Before I’d even passed my motorcycle test, I’d already decided what my first bike would bike.
It was going to be a Harley-Davidson Iron 883. Of course, I’d never ridden a Harley. In fact, I hadn’t ridden anything other than the Yamaha 125 I did my CBT on and the Honda Hornet 600 I did my lessons on.
Nevertheless, I was convinced I wanted the Iron 883. So I went into the wilderness and bought myself some riding jeans, a jacket, gloves, an open helmet, and even a pair of cruiser-style boots.
There’s never a truer representation of “all the gear, no idea.”
Of course, things didn’t go to plan. And I ended up with a Honda CBR600F instead.
All the cruiser stuff got sold (unworn), and I began my exploration into the world of bikes.
Motorcycle Types: How Many?!
Back in the day, a bike was a bike. It really was that simple because there weren’t really motorcycle ‘types.’ But as the years have progressed, manufacturers have developed a bike for every purpose.
Some of this is great – because it allows us (as riders) to get the correct bike for our intended purpose.
But some of it is simply a case of manufacturers inventing bikes to solve problems that never existed in the first place. And all of this adds to a growing list of motorcycle types that make it more and more difficult to choose from.
Even as a seasoned rider, choosing the right type of motorcycle can be a minefield. Of course, I know what I need my bike to do – but temptation drags me down all sorts of paths I needn’t venture.
And if you’re a beginner, the choice is endless. Because as yet, you likely aren’t sure what type of rider you are, what you’re likes and dislikes will be, and what you will use the bike for when you get it.
So in this post, I want to help you navigate the rich and varied world of motorcycle types by giving you a brief overview of each one – as well as what they’re good at (and not so good at) so you can make an informed choice.
A Word On Do-It-All Bikes
The problem with bikes is that all of them are a compromise. If you want the speed and nimbleness of a sportsbike, you’ll be disappointed with a cruiser.
And if you want the comfort and luxuries of an out-and-out touring machine, an off-road bike just won’t cut it.
Everything you look at will be a compromise. And I mean everything – there is ALWAYS a trade-off to be made. You have to decide what you absolutely need and what you’re prepared to sacrifice on a bike-by-bike basis.
So without further ado, let’s have a look at the motorcycle types that are available to you.
Sportsbikes are motorcycles that look like they’ve been designed by a 7-year-old with a multitude of coloured crayons and an over-active imagination. The only things missing are fire-breathing dragons and ninjas wielding swords.
But that’s kind of the point of sportsbikes – they’re blisteringly quick, look awesome, and their impecably-tuned engines are a feat of engineering.
To all intents and purposes, sportsbikes are race replicas made legal for the road. They’re unbelievable fun, and there’s no better way to spend a quiet Sunday morning. But for touring and long distances? Maybe not so much!
Sportsbikes force you into aerodynamic positions – which is great on a track but tiring in the real world.
Your back and wrists will ache, and you better enjoy having your knees wrapped around your ears.
That said, you can tour on them if you get a set-up that suits you. Trade-offs are that you will be uncomfortable on your way to the Alps. But once you get there, you’ll spend two weeks with the biggest smile on your face!
Well, until you have to ride it home again.
The first thing you need to know about tourers is that the term itself can be fluid. A touring bike can mean different things to different people – but don’t get dragged into the semantics.
Simply put, a touring machine is a type of motorcycle that is big, heavy, comfortable, draped in luxuries, and dripping in luggage space. It’s the ultimate machine to cover miles on – in comfort.
Expect huge panniers (saddlebags), a massive top box, heated grips, heated seats (one for you and one for your pillion), integrated sat nav, music systems, and large fuel tanks giving you lots of range.
Whilst any bike can tour (yes, ANY bike can tour), a touring motorcycle is designed specifically for the job. They’re effortless, protect you from the wind and rain, and tend to come with the latest and greatest gadgets.
You get a lot of bike for your money – which is a good thing considering how much these types of motorcycle cost!
If you have the time and money to cover lots of miles and see the world (on tarmac), a touring bike could be for you. And if you want to do it with a special someone on the back, there’s no better type of motorcycle.
For me, sports tourers are the king of bikes. As mentioned above, they’re a trade-off. But for most people, the trade-off is about the best you can find. Either way, they make for one of the most versatile motorcycle types available.
As you might expect, a sports tourer is a mix between a sports bike and a touring bike. Sacrifices have to be made from both genres, but what you get is a combination of the two that works for pretty much anyone.
They’re heavier than sports bikes but not as weighty as out-and-out tourers. As a result, they’re tuned differently. So whilst they have that sportsbike feel about them, the power delivery is linear and sensible whilst retaining infinitely more comfort than their sportsbike cousins.
Of course, they’re not as comfortable as tourers – and they may lack the fuel range and high-end toys. But they’re also considerably cheaper, lighter, more nimble, and user-friendly.
For me, sports tourers are the closest you’ll get to a do-it-all bike (provided you don’t want to go off-road.) They balance the virtues of speed, comfort, weight, economy, range, and price better than any other genre.
Ask the person next to you to name a motorcycle. And even if they know nothing about bikes, they’ll probably mutter the words ‘Harley-Davidson.’
The first thing to mention here is that cruisers aren’t for everyone. But one thing is for sure – and it’s that they look damn cool!
These motorcycle types are the bad boys of the biking world. They’re big, dripping in chrome, and have a reputation spanning decades. You’ll often hear that cruisers are a lifestyle choice rather than a motorcycle choice. And for many, that’s absolutely true.
If you want something rapid, a cruiser isn’t for you. They’re fast enough (compared to most things on the road), but they’re not made for that.
Cruisers are made to, well, cruise. Chugging steadily along at 60mph and looking incredibly cool is the job of the cruiser.
But it’s not just the looks. Cruisers are usually comfortable and employ a relaxed riding position. The power is low-down rather than high-up in the rev range. As a result, they often lack a rev counter – further emphasising the purpose of these machines.
Related: Why Everyone Loves Harley-Davidson
Adventure bikes are the massive motorcycle types you see all around you these days. And I was a part of the boom that owned one for five years before returning to sports tourers.
There’s no denying that the technology and engineering that goes into these things are incredible – they’re supremely capable machines.
Yes, they can go off-road. But you have to be a fantastic rider with a lot of experience to be able to do so – simply because these things are so heavy.
Most riders aren’t good enough to take them off-road – and most don’t want to risk the repair bill if they drop it when doing so. And so adventure bikes tend to remain as road bikes.
But despite being excellent off-road, they’re also great on it. Their lofty stature gives you a high riding height – perfect for seeing the road ahead.
They’re also relatively comfortable with a sit-up riding position. You can carry a pillion and all of your luggage, and many of them these days have just as many gadgets and gizmos as full-dress tourers.
Staying in the off-road world, let’s move on to Dual Sports – my favourite genre of motorcycle type in the adventure category.
Dual sports make for excellent commuting bikes – that you can then use on the trails at the weekend.
As mentioned above, adventure bikes (these days) are touring bikes that have been adapted to perform off-road. But a dual sport bike is the opposite – born from an off-road pedigree but adapted to go on tarmac.
As a result, they weigh considerably less than adventure bikes – sometimes only half as much. They’re cheap to buy and insure, offer heaps of fun, and are adaptable.
Their knobbly tyres offer traction in the mud – but as with knobblies on any bike, they can be a bit sketchy on damp tarmac bends. And they don’t tend to come with much in the way of storage as stock – but there are tonnes of aftermarket products available for these machines.
They’re generally not considered the best option for long-distance riding. But they can work as touring machines if you intend to do on-road and off-road touring.
The final motorcycle type in the adventure category is the out-and-out off-road bike. As a genre of motorcycling, I struggle to find any other that offers as much fun as off-roading – it’s a great way to spend a weekend.
If your sole intention is to ride off-road, get an off-road bike. But that’s all they do. They’re not designed for touring, motorway riding, or even enjoy Sunday morning blasts in the twisties.
They’re designed to go off-road – pure and simple. As a result, they’re crazy light, have blazing acceleration (particularly 2-strokes), are generally bullet-proof, and have very few toys. If you want cruise control and heated grips, off-roaders aren’t for you!
An off-roader is an excellent choice if all you want to do is rip around the trails. If you want to do anything else, stay away.
Related: Can Touring Motorcycles Go Off-Road?
If you like the idea of a cruiser but dislike the idea of all that weight, perhaps a modern-retro bike will suit you.
As with cruisers, these motorcycles look amazing. They’re way smaller than cruisers but offer the same old-school styling.
However, modern-retro bikes (whilst looking ‘old’) have a wealth of modern technology hiding beneath that traditional-looking styling.
And thanks to manufacturers such as Triumph, you can get them in a wealth of different looks, from Bobbers to Cafe Racers and from Scramblers to Bonnevilles.
Modern-retro bikes are do-everything bikes – however, they don’t do anything superbly. They’re good all-rounders you can use for the daily commute, then throw some soft luggage over for touring in the summer.
No matter what you do on it, you can be sure of one thing – you’ll never stop smiling at how it looks and feels. And that’s invaluable.
Naked bikes are ‘proper’ bikes – bikes the old boys in your riding club grew up on. They’re much more sophisticated these days. But they’re still really just an engine atop two wheels.
The lack of screen and fairing doesn’t make them ideal touring bikes (although you can tour on them.) But they’re fabulous for Sunday morning blasts.
With their upright position, they’re comfortable. But naked bikes are all about the engine. Some are absurdly powerful – because they’re usually derived from sportsbike engines. But all of them are flickable, wheelie-able, aggressive, fast, and fun.
Probably the best thing about naked bikes is their versatility. You can get silly-fast Triumph’s, Ducati’s and Aprilia’s. But you can also get sensible, A2-friendly ones, too.
Not many newbie riders go out and out and buy a three-wheeler! In fact, very few people buy three-wheelers at all.
That said, they’re still a viable option.
If you have a tonne of cash to spend and love the look of a Harley, why not splash out on one of their trikes?
They’re perfect for touring two-up and give you loads more control and oodles of luggage space. The trade-off is that they aren’t as quick, they take some getting used to, and you won’t be able to filter when you hit traffic!
Of course, a cheaper option is Yamaha’s Niken – which (on paper, at least) makes a lot of sense.
With two front wheels, there’s no denying it looks a little odd. But I get the benefits of one over a standard bike.
They’re comfy, relatively affordable (if you buy used), make for easy riding, and have a tonne of luggage space.
Related: Top 10 Unlikely Touring Motorcycles
Okay, I know that ‘electric’ isn’t necessarily a type of motorcycle. But it is another choice for you to consider. And as electric bikes evolve, we’re seeing them span all of the above categories: from sportsbikes to sports tourers and adventure bikes to off-roaders.
Over the last few years, sales of electric bikes have been increasing – and I can see it continuing. You will, at some point, be riding an electric motorcycle whether you like it or not.
Most electric bikes, these days, look good and offer the same practicalities as their petrol-powered counterparts. The problem is obviously the batteries.
There has to be a lot of batteries to get real-world mileage. And these are heavy. As it stands, batteries don’t give us as many miles as petrol for regular riding – but they’re getting there.
That said, electric bikes are here to stay. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the dedicated below.