Street Bikes

2012 Hayabusa sport bikeIf you like street bikes, you are part of a growing group of people.  Motorcycle manufacturers are offering up so many new designs and technologies that unless you are totally sure what you want, you can spend several months just trying to decide which street bikes to consider.  This Motorcycle Information Street Bike Buyer’s Guide was created with you in mind.

Even if you have a specific street bike in mind, once you start looking around, you’ll likely find other brands of motorcycles more interesting than you thought you would.  This is especially true if you have not visited many motorcycle shops lately.  Competition is fierce and consumer spending is tight, so motorcycle manufacturers are working to win you over with new designs and new technology on their street bikes.

Now, let’s walk through the steps that we recommend when planning to get a street bike.  Keep in mind that while this guide is meant mostly for new riders, it also is an overview of the many different types and style of street-driven motorcycles that are on the market today.

Get a Motorcycle License:

motorcycle license endorsementFirst things first. Get your motorcycle learners permit and then your license (also referred to as a motorcycle endorsement) BEFORE you go shopping for a new motorcycle. Most motorcycle shops won’t let you test ride a street bike if you don’t have one.  Also, having taken beginner motorcycle training will give you more confidence and a better feel for the type and size of motorcycle that you feel comfortable with.  Keep in mind that you really need to be comfortable on the bike to be safest when riding.  The motorcycle should feel like a part of you rather than feel awkward or uncomfortable.  That street bike you think looks really cool, may end up being really awkward when you actually ride it.  Sitting on a street bike in a showroom is one thing, riding it is another.  So, if you are new to motorcycles and plan to spend your hard-earned money on a brand new street bike, do yourself a favor and take a Beginner’s Rider Course and get your motorcycle license first.  Otherwise, get your motorcycle learner’s permit and stick with a used street bike until your sure you want to keep riding.  Read more about licenses and training on our Motorcycle License information page.

Types of Street Motorcycles:

Moto Guzzi Stelvio adventure motorcycleBeginner motorcycle riders tend to place themselves into a specific category of motorcycle. This is usually based on the style of the bike and the lifestyle associated with that style.  Unfortunately, this is often a misguided approach that the rider won’t realize until later through experience.  An example of this is how young males flock to the fastest and sportiest street bikes.  It is natural to do so, but this type of motorcycle is certainly dangerous when put in the hands of inexperienced, immature riders.  A good motorcycle dealer will make sure the bike is right for the rider’s skill level, but not all dealers are concerned about that.

At the other end of the spectrum is the bad-boy image and lifestyle that seems to attract some to custom cruisers and chopper-style motorcycles.  One one hand, these can be safer for a new rider, but on the other, they can be very heavy and not easy to handle for a newbie.  I’m sure you’ve read a newspaper article about a motorcycle rider failing to negotiate a turn.

Adventure bikes are a growing motorcycle category for young and old.  What is an adventure bike?  They are somewhat like the 4×4 SUV of motorcycles.   It has all the appearance of a vehicle designed for off-road adventures, but with the reality that it will be driven on the street for 90% or, perhaps 99%, of its life.

These motorcycles usually are very comfortable for a single rider and have an upright sitting position.  They typically are easy to ride and can be a good choice for both new riders (if limited to street riding) or for highly experienced riders.  If you like the idea of adventure bikes, then you must see “Long Way Round” with Ewan McGregor, Charley Boorman and crew.  It is the ultimate adventure bike documentary.  If you don’t want one after watching that, then you probably never will.

Sport Bikes:

The high-strung racing style sport street bikes are very cool and very exciting, but you might change your mind after you ride one if these motorcycles for a little while. Neck and shoulder pain can be a way of life on these type of street bikes, so be prepared to deal with that.  That forward leaning racing position is meant for racing, not for cruising, and riding like that for a while will demonstrate that.  A good lightweight helmet would be a good thing to have since you need to hold your head up while you’re hunched over on these types of motorcycles.

Not all sport bikes are uncomfortable, so sit on a few, or ride a few different ones to see what feels best.  Higher grip height can translate into comfort, so unless you are just planning to always ride on the track or very short distances, it may be best to avoid the cool-looking super low handle bars.  Remember that you have to be on the bike riding for a little while before you would feel it.  It is common for racing inspired, or race-ready sport bikes will end up with more expensive motorcycle insurance quotes than compared to other styles of motorcycles.

Cruiser Motorcycles:

harley davidson road kingBy far, the most popular type of street motorcycle in the USA is the cruiser.  Cruisers come in all shapes and sizes and for all levels of riders.  In recent times, the engine sizes for cruisers have grown incredibly large, but cruisers are mostly about comfortable riding at easier, slower paces and using the low-end torque that their big bore, long stroke engines develop.

A small engine for a cruiser motorcycle is now around 600 to 750 cc, which technically is NOT small for a street bike.  Newer riders will enjoy the ease of controlling a smaller engine.  In many cases, getting the smaller engine is a lot less expensive, is considerably lighter, looks just as good, and is all you’d need for most commuting and pleasure riding.  If your riding will include a lot of highways and freeways, then something around 900 cc would be better size for a cruiser.

Naked Street Bikes:

The term “naked” comes from the fact that this type of street bike has no unnecessary parts such as windshields, fairings, backrests, floor boards, bags, etc.  Naked bikes are more about the riding and less about the appearance.  Take a sport bike, remove all the plastic and chrome, and what you have is a naked bike.  Naked bikes have gathered a following, especially in Europe where the style seems to have started.  Some of the popular European naked bikes made by the biggest manufacturers were not even for sale in the USA until the past 5 years or so.  It is a trend, and one that seems to continue to grow.

More about getting a Street Bike:

Some of the latest hybrid styles of street motorcycles that have the sporty style, but also have a more upright and much more comfortable seating position. Harley-Davidson has such a huge following all over the world, and for good reason.  However, the big Harleys are a bit out of reach cost-wise for many people. One of the local dealers I visit actually was bragging to me that they sell their new Harleys at MSRP (list) price instead of marking them up higher like others do. I got a kick out of that sales pitch. Others I visited, had a much better, low-pressure approach that I really appreciated. They not only provided me with the kind of motorcycle info that I was looking for, but also were truly nice motorcycle-riding people to talk with.

One technique you’ll probably run into at some motorcycle dealers is the blunt “stop looking and start buying” or “go for it” approach. Personally, I can’t stand this technique, although I do understand it.

If you visit several motorcycle shops, you may be lucky enough to find a dealer that is willing to actually provide useful and helpful motorcycle info. I believe these are the guys to deal with as they are willing to spend time with you to share their passion for street bikes and why they believe in the motorcycle brand they are selling. Their technique is often low-pressure and aimed more towards treating you as a peer as a rider, rather than assuming you will be a quick easy sale they can get out of the way. I find that the higher-end brands, or the less popular brands tend to have sales folks that truly believe in what they are selling and typically have owned that brand for several years – such as Ducati, Moto-Guzzi, Harley-Davidson, BMW and similar makes.

Several new designs for street bikes are mostly a blend of dirt bikes, sport bikes, and more.  The tires are more street-compatible than the typical knobby tires that came on most dual-purpose, enduro style bikes.

Some of the most radical new designs for street bikes include 3 wheels with 2 in the front and 1 in the rear. I personally don’t consider these as true motorcycles, but I’m not sure what else to call them.  Three-wheeled motorcycles, sometimes referred to as Trikes, are nothing new, but the idea of putting 2 wheels in the front and 1 in the rear is new, at least for street bikes.

Piaggio MP3 street bikes

Of the 3 wheeled street bikes, the two new innovative models that really stand out are the Can-Am Spyder and the Piaggio MP3. The Piaggio is more of a high performance scooter that approaches what I consider to be grouped with street bikes, but the dual wheels up front make this one unique.  This seems to add an element of stability for those not exactly comfortable with traditional street bikes and scooters.  I do think it’s pretty cool looking, in an odd sort of way, and they even have models that can handle highway speeds without a problem with 500cc and a 800cc Gilera model in Europe. Piaggio owns Gilera, Vespa, Aprilia, Moto-Guzzi brands. Sales of these unusual street bikes are on the rise, especially with older folks that want to have fun while reducing their fuel expenses. “Growing old doesn’t mean you have to abandon your passions, you just need to be creative and find smart new ways of enjoying your favorite recreation or sport, said Paolo Timoni, President and CEO, Piaggio GroupAmericas, Inc. “The MP3 is the ideal solution for anyone who wants the pulse-pounding thrill of riding a motorcycle, with all the ease-of-riding benefits of a scooter.” More people than ever are getting a motorcycle license and riding street bikes to work and for pleasure.  Why not, it’s great fun, you meet some really great people, and it costs a lot less than driving an SUV or typical car.
Moto Guzzi Fuel Tank

About John Clay

John Clay is the author of MotorcycleInfo.Org. He and his family reside in North Carolina in the United States. A graduate of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Experienced Rider Course, he enjoys riding his Moto Guzzi in charity rides and serves as a volunteer motorcycle marshal for an annual bicycle charity event in the Carolinas.

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