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Motorcycle Trends in the United States

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Motorcycle Trends in the United States

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. (650-1800cc; 700-1300lb)
  • 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 off-highway use.
  • Moped-very low-power (50cc), low-speed (30mph) bicycle-like design meant for cheap urban transportation. Unsuitable for high-speed roadways.
  • 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 trike.
  • 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 (50-650cc).
  • Sport-emphasis on handling, acceleration, speed, braking, and cornering. Styled and built in manner of road-racing motorcycles. Forward leaning riding position. (650-1100cc; 290-350lb)
  • Sport-touring-combine some of the comfort and amenities of touring bikes with the responsive handling of sport bikes. (1100-1800cc; 450-650lb)
  • 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. (125-1800cc; 200-1200lb)
  • 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 motorcycles.

SOURCES: Adapted from U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Background: Motorcycle Types & Characteristics,; U.S. Navy Safety Center, as of Mar. 23, 2009, and the author.