Behold 19 species of motorcycles explained. These are your two-wheeler options for 2023.
Winter may not be the best time to go for a motorcycle ride, but it is a good time to start researching the world of motorcycles. Whether you’re looking for a new hobby to get into or a more enjoyable way to commute to work, a motorcycle just makes every journey memorable. With so many different types of motorcycles on the market, finding the right one can be difficult. The majority of people looking to purchase a motorcycle will have a good idea of what kind of two-wheeler they want. If you don’t and don’t know where to begin, that’s not a bad thing. Here’s a guide on all of the different types of available motorcycles.
Prior to the ‘80s, motorcycles were broken down into two major categories: street bikes and dirt bikes. That changed decades ago when motorcycle companies began manufacturing motorcycles for different riding styles. This, as one would expect, led to multiple segments, many of which are specialized. Today, there are more motorcycle types than ever before, which means even more options for riders. But the question remains: “What kind of motorcycle should I get?”
If you’re looking for the fastest motorcycles, sportbikes are the speed machines of the motorcycle world. High-powered with sophisticated suspension systems and high-performance brakes, sportbikes are typically stuffed with the latest and greatest technology you can find on two wheels (or four). A common sentiment about sportbikes is that they are not comfortable unless you’re going over 100 mph, at which point they become very comfortable because they are in their element.
While most sportbikes are not designed for distance riding, that hasn’t stopped many riders from adding some soft bags and a better seat so they can enjoy long stretches of challenging roads or racetracks. Sportbikes are typically not the best choice for a beginner due to their hair-trigger nature and prodigious power, but a lower-powered, middle-weight sportbike or a “sportbike lite” might be a good choice to start with if this is the kind of bike you definitely want to ride.
Examples: Ducati Panigale, Honda CBR models, Kawasaki ZX series, Yamaha R1 or R6, Triumph Daytona, Suzuki GSX-R models, Aprilia RSV4
- Lots of power, great brakes, and adjustable suspension
- Actual racecar-levels of acceleration and top speed (depending on the bike)
- Stylish good looks with the highest tech available
- Thrilling to ride fast — if you have the skills
- Typically not very comfortable for distance riding
- Can exceed most worldwide speed limits in first or second gear (of six gears)
- Requires a very high level of skill to ride competently
- Tickets (see second con)
Many beginning riders picture themselves cruising city streets on a powerful, low-slung machine. If that’s your dream motorcycle type, you should be shopping for a cruiser. Cruisers feature a low seat height, a torque-rich engine (typically a V-twin), a fat rear tire, lots of style, and, very often, a lot of chrome. Or not. Comfortable to ride, cruisers can also make for good touring bikes with the addition of saddlebags, a windscreen, and maybe a backrest for the passenger.
Cruisers can also be stripped down, bobbed, painted — a cruiser is what you make of it, really. A light- or medium-weight cruiser makes a good beginner bike because they are easier to handle at low speeds and have a more relaxed power output. Just don’t expect to win races against sportbikes — unless you buy a “power cruiser.” These models offer a more powerful engine and other performance upgrades … but probably not a great first choice for a beginner.
Examples: Any Harley-Davidson or Indian, Honda Shadow, Yamaha (Star), Kawasaki Vulcan, Ducati Diavel (pretty much every major bike maker has a few cruiser models in their lineup)
- Easy and comfortable to ride
- Typically simple to maintain
- Capable of touring if desired
Dual-sport motorcycles are the Swiss army knife of the motorcycle world. Typically split into two categories, dual-sports are either lightweight “Enduro” style motorcycles that expand the versatility of a dirt bike to shorter on-road and longer off-road stints or “ADV/Adventure bikes” that lean on the comforts of a street bike while still boasting off-road capability. All dual-sport bikes include long-travel suspension (for riding off-road) coupled with a motor suitable for distance riding. Most dual-sport bikes are designed to be ridden to the far corners of the earth and loaded with touring gear.
Depending on the model, they can also be great commuter bikes since they tend to be light, thin, highly maneuverable, great on gas, and capable of smoothing out pock-marked city streets. Plus, when the pavement runs out and a dirt trail is all that’s left, hey, no problem — just keep ridin’. A dual-sport might be a good way to get started in riding, but be warned: They tend to be tall and tippy, so if you’re short, definitely make sure your toes touch before buying. If they don’t, ask about a lowering kit or lower seat option.
Examples: Honda Africa Twin, BMW G/S series, Kawasaki KLR models, KTM Adventure, Triumph Tiger, Yamaha Super Tenere, Suzuki V-Strom models
- Do-anything, go-anywhere capability
- Simple design yet very tough
- You sit up high in traffic
- Tend to be tall, with high centers of gravity
- Often stylistically challenged and industrial in design
- May seduce you into globe-spanning adventure rides, causing divorce, job loss, etc.
Dresser (Touring bike)
Some people get into motorcycling to scratch that travel itch in a way that a car or big RV just can’t. Still, a long-distance trip means you have to bring at least some stuff with you, and why not be comfortable on the ride? That’s what touring bikes — also known as “dressers” — are built for. How much you feel like gilding the lily is up to you, but there’s likely a touring bike out there to match your every need and want.
Almost every major motorcycle maker has a fat touring rig in its lineup, and many include features normally found in cars, like powerful audio systems, GPS navigation screens, heated seats, ABS brakes, electronic suspension, Bluetooth, rider/passenger intercoms, and lots of carrying capacity. They tend to be expensive off the showroom floor, so if you’re on a budget, check the used ads. There’s no shortage of well-cared-for touring bikes out there.
Examples: Honda Goldwing, Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic, Yamaha Venture, BMW K1600GT/L, Indian Roadmaster, Triumph Rocket III Touring
- Comfortable, powerful, and luxurious
- Built to last
- Can carry a lot of gear
- Some are quite beautiful
What do you get when you mix the power, handling, and looks of a sportbike with the comfort, carrying capacity, and weather protection of a touring bike? A sport-touring bike, of course. Sport-tourers usually have detachable hard luggage, aerodynamic fairings, windscreens, and a lot of horsepower. You ride them sit-up style, like a sportbike, but with more comfort. Many feature shaft drive, ABS, GPS, and a lot of other technology mixed in. If you want to get somewhere quickly in comfort, a sport-touring bike is likely what you’re after. You can ride a sports-tourer as a beginner, but be aware they are often big, heavy, and powerful.
Examples: Yamaha FJR1300, Honda ST1300, Kawasaki Concours, Ducati ST or Multistrada, Triumph Trophy
- Swift, comfortable, high-tech, good looking
- Can carry a lot of gear
- Lots of models to choose from
- Typically fairly heavy and good sized
- Can be a ticket magnet if you’re not careful
What are scooters doing on this list? Scooters are definitely a type of motorcycle, and a popular one at that, so don’t sell them short. Today, you can get scooters in sizes ranging from buzzing 50cc city machines to 650cc (or larger!) comfort wagons that can cross continents. Scooters are also one of the more stylish types of motorized conveyances and, as of late, are incorporating a lot of cutting-edge technology, like ABS and fuel injection. Plus, they usually feature automatic transmissions, so they make for good beginner bikes. If you live in a city and don’t think you’ll be doing a lot of long-distance riding, consider a modern, stylish scooter.
Examples: Any Vespa or Piaggio model, Honda Elite models, Yamaha Majesty/Vino, Aprilia models, any number of machines from makers like Kymco and Lifan
- Stylish, efficient, techie, and typically equipped with an automatic transmission
- Great on gas — some get over 90 mpg or run on electricity
- Underseat storage adds practicality
- Better weather protection than most motorcycles
- Certainly fun, but also not a full-fledged motorcycle
- Except for the largest models, typically not very fast
- Small wheels sometimes make for a twitchy ride
- Most are unable able to do long-distance or freeway speeds
Before motorcycles became the specialized machines they are today, there were basically two kinds to choose from — street bikes and dirt bikes. Street bikes from every manufacturer were pretty similar in terms of riding position, equipment, frame design, features, and so forth, so going from one bike to another didn’t involve a lot of changes. During the 1970s, the Japanese bike makers’ offerings were all so similar they were labeled “Universal Japanese Motorcycles,” or UJMs.
Today, we call a “regular old motorcycle” a “standard.” You’ve probably seen a lot of them, they look like … regular motorcycles. Today, buying a “new” standard-style bike is difficult but not impossible. As always, there are still a bunch for sale in the used market. Standards are the jack-of-all-trades of motorcycles. You can bop back and forth to work on them, load them up with gear for a long trip, or even take them to a track day for some high-speed fun. For many riders, the standard motorcycle is just right for almost any kind of riding.
Examples: Honda CB1100, Kawasaki Versys, Triumph Bonneville, Yamaha SR400, Suzuki SV650, Harley-Davidson Sportster, Ducati Monster, pretty much any Japanese bike from 1970 to 1982
- Usually inexpensive, especially used
- Competent performance for most kinds of riding
- Simple, practical styling
- Many accessories available to suit any style or purpose
- Simple style may not be everyone’s idea of “beautiful”
- Doesn’t exactly stand out in a crowd
- Typically not loaded with the latest tech goodies
Want to get into riding motorcycles but are terrified of dicing with traffic while on two wheels? Consider getting a dirt bike. Dirt bikes are not street legal, and as the name implies, you ride them off-road. With long suspensions, small (but powerful) motors, and lightweight designs, dirt bikes are their own brand of fun. Depending on where you live, it may be possible to do a lot of off-road riding by yourself or with others.
Dirt bikes, sometimes called motocross bikes, range in size from 80cc to 500cc for adults, and of course, there are little bikes for kids, too. For many families, riding dirt bikes is a family activity, usually involving camping and fun times outdoors. If street riding sounds like too big a risk, but you still want to ride, dirt biking is a great option. Just know that you may need a truck or trailer to get your bike to and from the ride site.
Examples: Honda CRF450, Yamaha YZF450, and so on. The Japanese motorcycle makers typically offer a wide range of dirt bike models from 50cc to 500cc, and there are some Euro options as well.
- Inexpensive to buy
- Lots of fun
- No dealing with car traffic (because they’re not street-legal)
- The large community of riders and many places to ride
- Bikes are not street legal (see motard or dual-sport for that option)
- No passengers allowed on most bikes
- Pickup, RV, or trailer required to get to places to ride
- Be prepared to get dirty
Like electric cars, electric motorcycles are still in the early stages of evolution, but they are catching up quickly to gas-powered bikes in terms of performance and quality. Riding range is still an issue, so for long trips, you’ll need to plan your stops to include recharging, which is going to take longer than gassing up. But for city riding, nothing really beats an electric bike. Quiet, smooth, and very often powerful, an electric bike is the perfect urban two-wheeler.
At present, the up-front cost to buy an electric bike is typically more than an equivalent gas-powered machine, but remember, you never have to tune up the engine or buy a drop of gas. Electric bikes are also a good choice for beginners since most don’t require shifting, the power output is easier to control, and they are typically not intimidating to ride.
Examples: All Zero models, Mission R or RS, BRD RedShift
- Never need to buy gas
- Very low maintenance
- Easy to ride and very quiet
- High-performance models available
- The range is still an issue
- Recharge time is something to consider
- High up-front cost
What’s a hyperbike? Take a sportbike, then take it to the next level. Or two. Most hyperbikes boast 1,000cc or more and are tuned to make maximum power — sometimes close to 200 horsepower, which is an enormous amount for a motorcycle. They feature all the latest cutting-edge technology like traction control, ABS, slipper clutches, adjustable suspension, launch control, and more.
For all these reasons, hyperbikes are definitely not for beginners. They’re built for skilled riders seeking cutting-edge performance on the street and track. Essentially, they are race bikes with enough Department of Transportation-level stuff on them to be street-legal. over, they’re typically not very comfortable and not really designed for touring. Also: bring your wallet.
Examples: Ducati Panigale V4, Honda CBR1000RR SP, Yamaha R1, Suzuki GSX-R 1000, Kawasaki H2, Aprilia RSV4 Factory
- Massively powerful with all the latest tech
- Thrilling to ride at high speed
- Rakish good looks
- Not very comfortable
- A very narrow FOCUS on performance
- Definite ticket magnet
- A dangerous choice for beginners
Way back when, motorcycle makers typically included some small models with 50cc to 70cc motors. These were known as “minibikes.” Amazingly, many of these diminutive machines were actually street-legal. But back in the Jurassic period of motorcycling, there was also a lot less traffic, so they didn’t seem like the death wish we would view them as today. Even still, no one was riding them to work back then. Most ended up on farms or in the garage as play bikes for the kids, which was a much better mission for them anyway.
Today, minimotos like the Honda Monkey bikes and others are fun classics (if you can find one that hasn’t been abused to near-death), but there’s also been a rebirth of sorts of this idea, headed up by Honda with their 125cc Grom (yes, Grom) minibike. However, the Grom and its chief rival, the Kawasaki Z125 Pro, are slightly scaled-up versions of those early bikes thanks to disc brakes, fuel injection, and other modern updates. And, surprise, Honda has just re-upped the Monkey as well, but with 125ccs of power this time around. They’re still small and still not freeway legal — but they’re still a blast to ride. Plus, they typically get close to 100 miles on one gallon of gas; with a two-gallon tank, you’re good to go for a week or better. Just wear a really, really brightly colored motorcycle helmet.
Examples: Honda Monkey, Honda Grom, Kawasaki Z125 Pro
- Thoroughly modern
- Crazy good MPG
- Total hoot to ride
- Cheap to insure
- You’re smaller and even less visible than on a bigger bike
- Not freeway legal, so no touring option
- Not gonna win any races (unless you join the minibike racing league)
- Prepare for some ridicule/ego-bruising
What do you do with that glossy, plastic-covered sportbike after a minor crash that mucks up all that spendy bodywork? Strip off the mangled panels, add some dirt bike handlebars, and, voila, a streetfighter is born. What began as a low-cost way to get a wrecked sportbike back on the road turned into a cottage industry, with streetfighters taking shape in garages and small shops around the world. With some attention to detail and imagination, a streetfighter can be a major personal style statement.
Since they’re basically sportbikes with a more comfortable riding setup, they’re a total gas to ride. So far, Ducati is pretty much the only major manufacturer to build a streetfighter from scratch (and, guess what, it’s called the Streetfighter), but other makers are getting in on the game with their own spin on the theme. If you don’t plan on building your own, there are options.
Examples: Ducati Streetfighter, Triumph Street Triple series, Aprilia Tuono, whatever is being built after hours at the little motorcycle shop in your town
- Sportbike power with more standard-style comfort and control
- It may cost less to insure than a sportbike
- Endless options to customize and personalize
- Sportbike levels of power can get beginners in trouble
- An overwhelming urge to loft wheelies at every opportunity
- Stripped-down style not for everyone
Used to be, the chopper was the sole province of garage builders and outlaw bikers. But after the turn of the 21st century, builders like Indian Larry, Jesse James, and the crew at Orange County Choppers took things to another level of refinement and artistry. Suddenly, choppers were popping up everywhere as a fashion statement and status symbol. It’s strange how things like that happen, but if you’ve ever wanted a chopper, you have a lot of choices now, including from major manufacturers. After the custom craze died off, many very expensive hand-built choppers hit the used market at deep, deep discounts, and you can still find good deals today. Just be aware of the cons listed below.
Examples: Honda Fury, Harley-Davidson Breakout, Star (Yamaha) Raider, Orange County Choppers, Jesse James choppers
- Most hand-built choppers are truly unique
- Bike makers like Honda and Kawasaki now offer decent mass-produced choppers
- Unlimited personalization and customization potential
- Powerful engines
- Expect to get a lot of attention
- Can be expensive
- Not that easy to ride in town due to the long wheelbase
- Can be uncomfortable, especially if it’s a hardtail chopper
- Seriously, expect to get a lot of attention
Basically, a bobber is a regular motorcycle with all the unnecessary (in the opinion of the owner) parts removed and maybe a few styling cues added in. Stuff that tends to get ditched includes fenders, side panels, instruments, windscreens, and anything mandated by the government. A seat for two may get “bobbed” into a seat for one, and ugly bits like turn signals may be replaced with similarly functional but more stylish items. Bobbers mirror choppers in their infinite diversity, but one key difference is a bobber typically retains its basic utility and geometry, so it’s still practical to ride every day. Just be sure to get a stylish jacket, boots, gloves, and the best motorcycle helmet to match your ultra-hip ride.
Examples: Harley-Davidson Street Bob, Triumph Bobber Classic, any number of bikes coming from local shops or private builders
- Retains basic functionality of the original motorcycle
- You and some friends could probably pull off a bobber conversion
- Great canvas for your personal style statement
- Most any bike can be given the bobber treatment
- Low barrier to entry (most customizers opt for commonly used bikes)
- Clipped or missing fenders not fun in the rain
- Picky cops might ticket you for any non-DOT lighting gear
- It may go out of style at any moment
A bagger is a lighter-duty touring bike, similar to a dresser, but with less gear. It may have a smaller windscreen/fairing, a smaller side case, and fewer luxury touches than a full-blown touring bike, but that’s the idea. Comfortable but more minimalist, baggers are great for that weekend getaway or rally road trip.
Lately, baggers have been picking up some perks — like decent audio systems and navigation — while maintaining their sleeker profile. A bagger is a great way to go if you want to do some distance and keep closer to the minimalist tradition of travel by bike. Many cruisers can easily become baggers by adding some saddlebags or cases and a removable windscreen.
Examples: Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide, Honda FB6, Indian Chief Vintage
- Less weight, better handling than a full-blown tourer
- Cases and windscreens often detach to slim the bike down even more
- Less expensive than a full-boat touring bike
- Gear can be easily added to increase comfort and capacity
- Still quite a bit of bike, not a great beginner choice
- Not inexpensive
- Big and heavy when loaded up
For many motorcycle riders, the old bikes are still the best bikes. If you like the classic profile of a vintage bike, consider getting one. The term “vintage” is defined by whoever is talking about it and varies widely. Some bikes, mainly Japanese bikes, are considered vintage if they are 20 years old or older. For others, it’s a time period: The 1970s, Post-WWII, pre-war, and so on.
If you want a vintage bike you can ride every day with little worry, you might want to look into a vintage Japanese model. If you are good with tools and don’t plan to commute each day on your vintage bike, consider a British, Italian, or German marque. Of course, with some dedication, you can certainly ride them each day. Just keep an eye out for oil leaks.
Examples: Honda CB750, Triumph Bonneville, Norton Commando, BSA Gold Star, Pre-1980s Ducati, Pre-1970 Harley-Davidson (search Craigslist, Cycle Trader, or eBay using the word “vintage”)
- Old-school style never seems to go out of style
- Parts widely available online for many vintage bikes
- Your riding friends probably won’t have the same bike
- You get to experience what it was like to ride “back then”
- Good excuse to wear cool retro riding gear
- Can be maintenance-intensive
- Old-tech brakes require planning stops ahead if not upgraded
- Depending on the model, parts and repairs can be a challenge or expensive
- Typically not nearly as fast as modern bikes
- Retro riding gear may not be your thing
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, most Japanese manufacturers were unable to compete with the large-displacement machines made by the then-current (read: British, American, and Euro) bike makers, so they staked out the ground below the top tier and made bikes in the 100cc to 300cc range. While burly biker types avoided these machines like the plague, new riders flocked to them, greatly (and literally) boosting the stock of the nascent Asian bike industry.
As time went on, the 300-class bikes just got better and better until machines like Honda’s legendary 305 Super Hawk were actually performance threats to the larger (650cc and up) machines from the established (and slow to change) manufacturers. Eventually, Japanese brands, led by Honda, would scale up and take on the competition — and nearly wipe out both the British and American motorcycle industries. But, in the process, the 300-class bikes disappeared as larger and more powerful machines took over the market.
However, in the last few years — due in part to Euro emissions regulations, displacement and license tariffs, and other factors — 300cc machines have made a sudden comeback. While past 250cc “beginner bikes” have typically been small, slow, of middling quality, and quickly sold off as their owners leveled up to bigger bikes, the new crop of 300-class machines (which can have engines closing in on the 400cc mark) are adult-sized, loaded with tech, comfortable to ride almost any distance, and cheap to buy and insure.
Bikes like the Yamaha R3, BMW 3T, Kawasaki VERSYS-X, and a growing number of other entries are some of the most fun-to-ride machines on the market. And while the older 250cc starter bikes could barely get out of their own way, the bump to 300cc’s (or more) gives these machines enough power to play on the freeway without panic, while their lightweight also makes them the sharpest of scalpels in city traffic. For many new riders, 300 is the new magic number.
Examples: Yamaha R3, BMW 3T, Kawasaki VERSYS-X, Honda CBR300, KTM Duke 390
- Typically inexpensive to purchase/finance and insure
- Adult-sized riding experience
- Surprisingly techie, often including ABS and fuel injection
- Lightweight, not too fast, but still fun to ride
- Still a little buzzy at freeway speeds or better
- Heavier/bigger riders may need a bit more poke or size
- Top-shelf models can get a bit spendy
Like the 300-class machines above, scramblers are another idea whose time has come back around. Back in the 1960 and 1970s (again), bike makers hit upon the idea of taking their (usually Japanese) street bikes and making them a bit more capable in the dirt. This usually meant swapping out the street tires for more aggressive “off-road” style rubber, fitting a “high-mount” exhaust, and (sometimes but not always) adding a bit more wheel travel in the suspension system. The rest of the “street bike” remained. The result was a class of bikes called scramblers, which worked great on the street but could also be ridden down a dirt or gravel road with at least some confidence. In rural areas with farms and such, they were especially popular. Eventually, more dirt-focused machines, then dual-sport bikes, put an end to the scrambler phase, but it’s back now and better — and bigger — than ever.
Triumph got the “new” scrambler scene going again when (just like back in the day) they slightly modified their neo-classic Bonneville street machine with a quite lovely high-mount exhaust system, some dirt-worthy tires, and a bit more bounce. They even called it a Street Scrambler. Hipsters and new riders snapped them up, and with good reason: This new breed of scrambler, with bigger engines and better build quality, afforded a much wider ability to travel, especially if the route included dirt or gravel roads. Plus, they don’t look like the angular, more purpose-built dual-sport machines; in fact, they hew much closer to the “classic” look of their inspirational bikes. Now, Ducati has joined the fray as well with a spread of Scrambler models that even includes some 1100cc variants that could take you pretty much anywhere you want to go. While scramblers are not the purpose-built off-road machines that dual-sport bikes are, you can bet that riders are kitting them up for epic adventures. Want more of a do-it-all bike that can get dirty and still looks cool? A scrambler might be just the ticket.
Examples: Ducati Scrambler line, Triumph Street Scrambler, Yamaha SCR950, BMW R nine T Scrambler, Moto Guzzi V7 II Stornello
- Expanded abilities and equipment for light off-road riding
- stylish than most dual-sport bikes
- Comfortable “regular” riding position
- Typically flat seat leaves room for two
- Highly customizable
- Street performance slightly handicapped
- Not as off-road capable in stock form as a dedicated dual-sport
- The tall seat may limit options for shorter riders
- Possible job loss due to world-circling riding adventures
New Middleweight Cruiser Motorcycles: Comparison Test
Motorcycles have an alter ego. On the outside, a husky cruiser bike may look like the two-wheel equivalent of a gas-guzzling muscle car. But despite the big chrome pipes, fat rear tire and bulging V-twin engine, bikes are fantastically fuel-efficient machines.
Even the heaviest, most powerful models deliver hybridlike economy. The smallest ones sip fuel at a pace that would make a Prius owner jealous. So a cool-looking, fun-to-ride cruiser can become a very unlikely and appealing alternative to a hybrid. Who says motorcycles are just weekend fun?
The best-selling of these fuel-efficient cruisers live in the rather nebulous middleweight class. Broadly ranging from 500 cc to 1000 cc, these bikes all pack traditional V-twin engines, pumped-up styling and loads of comfort. The middleweights are lighter, lower and much easier to ride than the big boys. So they won’t overwhelm first-time riders. Yet many are rewarding enough for old pros, too. Best of all, these bikes are some of the sweetest bargains in motorcycling.
We gathered up five middleweight contenders from Yamaha (Star), Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki, and rode them nearly 350 miles through some of Southern California’s best roads and worst traffic. Professional rider Danny Coe ran each bike through our battery of acceleration and braking tests at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. And we brought along a seasoned passenger to test each bike’s capability for two-up touring. Often it takes big torque to turn our heads. But in this test, we found that the smaller bikes had enough power, efficiency and comfort to impress.
From Popular Mechanics
Yamaha V Star Custom
On paper, the 649 cc V Star appears to be the runt of the litter. But the Star was the leader in several important criteria for first-time or budget-conscious riders. The Star stickers at barely over 6000. So for the price of another bike in the test, you could get a new V Star and, say, a Shoei helmet and Dainese leather jacket and still have a few hundred left over for gas money. Smaller or less experienced riders will welcome the Star’s low weight, too. At 474 pounds, it was the most svelte in the test. That lack of heft and an amazingly light clutch effort combine to make the V Star easy to ride and maneuver in heavy traffic. But as small as the V Star is, it had, as they say, a big personality. Yep, the V Star has attitude. The bike rumbles and shakes at idle. And it has that classic cruiser profile reminiscent of a seven-eighths-scale Harley-Davidson Softail. Like the Harleys of the past, the V Star’s 649 cc V-twin is air-cooled, is fed by a pair of carburetors and has a manual choke. Remember those? At highway speeds, the handlebars fed through a bit more vibration than the other bikes. It wouldn’t be our first choice for a trip cross-country. And for larger riders, the close-coupled position was cramped. The Star was no star at the dragstrip, yet it was able to outgun the larger displacement Honda to 60 mph. important, the Star had the second-best brakes of the bunch. Better still, our test rider proclaimed that the brake feel on the Star was the best in the test. On the open road, the Star returned nearly 52 mpg. And our test passenger found the rear pillion the most comfortable. In all, the V Star is a great deal for a new rider looking to save some Âpetrol and get a head-turning bike for weekend rides.
Harley-Davidson Sportster XL 883
The Sportster is the mechanical equivalent of that perfectly antiqued vintage motorcycle jacket—like the leather one Peter Fonda wore in Easy Rider or the waxed cotton Belstaff jacket that used to hang in Steve McQueen’s closet. The Sportster makes anyone who rides it instantly cool in an old-school kind of way. The riding position, suspension design and styling all hearken back to the 1960s. Oddly, the Harley is less like a traditional cruiser than the others. The short 60-in. wheelbase and upright, almost forward-leaning riding position make the Sportster closer to a standard bike. That sporty riding position, combined with higher-clearance foot pegs, brought the Harley one twist of the throttle away from the nimble Suzuki in the canyons. Indeed, the Harley and Suzuki were in many ways archrivals. At the track the Hog effectively tied for second place with the Boulevard M50 in the quarter-mile. Sometimes Âsmaller bikes don’t sound as throaty and rich as the big-bore bikes. Not the case here. The classic 883 cc V-twin burbled that distinctive Harley potato-potato sound. And you can hear every one of those pushrods clacking away as it idles. It’s a neat experience. One tester dubbed the Sportster the flying jukebox—an appropriate handle. On the highway, the Harley didn’t feel as relaxed and wasn’t as cushy as some. On this bike you’re alert and ready for action instead of laid-back and mellow. But face it, when you’re jousting with Peterbilts, that’s probably okay. The Harley had the tallest seat height in the test. So shorter folks might want to choose one of the lower-slung models in the Sportster lineup. In terms of refinement, the Hog was outmatched by the Japanese bikes. Still, the old-time rumbles and vibrations and the visceral personality of this classic bike are what make it such a charmer.
Honda Shadow Spirit 750 C2
Squint your eyes and the Spirit, like the V Star, looks like a much larger bike. The illusion comes from the long and low front fork and tidy rear proportions as well as that big 21-in. front wheel. Of the smaller bikes in the test, many thought the Honda had the cleanest styling. The 7099 Spirit (6799 in black and silver) had the second smallest motor of the group. But it did have the best braking performance. And good brakes are crucial for all riders—especially those new to motorcycling. The 745 cc V-twin may not be a dragstrip superstar, but like all Honda motorcycle engines, it was a real smoothie. And the handlebars were vibration-free at highway speeds. To most buyers in the market for a middleweight, that smoothness is more important than all-out speed. Shorter riders will dig the Spirit, too. It had the lowest seat of the bunch. A rider who stands less than 5 ft. 5 in. can flat-foot this bike at a stoplight. Yet tall riders were not cramped after a day of riding. The Honda was a talented performer in the canyons. But if you’d like to bring a passenger along, better get an aftermarket rear pillion. It was the least comfortable here. The Honda did not have the cornering clearance of the Suzuki or Harley, but it inspired confidence. If fuel economy is the deciding factor, look no further than this 750. On our fuel-economy loop, the Honda returned 54.5 mpg—the best here. We imagine the Spirit could achieve closer to 60 mpg with a conservative right hand. And as far as we’re concerned, riding a fuel-sipping Spirit to work every day is a really fun way to reduce that CO2 footprint.
Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
The Kawasaki is the light heavyweight in this grouping of middleweights. The 903 cc V-twin was a burly beast at the dragstrip, trouncing every other bike. Seasoned riders—those who can handle the size, heft and awesome power—can best appreciate the Vulcan. Crank the throttle wide open on straightaways and the Vulcan rewards you with a deep throaty exhaust note. Not surprisingly, it was one of our favorites. When the time came to swap bikes, more than one staffer quickly migrated to the Vulcan for the highway stints. The Kawi’s instant torque, low vibration and smooth ride made it the best long hauler of the bunch. The motor doesn’t seem like it’s even working until you hit 80 mph. The passenger pad was one of the best for comfort. And everyone appreciated that fuel gauge. All bikes should have one. Our informal design roundtable voted the Kawasaki tied with the Harley for baddest-Âlooking bike of the test. The Vulcan takes a heaping dollop of inspiration from the custom chopper scene, with a raked front fork and a beautifully machined 21-in. front wheel. The whole bike looked much more expensive than its 7399 price tag. Downside? Well, the ÂVulcan’s Jesse James-like front and rear tires combined with low cornering clearance made for peg scraping in tighter canyons. And that skinny tire was prone to lockup in our brake testing. Solution? Get the Vulcan 900 Classic with a more traditional front tire. The Vulcan was the most expensive bike we tested. But when you account for the thrills, refinement and craftsmanship, in many ways the Kawasaki is the best buy of the bunch.
Suzuki Boulevard M50
Cruisers are not meant to carve canyons. And that should be especially true of these lower-priced bikes, because speed and handling poise are expensive to engineer. Right? Well, if that’s the case, then Suzuki must take a loss on every Boulevard M50. This bike is built to run. It was the quickest to 60 mph and had the second quickest quarter-mile times. And, with only 805 cc to move the bike, that was impressive. But the Suzuki returned the second worst fuel economy. Still, can nearly 50 mpg really be considered poor fuel economy? Conveniently, Suzuki equips the M50 with a real fuel gauge, too. The M50 was the clear champ when it came to hustling up our favorite back roads in the Santa Monica Mountains. The bike tackled curves intuitively and confidently and made for a relaxing but swift ride thanks to the sporty inverted front fork and large front tire. We found ourselves pushing the Suzuki much harder than the other bikes simply because it felt so natural. On the highway, the M50 is comfy for larger riders. And the level of vibration at speed was much less than the Yamaha’s or Harley’s. Plus the M50 had one of the best passenger pillions in the test. Best of all, the M50 has a tough-looking stance. This is, in essence, a bargain muscle bike.
Ben is a lifelong enthusiast of anything with wheels. He has been contributing to Popular Mechanics for nearly 20 years and lives in Venice with an eclectic collection of vintage pickup trucks, muscle cars, and motorcycles scattered in various garages around SoCal.
Are Cruiser Motorcycles Good For Beginners? (We Checked)
Cruisers are motorcycles styled after the low, beefy American bikes made by Indian, Harley-Davidson, Excelsior, and Henderson between the 1930s and 1960s.
Cruiser engines are traditionally V-Twins tuned with a FOCUS on low and mid-range torque rather than horsepower. Also, the riding position of the cruiser puts riders’ feet forward while keeping their spine straight for a lounging style of riding.
This article will explore the attributes of cruiser motorcycles to determine whether they are suitable for beginners.
Here’s the Short Answer to Whether Cruiser Motorcycles Are Good for Beginners:
Cruiser motorcycles are suitable for beginners because of their low seat height, relaxed riding position, and generally mild-mannered V-Twin engine. These bikes come in various chassis and engine sizes with varying degrees of power.
Mind you, ensure you’re buying an entry-level cruiser if you’re a beginner.
Are Cruiser Motorcycles Easier or Harder to Ride?
Cruisers are easier to ride than sport bikes, street fighters, tourers, adventure bikes, and even dirt bikes, thanks to their comfort-focused riding and seat position and low-end focused engine tuning.
The following makes Cruiser Motorcycles easier to ride for beginners.
Low Slung Chassis
The chassis or frame of a cruiser motorcycle typically sits low to the ground. Its V-Twin is mounted beneath the rider’s low-resting seat to keep the center of gravity below the rider, just inches above the ground.
This makes it easy for new riders to walk the bike, as their feet can rest flat on the pavement.
Cruiser motorcycles generally come stock with a front and rear suspension tuned to move well on the bumps in the road to aid a soft and comfort-emphasized ride ideal for beginners.
While it’s not a hard rule, most cruiser motorcycles pack a V-Twin engine with a larger displacement.
The small-bore/long-stroke cylinders of the typical cruiser V-twin have lower rev limits than performance-based bikes. This makes them safer for new riders to learn how to throttle and clutch-shift.
Also, cruiser’s gearboxes are rationed with an emphasis on low and mid-range torque and less focused on horsepower. The mild engine tuning is partially where the cruiser gets its name and one of the main reasons it’s an ideal first motorcycle.
The design is also simplified for an easy ride.
Cruiser motorcycles are known for their low center of gravity that combines with the legs-forward, spine straight, and the low-to-the-ground seating position to make them one of the most comfortable and ergonomic bikes to ride.
This offers entry-level motorcyclists a chance to FOCUS on mastering their riding technique without battling physical discomfort and its associated fatigue.
How Well Do Cruiser Motorcycles Handle Speeds?
Cruiser motorcycles handle well at city and highway speeds, although some of them have a long wheelbase, making them slightly harder to maneuver through corners than those with a shorter base.
The heavy, comfort-focused frame and engine can make handling a cruiser at slow speeds more difficult.
That said, there are a few riding strategies even beginners can employ to make their cruisers handle them efficiently.
One technique that comes in handy when riding over train tracks or speed bumps is standing on your pegs to stabilize the traction in the rear tire and alleviate the suspension shock.
And while the forward-focused foot position of the cruiser is more comfortable than mid controls, it’s harder to stand on pegs closer to your front fork than your seat.
Also, installing floorboards on your cruiser bike gives you more surface area to distribute your weight and more positioning options for both sitting and standing, optimizing your bike’s handling more than you might think.
One of the advantages the cruiser position gives its rider’s handling is how low to the ground the bike is. Putting your feet flat on the ground allows a more leisure time for parking and walking the bike at slow speeds.
Beginners can take advantage of their secure footing by spending time power-walking their motorcycles while they learn the friction zone between the clutch and the throttle.
The friction zone feels different on every bike. Mastering the distinct feel of your cruiser’s friction zone at low speeds while walking the bike with your feet flat on the ground will help you handle your cruiser like a pro.
Finally, while the standard handlebar positioning on a cruiser motorcycle is wide and placed at chest level to avoid arm fatigue and keep the rider’s chest and breathing capacity more open, many other cruiser bikes come standard with tall, ape-hanger handlebars.
Not only are the chest-level bars easier to learn simply because their comfort allows more endurance, but straight bars also handle the corners exceptionally well.
On the other hand, a cruiser with ape hangers is much harder to manage, especially in the corners while you’re still mastering the clutch-shifting and the clutch-to-throttle friction zone.
What Is the Best Cruiser Motorcycle for Beginners?
The modern Indian Scout is good for beginners, thanks to a low seat height and a forward riding position that isn’t too aggressive.
This bike has plenty of horsepower to grow into, ample customization options, and comes in various style packages and engine sizes so new riders can find their perfect fit.
Another excellent cruiser motorcycle for beginners is the Yamaha Star Bolt.
The Bolt combines the American cruiser’s aesthetic and riding position with Yamaha engineering. It produces a reliable machine with plenty of power for new riders to learn to use as they get used to more serious riding.
The Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 is another legendary entry-level cruiser bike that brings beginners into the American cruiser scene on a bike that’s easy to ride and is backed by Harley’s world-class dealership support.
The Sportster offers as many customization options as any other motorcycle on the market, allowing riders to develop their riding style by trying different accessories.
The Kawasaki Vulcan S, the Honda Rebel and Shadow series are other great cruiser lines for beginners.
We’ve written an article about whether cruiser motorcycles are good for beginners if you want more information on the topic.
What Defines a Good Starter Motorcycle?
The key qualities that make a motorcycle a good beginner bike are a middleweight, enough engine power to grow without being overwhelming, a comfortable riding position, a good resale value, and safety features like Traction Control and Anti-Lock Brakes.
Rumble.com recently published this shortlist of features beginner riders should look for when purchasing their first bike:
- Weight – A bike between 300 – 400 lbs is a good weight and is not too hard to find.
- Engine size – Anywhere from 150 – 600 cc will give you enough power, but not overwhelming
- Price – A good used bike can be purchased for as low as 1,500 but we go up depending on the size, type, and brand.
- Speed – Beginners don’t need more speed than they can handle with their first bike. Look for something between 80 – 130 mph.
- Technology – Anti-Lock Braking System is a must. Newer motorcycles have some upgraded tech such as GPS, digital systems, audio systems, and other mechanics.
- Manufacturer – Most major manufacturers make motorcycles that are a good fit for new riders.
- Community – You will find that different motorcycles come with a different community of riders to engage in.
- Terrain – Motorcycles can handle different types of terrain. You’ll need to know where you want to ride “street, dirt, both” before committing to buying.
Are There Any Cruiser Motorcycle Beginners Should Avoid?
Beginners should avoid what the market refers to as “Power Cruisers”. These are motorcycles that look and feel like cruisers stylishly but pack large-displacement, high-performance engines capable of high speeds and heft horsepower.
Power Cruisers are to motorcycles what hot Roids are to cars. They are neither the safest nor the easiest to learn, as they rev high all the way up through the gears.
Power Cruisers have beefier frames, sportier suspensions, more aggressive brakes, and a rising position geared towards riding hard and fast.
Beginners Guide to Cruiser Bikes
Cruiser bikes have been around for decades. As the name implies, these are best equipped for cruising and leisure. Also known as a beach cruiser, it has balloon tires, upright seats, and customizable steel construction. Casual cyclists and vacationers are likely to use this bicycle to tour around and enjoy the sunset.
These bikes make for excellent customization, with plenty of options for cruiser bike accessories. They are heavy and run better on pavements with moderate to slow speed. Most people use them to cover short distances as an alternative and healthier form of transport.
Cruiser bikes date back to the Great Depression. Some say that these bikes are also the main inspiration for BMX and mountain bikes.
After the Great Depression, bikes became a luxury item for the people because of the terrible economic conditions. Schwinn, a bicycle manufacturer, invented a cheaper version, the cruiser bike, so it was affordable and accessible for the younger population. And so, the Schwinn B10E came fourth, which was a design intended to look like a motorcycle.
The following years saw the introduction of the Aero bike, which incorporated a slim frame, along with balloon tires, and battery-powered headlights. Sales skyrocketed after that, and you can see many other designs of the cruiser bike now.
In the 1970s, cruiser bikes became a more popular and economical form of transport around beach towns and resorts. Surfers, hippies, and beachgoers started using them more frequently. Therefore, the cruiser found its association with the beach.
Further down the years, people started using cruiser bikes in mountain towns to ride down ski trails. Once the bikes became a cornerstone for ski trail travel, people began modifying it for a better ride in the mountains. This ultimately gave way to mountain bikes.
The emergence of the subgenres of bikes all stems from the hallmark design of the cruiser bike. These bikes are still very popular because of their comfort, simplicity, affordability, and vintage aesthetics.
Features and Accessories
There are different types of cruiser bikes today. However, every one of them follows the same framework that distinguishes them from the rest. Their mainframe has a sweeping curve down the edges, along with an extra tube between the top and bottom tubes for extra support. The material for this frame is usually heavy steel, and the added weight helps this bike give you a stable and balanced riding experience.
The thick and wide balloon tires give this bike an enormous amount of shock absorption, along with the multiple spokes on the rims that protect the tire from bending. Furthermore, the inwardly curved handlebars set these bikes apart from all other bikes. They also give the rider a more relaxed posture while on the bike.
Today, there are plenty of cruiser bike accessories. From baskets to LED lights and child seats, there are many options for customization.
Grip Covers for Your Cruiser Bike
Since sweaty palms make for a slippery grip, a pair of Pedaler Grip Covers will come in handy when you go biking. They help you have a more comfortable grip while absorbing the sweat. Our grip covers are washable, easy to put on, and transferable. Shop for your pair today!
Are you still hesitant to invest in cruise bike accessories? Check out our blog on 3 reasons why you should invest in bike accessories.
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