There are many types of motorcycles, each suited to a specific style of riding and, yes, a certain personal image. It’s important to understand the variety of bikes to ensure you’re making your most informed choice. Your decision should be based on function and capabilities, not simply appearances.

Don’t stop at this site, though. Talk to peers and dealerships, take a look at manufacturer publications (both brochures and websites) and consult enthusiast magazines for reviews and recommendations.

Though we can’t make specific recommendations regarding which motorcycle a rider should purchase, traditionally novice riders purchase smaller motorcycles (engine sizes 500cc or less) on which to gain experience before possibly investing in larger, more powerful motorcycles. For example, some manufacturers note in their publications that certain sport-bike models are intended for experienced riders.

There are six main categories of motorcycles: cruiser, sport, touring, standard, dual-purpose, and scooter.

  • Cruiser

    Your Need: Classic Looks

    Cruisers are styled after classic machines from the 1930s to the early 1960s. Large-displacement V-twin engines are the norm, although other engine configurations and small to medium displacements also exist. Their engines are tuned for low-end torque, making them less demanding to ride because it is not necessary to shift as frequently, and they feature that distinctive rumble exhaust note. Cruisers have a low, laid-back riding position that many find comfortable.

  • Sport Bike

    Your Need: Legal Speed

    Sport bikes typically speed and handling on paved roads or racetracks, though they can be less comfortable and have poorer gas mileage in comparison to other motorcycles. Sport bikes have comparatively high-performance engines resting inside a lightweight frame, all covered by aerodynamic bodywork. They often feature the latest in motorcycle technology.

  • Standard

    Your Need: Just about everything

    Modern-day standards are versatile, all-purpose street motorcycles that combine the comfort of cruisers with performance and handling closer to those of sport bikes. Standards are often recommended to beginning motorcyclists due to their flexibility, relatively low cost, and upright riding positions. Partway between the reclining posture of the cruisers and the forward-leaning sport bikes. The foot pegs are also situated below the rider and the handlebars are higher than sport bikes. With accessory fairings and luggage, standard motorcycles are easily tailored to meet the needs of just about any street rider.

  • Touring

    Your Need: Road Trip!

    Touring motorcycles are designed to cover long distances in great comfort. They often have large-displacement engines, and tall fairings that offer significant weather and wind protection, and large-capacity fuel tanks for extended range between fill-ups. They are famous for their relaxed, upright seating position and plush seats. Passenger accommodation is excellent and expansive luggage space is the norm for this class. Large touring bikes are sometimes called dressers, especially those that are based on a cruiser platform. Others are more sporting in nature and can handle the curves as well as the interstate.

  • Dual Purpose

    Your Need: Best of Both Worlds

    Dual-purpose or on-/off-road motorcycles, are street legal machines that are also designed to enter off-road situations. Typically based on a dirt bike chassis, they have added lights, mirrors, signals, and instruments that allow them to be licensed for public roads. They are generally taller than typical street bikes, with higher ground clearance and longer suspension travel to deal with rough terrain.

  • Scooter

    Your Need: Around Town

    Scooters, for those looking to run around town without wanting to ride a motorcycle. These two wheelers typically have smaller wheels than their motorcycle brothers, along with a step through seating position. Usually, models will include under seat storage to fit groceries or an extra helmet for a friend.