Types of Motorcycles – The Basics

If you’re new to the whole motorcycling thing, and thinking about taking part in this awesome sport, then you’re probably vaguely familiar with the types of bikes.

There’s the race bikes you’ll have seen racing, and you’ll probably know about Harley-Davidson, who make cruisers. Here’s a brief and rough run down of the different types of road bikes you’ll see, which should help you identify what you like the look of, or are interested in.


The race bikes are sportsbikes, and are often called supersport or superbike machines, with terminology varying around the world. Sportsbikes are identified by fairings Рall that enclosed bodywork, and are generally aggressive machines, with sporty ergonomics such as handlebar placement (clip-ons), footpegs and seat and the relationship between the three.

As noted they are the closest look you’ll get to a racebike on the road, and for fans of MotoGP or World Superbikes this may be what you’re after.

2016 Yamaha YZF-R6 Special Edition - 60th Anniversary
Yamaha’s YZF-R6 Special Edition

Most modern racebikes in the premiere 1000cc classes are four-cylinders, including V4s. In 2019 MotoGP will feature a Triumph Moto2 engine, which will be a triple. Yamaha’s YZF-R3 are raced in Supersport 300 in WorldSBK, alongside the Kawasaki Ninja 400, both of which are twin-cylinders. KTM’s RC390 is also seen in this category and is a single-cylinder.


Cruisers as championed by Harley-Davidson are also featured in various forms by other brands, with Indian Motorcycles a recent return to the industry, while Japanese manufacturers Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha all have their own models. Cruisers are most often typified by a V-twin engine.

2018 Harley-Davidson Street Rod
Harley-Davidson Street Rod – Not the most traditional cruiser but one of the brand’s newer offerings

Nakedbikes can vary greatly, but are bikes without fairings. This means the engine is normally highly visible, and there’s minimal bodywork in that area. They also generally lack the front fairing around the headlight, with headlights mounted to the forks. Screens are also less common.

Nakedbikes are generally more relaxed in their ergonomics, often with a shorter seat height, taller handlebars, possibly less ground clearance for the footpegs and a wider and more comfortable overall stance.

2008 Triumph Speed Triple 1050
There’s few nakedbikes as iconic as Triumph Speed Triple 1050

Many nakedbikes are also derived from superbike or sportsbike models, and feature engines tuned for more accessible torque, at the expense of top end power, although there are also bikes which buck this trend.


Adventure/touring bikes are another segment which overlap and are strongly represented by BMW’s GS motorcycles, not to mention KTM’s Adventure machines, as well as the Ducati Multistrada. These are often tall, comfortable and heavy machines, but with plentiful power and lots of room for a pillion, not to mention room for storage/luggage. Twin-cylinders are common, whether that’s a V or L-twin, or BMW’s Boxer twin.

Ducati's Multistrada 1260 S
Ducati’s Multistrada 1260 S

Retro style bikes are also gaining popularity, although there can be overlap with other sections of this list, with machines like Triumph’s Bonneville, or Moto Guzzi’s offerings providing modern technology with a more traditional look.

For more true to form retro bikes there’s Royal Enfield, who’s machines are much more true to the originals they resemble. Kawasaki also have their new Z900RS.

2017 Throttle Roll
A further customised XSR700 from the 2017 Throttle Roll event in Sydney. The XSR700 is a retro themed option.

The final segment is learner legal bikes, or LAMS machines in Australia. Here there’s capacity restrictions, while in places like Europe some much larger machines can simply have power limited to 35kW to meet requirements for use by less experienced riders.

In Australia and some markets however, specific machines are marketed to this area, as larger machines can’t simply be restricted, with lengthy licensing schemes ensuring new riders spend a bit of time learning the ropes on these machines.

LAMS machines come in all stripes, Honda's CBR500 and CB500 range is a good example, with a nakedbike, sportsbike and adventure themed CB500X
LAMS machines come in all stripes, Honda’s CBR500 and CB500 range is a good example, with a nakedbike, sportsbike and adventure themed CB500X

LAMS bikes can be found that fit any of the groups above, are most are specifically designed to be easier to learn on than their larger capacity counterparts. Sportsbike styled LAMS machines for instance normally feature ergonomics like a nakedbike, as they are easier to handle with less experience.

LAMS bikes also normally feature shorter seat heights, giving an easier reach to the ground, and easier balancing and control. Cruiser style LAMS bikes are often much lighter and easier to manage than the full size versions.

Hopefully this run down gives you somewhere to start from if you’re considering your first bike!

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