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Motorcycle Buyer's Guide: The various types


by Pascal Bastien ,

There are many points to consider when shopping for a new motorcycle. Affordability often tops the list, even though styling is what usually draws us to a particular model in the first place.

Motorcycle Buyer's Guide

Choosing the right kind of bike with the proper riding position is just as important, however. Part 1 of our Motorcycle Buyer's Guide aims to provide a clearer picture of the various types of bikes available on the market. Hopefully, this will help you pick a model that perfectly fits your budget, your needs and your level of experience.

2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim left side view
2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim (Photo: Sébastien D'Amour/Auto123.TV)

Also known as custom bikes, cruisers are very popular in Canada. Aesthetically inspired from vintage Harley-Davidson, Henderson and Indian motorcycles of the '60s, they rely on the latest technical advancements (ignition and injection systems, brakes, suspension, etc.) to deliver a striking blend of styling and performance. Devoid of fairings, they put riders in a radical position - most of them above 30 and longing for memorable rides on boulevards.

Classic cruisers feel a bit more relaxed: You can keep your back upright and your legs somewhat loose. On the other hand, the aggressively styled, no-compromise choppers and ''muscle'' cruisers will stretch your body and reduce seat time.

Street bikes
2012 Triumph Speed Triple R right side view
2012 Triumph Speed Triple R (Photo: Sébastien D'Amour/Auto123.TV)

Street bikes include standard sport bikes (also known as roadsters) and naked bikes. They offer a natural riding position, with the chest slightly leaned forward and the feet directly below the butt. These machines deliver near-superbike levels of performance (acceleration, responsiveness and handling) while providing more comfort and versatility. They also come with lower insurance premiums and registration fees. As superb all-around packages, they attract riders of all ages.

Designed for the city, naked bikes (with little to no fairings) expose riders to the elements, particularly the wind. Fatigue quickly builds up when maintaining a speed of more than 115 km/h over a long period. Standard sport bikes usually come out of the factory with a small windscreen and body fairings that improve comfort on the highway.

2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R and 2011 BMW S1000RR
2011 Kawasaki ZX-10R and 2011 BMW S1000RR (Photo: Philippe Champoux/Auto123.TV)

These championship-winning bikes target seasoned riders and thrill seekers alike. Blasting from 0 to 100 km/h in less than three seconds, and featuring cutting-edge components and electronics, superbikes are full-on racing machines. Compact and lightweight, they stand among the highest-performing production vehicles on the planet. The typical buyer is a young rider in good physical shape who can handle the massive power and extreme chassis.

Superbikes provide very little comfort and some countries actually require manufacturers to install a power restrictor. In Canada and particularly in Quebec, they are also pretty expensive to register and insure.

Dual-purpose bikes
2011 Triumph Tiger 800XC front 3/4 view
2011 Triumph Tiger 800XC (Photo: Matthieu Lambert/

The dual-purpose or adventure segment caters to a growing number of riders who like to tackle both dirt and pavement. Derived from European enduro races, these bikes feature all-terrain tires and, in some cases, fairings, engine shields, headlights, and luggage cases. They provide great comfort for long-distance trips, excellent agility, and lots of versatility thanks to a natural riding position and compliant suspension.

Touring bikes
2011 BMW K1600GT front 3/4 view
2011 BMW K1600GT (Photo: BMW)

Aimed at serious travellers, touring bikes are all about enjoying the open road with comfort and amenities to spare. They also know how to make a passenger feel at ease, with a dedicated backrest and grab handles. Most of them boast an 800cc or larger powerplant, generous wind protection, a big fuel tank, a centre stand as well as a cargo rack and a pair of saddlebags. Some even come standard with a stereo, GPS and communication system.

This segment includes the sportier GT models and cruiser-derived ''bagger'' models. Because of their significant weight (around 350 kg), touring motorcycles usually find takers among bulky and/or veteran riders.

Key Competitors