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Beginner's Guide: Motorcycle Types | The Allstate Blog

Motorcycle Newbies: What Type of Bike is Right for You?

September 18, 2019 From open highways on sunny days to an easy way to get around town, there are a lot of reasons you may be considering getting a motorcycle. Whatever your need or reason, if you’re interested in buying a motorcycle but you’ve never ridden one before, you may not be sure where to begin your search.… Allstate
Motorcyclist driving around orange cones at motorcycle school.

From open highways on sunny days to an easy way to get around town, there are a lot of reasons you may be considering getting a motorcycle. Whatever your need or reason, if you’re interested in buying a motorcycle but you’ve never ridden one before, you may not be sure where to begin your search.

According to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) there are three distinct types of motorcycles: street bikes, dual-purpose bikes and off-road bikes. From there, you can branch out into a bunch of different subcategories that will help you identify the style of motorcycle that fits what you’ve got in mind for your two-wheeling fun. Here’s some helpful information on the various types of motorcycles to help narrow down your search.

Street Motorcycles

Street bikes are specifically designed with paved roads in mind and have the widest variety of body styles, says the MSF. Street motorcycles include a variety of different bikes.

Touring Motorcycles

Touring bikes are designed for comfort, as they’re typically used for longer rides, according to the MSF. A touring bike usually has a large engine and may also have accessories to help on longer trips, such as bags for storage and wind screens, says the MSF. The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) notes that these bikes can be good for new riders because they handle well and are comfortable, but downsides for a new rider are the higher seat height and some models are more expensive that other types of bikes — particularly for a first motorcycle. They are also heavier than most bikes, says the MSF.

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Cruiser Motorcycles

Cruiser motorcycles are known for their “classic styling,” says the MSF, and they usually feature forward footrests, handlebars that sweep back and a low seat that leans towards the rear of the bike. These are often associated with custom bikes and high-profile brands like Harley Davidson and Indian. AMA says the low seat may help a new rider get off the bike easily, and cruisers tend to be easy for new riders to coordinate the clutch and throttle. The handling, however, can be difficult for a newbie due to the long, low frame and outstretched handlebars.

Sport Motorcycles

Sport bikes are designed for performance, according to Cycle World, with a focus on acceleration, braking and cornering. The MSF says sport motorcycles are known for aerodynamics, and they typically have rear-positioned footrests with a forward-leaning seat — which means they may not be the most comfortable bike, according to Cycle World. While a new rider may like that a sport bike is lighter and easy to handle, their high power may make these bikes a better fit for a very experienced rider to help ensure safety, says the AMA — adding that these bikes may require more maintenance, too.

Standard Motorcycles

These are pretty much your straightforward, basic kind of street bike. Standard bikes have good all-around capabilities, says the MSF — they offer an upright seating position and are available in different engine sizes. Standards may not come with fairings or windscreens, but Cycle World says the position of the handlebars and footpegs usually make for a comfortable ride. Keep in mind that standard motorcycles are available in a variety of sizes and horsepower levels, says the AMA. Beginning riders need to choose one that is appropriate for their experience and abilities.


Scooters usually have smaller wheels than other motorcycles, and most are automatic transmission, says the MSF. While scooters are not recommended for highway use, a scooter can be a great choice for getting around from one end of town to another conveniently and with great fuel efficiency, says the AMA. Their small size may also save you a few headaches when it comes to finding parking. While these features may be good for a new rider, the AMA points out that scooters are not always very comfortable, and they may not be a good idea if you plan on doing more than urban commuting.

Dual-Purpose Motorcycles

Dual-purpose motorcycles are made specifically for the rider who wants to be able to take his or her bike off road while still having some of the features associated with street motorcycles. The MSF says these bikes offer an upright seating position, tires that grip on both pavement and dirt and good ground clearance. The AMA notes that dual-purpose bikes, also called dual sport motorcycles, are great for their versatility. A new rider may like that they’ll have a comfortable ride on the road and the ability to hit the trails on the weekends. You’ll want to keep in mind, though, that a dual-purpose bike may not be comfortable for longer trips, and it will likely have limited cargo space, says the AMA. Dual-purpose bikes usually look like off-roaders, but they come with horns, headlights, turn signals and side-view mirrors that make them road-legal. They also have fairings, those fiberglass shells on bikes, for aerodynamics and protection for the rider against the engine block and other moving parts. If you’ve got a mix of street riding and off-roading you’d like to get done, this could be your perfect match.

Off-Road Motorcycles

Off-road motorcycles were made for those seeking a more adventurous experience not available on paved streets and highways. Designed for anything from weekend trail rides to competitive courses, the MSF says these bikes are made for going through anything from forests to deserts, small bumps to big jumps. Recreational models may offer headlights and taillights, while more advanced models are ready for closed course Motocross competitions. As a new rider, you may want to take a course specific to off-highway riding where you can learn the basics of riding a motorcycle as well as the unique ins and outs of riding off-road.

Motorcycles can be fun and efficient machines. Once you’ve made your choice, be sure to enroll in a motorcycle safety training course so you’ll know how to handle yourself behind the handlebars.

Originally published on October 24, 2012.

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