebound damping,” “rebound” describes the rate at which a motorcycle’s suspension decompresses after absorbing an impact or imperfection on the road. Rebound settings on suspension setups are often adjustable, allowing one to dial in the amount of force exerted after the fork or rear-shock(s) is compressed.

Rear-Sets: Typically reserved for superbikes and other high-performance and track-focused models, “rear-sets” are a type of multi-piece foot-control setup comprised of the foot-pegs, heel-guards, toe shifters/levers, and necessary hardware and linkages. As one may have guessed from the name, this type of foot-control setup is placed further back (and higher) than traditional foot controls.

Rolling Chassis: Also applying to cars and practically any other type of vehicle, a “rolling chassis” is a complete vehicle — frame, suspension, brakes, wheels, etc — without its bodywork. A rolling chassis can also lack a vehicle’s powertrain.

Scoot: While one would be forgiven for thinking “scoot” is a slang term for small-displacement two-wheelers like mopeds and scooters, the word actually means any type of motorcycle.

Scrambler: Predecessor to today’s modern enduros and dual-sports, “scrambler motorcycles” — or “scramblers” — are a type of vintage street motorcycle that’s been lightly modified for off-road or light off-road use. Spurred on by the popularity of the genre in the customs world, today’s motorcycle market now boasts a large number of retro-inspired scrambler production models.

Sissy Bar: Most commonly found on custom chopper builds and cruisers, a “sissy bar” is a tall passenger backrest that’s typically crafted from metal framework, and sometimes has been outfitted with padding and/or upholstery.

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Slicks: “Slicks” are a type of track-only moto racing tires that lack any grooves or treads and instead sport large, smooth, and ultra-grippy “slick” contact patches in order to afford maximum grip while out on the track.

SMIDSY: More commonly used in the UK and Australia, “SMIDSY” is an acronym for “sorry mate, I didn’t see you” — a phrase often said by drivers — or “cagers” — after accidentally hitting a motorcyclist with their car.

Softail: This is a style of frame produced by Harley-Davidson that mimics the lines of a hardtail bike while sporting a rear suspension setup.

Squid: Often describing overly confident novice riders, “squids” are inexperienced and/or new motorcyclists that ride beyond their limit, and often do so on bikes that are objectively too powerful for their minimal skill level and while lacking appropriate safety gear — placing a premium on their outward appearance over safety and sensibility. This term obviously has a very negative connotation to it and is very much viewed as an insult.

Standard: Naked bikes before naked bikes existed, a “standard” is a traditional style of motorcycle comprised of the bare essentials, with no bodywork or superfluous bells and whistles. Classically styled, these retro motorcycles — which remain in production to this day — sport a relaxed, upright riding position.

Stoppie: Also called an “endo,” a “stoppie” is a popular motorcycle stunt where the rider raises the rear wheel high off of the ground by applying an ample — yet precisely calculated — amount of front brake while moving.

Suicide Shift: Typically found on much older vintage motorcycle models, a “suicide shift” — or “suicide shifter” — is a type of transmission control setup where the rider operates the clutch with their foot and then controls shifting with their hand. A “jockey shift” is also a variation of the more common suicide shift.

Superbike: A term for a modern, high-performance sportbike, usually with a displacement of around one liter.

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Supermoto: A style of riding/racing, as well as a genre of motorcycle, “Supermoto” bikes, are essentially dirtbikes that have been outfitted with smaller wheels shod in stickier street rubber, and tighter suspension for technical riding on kart tracks. These machines started out as custom-modified MXers, but due to their immense popularity, manufacturers began releasing production supermoto models.

Supersport: This is a high-performance, race-derived class of sportbikes, that are essentially superbikes with smaller, mid-sized engines such as 600cc and 750cc mills.

Swingarm: A “swing-arm” is a piece of a motorcycle’s framework that mounts to the rear wheel and is then mated to the rest of the chassis via a mono-shock or pair of rear shocks.

Tank-Slapper: A nightmare of a situation for any rider, a “tank-slapper” is an ultra-dangerous occurrence — typically preceding a violent wreck by only moments — in which a speed wobble amplifies, causing the handlebars to jerk back and forth violently with incredible force, resulting in them repeatedly “slapping” the tank with each out-of-control, high-speed wobble.

Team Green: “Team Green” is a monicker that’s used to describe the Japanese moto manufacturer Kawasaki or any of its many factory race teams.

The Ton: A throwback expression for 100mph. Riders would refer to cracking the triple-digit barrier as “doing the ton” — or more recently, “doing the double ton,” which refers to breaking the 200-mph threshold.

Thumper: Stemming from the ample vibration exhibited by these types of mills, this old-school term refers to a single-cylinder engine — or a motorcycle with a single-cylinder engine. Typically, a thumper describes a larger-displacement single — such as Suzuki’s “DR Big” or Kawasaki’s absolutely bulletproof KLR650.

Tiddler: A “tiddler” is a playful term used to describe an old small-displacement motorcycle, typically of the scrambler or dirtbike varieties.

Trail: Telling the other half of the story of “rake,” “trail” is calculated by measuring the distance between the contact point on the ground of the front wheel and a line running up through the steering head axis of the bike.

Trail Braking: “Trail braking” is a somewhat advanced riding technique where the rider brakes before a corner and then slowly lets the pressure off of the brakes while simultaneously increasing their lean-angle at a steady rate, thereby maximizing the tires’ potential for grip without pushing the rubber beyond its limit.

Triple Trees: Also known as “triple clamps” or just “triples,” this term describes the pieces that the front forks are slotted through, connecting the fork with the steering stem.

Triton: A combination of the names of two iconic British bike-makers, a “Triton” is a type of once-popular custom motorcycle that saw the tried-and-true parallel-twin from a Triumph shoehorned into Norton’s revolutionary featherbed frame.

Twisties: This is a slang word that refers to a set of twisting, winding roads that are particularly fun to ride. The term most often describes canyons and other long twisting roads — many of which hug coastlines and mountain ranges.

UJM: “UJM” is an acronym for “Universal Japanese Motorcycle” — a term coined by motorcycle publications in the 1970s that basically describes Japanese-built standard bikes.

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V-Twin: Most commonly utilized to kick along cruiser motorcycles, a V-Twin is a popular type of engine configuration that features a pair of cylinders in a roughly 45˚ formation — unlike Ducati’s 90˚ “L-Twin” motors.

WOT: Pronounced like the word “watt,” this term is an acronym for “wide-open throttle.”

Zook: Bringing us to the final word on our list, “Zook” is simply a shortened slang term for the moto-maker Suzuki, not unlike “Jag” for “Jaguar” or “Merc” for “Mercedes.”

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