Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Types
Buying your first motorcycle can be overwhelming as a newcomer to the riding world. There are many motorcycle types to choose from, tailored for a variety of riding styles.
A good starting point is deciding what type of riding you want your first motorcycle to accommodate. Are you buying one for commuting to work, or are you looking to develop skills for offroad riding adventures? Maybe you started a local delivery service and need something to get you through traffic faster. Whatever purpose you have in mind, it’s good to know what motorcycle types exist and what to look for as a beginner. Here’s a beginner's guide to motorcycle types.
Motorcycle Types to Choose From
A standard or “naked” bike is a somewhat ambiguous category that covers a wide range of styles. They’re essentially “bare-bones” street bikes designed for short commutes in upright riding positions and are great for beginners. We won’t spend much time on this category, as some standard bikes can blur the lines of distinction with other types of bikes like sports and cruisers.
There’s also a “mini-moto” subcategory of tiny motorcycles like the Honda Grom pictured above that are great for beginners and could be considered street bikes or — depending on who you ask — even scooters, but exist in their own mini-bike niche.
Sport bikes (or street motorcycles) are built for racing, with a focus on performance and speed. Known for their sleek designs and stylish fairings, sports bikes are made for the track as well as the street, although not ideal for commuting long distances.
Humorously referred to as “crotch rockets”, comfort is not exactly their selling point, especially for beginners learning how to ride. Street motorcycles are meant for more aggressive riding, and the body positioning takes time to get comfortable on. If you’re set on getting a sports bike as your first motorcycle, shoot for one with an engine less than 500cc (cubic centimeters) until you’ve mastered the handling and speed of this type of bike.
Cruisers are widely regarded as the best motorcycle type for beginners, since they’re built more for comfort than for speed. These bikes have larger engines with more “user-friendly” control. They also allow more room for error and forgiveness as far as rookie mistakes go.
Cruisers have steering and handling that’s friendlier to the novice rider than other motorcycle types on this list. Shorter riders will appreciate the lower seat height for a relaxed position and easier control. These bikes lean toward a classic look and aren’t intended for higher speeds. If you have a need for speed and a thirst for racing, a sports bike may be more to your liking. However, if commuting and touring are your thing, cruisers are ideal. Speaking of touring …
Like cruisers, touring bikes have large engines and plenty of space for comfort. As the name suggests, these bikes are built for long trips, and are typically equipped with built-in electronic accessories such as nav systems and stereos. And because they’re roomy and can support a lot of weight, they’re also very passenger-friendly. With that said, touring bikes may not be ideal for beginners because they’re heavy and powerful, and require skill to properly distribute weight. However, if you’re set on your first motorcycle being a tourer, consider a sports touring bike, which is a hybrid that sacrifices weight and carrying capacity in favor of speed.
Perhaps no other motorcycle type is better tailored for beginners than the scooter. Like said earlier about calling the Grom a scooter, it depends on who you ask whether the scooter is a “real motorcycle” or not, but they are in fact motorcycles.
Scooters come in a variety of sizes and designs, some meant to more closely resemble a traditional motorcycle. They’re great not just for learning how to ride, but also for running errands or cruising around town. Scooters are characterized by light weights, smaller wheels, easy handling and perhaps the best thing of all for beginners: automatic transmissions. They’re fun machines perfect for getting a taste of motorcycle riding at the most basic level before graduating to a “real” motorcycle.
Off-road motorcycles or dirt bikes are not typically what you’d think of as a beginner’s bike, but there are models made for beginners and even for kids. Dirt bikes aren’t street legal like other motorcycle types on this list, so if you’re thinking of buying one, have some off-road terrain ready to practice riding one on.
Tires made for aggressive riding, along with high seats are distinguishing characteristics of dirt bikes, designed for riding over obstacles like rocks and logs. Dirt bikes are typically lightweight, with small but powerful motors that make it easier to pick up the bike when it inevitably falls. Comfort is also not a selling point for these bikes, as you’ll spend a lot of time standing up, or sitting on a long flat seat when riding. Shifting your weight over rough terrain is also a skill you need to master. A dirt bike with nothing larger than a 500cc engine is ideal for beginners to learn how to handle one.
Dual Sport Bikes
If you want to start out with a motorcycle that has both on-road and offroad appeal, get a dual sport bike. These motorcycles are a sort of “cheat” for riders who want something like a dirt bike that’s street legal.
Dual sport motorcycles are often confused with what are known as adventure bikes, which are similar but larger. The dual sport class is essentially a hybrid of bikes that have upright seating positions and aren’t heavy like cruisers or tourers. An ideal dual sport (and every other motorcycle type) for beginners should stay under 500cc in engine size. If you want a bike you can ride on the street but also dabble in a little offroad trail riding, the dual sport might be the right beginner motorcycle for you.
No matter what motorcycle type you decide to get as your first, it’s good to know what a spec sheet is and how to read one. Watch the video above to learn how to interpret motorcycle spec sheets.