You and your motorcycle

About motorcycles

What makes a motorcycle unique

Motorcycles are highly manoeuvrable and very convenient vehicles.

They are different from other motor vehicles because, being on two wheels, they must be kept in balance by the rider while in motion. They also have a smaller area of tyre gripping the road. This means any loss of grip between the tyres and the surface can have more serious consequences than in a car.

Because of this, it's important to know and practise safe riding techniques. Read this section carefully to be better equipped to enjoy your riding safely.

Types of motorcycles

Motorcycles can be classified by what they are used for. Some different types are described below.

Step-through scooters

Many small-capacity scooters are called step-throughs. This is because the petrol tank is not located in the usual position ahead of the saddle, and you can step through the vehicle without obstruction. Scooters can have engine capacities from 50 to 650cc. Mopeds are not legally defined as motorcycles, and can be ridden on a Class 1 or Class 6 licence.


A moped is a two-wheeled motor vehicle with an engine capacity of no more than 50cc or which has an alternative power source, eg electricity. Its maximum speed capability is not more than 50km/h. This definition also includes three-wheeled vehicles registered as mopeds before 10 May 2011. Mopeds are not legally defined as motorcycles, and can be ridden on a Class 1 or Class 6 licence.

Street or road bikes

Street bikes (or road bikes) are designed to perform well in traffic and on the open road. The tyres are designed to grip the road surface well and the brakes are usually more powerful than those on trail bikes. The engine and gearbox of road bikes are built to handle traffic speeds.

Touring and cruiser bikes

These have bigger-capacity motors, bigger petrol tanks and additional features like large fairings and luggage containers. Some have anti-lock braking systems.

Off-road trail bikes

Trail bikes have longer suspension, deeper tyre tread and higher ground clearance, and are lower geared than standard motorcycles. They are designed to be used both off-road and on-road, and are equipped with indicators and a headlight for street use.

Trail bikes are not built to perform as efficiently as road bikes in city or highway traffic. The brakes may not be as powerful and off-road tyres do not grip wet or slippery road surfaces as well as most road tyres.

Sport and competition bikes

Competition bikes are designed for motocross or track racing, hill climbing and other forms of two-wheeled sports.

Some sport bikes are used purely for competition purposes. These bikes may not have indicators or headlights and many can't be registered for use on the road.

Farm bikes

Farm bikes are similar to trail bikes but are designed for farm work. Some have single triangular seats, to allow greater carrying space.

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs)

These vehicles have three or four wheels and may have motorcycle controls. Designed for off-road use, they have engine capacity greater than 50cc and weigh less than 1000kg. You may also ride an ATV on a Class 1 licence.

Because they require different handling techniques to the other types of motorcycles listed above, you will need special training to ride them.

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Last updated: 7 July 2014