Types of Motorcycles

Learn the Difference Between a Scooter and a Supermoto

Motorcycle Bike Types
What type of bike do you want? Where to begin... Screen Grab © About.com

Motorcycles have, in recent years, become more focused and specialized in their function. Gone are the days when bikes were simply categorized as either sportbike, cruisers, or dirt bikes. A variety of sub-genres has evolved, bringing a nuanced skill set to particular types of bikes which are capable of tackling everything from the most extreme off-road scenarios to track settings and a wide variety of everything in between. Nowadays, you can use a supermoto bike to tackle tarmac with the suspension compliance of a motocross machine or take on long distance rides with an adventure bike that also happens to be ready if and when the road turns into a nasty dirt trail.

For a better understanding of the lingo surrounding the many styles of motorcycles currently on the market, here are definitions of a few key types of bikes.

To get a better visual sense of the differences between these motorcycles, check out our photo gallery, where you'll see how on and off-road components combine to create freshly styled motorcycles that look thoroughly modern:

  • Adventure/Touring, Dual Sports
    The offspring of rugged dirtbikes and long-distance tourers, these bikes boast lots of suspension travel and upright postures that are comfortable for lengthy rides. Adventure/touring bikes are usually equipped with big fuel tanks for plenty of range. 
  • Choppers
    Epitomized by the Harley-Davidson Panhead in the film Captain America, choppers tend to have raked forks, reclined seats, and lots of showy chrome. Less concerned with comfort than they are with looks, these machines use extreme proportions to stand out from the crowd.
  • Cruisers
    Cruisers are like sedate choppers; their fork rake is less extreme, and they're designed for laid-back riding. Most people think of the iconic Harley-Davidson brand when they think of cruisers, but a fresh set of challengers from metric (i.e., non-Harley) manufacturers like Star Motorcycles, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Honda are doing an outstanding job of redefining the genre's essential underpinnings. 
  • Dirt Bikes
    Dirt bikes generally refer to motorcycles designed for offroad riding and typically feature knobby tires, long suspension travel, and minimalistic frames and bodywork. Variants of dirt bike designs compete in Enduro, Motocross, and Trials events, among others.
  • Enduro Bikes
    Designed for long distance offroad competitions, Enduro bikes are usually equipped with headlights and taillights for nighttime riding, and can be outfitted with timers and roll chart reading devices that aid riders with navigation and timekeeping. Though there are plenty of endure-style bikes that make it onto the road, true enduro bikes are race-focused machines.
  • Naked Bikes
    Naked bikes recall British motorcycles of the sixties and lack bodywork or a fairing that would normally hide their engines and inner-workings.
  • Power Scooters
    Power scooters are like scooters on steroids, and they share a similar step-through (or near step-through) design. But they also boast large engines (sometimes up to 650cc) rivaling the powerplants found in some motorcycles. Power scooters usually offer commuter-friendly creature comforts and numerous storage compartments.
  • Scooters
    Typified by Italian-made Vespas, scooters are like small motorcycles with bodywork that allows the rider to "step through" and sit without getting his or her clothes stained by oil. Scooter engine sizes can be as little as 50cc.
  • Sport Bikes
    Designed purely for performance, sports bikes tend to require arms-forward posture, powerful engines, and tight handling.
  • Supermoto Bikes
    Based on race machines that compete on a combination of road and dirt surfaces, Supermoto bikes combine offroad characteristics such as deep suspension travel with road tires and bodywork reminiscent of so-called "streetfighter" bikes.
  • Touring Bikes
    Created solely for long-distance comfort, touring bikes often feature backrests, large windscreens, and creature comforts such as radios and navigation systems.
  • Trials Bikes
    These specialized competition bikes are tailor made for trials events, in which motorcycles are maneuvered around offroad or man-made obstacles, and riders are penalized if their feet touch the ground. Extremely lightweight, trials bikes lack seats and feature stiffer suspension than most dirtbikes.