“The following terms are derived with permission from the author of the book, Getting Started Riding a Motorcycle, by Walter F. Kern. This book contains a complete set of motorcycle terms as well as considerable information on how a beginner can safely learn to ride a motorcycle. The book is available on Amazon.com.
A 2-Stroke is an engine (also known as a Stroker) that has two strokes per cycle. The combustion stroke occurs when the piston moves down allowing exhaust to exit. The compression stroke is the upward movement of the piston where the air-fuel mixture is drawn in and the spark plug ignites the mixture causing an explosion, causing the piston back down again.
A 4-Stroke is an engine that uses four strokes to complete a cycle. The four strokes are: Intake, Compression, Combustion, and Exhaust:
- Intake Stroke, the intake valve opens and an air-fuel mixture enters the chamber above the piston. The piston moves down drawing the mixture in.
- The intake valve then closes and the piston moves up for the Compression Stroke compressing the mixture.
- The spark plug then ignites the mixture causing an explosion. The resulting force moves the piston down again for the Combustion Stroke.
- Then the exhaust valve opens as the piston moves upward for the Exhaust Stroke and all the exhaust gases are ported through the exhaust system.
ABS stands for Anti-lock Braking System. The system, popularized on BMW and then Honda ST1100 motorcycles, utilizes a computerized system to sense wheel lockup and then release and reapply the brakes many times per second. This gives the rider controlled braking without skidding. Most experienced riders can stop a motorcycle faster by fully utilizing the front and rear brakes with steady controlled pressure just short of a lockup.
A filtering device containing a replaceable cartridge (air filter) that filters the incoming air to the fuel system on the motorcycle engine.
Airhead refers to the air-cooled engines of early BMW motorcycles.
American Motorcyclist Association
June Touring Rally held at Lake George, NY.
If you remember the motorcycles in the movie Easy Rider, you may also remember that the riders held onto handlebars that were above their shoulders. This position resembles an ape hanging from a tree, hence the term, Ape Hangers.
Arenacross is a variant of Supercross performed inside athletic arenas. These shows are promoted by large companies and attract large audiences and TV coverage. The jumps are more spectacular and closer to the audience.
Riders of motorcycles are used to shifting gears and using a clutch. However, some new riders would like to do away with shifting and clutching since they may have become used to automatic transmissions in cars. In the early ’80s, Honda made an automatic called the Hondamatic and most scooters come equipped with an automatic transmission.
A motorcycle that has been fitted with saddlebags.
A Balaclava is a thin pull-over head and neck cover with eye slits for winter usage under a motorcycle helmet.
A beanie is a small helmet, usually covering only the top of the head that provides considerably less protection than other types of helmets.
A beater refers to a beginner’s first motorcycle. This bike is purchased inexpensively, doesn’t cost much to repair when damaged.
A slang term used to describe a BMW.
Belt Drive is a method to transmit power from the transmission to the rear wheel of the motorcycle using a belt. The belt requires practically no maintenance. Harley-Davidson has used Belt-Drive systems on most of its motorcycles in recent years.
This is an informal religious ceremony conducted by a religious authority. These Bike Blessings are meant to keep the riders safe.
A Biker is someone who rides a motorcycle.
The Blue Knights® is a non-profit fraternal organization consisting of active and retired law enforcement men and women who enjoy riding motorcycles.
A BMW is a brand of motorcycle established in 1923.
Bottom End refers to the bottom portion of a motorcycle engine including the crankshaft, connecting rods and bearings, primary chain, cam sprockets, seals, and other parts that supply power to the transmission.
A Cafe Racer is a style of bike popularized in London in the ’50s where bikers wanted a fast, personalized and distinctive bike to travel from cafe to cafe.
A slang term for an automobile.
A Caliper is the non-rotating portion of the disc brake that contains the hydraulic components including the brake pads. The Caliper is positioned on both sides of the Rotor such that as the brakes are applied, the brake pads are pressed against both sides of the Rotor, thereby stopping the motorcycle.
A Camshaft is a shaft containing lobes (also called cams) which is synchronized with the crankshaft. Its function is to rotate and open and close the valves in the engine.
CC refers to the cubic centimeters of displacement of an engine.
A Centerstand is a stand mounted under the motorcycle with a spring return. When the Centerstand is extended to the ground, it holds the motorcycle vertical with the rear wheel just off the ground. The Centerstand is similar in function to a kickstand.
Chain Drive is a method to transmit power from the transmission to the rear wheel of the motorcycle using a chain.
Chaps are leather protection worn over the legs while riding a motorcycle. They usually cinch at the waist with a belt buckle and either zip or buckle down the leg.
The Choke restricts the air intake to result in a richer fuel mixture which assists in starting the engine.
A cruiser style bike that has a lot of the pieces of the bike “chopped off.” This style of customization became popular in the 1960’s.
CI refers to the cubic inches of displacement of an engine.
Clip-Ons are special handlebars that clamp on. They provide a lower, more forward riding position.
Many bikers/motorcyclists join motorcycle clubs. Usually these clubs have distinctive jackets. Also, clubs will issue club patches to display on the jackets. These patches and sometimes the jacket design itself are known as Colors.
The Contact Patch (CP) is the area on the ground where your motorcycle tire actually touches the road surface. This area is usually very small and highlights the fact that there isn’t much actual contact between your bike and the road.
A motorcycle turns left/right by slightly pushing the left/right handlebar. Push right bar, go left. Push left bar, go right. This is called countersteering.
A crash bar is an aftermarket part that acts as a barrier between the motorcycle engine and the pavement during an impact. Crash bars are commonly used by beginners and removed once they are comfortable on their motorcycles.
A term use to describe a high-performance sport-bike motorcycle.
The modern version of the Chopper with small gas tank, large rear tire, and feet forward seating and stylish appearance accounts for about 33 percent of all sales.
The famous Daytona Bike Week held in late February to early March.
Some motorcycles are designed to be ridden on rough terrain. They are known as Dirt Bikes or trail bikes. Dirt bikes will typically have suspension with more travel than a street bike, higher ground clearance, and a small (less than 500cc) engine.
A Disc Brake consists of both a rotating portion called the Rotor and a stationary portion called the Caliper. The Rotor is attached to the wheel of the motorcycle. The Caliper assembly parts work against the Rotor to apply pressure to it thereby stopping the wheel from turning.
Displacement is the volume displaced in the cylinders of an engine as the pistons move from their bottom position to their highest position in the cylinders. Displacement is measured in either cubic centimeters (CC) or cubic inches (CI).
DOHC stands for Double OverHead Camshaft. In a DOHC engine, each head of the engine has two overhead camshafts to operate the valves for that head.
DOT Helmet Rating
The Department of Transportation (DOT) rates motorcycle helmets. (For more info, click here.)
Drag Bars are distinctive custom handlebars that are relatively straight and require a slight forward leaning to reach.
A large bike with fairing, saddlebags and a trunk.
A Drum Brake is the older style of motorcycle brake.
Dual-Sport refers to a street-legal motorcycle that is designed to also be used in off-road situations. Thus if one were planning a trip to South America, it might be wise to ride a dual-sport bike to be ready for any road conditions.
The famous motorcycle movie starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson.
Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) is a fuel delivery mechanism that eliminates the need for a carburetor. EFI contained a computerized control system that delivers necessary information to the EFI system to change the air-to-fuel mixture to achieve optimal fuel economy and engine performance.
According to the rules of the AMA, “An Enduro is a meet in which speed is not the determining factor and a time schedule must be maintained. It takes place on a variety of terrain, little-used roads and trails, etc.” Enduros can be as long as 60-100 miles and require considerable skill and endurance to complete.
See Frame Sliders
The Enrichener is a device that restricts the air intake to result in a richer fuel mixture which assists in starting the engine. This is a term used by Harley-Davidson but this device is also known as a Choke.
This is an enclosure at the front of the bike which contains a windshield.
Harley-Davidson released a motorcycle in 1990 based on the FLST Heritage Softail containing a solid cast disc front wheel.
FIM, the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme, is the world-wide motorcycle sanctioning body based in Geneva, Switzerland. The AMA is the sole U.S affiliate to the FIM. The FIM is comprised of nearly 70 national organizations (called Federations) from countries around the world. The FIM is responsible for establishing and enforcing racing rules and competitions.
Flathead is a type of engine where the valves are located in the side of the engine. The head of the engine is flat with just a place for the sparkplug.
Foot Pegs are pegs wide enough to support the foot while riding.
The foot pegs, foot brake, and shifter on a motorcycle can be located either pretty much straight down from the rider or positioned more to the front of the bike. In a forward position, the controls are referred to as Forward Controls.
A Full-Face Helmet surrounds the head with protection on the top, sides, back, front, and chin areas.
Geezer Glide is a term used by some old Harley riders to lovingly refer to the Harley full dress touring bikes or baggers.
Gold Wing is a Honda model first introduced in 1975. It’s a touring motorcycle suitable for luxurious two-up touring. Many Gold Wing owners belong to the GWRRA.
GPS (Global Positioning System) is a tiny unit that attaches to the handlebars and guides you from any point on the earth’s surface to any other point by giving you turn by turn instructions as determined by satellites positioned around the globe.
GWRRA stands for the Gold Wing Road Riders Association based out of Phoenix, AZ. Members of the GWRRA mainly ride Gold Wings and Valkyrie motorcycles.
A Hack is another term for a sidecar.
Hard Tail refers to a bike with no rear suspension.
A Headlight Modulator is a device that makes your headlight beam pulsate 240 times per minute during daylight hours.
Normally, shifting on a motorcycle is done by placing your foot under the shift lever, squeezing the clutch lever all the way to the grip and then kicking upward smartly for each gear change as you from first through all the higher gears. Similarly, downshifting from a high gear to the next lower gear requires the rider to place their foot on top of the shift lever and stomp down smartly to make one gear change.
When a heel-toe shifter is used, the rider has use of a different mechanism designed so that a downward kick is all that is required whether upshifting or downshifting. By stomping down on the ball of your foot on the forward lever, the transmission is shifted into a lower gear. By stomping down on your heel on the rear lever, the transmission is shifted into a higher gear.
Movie produced in 1930 by Howard Hughes. Also a B-17 squadron in WWII. The name was subsequently taken by a group of motorcyclists for their motorcycle club.
Wearing a motorcycle helmet tends to mess up one’s hair. Removing the helmet usually leaves hair sticking out in all directions. This is called helmet hair.
Highsiding occurs when the rider of a motorcycle is flipped over the handlebars of the bike.
Footrests situated forward of the rider so the legs can be stretched out to relieve highway fatigue.
First Honda model that popularized motorcycles to Americans in the early ’60s.
The Hondamatic, created in the late 1970’s by Honda, was a motorcycle with an automatic transmission.
One Horsepower is defined as the amount of work required to raise a 550 pound weight one foot in one second.
Horsepower, Torque, and RPM are interrelated by the formula: HP = Torque * RPM/5252.
Harry Hurt conducted the definitive study on motorcycle accidents at USC in 1979. His team studied 3622 accidents and drew many important conclusions relative to motorcycle safety. This report has been debated ever since mostly by motorcyclists who are divided on the need for motorcycle helmets.
This is a type of engine that has four cylinders in a row.
Integrated Brakes are used on motorcycles to link together the front and rear brakes. Many inexperienced riders in panic situations tend to overuse the rear (foot) brake. This causes skidding and possible loss of control. Integrated brakes work by applying one of the front disc brakes along with the rear brakes when the brake foot pedal is depressed.
Iron Butt Rally
The Iron Butt Rally is an 11 day 11,000 mile trip around the perimeter of the United States. It has a series of checkpoints that must be visited within a two-hour window.
Jump Start is the term used to describe starting a motorcycle that has a dead battery by placing a good battery in parallel with the dead battery.
Jumper Cables are heavy electrical cables with clips on the ends used to connect two batteries together to Jump Start a motorcycle battery.
A Kickstarter is used to start a motorcycle. The kickstarter is a pedal that is swiftly kicked downward to turn over the engine to start the bike.
Knucklehead is the name of the Harley-Davidson engine used from 1936-1947.
Large rally and races in Laconia, NH in late June each year. Predominately, Harley-Davidson riders.
Lane Splitting is the process of riding your motorcycle in the same lane with cars or other motorcycles. Normally it is done at low speeds with cars stopped or nearly so. For more on California’s lane splitting regulations, click here.
Laughlin is a rally held in Nevada near the Arizona border in late April.
A term used to describe the leather protective gear worn by motorcyclists. This includes leather jackets, chaps, gloves, boots, and riding suits. Usually, the leathers are ventilated for cooling.
The most frequent motorcycle/automobile accidents are collisions of motorcycles with left-turning drivers. These Left-Turner Accidents are the leading cause of death of motorcyclists.
Cops have many terms that describe them. One term sometimes used by motorcyclists is LEO which stands for Law Enforcement Officer.
Lowsiding occurs when a motorcycle falls over and drops the rider to the ground. Some riders have been known to deliberately drop their bikes to avoid an accident.
M/C stands for Motorcycle Club. M/C is also written as MC.
A Master Cylinder for a motorcycle is usually located in two places. The Master Cylinder contains a reservoir of brake fluid and controls the movement of fluid through the brake lines to the Caliper assemblies.
Metric Cruiser is a general category of bikes including Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki as opposed to American bikes such as Harley-Davidson and Indian.
Motocross is an outdoor dirtbike competition using long courses over basically natural terrain with some manmade jumps.
The Motor Maids is a woman’s motorcycle organization founded in 1940 by Linda Dugeau of Providence, Rhode Island and Dot Robinson of Detroit, Michigan.
A Motorcyclist is one who rides a motorcycle or bike.
MSF stands for The Motorcycle Safety Foundation that sponsors motorcycle training courses.
A Naked Bike is a machine with little or no wind-deflection and an exposed chassis.
Most modern motorcycles have a green neutral light that lights when the motorcycle transmission is in neutral. Finding neutral on a bike can be difficult at times. Just watch the light on your instruments. When it turns green, you’re in neutral.
A Newbie is a person who is just starting to learn about some new endeavor.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is an agency of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT).
OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. As an example, Harley makes a motorcycle out of parts and Harley is the OEM for that motorcycle.
Off-Road implies that a motorcycle is ridden off the street onto dirt, trails, sand, woods, hilly terrain, etc.
An Oil Filter filters the oil in the engine. Changing the oil and oil filter is one task that many riders do for themselves.
Oilhead refers to the air-cooled engines of more recent BMW motorcycles that also contain an oil cooler.
On Any Sunday
Famous motorcycle movie featuring Malcolm Smith that popularized motorcycling.
Custom bikes that are one of a kind are sometimes referred to as a One-Off.
Many years ago, the AMA stated that 99% of motorcyclists are law abiding people and only 1% are causing trouble. Those riders who felt they were in that 1% assumed the name One Percenters and started wearing patches denoting themselves as One Percenters.
The AMA attempted to organize most of the motorcycle racing competitions many years ago. Some motorcycle clubs and groups of riders did not want to go along with the AMA rules. They became known as Outlaws since they fell outside the laws of the AMA.
A Packing List is an alphabetical list of items to be taken with you when you travel on your motorcycle. It may contain categories such as Regular Stuff, Clothes, and Toiletries. Usually it also identifies the location on the bike where the article will be stored.
Panhead is the name of the Harley-Davidson engine used from 1948-1965.
Passenger Pegs are pegs wide enough to support the foot of a passenger (pillion) while riding.
A petcock is a manually operated device inserted in the gas line that allows for an On, Off, and Reserve position for the gas supply.
The backseat on a motorcycle for its passenger.
PMS is defined as Parked Motorcycle Syndrome. This is a common disease that occurs in the winter when a rider is unable to take his/her motorcycle out for a ride and is forced to think about things other than motorcycles.
These are extremely small bikes that look like miniature sportbikes, have engines under 50cc and sell for prices as low as $200.
A Poker Run is an organized motorcycle event where riders travel over a prescribed course and at designated stopping points, select a card. At the end of the run, the person with the best poker hand wins a prize.
Polar Bear Grand Tour
Most motorcyclists don’t ride in the winter. However, the Polar Bear Grand Tour held each Sunday beginning with the last Sunday in October and ending with the last Sunday in March, allows riders to continue riding throughout the winter in NJ, DE, PA and NY.
A Positive Camber turn is one that is banked higher on the outside of the turn than on the inside.
There are various ways to paint a motorcycle. A popular method these days is powder coating. The paint mixture is normally sprayed on the surface where it clings by electrostatic attraction.
Pushrods are used to connect to rocker arm assemblies which, in turn, open and close valves. In this case, the Camshaft is located near the crankshaft. The rotation of the camshaft causes its lobes to press upward on the Pushrods which extend to the top of the engine and connect to the rocker arms.
Rake & Trail
Rake is the angle of the fork away from vertical toward the rider. Trail is the distance on the ground between a vertical line dropped straight down from the center of the wheel and a projection of the fork extended until it touches the ground.
A gathering of motorcyclists.
A rat bike is a bike that is usually unkempt and is loaded with all sorts of luggage, tools, tents, bedrolls, flags, pots and pans, clothes, jackets, etc.
Relocating the pegs, foot brake, and shifter farther back and up on the machine. This is done with special rearsets.
The RETREADS® Motorcycle Club was conceived and founded in 1969 by five men through a letters column in a motorcycle magazine.
Revolution is the name of the Harley-Davidson engine first introduced in the V-Rod in 2001. This engine is an 1130cc, 115 HP, 60 degree V-Twin using rubber mounting with a single counterbalancer.
A Riceburner is a Japanese motorcycle. The term tends to be used by riders of American made motorcycles.
Ride To Work Day
Ride to Work Day was inspired by various “Work to Ride – Ride to Work” T-shirts, stickers and other marketing materials created between 1989 and 1991 by Andy Goldfine for the Aero Design and Manufacturing Company, otherwise known as Aerostich Riderwear, a Minnesota based manufacturer of motorcycle riders clothing. In 1992 these items inspired motorcycle magazine editor Fred Rau to write an editorial calling for an annual national ride to work day. That day, the third Wednesday in July, was first celebrated in 1992 and has been celebrated each year since.
A motorcycle with an attached sidecar.
A bike with no rear suspension is said to be a rigid.
Road Rash is a term used to define injuries to the skin when a rider falls or is thrown from the motorcycle and lands or slides on the pavement.
RPM is defined as Revolutions Per Minute. Horsepower, Torque, and RPM are interrelated by the formula: HP = Torque * RPM/5252.
Saddlebags are either soft or hard containers attached over the rear fender of a motorcycle.
Affectionate term for a motorcycle.
A scooter, in its purist definition, could be considered a small motorcycle with a step-through or feet-forward design.
The Southern Cruisers Riding Club (SCRC) was founded by Rick Perry (Rickster) as a local motorcycle riding club in the Memphis, LA area.
Shaft Drive is a method to transmit power from the transmission to the rear wheel of the motorcycle using a shaft.
Shovelhead is the name of the Harley-Davidson engine used from 1966-1985. The shovel engine has rocker boxes, not covers, and rocker arms pivoting on shafts leading to castings on the heads.
The Sidestand retracts from the left side of a motorcycle and contacts the ground to hold up the machine at a slight angle off vertical.
A tall backrest on the passenger seat of a motorcycle. It helps to keep a passenger from falling off and it’s also useful to bungee luggage to a bike when there is no passenger.
Snell Helmet Rating
The Snell Memorial Foundation rates motorcycle helmets. The rating is based on dropping the helmet containing a simulated head from a height of 10 feet. The “head” must receive no more than 285 Gs. A second drop is done from a lower height.
A Soft Tail is a motorcycle that appears to have a Hard Tail rear suspension but in reality has shock absorbers that are hidden from view.
Very fast, colorfully decorated, high-performance motorcycle.
Harley-Davidson introduced the Sportster in 1957. The Sportster is sometimes called a Sportie or Sporty, depending on how you like to spell it.
Harley-Davidson’s entry level model is a popular model for both men and women riders.
A Sport-Tourer bike is one that is sporty like a sportbike but capable of touring with some comfort.
A Springer is a particular Harley-Davidson model in the Softail family. It is characterized by a front fork that uses springs and a shock instead of a telescopic fork.
A term used to describe a motorcycle rider who does not wear protective clothing, darts into and out of traffic at high speed, seems to need some motorcycle training.
Tends to be a motorcycle without frills such as saddlebags, windshield, radio, or trunk.
A stoppie is a motorcycle maneuver performed by a skilled rider to stop a moving motorcycle so the rear wheel is raised in the air while the machine is balanced on the front tire.
Town of 6000 in SD where the Sturgis Rally and Races is held in early August.
Supercross is a dirtbike competition using relatively short courses inside athletic stadiums with mostly manmade jumps.
A swing arm is a movable joint between the frame of the motorcycle and the rear wheel assembly. It supports the rear wheel and associated suspension components.
A T-Bone is a category of motorcycle accident where the rider runs head-on into the side of another vehicle.
The Tachometer on a motorcycle tells the speed of the engine in revolutions per minute (RPM).
The last rider in a group formation of motorcycles is called the Tailgunner.
A piece of luggage that mounts on top of the gas tank of a bike. Sometimes contains a clear plastic top where route directions can be viewed by the rider without stopping.
A rapid, high intensity oscillation of the handlebars (literally, slapping the tank side to side). It is a condition of dynamic instability, such as hard acceleration out of a bumpy corner.
A motorcyclist often inadvertently looks at an object and finds himself/herself headed straight for that object. This is target fixation and must be avoided. It’s also said that “you go where you look.” To avoid an object, don’t look at it.
Telelever is the name of a front suspension system used on BMW motorcycles.
The Throttle on a motorcycle is contained in the right grip on the handlebars. The speed of the engine is controlled by twisting the throttle.
Manual device fitted to the throttle of a motorcycle that applies friction to keep the throttle from moving.
A single cylinder four-cycle motorcycle engine is sometimes called a Thumper because of its distinct “thump, thump, thump” sound.
Top End refers to the top portion of a motorcycle engine including the fuel system, valve covers, heads, cylinders, pistons, valves, rings and other components that support the power generation that propels the machine.
Torque is a turning or twisting force applied at a distance from the axis of the object. Thus, if you apply a 100 pound force to the end of a 3-foot wrench placed on a nut, you are applying 300 pound-feet of torque.
Traveling on a motorcycle to visit what’s over the next hill. Carried to extreme, some motorcyclists tour up to 50,000 miles a year.
Any motorcycle that you can take on a tour. Normally, it has a fairing, saddlebags, and requires little maintenance. However, any bike can be used for touring.
Trials, or Observed Trials, is a form of off-road racing where the course is made up of a series of observed sections that contain natural obstacles such as mud, water, rocks, and logs.
A 3-wheeled vehicle created by stripping off the rear wheel of a bike and replacing it with two automotive wheels attached to a special differential.
Twin Cam 88
Twin Cam 88 is the name of the Harley-Davidson engine first introduced in 1999. This engine is a 1450cc V-Twin using twin cams.
Twin Cam 88B
Twin Cam 88 is the name of the Harley-Davidson engine first introduced in 1999. This engine is a 1450cc V-Twin using twin cams.
A Triple is a 3-cylinder motorcycle engine.
Twisties are any series of curves in the road that offer a challenge to a motorcyclist.
Two people riding on a motorcycle, a rider and a co-rider. Two-up riding requires that the manufacturer’s recommended load carrying capacity not be exceeded.
UJM stands for Universal Japanese Motorcycle. It was a radical concept in the early ’70s. The UJM was a standard bike offering an alternative to Harley-Davidson cruisers, British bikes, and the small Japanese motorcycles.
The Harley-Davidson VRSCA V-RodTM is a liquid-cooled, 1130cc V-Twin cruiser. The engine was designed by Porsche.
A V-Twin is an engine having two cylinders placed at an angle to each other in the shape of a V.
VIN stands for Vehicle Identification Number.
The Western Eastern Roadracers Association (WERA) also known as WERA Motorcycle Roadracing, Inc, is one of the oldest and largest national sanctioning bodies conducting motorcycle roadraces at road courses across the United States.
A wheelie is a motorcycle maneuver performed by a skilled rider to raise the front wheel off the ground and ride only on the rear wheel.
WOW is short for Women on Wheels, a national women’s motorcycle association.
A wrench is a term used to describe a motorcycle mechanic.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a philosophic book by Robert M. Pirsig. This widely quoted book relates the story of a summer motorcycle trip by a man and his eleven-year-old son. It compares life and philosophy with motorcycle maintenance.