There’s not any practical difference between the words motorbike and motorcycle. Both refer to the same motorized two-wheeled vehicles you’re probably imagining.
However, motorbike is really only used in the UK and Australia while motorcycle is common throughout the English-speaking world, especially the US and Canada.
Motorbike vs Motorcycle Search Terms
Google actually has a couple of tools that can give you a better idea of this regional difference.
For instance, motorcycle is by far the search term of choice in the US with motorbike getting a maximum of just 1 percent of motorcycle‘s searches.
However, while motorcycle is still the more popular search term in the UK as well, motorbike gets a much larger share of 37 percent.
Australia seems to be the country that most prefers the term motorbike. It’s responsible for over 40 percent of the search volume, and in the past it’s even been more popular than motorcycle.
Motorbike vs Motorcycle in Books
Google also has a tool that scans all the books in its digital repository to see how often words are used going all the way back to 1800.
In general, motorcycle is used much more frequently than motorbike, but the difference is greater in American English.
In American English, motorcycle is currently used more than 700 percent as often as motorbike. In British English, it’s only used about 70 percent more often. Interestingly, motorbike wasn’t popular in either country until the 60s when it really started to take off in the UK.
Motorbike vs Motorcycle—Legal Differences?
It is worth noting that the legal definitions in both the UK and US use motorcycle while motorbike is just a slang term. As a result, when it comes to the law, a given vehicle may or may not be a “motorcycle.”
US states all have differing definitions that sometimes use names like moped, scooter, motorized bicycle and others in addition to motorcycle. Depending on the state, all of these might be “motorcycles,” or only those above a certain engine size, usually 50cc or 125cc.
In the UK, motorized bicycles up to 50cc are mopeds. Anything larger than that is a motorcycle.
These legal differences can affect the license or endorsement you’re required to get as well as where you can ride your motorcycle.
You can use the words motorbike and motorcycle interchangeably. Just know that if you say “motorbike” in the US or Canada, you might get some weird looks.