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13 May 2020
Steve Ramsey avatar Steve Ramsey

Types of motorbike explained


Biker holding helmet in motorbike showroom with row of cruisers

Do you know the difference between a chopper and a cruiser? And what exactly is a naked bike?

There are loads of motorbike categories and its important to know what sort of bike you’re buying.

Here’s a rundown on the different motorcycle types, what they are designed for and how they are commonly used.

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Scooters and mopeds

Synonymous with the swinging 60s, scooters exploded back into popularity in the mid-90s.

The reason for the boom was the increased frustration at urban gridlock, cheap running costs, and the advent of desirable new models from the Japanese manufacturers and Italian firm, Piaggio.

Mopeds are small-engine bikes (max 50cc) that have a top speed of around 28mph. As mopeds have such low power, moped insurance cover tends to be much cheaper.

Scooters have larger engines than mopeds, normally 125cc-150cc, and have a step-through frame. The smaller engine will tend to reduce their running costs and makes them much more affordable than bigger bikes.

Scooter insurance is often considerably cheaper than other bike insurance.

Sports bikes

Triumph Daytona Phantom jet black motorbike

At the other end of the spectrum, sports bikes are built for power and speed. They have fast and powerful engines, sharp styling and handling, and aerodynamic fairings.

Dominated by Japanese giants Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha, other makes include Ducati (Italy) and Triumph (good old Blighty).

As sports bikes are built for speed and have blistering acceleration, novice riders should think carefully before opting for one of these as their first ride.

As you might expect, bike insurance in this class is generally more expensive than in other classes.

Naked bikes

In a nutshell, these are un-faired sports bikes. The term "Naked" refers to road bikes without a fairing to obscure the engine and frame, and normally no screen at all over the handlebars.

However, not all bikes without fairings are naked bikes. Exceptions include custom bikes, off-roaders and adventure sport bikes.


A group of bikers all riding Harley Davidson motorbikes
For all you wannabe Easy Riders, cruisers are most easily described by one evocative and legendary brand, Harley Davidson.

Typically, cruisers have low seats, long wheel bases, loads of chrome and, most importantly, a laid-back attitude.

Harleys aren’t the only name in town though, with a range of Japanese bikes able to provide that custom look for a lot less cash but also less heritage.

Other cruiser makers include Italian firm Moto Guzzi and BMW.

Some cruisers, such as the massive Kawasaki VN2000, have larger engines than some mid-size cars and are definitely not recommended for bikers who’ve just removed their stabilisers.

Adventure/Adventure sport

Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure 
Adventure bikes are designed to be a jack of all trades, suited to commuting, touring, and some sporty riding. They tend to be endurance machines with larger luggage compartments and petrol tanks for long distance trekking.

They will also often have the capability to do a bit of off-road. But be warned, taking a larger, heavier bike off-road can be a challenge to even the most experienced rider, especially if you drop it.

A tall profile and upright riding position mean you’ll get good visibility over the car in front, and you’ll also be easier to see for other road users.

King of this class is arguably the BMW R1250GS, while Suzuki’s V-Strom 1000 (pictured above) is one of the more affordable big adventure bikes.

Tourers/Touring motorcycles

Honda Gold Wing

If you’re looking to ride coast to coast across the US or take a European tour, then a tourer is the bike for you. Designed for long distances, these are big, comfortable, mile-munching monsters. 

These bikes are built for on-road comfort for both rider and pillion, with continent-cruising ability. Many tourers have large windscreens, generous luggage capacity, plush seats, driver/passenger intercom and heated handlebar grips, along with a dashboard full of tech.

Many manufacturers offer variations of their sports bikes or adventure bikes and these are labelled as sports-tourers or adventure tourers. They’ll often have side panniers for luggage that may or may not be removable. Others, such as the classic Honda Goldwing or the BMW K1600 are specifically designed tourers.

With their size, combined with luggage and fuel capacity, it’s not surprising that tourers are among the heaviest bikes on the road. To help with this, they often have features such as hill start assist, while some even have a reverse gear to help with parking.

Dirt bikes, Enduro bikes and Motocross bikes

All these are variations of bikes that are primarily or solely used for off-roading. There are hundreds of styles and variations of off-road bikes, from enduro bikes that are used for long distance off-roading, through to trials bikes, that are so lightweight they don’t even have a seat.

Many types of off-road bikes can’t be used on the road at all. You need to ensure your bike is road-legal to use it on UK roads.

READ MORE: Off-road bike insurance.

Monkey bikes and Groms

Honda released their first monkey bike in the 60s. Originally with a 50cc engine, the Monkey was a compact or minibike and its name came from the way it makes the riders knees and elbows stick out.

Modern monkey bikes tend to be 125cc and while other manufacturers have their own versions, it’s the Honda Monkey that is still the king of this category.

Unless you speak to a Grom owner…

Another Honda-manufactured mini-motorbike, the MSX125 is known in biking circles as the Grom. Big bike styling in a tiny size, the Grom has an almost fanatical following in the biking world, usually as a secondary bike.

Highly manoeuvrable, it’s perfect for city riding and has enough torque that its limited speeds feel much faster because you’re that much closer to the road.

Quad bikes

Usually used off-road or in competitions, quad bikes are a unique breed.

Whether it’s used for agriculture, modified for your own purpose or for sports and leisure, a quad bike can be covered under quad bike insurance.

Given how different quad bikes are to regular motorcycles, there are a number of other factors to bear in mind. You can get more information at GOV.UK.


A trike is a larger motorbike that runs on three wheels instead of two.

Many trikes are built with components found in cars, and cars on three wheels also use parts found in motorcycles, so it can become confusing when it comes to insuring your trike.

In general, if your vehicle has an open chassis with handlebars then it will be considered a trike. If it has a closed chassis or a steering wheel then you’d need to purchase a kit car insurance policy.

While it’s less common to see a trike on the roads, they’re popular with riders who are after something different, or those who can’t ride a standard motorbike, often through age, injury or disability.

Unlike manual motorbikes that require a shift gear change, trikes can be run with automatic transmission.

Which motorbike category should I buy?

Whatever type of motorbike you ride, you need to make sure it fits your lifestyle.

That Ducati Streetfighter might look the business with an engine sound like a pride of roaring lions, but 28kg of downforce at 168mph doesn’t do you much good when you’re stuck in the traffic of a daily commute.

Buy a bike that suits your needs, is the right power and size, and not so heavy that you can barely lift it.

In the long run you’ll enjoy your motorbike that much more.



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