This is probably one of the most common questions we’ve been receiving lately, “please describe the different types of motorcycles and help me decide which bike is right for me”. Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to try to do. Motorcycles come in a myriad of shapes and sizes, with more segmentation coming out all the time. We’re going to try to cover the biggest categories, but we’re also going have some fun with this, we’re going to compare motorcycle categories with popular science fiction spaceships.
So here’s the rudimentary graph that we came up with. It attempts to chart a motorcycle’s weight, up and down, with how stable or maneuverable a bike is, left to right. Starting dead-center we have the standard naked, UJM, Universal Japanese Motorcycle. It’s not especially fast or slow, it’s not especially heavy or especially light, and it’s not especially stable or especially clickable.
Think of a Ducati Monster or the Yamaha FZ-07 or FZ-09, the Suzuki SV650 series, or any Honda CB. In the world of science fiction, this type of bike would be Serenity from Firefly. First, everybody loves Firefly, and while the ship is not especially good at any one thing, it is capable of anything, from hauling cattle to battling Reavers. Heading to the heaviest and most stable bikes on our chart, we arrive at the touring bike.
Think of a Honda Goldwing, A BMW K-GT or a Harley Davidson Ultra Classic. These would most be like the starship Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Gigantic, massive amounts of power and all the technology the world has to offer. These luxury liners feature all amenities in a refined package. Exciting, they are not. But setting out to cross the country is exciting enough, thank you very much.
Working our way up towards lighter bikes we arrive at the cruiser. These burly homages to the past hang on to vintage technology like air-cooling and pushrods. At first, we were going to compare these bikes to Klingon Battle Cruisers. Mostly because of the affinity these riders tend to have for black leather, metal spikes, and mullets.
But then we realized that Captain America rides a cruiser, so maybe we should come up with something that doesn’t rely so heavily on a stereotype. We eventually concluded that cruisers would most be like the Battlestar Galactica. Short on technology, but robust and overbuilt. While they may not be very fast and they’re certainly not very nimble, they are burly and intimidating.
So you like cruisers, but prefer something a little lighter and a whole lot more powerful? There’s a bike for that. The power cruiser. Think of Ducati’s Diavel or Yamaha’s V-Max. The spaceship that best captures the spirit of the power cruiser would be the Raza from the short-lived, but outstanding series, Dark Matter. It’s fast, it’s powerful, it’s purpose-built and its reputation is enough to earn it the respect that it deserves.
Next, we have the cafe racer. These would be like the Moto Guzzi V7, the Yamaha XSR, the Triumph Thruxton or the Ducati Scrambler. They are old school in the best possible way and should be compared to the X-Wing Fighter. Its older design means they’re pretty stable but they’re lightweight so they’re pretty darn quick. They are timeless, immediately recognizable and they seem to be cooler now than they were in the ’70s.
Finishing up the more stable and less clickable bikes, we arrive at the very light, chopper. Think of Easy Rider. These bikes were literally born from chopping off all the unnecessary bits, things like front brakes and rear suspension. This makes them very light, but they also appeal to a very specific kind of rider. The spaceship correlation for this one was easy. Boba Fett’s, Slave 1.
Design wise, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s still totally badass, a little bit scary, intimidating and then there’s that sound. Rounding the horn towards the more nimble side of ultra-light bikes, we arrive at the dual-purpose bike. These are effectively dirt bikes with lights and mirrors. They’re not especially fast, but they can go anywhere even though they’re not really designed for going long distances.
We had to dip into video game territory for this one and landed on the Pelican from Halo. These things do best when they stay close to the ground but they can move into unknown territory without having to worry about getting back out again.
Arriving at the lightest, most clickable corner of our graph, we arrive at the Supermoto. These are basically dirt bikes with smaller 17-inch wheels lifted from superbikes. They are light and nimble and clickable in a hooligan, I-don’t-care-if-I-go-to-jail sort of way. Plus their sub 200 pound package means that the modest dirt bike motor still feels like bonkers amounts of power. They can best be compared to the Tie Fighter, one of the most unique ships in the galaxy.
It doesn’t have shields, hyper-drive or even life support systems, but its strong engine and maneuverability make it a hard target to hit. You’d be a fool to embark on a cross country journey on one of these, but that’s not exactly the point. Adding some weight and some stability we arrive at the superbike. Think of the Ducati Panigale, BMW’s S1000RR, the Yamaha R1 or the R6, the Suzuki GSX-R, the Honda CBR-RR. There’s a lot of R’s.
These bikes are designed to accelerate, turn and stop as fast as physics will allow. These would most be like the Viper Mark 7 from Battlestar Galactica. All the latest technology, small, light, nimble and powerful. The cockpit is small and cramped so covering any distance is an exercise in misery, but if you need to take out swarms of baddies, we can’t think of a better platform.
So you love superbikes, but you like riding for more than 20-minutes at a time, how about the hyper-touring bikes? Think of Ducati’s Multistrada, KTM’s GT or the BMW XR. These bikes are sport touring bikes with the emphasis clearly on the sports side of the equation. The best comparison we could draw would be the Tachi or Rocinante from The Expanse. This Martian built battle Corvette is capable of heading out into the expanse and can turn-and-burn better than most.
And is capable of taking down ships that would appear to be far more capable. You want something that is sporty but you don’t want to give up on all the creature-comforts, look no further than a sport touring bike. Think of the Yamaha FJR, or the Honda ST or VFR, or BMW’s RT. They are fast but more nimble than a dedicated touring bike. They are still heavy but that makes them perfectly suited for long days in the saddle and fast sweeping corners.
These would be like the Normandy from the video game series, Mass Effect. Fast, sleek and refined, but still able to explore strange new worlds. Which brings us to the last bike in our comparison, the Adventure Tourer. Think of the BMW GS, or KTM’s Adventure or Honda’s Africa Twin. These bikes are faster and they have any right to be and are capable of dealing with enough neglect and abuse to circumnavigate the globe.
These would be like the beloved Millennium Falcon. Capable of doing the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, a design that’s kind of weird but works and able to haul more stuff than you’d think. I know what you’re about to ask, what about the scooter? Well, that’s an easy one. A scooter would be the Tardis from Dr. Who. Small and unassuming on the outside, massive on the inside, wildly popular with the fashionable and there’s a lot of scarves involved.
So what kind of bike is right for you? Well, that’s actually a hard question. It’s kind of like asking somebody else to tell you what kind of underwear you should wear. There’s a lot of strong opinions on the matter, and just because all of your buddies wear tighty-whities doesn’t mean that they’re right for you. At the end of the day, it’s your butt. But there are some things you may want to consider.
First being, what kind of experience are you looking to have? Thinking about the kind of riding you want to do will help you find a bike that is capable of that. But more important than any of that is just which bike do you think is the coolest? Seriously. All your buddies are riding cruisers, but you think the Suzuki V-Strom is coolest thing you’ve seen since Han Solo showed up in the Millennium Falcon, go with that. But if you are still unsure, just like everybody loves Firefly, a standard is a great place to start.
Being at the center of things, if you find yourself leaning one way or the other, the standard can accommodate you and help you find the kind of riding that you enjoy the most. Thanks for indulging our geeky, science fiction moto connection. We actually had a lot of fun arguing about which bike would be which spaceship. And if you think we got it wrong, make your suggestion below.