Box A: Common Street-Legal Motorcycle Types
The range and variety of motorcycle models
continues to grow as manufacturers identify and
address new market niches. Although some machines
blur the distinctions, in general, street legal
machines fit into the following categories:
- Cruiser-emphasis on appearance, style,
and sound with less emphasis on performance.
Long profile with low saddle height, often customized.
- Dual-purpose-designed for both on- and
off-road use. Typically lightweight, tall, and
narrow with single-cylinder engines, long
suspension travel, and tires suitable for on- and
- Moped-very low-power (50cc), low-speed
(30mph) bicycle-like design meant for cheap
urban transportation. Unsuitable for high-speed
- Motorized bicycle-bicycle with an electric
or gasoline motor attached. Can be powered
either by pedaling or by the attached motor.
Unsuitable for high-speed roadways.
- Reverse trike-configured with two front
wheels and one rear wheel, some advanced
models lean into curves and handle much like
conventional motorcycles. Medium to large
engines and heavier than conventional motorcycles
with similar size engines. Known by a
variety of names, such as tadpole and backward
- Scooter-primarily designed for use and low
and medium speeds on urban streets. Relatively
small in size with small-diameter wheels, their
step-through design and general appearance
differs significantly from full size motorcycles.
Most are not legal on high-speed or controlled
access roadways. Small to medium size engines
- Sport-emphasis on handling, acceleration,
speed, braking, and cornering. Styled and
built in manner of road-racing motorcycles.
Forward leaning riding position. (650-1100cc;
- Sport-touring-combine some of the comfort
and amenities of touring bikes with the responsive
handling of sport bikes. (1100-1800cc;
- Supersport-built on a racing platform, but
modified for sale to consumers. Light to medium
weight with a high horsepower-to-weight
ratio and capable of extreme acceleration and
speed. (650-1100cc; 290-350lb)
- Touring-designed for comfort, large motorcycles
with luggage and wind protection and
amenities such as stereo, 2-way communication,
cruise control, heating, etc. Heavy with
moderate power. (1600-1800cc; 800-950lb)
- Traditional-designed as practical transportation,
few styling frills or amenities. Once
universal, they have declined in popularity
as more specialized types were introduced.
- Trike-created by either grafting the front of
a motorcycle to the back of an automobile or
adding an automobile type axle to the rear of
the motorcycle. Although usually licensed as
motorcycles, they do not handle or steer like
SOURCES: Adapted from U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Background: Motorcycle Types & Characteristics, http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/pedbimot/motorcycle/00-NHT-212-motorcycle/motorcycle39-41.html; U.S. Navy Safety Center, http://safetycenter.navy.mil/ashore/motorvehicle/motorcycle/Motorcycle%20Types.ppt as of Mar. 23, 2009, and the author.