For new riders, reviewing the different motorcycle categories can be an extremely useful exercise. It gives them an idea of the many possibilities, and it can also be a great way to make a decision when it comes to the kinds of bikes they can buy and the ways they can use them. In many ways, it’s the perfect question to ask—what are the different types of motorcycles?
This kind of exploration may seem like old hat for veteran Harley fans and riders, but it can still be very valuable. Some of the basic categories have shifted at least slightly, and Harley-Davidson has come up with some unique additions to different categories in the last few years that are well worth reviewing.
In the blog below, we provide a review of the basic motorcycle categories and types, along with some information about Harley’s contributions to the motorcycle catalog.
The Basic Categories, Explained
The first issue you may run into when you start breaking down motorcycle types and categories is determining how many categories there are out there. Depending on who you ask, you’ll come up with several different numbers across a fairly broad range, which leads to the next question: how many categories are there, and why are there so many different numbers, even among so-called experts?
It’s not a simple question to answer. Motorcycles have developed and evolved for decades, so almost each year, there are more choices for riders to make. In addition, some companies have also changed or altered the basic categorical definitions to suit their marketing needs.
For our purposes, we’ll start with six broad categories and explain some of their defining features. We’ll cover the following categories, which we consider quintessential: sport, standard, touring, cruiser, dual-purpose, and off-road.
The easiest way to define sports bikes as a category is to focus on what they do. Simply put, sport bikes are designed to be fast and to ride tight. They also give you great acceleration, and they’re optimized to corner well, too. At just under 500 pounds, they’re also lighter than most of the bikes in the other categories. Sportbike engines also come with a specific signature. They rev high and run smoothly, and size-wise, the engines start at 300-400 cubic capacity (cc), with a top-end of around 1000 cc.
You may also see sport bikes referred to as street bikes. The two terms aren’t totally interchangeable, but fans of the sport bike category as a whole definitely value the subtle differences.
As the name implies, this category can be used as a bit of a catch-all, and the outer fringes of the definition seem to be changing all the time.
To nail it down a little more, start with the look and feel of the bike. A standard bike will put you in an upright seating position, with the handlebars a comfortable distance away. You’ll also be able to use the forward foot pegs to stretch out your arms and legs, which is a blessing for older riders especially.
There’s a bit more to it than ergonomics, and that’s where things get a little more complex. The cc range for a standard bike engine is higher than that of a sport bike, but ask how much higher and you’ll get a lot of different answers. Use 1000 cc as your guide figure, and you’ll generally be able to recognize a standard bike and differentiate it from marketing imposters.
This is probably the easiest category to nail, largely because the name accurately defines what these bikes do. They take you off the streets and out on the trails—it really is that simple. You’ll also hear these bikes referred to as “adventure bikes,” largely because they’re getting more versatile each year.
Many are now designed for both off-road and street use, and they generally feature a combination of high seats, high handlebars, and long-travel suspension. The idea is to provide comfort while street riding, along with more control to handle the trails.
The most defining characteristic here is weight—many of the bikes in this category are real beasts. The extra weight is what helps make them comfortable, along with the rear-set handlebars and forward foot pegs. Some also have front fairings to provide wind break capability, and they’re truly designed to go the distance for riders who want to spend hours or days out on the open road.
The touring motorcycles category isone of the busiest when it comes to bells and whistles. Their advanced ergonomics make them ideal for add-ons like entertainment features, extra storage, and fancy dashboard features to help define the riding experience.
Cruisers are designed to ride smoothly. To see how they provide that kind of ride, take a close look at the profile these bikes offer.
What you’ll see is a combination of low seats, handlebars that are set back for rider comfort, and slightly forward foot pegs to complete the package. The result is the ultimate glide ride, whether you’re tooling around town or taking to the open road. If you’re not sure if a bike you see is a cruiser, though, just study the silhouette—it’ll tell you everything you need to know.
This category name can be a little confusing. For most riders, it means having the ability to do street rides or go off-road, with special features for both kinds of rides that differentiate them from dirt bikes. For others, though, it means something different—e.g., a standard bike that has cruising or touring features.
Regardless of how the category is defined, though, the emphasis is on versatility. The idea is to get a do-it-all bike, and while there are certain compromises in some of the feature sets, the crossover talents of these bikes are increasing every year.
Now let’s talk about Harley-Davidson’s role in all this.
Harley-Davidson has been a pioneer in nearly all of these categories, and we continue to lead the pack when it comes to innovative feature packages, cutting-edge design advances, and new bikes that update classic Harleys in a way that makes them more desirable than ever.
So what are we talking about, specifically? How about state-of-the-art entertainment packages that feature Bluetooth capability, along with audiophile-level speakers and the ability to tune in to satellite radio? If you’re more about style, you’ll love the new flashy design flourishes Harley-Davidson has added to some of its classic bikes to give them a contemporary look. And then there are the power freaks. For these folks, Harley is building bikes with some of the biggest, most powerful engines on the market, and they’ve even brought back their beloved Milwaukee-Eight engines.
Regardless of what you want, the best way to learn more about these categories and Harley-Davidson’s role in defining them is to check out our website, then find your way to Harley-Davidson of Kingwood and get all of your questions answered.
Harley Davidson of Kingwood
Harley-Davidson of Kingwood is your #1 Texas Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealer. Our full-service facility offers new and pre-owned motorcycles, parts, maintenance, riding apparel, and everything else you need to get your Hog on the road. As a winner of the Harley-Davidson Gold Bar & Shield Circle of Excellence, we’re committed to providing top-notch customer service every day of the week. Stop by and visit the Harley-Davidson of Kingwood Showroom on Northpines Drive in Kingwood, TX!