Guide to Motorcycles


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A car driving mate said he wants to buy a scooter.

His car gets broken into once a year; MOT, insurance, running costs, parking and traffic are driving him mad.

He wants a nice comfortable cheap bike. He wants to know how to go about getting himself a scooter. I said he needs a CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) certificate and he can ride any bike with an engine not more than 125 cc (cubic centimeters). I ask him what bike he wants when he shows me a picture of a Honda Goldwing. This is a 1500cc six cylinder 12 valve £14,000 monster. A bit more than he wants for a first bike.

So for him and all those who say that all bikes look the same, here is a guide to the different types of bikes available. Some manufacturers and magazines re-label bikes for their own purposes but I am not far off the mark. 

The only types of bikes I can think of are:  


Want to convert 100 miles per hour to kilometres per hour?
Use form below. Also suitable for other conversions. 

convert numerical value e.g. 100
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The Ford Mondeo of bikes. Basic, relatively cheap, comfy resilient, all weather bikes. Bikes like the Suzuki Bandit 600 can be quite powerful and fun roadsters. These bikes will not help you pull the opposite sex, but will get you to work sooner. 

They are relatively cheap to insure, capable in the wet and will even travel long distance if necessary. Two and four cylinder versions available depending on your preference. Nothing else to say about them really. Popular with anyone that needs a bike everyday. 

Available from 125cc to 750cc. Anything more than 750cc and it will should actually be classed as a Musclebike.


Cruiser bikes are like your open top Rolls Royce cars. They are comfortable and large and designed for long distance riding. Speed is not essential. The most popular models are American Harley Davidson bikes. 

These bikes look good with often no plastic but loads of shiny chrome. Most have only two cylinder engines which makes them feel lazy but powerful. You can often buy loads of extra accessories for these bikes like luggage bags, funny horns, screens, toasters and loads of shiny bolt-ons. These bike chew up 100's of miles with ease and attitude, eventually. 

From 125cc to no limit. 


Touring bikes are like big Mercedes Benz cars. They are often large, comfy and fast with lots of weather protection and gadgets. A popular example would be the Honda Goldwing. These bikes are probably the most likely to have a reverse gear. Most are equipped with cruise control, large screens, plenty of plastic protection for rider and aerodynamics. 

Rider comfort is catered for with high handle bars, plush seat, CD player, and a dash board that provides more information than a jet fighter. Most have four cylinder engines which provides loads of silky smooth power. Suitable for intercontinental commuting. 

From 800cc upwards


From the word trail - I think!  The dune buggy of bikes. Off-road riding is what the traillie bike and its variants are about. A good example is the Yamaha DT125. Road going versions take advantage of the designs close control, high handle bars and seat to make them serious traffic busters. 

Taking the bike off-road onto mountain trails, Rambo style, is also a laugh. Due to the high probability of the bike falling over off-road, these bikes are light with few none essentials. Less to repair if you drop it. Most have simple two or one cylinder engines. These bikes are popular amongst kids, off-roaders, those that fancy crossing the great desert or circumnavigating the planet. 

From 125cc to 1000cc for the road versions but for off road use you really need the engine as light as possible


Scooters are unique in the world of automobile. Anyone can ride one without the "mine is bigger than yours" attitude that goes with other bike types from a company chairman to his secretary. 

The classic make is the Vespa. They are simple to ride, cheap, comfortable and trendy, hence are popular with city types to teenagers. They will out accelerate most cars or bikes up to 15 mph. and can run on a cup of unleaded  for a week. However they are not the best on the M1 motorway.

Most scooters have engines from 50cc to 125cc but due to its popularity, manufacturers have recently released models with engines with 400 cc and more. The increase engine size makes them capable of long distance work.

Sports (race bikes)

The Ferrari of bikes. Fast, very sexy with, loads of kudos but useless when shopping at Tesco. Comfort is not considered when designing sportsbikes as races do not last long. Some do not have passenger seat. My favourite is the Yamaha YZF R1. The competition among manufacturers to producer smaller, lighter and more powerful bikes is fierce. 

Top sports bikes can reach speeds over 170mph (270 kmph) and produce more power than two average family cars. This, with theft, make them expensive to insure. More than 45 minutes in the saddle often hurts. But like they say "Pain is temporary, Glory is forever". Two cylinder punchy versions to four cylinder power engine types available. Popular among racers, nutters and hobbyist (part time bikers).

Learner legal 125cc versions up to 1000cc. Bigger engines will make the bike too heavy to be a true sportsbike. They become Sports Tourers


Some manufacturers build exotic bikes and then try to classify them based on existing templates. Sometimes the bike is a cross of two or more types of bikes

The Yamaha TDM 900 is a cross between a Sports and a Traillie motorbike. Their are also Custom-Cruisers, Sports Tourers, All-Rounders

Below are the more established categories.


All-Rounders are capable of doing more than one thing well. For example the Yamaha Fazer 600 (MCN 1999 Best All Rounder) is equally happy commuting daily to work as it is traveling to Spain. It is also not slow on the race track. 

Most all rounder bikes are based on commuter, touring and/or sports bikes. Some have a bit of traillie style thrown  in. A good bike if you want a tool that can do a bit of everything.


Bikes with a shit loads of power. The current trend with manufacturers is to put top sports bike engines in commuter bike frames. 

You could have a regular commuter bike with race bike performance. This makes them a real streetfighters and can upset a few sportsbikes on the roads. However they are designed for road use and not for the race track. The Ducati Monster 900 i.e. is a cool model.


These bikes are based on designs of the past or future. The Triumph Thunderbird is a good example. If it is a bike based on an old design it is called a retro but if it knocked together using modern parts it is called a custom. 

It does not matter if the bike was built by a large manufacturer in large numbers or a one-off by an enthusiast in his mums' garage. Engine configuration and style can vary vastly.

Sports Tourers

In the past, as sportsbikes got smaller, older larger model sportsbikes were reclassified as sport-tourers. These bikes are extremely fast but not as uncomfortable as sportbikes or as comfortable as tourers. 

Winning races is not what these bikes are about. Straight line warp speed like the 189 miles per hour of the Suzuki GSX 1300 R Hayabusa, is their forte. Manufacturers use this category of bikes to produce their fastest and most powerful missiles.


There are also other types of bike which may or no may not be road bikes which are not covered by the above. 

Trials bikes, speedway bikes, motorcross bikes, children bikes etc. because they are either specialists bikes or can fall under one of the above categories. Example, in my opinion any road version of a motorcross bike is similar to a Traillie bikes for the purposes of this guide. Please argue minor differences with your bike dealer when you are ready to buy a bike.

Picture of a Montesa Cota 315R - Dougie Lampkin (GB) Replica trials bike (5 times world champion indoors and outdoors and load more titles

by Sean Onipede
© 1999



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