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Author/photographer: Seamus Willox
There's more to motorcycles than Cruisers and Sport bikes, a lot more. There are many different types of motorcycles out there, and there's lots of crossovers too, making the categories vast or blurry. I will go over my view on what's out there and where I believe the fall in the few genres I think there are. It doesn't matter what type of bike you ride, it just matters THAT you ride! Although, we all like to poke fun at the other type of riders and brands, and that's ok, as long as it's not me ;) So I'll start where I started, with the cruisers.
Black leather, chaps and a shorty helmet is what most picture the average cruiser rider, on a long, low, rumbling V-Twin. Your feet are out front, you're all stretched out, great for well... cruising. Cruisers tend to be heavy, but the low center of gravity makes them rather manageable, so despite the fact that they may be over 100lbs heavier than another type of bike, they don't feel like it. The typical cruiser will start out at around 750 – 800cc, then go up to 1800cc and beyond, and like anything else, there are many exceptions. Like Suzuki's big single cylinder the LS650 or S40 (Suzuki Savage for those who remember) or Honda's new Rebel in either a 300cc single or a 500cc parallel twin (super light bikes By the Way). Cruisers aren't typically built for overall power, but focus more on the torque and style, making the mid sized and smaller bikes great starter machines. When comparing say a 800cc Suzuki to a 600cc Honda CBR, the power difference is staggering, the Suzuki will put out about 45-50hp, whereas the CBR will make up to 120hp! The old saying “No replacement for displacement” doesn't really apply across motorcycle types. So like I said before, cruisers aren't meant to be fast or huge on power, that's not the point. Style, sound, feel and the stretch, is the point.
True sport bikes are made for one purpose and one purpose only, to go fast around a track. Most full sport bikes will have a high-revving (up to 15000rpm) inline 4 cylinder engine, full aerodynamic fairings, tiny seat, and a sitting position resembling something like hugging a rocket. These tend to come in three different classes, 600cc, 750cc, and 1000cc (liter bikes), the 600cc class makes about 120 or so HP and weigh in around 405lbs, the 750cc about 150hp and only 420lbs, and the insane liter bikes get up over 200hp and weigh in around 440lbs! The power to weight ratio is what they're after, low weight with lots of power. Suspension is tuned for carving corners at speed, just like you see in the races on TV, the street versions of these bikes can do almost everything you see at thre races, they are close to just being a street legal race bike. I wish we had more race tracks where I am... Sport bikes can be a blast to ride, in the right conditions, going through the twisty mountain passes is where the average street rider will find the most enjoyment in these bikes, they're meant to be leaned right over (by an experienced rider) keeping on the throttle all the way through the corners, that's what they were designed to do, and they do it well. If you get one though, be sure to get some training at a track, and take it out for track days, I think owning a true sport bike and NOT taking it out to track days is a great way to miss the whole point of these over engineered, precision, collection of parts.
So now that you get the gist of the FULL sport bike, be happy to know you can get most of what they offer, in a slightly tuned down, more comfortable, more practical version of the sport genre. Sport touring bikes often come from an older sport bike that's been re-tuned for everyday life and longer distance riding. You'll find the sport touring bikes sit upright a bit more, have cushier seats, slightly larger windshields, longer range, and a whole bunch more convenient features. These hybrids give you most of what a sport bike does in regards of handling and power. Most riders will make more use out of this class than a full sport bike, outside of being on a track. Where the sport touring lacks in high RPM power, compared to full sport, it more than makes up for in mid-range get-up-and-go torque, so corner carving in the mountains is still on the menu. The touring side opens up the possibilities of spending more time in the seat with fewer gas stops and less saddle sore. Extra luggage is an easy option if it's not already equiped from the factory. Most aftermarket luggage manufactures make hard side cases or a top box for your helmet and day to day items, turning these motorcycles into something you can use on a daily basis as a commuter, grocery getter, or a two up for you and the better half. Sport touring bikes are the do it all street bike for the rider who wants a bit of pep.
Naked motorcycles are generally stripped down sport bikes with the engine tuning of a sport touring motorcycle and a more upright sitting position. Naked bikes feel very nimble and easy to toss around. Easily identified by the lack of plastics, a fully exposed engine, small headlight shroud (if any), and a skinny tail section. These are fun bikes, none of the extras you don't need, just the stuff that makes a bike. With good power, great handling, and usually less expensive than sport bikes, these make good bikes for any level of experience (there are exceptions to that). The sitting position makes you want to tour on them for days at a time, but the lack of wind protection will cause some fatigue. Although the wind is usually without buffeting, without adding a windshield the pressure will take it's toll on long highway trips. I put these in with the traditional standard bike, the old CB and such, as I believe this is where they evolved to.
Goldwing. Full out touring bikes are sometimes referred to as a couch on wheels and often come with more buttons than a commercial aircraft. The touring motorcycle is designed to take one or two, often silver haired, riders in it's full luxury gloriousness(yes that's a word, since I added it to my spell check) to a far away land (often Phoenix) with comfort being number one on the list of required features. Large engines are commonly used in these large bikes for a couple of reasons. One, they're heavy, two, to keep the power smooth. A larger less stressed engine won't cause as much fuss when asked to haul around all that mass, meaning it will deliver predictable power and the riders won't feel many vibrations, creating a very smooth cushy ride, resulting in much less fatigue and, more importantly, a happier passenger. Large bikes as they tend to be, touring bikes still surprise people at how they get up and go, passing cars two up and loaded on a 1800cc 6 cylinder Goldwing is a breeze! The handling of some of them is impressive to the point experienced riders are bewildered at how they can carve through the twisty roads with ease. With all that they offer, these bikes tend to have a rather low center of gravity, making a 900lb touring bike easier to handle than a large cruiser, especially if they have reverse ;)
A Dirt bike legal for the street!? Yup! That's the idea behind these hooligan machines. Mostly a dirt bike, just enough street bike. The Dual sport is usually a small single cylinder engine put in a dirt bike like frame, most aren't full out dirt bikes, but more of a street bike in a dirt bike style. The average The Dual sport has an older street or dirt bike engine in a steel frame, a slightly comfier seat than a dirt bike, low to mid range longer travel suspension, and some dirt bike plastics and headlight. The result compared to a true dirt bike is a heavy bike with a maintenance schedule like that of a street bik, nimble, easy to throw around, do-it-all bikes, that can take the rider out on the dirt straight from their garage, as long as it's not too long of a distance. That's the average dual sport, but that has been, and will continue to change for the better. Some motorcycle manufacuters have been releasing new dual sports that are more like true dirt bikes, that happen to be street legal. The street legal dirt bike has more power, less comfort, higher maintenance, much better suspension. These are basically competition enduro bikes, that skirts the line between off-road and barely street legal. This is a bike for someone who wants exactly that, a dirt bike they are legal to ride on the road, great for connecting trails, getting back to camp, or dangerously fun to rip around town. Just stay off the walking paths. Typical dual sport start at a very low price and can get anyone into riding for a low cost, alternatively the street legal dirt bike has a price tag to match it's competition blood.
Adventure bikes, these are my favorite, do-it-all motorcycle! Adventure bikes are the result of a dirt bike, a touring bike, and a sport touring being put in a blender then baked to perfection. With the range of a touring bike (300-400+ KM per tank), the suspension like a dirt bike (sometimes very close), the power and handling like a sport touring, and a very upright sitting position and comfort ready for days of riding, you end up with an adventure bike. They can really do it all, mostly. One thing I should mention about these bikes, is that they are usually tall bikes, so those of you who are short in the step might have a time putting both feet down on the ground, at the same time, although, as dirt bikers know, this isn't always necessary. The reason for the height is because adventure bike call for decent ground clearance to clear obstacles and bumps in the road, it also goes hand in hand with long travel suspension. The majority of the adventure segment is powered by a twin cylinder engine, providing lots of low end torque but still smooth for the highways, V-Twins and Parallel are the norm (well, except for that other brand ;) ). So if you're not sure of what type of riding you'll be doing, or want to do, the adventure bike will answer the call. Note: for those with bad backs, this is probably going to be the best answer, with all the suspension and very upright position with your feet right under you, this also allows you to stand up on the pegs to stretch out.
You can read my Adventure Bike Guide here for more info on adventure bike riding
There's some who say trikes aren't motorcycles, my reasoning is as follows: You straddle a motorcycle not sit in it, you have handlebars not a steering wheel, your passenger sits behind you not beside you, and the clutch (if any) is by your hand not your foot. Some of you will get what I'm saying here.
Anyway you look at it trikes play an important part in the motorcycle industry, they provide something for someone to ride who can't or won't ride a two wheeled motorcycle. Trikes have kept older riders riding longer (Glenn Turple at 91 years old rides year round... in Alberta Canada), it allows people with disabilities to get out riding, and in recent years the Can-Am Spyder has gotten passengers off the back of their partners bike on to something of their own, freeing up a saddle bag for the rider ;). There are two types of trikes, the traditional trike, which is almost always a conversion, with two wheels in the back and one in the front.
This configuration has been around a long time and has proven to work well, although costly to build. The other type is the Can-Am Spyder with two wheels in the front and one drive wheel in the back. The advantage that this has is that it is inherently more stabe, along with the fact that the Can-Am Spyder as well as the Ryker, is built from the factory like this. All come with a very advanced stability system designed just for them, making Can-Ams some of the most stable machines on the road. With the invention of the Spyder in 2007, the traditional trikes have become a rarity. Being built by the manufacturer like this allows them to come in at a much lower price, by thousands of dollars, and the Can-Am Ryker starts around $11000 CND, that's in motorcycle territory! On top of that, they offer semi-automatic transmissions, or even full automatics with the Rykers, making them some of the easiest machines to learn to ride, anyone can ride one!
I can't talk about trikes without mentioning sidecars, I own one myself and it's been a wonderful thing to have around, I ride it in the winter to treat P.M.S. (Parked Motorcycle Syndrome) and to haul the kids around, I took my daughter camping with it and she loved it!. Ok, so a sidecar is technically a bolt-on accessory to a traditional motorcycle (according to the government). It puts a bucket with one or sometimes two seats next to the rider, making it a three wheeler. They do not go on and come off easy, it's relatively intensive to properly install, or build, a good, safe sidecar. So now that there are three wheels, the motorbike no longer leans (there are a few exceptions) so you have to steer the hack (sidecar rig) around corners, taking away stability in the corners. Other than that the three wheels do provide great stability (like on ice and snow ;). Some sidecars even have two-wheel drive! where the sidecar wheel is hooked up to the rear drive on the bike. Sidecars aren't for everyone, but those that have them, tend to love them. As a father of two and a motorcycle dealer employee, the sidecar gives me more freedom to ride, especially here in Alberta!
For those who don't care to ride on the road(at least legally) there are dirt bikes, you may have heard about these. I won't go into much depth here, as this article is more about the street legal side of things, but I need to mention them at least. So a dirt bike is a light skinny motorcycle meant for strictly off-road riding....ok, ok, you know that already.Dirt bikes fall into three main categories, Motocross for the track riders, Enduro for the woods riders, and Trail for the beginner or casual rider. I plan to write an articl about dirt bikes in the future. I will say though, that if you street bike ride and start to dirt bike as well, you'll notice that dirt bike riding WILL improve your street riding, as there are things you'll learn on a dirt bike that you won't (typically) learn on a street bike. So I recommend, if you want to learn more, try out dirt biking. Another note, dirt biking WILL get you in shape, it's a fantastic core workout! So in conclusion to the dirt bikes, they will make you smarter and fitter.... so really, it's in you best interest to get one. ;)
These are the BASIC types of motorcycles out there, there are many, many sub classes of motorbike out there so I won't be going over them all because well, it'll never end. Most motorbikes will fit well into one or more categories and that's a wonderful thing about motorcycles, there's one for everyone's taste, at least there's a starting point. With so many bolt-ons, accessories, tires, and welders out there, you can, in theory, make one bike into another... because... well why not!? So if what you're dreaming of isn't on the list, build it, or have it built.
It doesn't matter what bike you ride, as long as you ride! You're expected to make fun of the “other type”, but only in good jest, please don't be the biker that hates people because they ride a different type of bike, or different brand, we're all in this for, hopefully, the same reason, our love ofo riding!
Ride safe, have fun!