At one time, you would walk into a motorcycle store, and there would be a couple different types of motorcycles, V-twin cruisers, British single/twin cylinders, and Japanese copies.
If you were lucky, you would spot a couple of Trials bikes.
Today there are so many different types of motorcycles that there is something for everyone and every type of riding.
If you are just getting into riding or looking for something new, this guide will help point you in the right direction of which bike is for you.
Let’s get into it.
Table of Contents
Sports bikes are generally fully-faired and are street-legal versions of similar race bikes used in the World Superbike Championships and other races.
Many manufacturers produce replica race bikes that have participated in World Superbike Racing, so you can get your hands on the replica bike that your favorite racer rides.
For example, for the 2022 model year, Yamaha has released an R1 World GP 60th Anniversary edition.
These bikes are usually balanced very well in terms of weight as they have been designed to participate in races where precision is key.
Often the weight will be felt on the front where the engine sits, which can be difficult for some riders to manage when stationary.
The ergonomics on sportsbikes can usually be altered to suit individual riders, with adjustable suspension, pegs, handlebars, etc.
Read our guide to the most comfortable sports bikes.
There has since been a new category of sportsbikes created which is the Hypersport segment; this is for bikes like the Kawasaki H2 or Suzuki Hayabusa, where speed dominates.
You will find that some sports bikes like the Kawasaki Ninja are suitable for the daily commute, blasting down the highway and hitting the twisties on the weekend.
It is common to see manufacturers produce a more street-friendly sportsbike and then a hardcore racing style version.
Best For: Track Days, Commuters, Everyday Riding
Top Picks: Ducati Panigale V2, Kawasaki Ninja 650, BMW S100RR
Street bikes are often a naked version of the flagship sportsbike.
Essentially they are stripped back of their fairings and have different ergonomics but usually share the same mechanics.
You will find yourself in a more upright position rather than being hunched over the tank.
Street/Naked bikes will often be lighter than their faired siblings, so it may be a good option to look at the street bike range if weight is an issue.
You get all the performance without the extra weight, but be warned you will feel the wind!
On its release in 2014, the Yamaha MT range dominated the street bike category and formed a HyperNaked branch of the segment.
The MT-07 and MT-09 were seen everywhere, with bloggers and YouTube riders choosing one as their main steed.
Read: MT-07 vs MT-09
They remain to be the ultimate modern hooligan bike begging you to pull a wheelie.
Best For: Everyday Riding, Longer Day Trips, Weekends Away
Top Picks: Yamaha MT-09, BMW R 1250R, Kawasaki Z1000
Touring bikes are what you need to look at if you plan to make cross-country trips and do it in absolute comfort. Read our long-distance riding tips.
The staple Honda GL1800 Gold Wing has led this segment since its first release in 1975.
Big, comfortable, tech-heavy and, passenger accommodating are the key features of touring bikes.
Arguably any bike can be a touring bike, but some are more purpose-built than others.
You can expect them to be heavy, physically large, and somewhat challenging to maneuver at slow speeds.
There are Sports tourers like the Yamaha Niken GT, which has 2 front wheels, and the KTM Super Duke GT. Read our guide to the fastest tourers.
Touring masters like the Goldwing and then big hardcore cruisers like the Harley Davidson Ultra-Glide or Indian Challenger.
Most manufacturers will offer a touring bike option, an accessory heavy version of one of their existing models, or a completely new purpose-built model.
Best For: Cross Country Trips, Comfort, 2-up Riding, Highway Miles
Top Picks: Honda Goldwing, Indian Challenger, Yamaha Niken GT
Adventure bikes are not all that different from tourers, although they are built with a focus on making them capable of going anywhere on any road.
Tall with lots of ground clearance, big fuel tank, engine bar protectors, dual-purpose tires, windshield, hand protectors are all signs of an adventure bike.
They can be incredibly heavy, so these bikes are not for those who struggle with heavy bikes; in this case, maybe look towards a dual-sport machine.
Adventure bikes are usually prepared to carry lots of luggage, so you will find pannier racks and rear racks, if not stock, are readily available.
You will notice that most Adventure bikes are tall, so they won’t be suited to shorter riders without some modifications being made.
They have seen a huge increase in popularity in recent years, which has led to the giants that are Harley Davidson adding to the segment with their recent Pan-America.
Not all adventure bikes are super heavy though, my favorite on the market right now is the Royal Enfield Himalayan.
Built for all roads and no roads, yet still lightweight, easy to move around, and I wouldn’t worry about dropping it in the dirt and not being able to pick it back up.
Best For: Taking Anywhere On and Off-Road, Touring, Carrying Lots of Luggage
Top Picks: Royal Enfield Himalayan, Triumph Tiger 1200, BMW R 1250GS
Perhaps the most influential type of motorcycle in the industry of all time is the traditional Cruiser.
Traditionally cruisers are heavy motorcycles with big V-twin engines and lots of heavy metal parts, increasing the weight.
The big advantage of a cruiser is that the seat height is generally always very low to the ground.
So even the shortest rider will be able to flatfoot the bike.
The weight of the V-twin engine is also usually very well balanced, and the center of gravity is traditionally very low.
What this equates to is even if you are not the hulk, the theory is you should be able to hold the bike upright relatively easily.
However, holding the bike upright is one thing; moving it around your garage is another. You need to make sure you are confident holding the bike’s weight when it comes to moving at slow speeds.
Once you are up and moving, you will likely forget the weight.
The Cruiser aesthetic is one of the oldest in motorcycle history, with both Harley Davidson and Indian Motorcycle being the pioneers of the design.
Not all cruisers are American; however, many international brands have produced competing cruisers for years, such as the Triumph Speedmaster, Suzuki Intruder, and Yamaha Virago.
Even Italian masters Ducati produced the Diavel X, which, depending on who you ask, is a cruiser with a street/sporty edge.
Read our guide to the fastest cruisers.
Best For: Fans of V-Twin Engines, Everyday Riding, Comfort
Top Picks: Harley Davidson Low Rider S, Indian Chief, Triumph Rocket 3
Bobbers and Choppers
Cruiser-style motorcycles are often credited with the inception of the custom wheelhouses of Bobbers and Choppers.
Way back in the 1920s, with Harley’s V-twin ‘J’ Series release, owners began lowering the seat and cutting down the frame, which started the ‘California Cut-Down’ phase.
However, racers started taking things further by removing excess weight off the bike, cutting down the rear fender, and removing the front; the ‘bob-job’ was born.
Bobbers were then the style for many years, and it wasn’t long before things went even further, with owners chopping their frames even further, increasing wheelbase, and lengthening their forks.
While Bobbers had been created out of a need for better performance, these new bikes prioritized style.
In 1969 ‘Easy Rider’ hit the big screen, and Chopper motorcycles were set to be the leaders of the custom motorcycle scene for years to come.
Today, we have seen a resurgence in modern style Bobbers with the factory production Triumph Bobber and the Harley Street Bob.
It is also common to see owners still ‘bobbing’ their bikes to put their own spin on things.
Choppers remain part of an underground custom scene, but many custom shops will put their hands to a V-twin and get it chopped to suit the owner.
Ergonomically you will be more comfortable on a Bobber; a Chopper can be very extreme in its layout and still very much style over substance.
Best For: Standing Out From The Crowd, Custom Fans,
Top Picks: Triumph Bobber, Indian Scout Bobber
The Cafe Racer scene started back in the ’50s in England. Sparked out of the rock n roll scene with riders interpreting their lifestyle into their bikes. Stripped back, fast and furious, was the design brief.
Traditionally you would take a Triumph or Norton and replace the bars with clip-ons, strip it of anything that wasn’t necessary for speed and race it among friends on the streets.
It wasn’t long before manufacturers started producing stock bikes with that aesthetic.
Today they haven’t changed style-wise all that much; there is just an increase in power and tech features like ABS systems.
Generally, you will find them quite a sporty position requiring you to hunch over the long tank to get to the clip-on bars, with your knees parallel to the tank.
The seat is usually a long bench seat, and sometimes you will have a rear seat cowl.
These bikes are not built for long-distance comfort but speed and style.
You will likely see many home built cafe racers today as these bikes have seen a modern-day resurgence. Honda CB500s and CB750s are very popular base bikes.
Best For: Fans of Cafe Racer Subculture, Weekend Blasts, Standing Out
Top Picks: Triumph Thruxton R, Royal Enfield Continental GT, Moto Guzzi V7 III Sport
Supermoto’s merge the agility of off-road/enduro bikes with the high performance of street bikes.
Supermoto was originally a racing event in the 1980’s it involved racers from all disciplines, road, track, and dirt, competing in the same arena.
At the time, riders would convert their street bikes or dirt bikes to make them suitable to race until manufacturers started to produce purpose-built high-performance supermoto’s.
The bikes are lightweight and narrow with excellent agility, aggressive acceleration and sportsbike braking systems and tires. Usually, they will have inverted forks, too, like their sportsbike counterparts.
Supermoto’s tend to look like dual-sport motorcycles, and manufacturers will often have both a supermoto and dual-sport in their lineup.
A supermoto invites you to release your inner hooligan. You can take on hard-packed dirt trails and equally get serious lean angles on the race track. The bikes are the best choice for an exhilarating commute, with incredible agility and they are wheelie kings.
Best For: High-performance street and track riding with the occasional dirt trail thrown in.
Top Picks: Ducati Hypermotard, Kawasaki KLX230SM, KTM 450 SMR, Husqvarna 701
Of course, if modern bikes aren’t your thing, you will find plenty of classic bikes on the used market, some of which will be good to go and some in need of restoration.
This is a great way to put your stamp on a project, and there is great satisfaction in riding a bike that you have done the work on yourself.
My stance is that classic bikes are just way cooler.
However, you need to be prepared to do some work for things not to go smoothly, and there will be a significant difference in performance between a classic and modern motorcycle.
Some bikes are better than others to get started on with classic bikes, as some are so much rarer and more expensive to buy in the first place and then to find parts for.
Japanese bikes generally from the 1960s-80s are a good shout for a first build; they are affordable, parts easy to find, simple to work on, and perform great when up and running.
After you have done your first restoration or have a bigger initial budget, then look towards Europe for classic BMWs, Triumphs, Nortons and BSAs, etc.
Best For: Homebuilders, Fans of Classic Traditional Motorcycles
Best Picks: Japanese Bikes from the 60s-80s, Norton Commando, Original Triumph Trident
If you want the classic look without the classic performance, potential reliability issues, or need to have a workshop to maintain it, then a Modern Retro motorcycle might be a good choice.
Overall, you will find modern retro bikes to be upright, neutral riding position, street bikes with a classic look.
The leader of the pack in this segment has to be the Triumph Bonneville line.
It is bigger, faster, and overall better performing than its founding Father from the ’60s, but the Bonnie is a staple silhouette loved the world over.
The neutral, upright riding position is usually met with a balanced power curve that won’t threaten novice riders, nor will it bore veteran riders.
Modern retros make for great everyday bikes that are good to take you to work, across State on the highway, and up into the mountains on the weekend.
Load them up with luggage, carry a passenger, ride solo with nothing but the wind for company; they are a do it all kind of bike.
They reflect a simpler time on two wheels but with the added benefit of features like ABS and Traction Control.
Best For: Everything, Fans of Traditional Timeless Styling
Top Picks: Triumph Bonneville T100, Yamaha XSR700, Kawasaki Z900RS
Dual-Sport motorcycles are suitable for on and off-road, and something like the Honda CRF250R is basically a lightweight ADV motorcycle.
If you are planning some big adventures but don’t want to deal with the weight of a bike like the Triumph Tiger, then a dual-sport may be the way forward.
Yes, the seat height and ground clearance will still be tricky for shorter riders, but the bikes are so light that you can probably find easy ways to work around this.
Best For: Best Bits of Dirt Bikes and Adventure Bikes, Everyday Use with Dirt Roads Added In
Top Picks: Honda CRF300L Rally, KTM 500 EXC-F, Husqvarna FE 501s
Dirt bikes are for those that want to hit the trails off-road, get caked in mud, and mimic their favorite motocross riders’ skills.
There are plenty of options when it comes to dirt bikes in terms of capacities.
However, the formula is pretty much the same, lots of torque, quick, lightweight, tall, good ground clearance, narrow-body, knobby tires.
They are very lightweight; however, they are tall, so unless a short rider is confident in holding the bike up with one foot, then a dirt bike may not be for them.
Best For: Off-Road Riding, Fun
Top Picks: KTM 250 SX-F, Husqvarna TC250, Kawasaki KLX 300
Controversial as it may be, Scooters are from the family of two wheels and should be acknowledged.
In any European city like Paris or Rome, you are guaranteed to see the city streets flooded with scooters, and some are cooler than others, like the timeless Vespa.
Scooters are a good in-road for new riders to the world of two wheels.
They are non-threatening, mostly automatic, so no gears to worry about, are easy to get on and off, have plenty of storage options, and are very economical.
Scooters make for great commuter bikes, delivery bikes, and with bigger engine capacities, now it is not uncommon to see packs of Scooter riders touring.
You can get traditional classic styling with Vespas or modern tech-packed scooters like the BMW C 400X.
The Piaggio MP3 has three wheels and a stabilizer which means there is no need to put your foot down when you come to a stop.
Best For: Commuting, Easing into Riding, Urban Environments
Top Picks: Vespa GTS 300, Piaggio MP3, BMW C 650GT
We all know where the future of motorcycles and all motor vehicles are headed, going electric.
Some of us rage against it, and some of us are ready to embrace it; regardless, electric motorcycles are here and here to stay.
If saving the environment, going green, cutting fuel costs is what you are all about, then an electric motorcycle is the way forward.
We are beginning to see a whole range of electric bikes in different styles, and I am sure there will be an electric replacement for each type of motorcycle as time goes on.
Electric bikes, on the whole, are fast and have incredible torque; many riders have been surprised at how well-performing these bikes are.
The only downside is electric motorcycles’ mileage range, but that is sure to improve over time.
One big letdown is the lack of noise from the engine…well, battery. You won’t be turning heads from your exhaust noise on an electric bike.
Best For: Shorter Trips, Urban Riding, Saving the Environment, and Cutting Fuel Costs
Top Picks: Harley Davidson Livewire, Zero SR/F, Arc Vector
For some people, two wheels either just don’t fulfill their needs, but they long to be out in the open and enjoy the freedom motorcycles supply.
This is where the world of trikes comes into play.
There are various forms of trike, with some having two wheels at the front and others more traditionally two at the back, one at the front.
You can buy trikes ready to go, or you can head out, buy a motorcycle and have a custom shop put a trike kit on.
Trikes offer the stability that motorcycles simply can’t.
This makes them great for those with limited mobility, who struggle with a bike’s weight, or those that just want the additional security three wheels give.
Some trikes have motorcycle engines, and others use car engines. Some are more practical, some built for touring, and then some custom trikes take inspiration from the Chopper scene.
You can truly find a trike for all your riding needs, from commuting to long-distance touring.
Best For: Any Riding Style, Those with Limited Mobility, Extra Stability
Top Picks: Can-Am Spyder, Harley Davidson Freewheeler, Polaris Slingshot