There are many different types of motorbike from commuter-friendly scooters through to fat-tyred cruisers. Choosing your first motorbike will be influenced by your budget, your practical requirements, the ability for you to get insurance and the image you want to convey.
With budget, you can pay cash or you can finance it. In terms of practicality then you’ll look at whether you ride on-road or off-road and whether you need storage and the ability to carry a pillion passenger. In terms of maintenance requirements there are bikes which are more reliable (usually newer bikes) vs bikes that might need some work periodically (usually older bikes). Insurance is often related to the performance and value of the bike, while image relates specifically to the look of the bike.
You will also need to consider your licence and any restrictions around engine size.
Types of motorbikes
There are a diverse range of motorbikes which can be distilled into the following main categories (although there are crossovers in each category, too).
Commuter and scooter, including mopeds
Commuter motorbikes usually have small engines and are lightweight. Mopeds have engines less than 50cc. Scooters are a different style and range from around 50cc with some 250cc or more.
Some off-road bikes can only be used off-road, while others are road legal. This category includes dirt bikes and farm bikes. The engines can be two or four-stroke and are usually between 250-450cc to keep the power-to-weight ratio sensible.
They have more durable suspension with longer suspension travel, and greater ground clearance. They often don’t have fairings but sometimes come with protectors on the bars to prevent branches from hitting your knuckles.
Off-road bikes tend to have deep tread on the tyres to give superior grip on mud and sandOff-road bikes are suitable for gravel roads and dirt tracks.
Dual purpose off/on-road bikes
These are similar to off-road bikes but have all the road-legal requirements. They are often called super moto, enduro or supermotard bikes. Their tyres are more geared towards road riding, but they retain some of the characteristics of an off-road bike.
Street bikes are more powerful, but not out-and-out sports bikes. They will often have a few comforts as opposed to a sport bike which will have a less comfortable riding position and have fewer accessories in order to save weight. They are usually reasonably priced and can come with fairings, or naked (without fairings). Naked bikes can be hot to ride on a hot day as the engine radiates heat into your legs. Having fairings gives you more protection from the wind and rain.
Cruisers have a certain image. They have an upright riding position. Some bikes have taller handlebars (e.g. ‘ape hangers’). They don’t handle very well, have low ground clearance (therefore it’s easy to catch a peg on the tarmac when cornering), but usually have large engines with a lot of torque for relaxed, low-speed cruising. If you accidentally drop your cruiser on its side, it can be a mammoth effort to pick it up again. Cruisers come in various styles including choppers, baggers and dressers.
Touring bikes are an evolution of cruising bikes and can often cross over into more enduro or dual-sport style. They are better suited for long distance riding on mixed terrain in comparison to the cruisers. They have large engines, windshields, more luggage space (e.g. panniers), and high capacity fuel tanks. They have better ground clearance, and they are easier to handle than the cruisers. They may come with attachments for specialist technology for specific types of riding.
Sports bikes are race bikes converted for the road. They usually have a crouched riding position to improve aerodynamics, but it can become uncomfortable on long rides. The most powerful bikes are the street versions of the MotoGP bikes with one-litre engines, lightweight bodies and enormous brakes. They have good ground clearance with high footpegs to allow for extreme cornering.
Decide where you’ll ride your bike. If it’s just in the city, then you don’t need anything with off-road suspension. You can choose your tyres based on the types of roads and the types of weather you ride in the most.
Will you be carrying a pillion passenger? Will you need luggage storage? Do you want it to be a thrilling bike? Will you be riding it in a club which prescribes a particular type of bike.
The most experience you have riding a bike, the more power and weight you can handle. You’ll need to understand countersteering to be able to handle a large bike effectively. Bikes don’t stop or corners as well as cars because they have less tyre in contact with the road. Experienced riders understand how to read the road ahead and react in time. Until you’re an experienced rider, keep the speed down and ride a light, easily manoeuvrable bike.