Below are some common phrases related to motorcycles. Going over these terms will help you understand bikes in general and the parts that make them a whole. Also listed is some common motorcycle jargon. Familiarizing these terms will help you buy a motorcycle with confidence.

ABS- Antilock Brake System. A component added to the braking system that detects wheel lock up. The system then modulates the brakes at that point with the idea of stopping you faster than you could yourself.

AHRMA- Sanctioning body for vintage motorcycling competition, it's a member-owned non-profit association dedicated to enhancing the sport of historic motorcycle racing for the enjoyment of riders and spectators.

AMA- American Motorcycle Association.

AFTERMARKET- Any items or accessories you buy that are not from the Original Equipment Manufacturer.

ANTI-DRIVE SYSTEM- A front-end suspension component that reduces how much the forks compress under braking, popular in the late 1980s, but seldom used now.

APE HANGERS- Handlebars that are very high and often raise the rider’s hands above his shoulders.

APEX- The middle or center point of a turn.

ARMOR- Armor is protective padding you can attach to your clothing, that absorbs energy on impact.

ASPHALT SEALER- Asphalt sealer is a tar-like substance used by road maintenance crews to fill cracks in the pavement. It can be very slick and should be avoided by motorcycles. 

AUTOMATIC ON HEADLAMP- An automatic-on headlamp, or a daytime running lamp (DRL), is a motorcycle’s headlamp that automatically turns on when the bike is started. It’s mandatory on all street bikes in North America because it’s proven to be effective in improving visibility of a motorcycle by other vehicles. 

BAGGER- A motorcycle with touring accessories like saddlebags, top box, a trunk, etc.

BIG TWIN- Any Harley Davidson brand motorcycle that is not a Sportster.

BOXER-Refers to the BMW R-Series engine that has two horizontally opposed cylinders. 
BOXER TWIN- A horizontal engine configuration with the two pistons opposing each other, commonly found on BMW twin-cylinder motorcycles. The term comes from the resemblance of fists coming towards each other.

BRAG- Buell Riders Adventure Group.

BRAKE HORSEPOWER- Although theoretically equal to standard horsepower, "brake" horsepower specifies that a specific engineering process was used to arrive at that horsepower number. (See also: Horsepower and Torque) 

CAFÉ RACER- 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. Many Cafe Racer bikes have distinctive small low-cut fairings. 

CAM- A metal shaft with oval "lobes" that rotates to open the valves in a four-stroke engine.
CARBURETOR- A mechanical device found on the intake side of the engine which mixes fuel and air to create the volatile mixture that gets ignited in the engine.

CHAPS- Chaps are a great clothing accessory designed for protection. They’re usually made of leather and are fastened around the waist, with an open back. They snap at the ankles and zip down the legs.

CHOPPER- A cruiser style bike that has a lot of the pieces of the bike "chopped off." The riders of the '60s did everything they could to customize their bikes and make them go faster. Thus, much of the existing bikes they bought were chopped off. The bikes in the movie "Easy Rider" are examples.

CLIP ONS- Handlebars that are clamped around the top of the fork tubes, rather than bolted to the top triple-tree. This lowers a rider's upper body on the front of the motorcycle for a racier body position.

CO-RIDER- An enclosure on the front of the bike containing the windshield and affording wind protection to the rider. Can be attached to the frame and not move or be attached to the fork and move as the handlebars are turned.

COUNTERBALANCER- A weight in the engine that spins with the rpm to smooth out engine vibrations.

COUNTER STEERING- The input a motorcyclist gives to the handlebars in order to steer: push the right handlebar to go right, or push the left handlebar to go left.
CROTCH ROCKET- A term some people use to describe a high performance sport bike motorcycle.

CRUISER- A style of motorcycle generally equipped with a low seat and pullback handlebars. This style of bike predominantly stems from the customizing of standard American motorcycles in the '60s and '70s.

CUSTOM MOTORCYCLES- For many motorcyclists, the choices provided by the motorcycle manufacturers do not provide enough variety to match the personalities of the riders. For this reason, many customize their bikes or hire customizers to do the work for them. Many of these customs are entered in shows and win prizes. Customs can easily cost twice the selling price of the original bike.

DOHC- Dual Over Head Cams. Two camshafts found in the head or top of the engine that open and close the valves. Two cams allow more precise control than one.

DOT- Each country has its own separate DOT. It’s a government agency that regulates all phases of transportation, including all types of vehicles, as well as roads and highways. A DOT rating on a motorcycle helmet indicates that it’s passed DOT testing and a DOT sticker can be found inside the helmet.

DAYTONA- The famous Daytona Bike Week held in late February to early March.

DISPLACEMENT- The size of the engine; specifically, the total volume found in the cylinders. This is usually expressed in cc (cubic centimeters) or ci (cubic inches). Generally, the larger the displacement, the more powerful the motor.

DRESSER- Normally a large fully equipped bike with fairing, saddlebags, and a trunk.

DUAL SPORT- Street legal motorcycles that provide varying levels of off-road capabilities. Not as focused as pure off-road or pure street motorcycles. Also known as dual-purpose.

EASY RIDER- The famous motorcycle movie, released in 1969, starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson.

EFI- Electronic Fuel Injection.

ENGINE CUT OFF SWITCH- Usually located on the right handlebar switch housing, this switch allows the motorcyclist to turn off the engine without removing his or her hand from the handlebar. Also known as the "kill switch."

ERGONOMICS- The study of body posture, and the positioning of instruments, to create a good human-to-machine interface. "Good ergonomics" refers to how well a motorcycle fits a rider for its intended use.

FMVSS 218- This stands for the U.S. DOT’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218, a requirement for all motorcycle helmets. It outlines the minimum standard requirements for all motorcycle helmets. Manufacturers must submit their helmets for compliance testing.

FAIRING- An enclosure on the front of the bike containing the windshield and affording wind protection to the rider. Can be attached to the frame and not move or be attached to the fork and move as the handlebars are turned.

FLICKABLE- Used to describe the agility of a motorcycle, or how quickly a rider can “flick” the bike from side to side in turns.

FORKS- The sprung metal tubes that connect the front wheel to the motorcycle triple-tree.

FOUR STROKE ENGINE- This is the most common engine design found in street motorcycles today. It refers to the number of times a piston moves up and down through each power cycle. 1) A downward stroke brings in the fuel/air mixture; 2) an upward stroke compresses the fuel/air mixture; 3) a downward stroke results when that mixture is ignited and expands, and finally; 4) an upward stroke expels the exhaust gases.

FUEL INJECTION- A device that serves the same function as a carburetor, but uses computer-controlled jets to inject atomized fuel and air into the air stream going into the engine.

GAP INSURANCE - Type of coverage that pays the difference in the compensated amount and what you owe for your loan.

GYPSY TOUR- A current touring term that came from the early days of motorcycling, when riders all over the country suited up for a day-long ride to a favorite destination. The implication is that you are traveling without time or distance constraints.

HELL’S ANGELS- A cruiser style bike that has a lot of the pieces of the bike "chopped off." The riders of the '60s did everything they could to customize their bikes and make them go faster. Thus, much of the existing bikes they bought were chopped off. The bikes in the movie "Easy Rider" are examples.

HIGH SIDE- A type of crash resulting when the rear wheel starts to slide in a turn, then suddenly grips, flipping the bike sideways. 

HOLESHOT- In racing, the drive from a standing start up to racing speed. Generally, the rider who makes the strongest start is said to have gotten the "holeshot."

HORSEPOWER- A unit of measurement used to describe an engine's strength. Typically, the more horsepower an engine produces, the faster the motorcycle can potentially go. 

HURT REPORT- The Hurt Report is a study done in the late 1970s of 900 motorcycle crashes. The published report, released in 1981, is known as the “Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures”, and consists of 55 conclusions pertaining to crashes, including the effect of motorcycle riders wearing helmets.

INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS- Intentionally causing severe emotional distress by extreme or outrageous conduct.

JOCKEY SHIFT- A shift lever that is actuated by a rider’s hand and whch sits either behind the rider’s leg or is mounted on the fuel tank.

LANE SPLITTING- Lane-splitting is practiced by some motorcycles riders. It consists of driving between two lanes of traffic at a greater speed than the other vehicles. Although there are times when this could be dangerous, it’s actually legal in many countries. It’s illegal in most U.S. states, but California allows it if it’s done in a safe manner.

LINE- The predicted or preferred path a motorcycle will make through a turn.

LOSS OF CONSORTUIUM- Damages awarded to a family member (usually a spouse) for loss of companionship.

LOW SIDE- A crash that results from a wheel losing traction, allowing the bike to fall sideways. 

MSF- Stands for The Motorcycle Safety Foundation that sponsors motorcycle training courses.

MOTORCROSS BIKE- A light-weight motorcycle specifically designed for racing on a track. As compared to off-road bikes, the suspension is able to handle harder hits, the power delivery is more explosive, and the gear ratios are different for riding on motocross or other closed-course tracks.

NAKED BIKES- Sport or standard motorcycles with minimum bodywork, fairings or windshields.

OEM- Original Equipment Manufacturer.

OFF ROAD BIKE- A motorcycle designed for use in the dirt or off-pavement. They are typically not street legal, but sometimes they have lights and larger gas tanks.

ONE-OFF- A product or part that is not designed to be mass produced. It can refer to a one-of-a-kind bolt-on or a fully customized motorcycle.

ONE PERCENTER- Many years ago, the AMA stated that 99% of motorcyclists are law abiding people and only 1% cause trouble. Those riders who felt they were in that 1% assumed the name One Percenters and started wearing patches denoting themselves as One Percenters.

PMS- (Parked Motorcycle Syndrome)- A condition suffered by male or female when they can’t ride their motorcycle due to bad weather.

PETCOCK- The fuel valve, usually found on the side of the gas tank.

PILLION (or P-Pad)- A small cushion designed for carrying a passenger mounted behind a solo saddle.

PROCESS SERVING- The method by which a defendant in a lawsuit is notified that a plaintiff has filed a suit against him.

RAKE- The angle the forks are from perpendicular, usually expressed in degrees.

RAT BIKE- A motorcycle that's been kept running by any means possible, usually with mismatched parts and minimal maintenance

REDLINE- The maximum number of revolutions per minute an engine can run before damage occurs. The name is derived from the actual red line manufacturers typically put on the tachometer.

ROAD RASH- 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. One reason riders wear full-face helmets, gloves, leather jackets, chaps, and boots is to minimize Road Rash. Let the leather suffer the Road Rash. 

ROOST- The debris kicked up by a spinning rear wheel. Used as a verb, to leave someone behind.

RPM- Revolutions per minute. A term used to describe how fast a motor is spinning. Also known as "revs."

RUB (rich urban biker)- Rubies are the newly-emerged sector of over-40 bikers.

SHAFT DRIVE- A final drive system on some motorcycles that utilizes a shaft to transmit power to the rear wheel, as opposed to a chain.

SOHC- Single Over Head Cam. A single cam shaft found in the head or top of the engine that activates the valves.

SPORT BIKE- A focused motorcycle designed for speed and handling. These machines are usually equipped with aerodynamic bodywork.

SPORT-TOURER- A motorcycle that combines some of the handling and power of a sport bike, with some of the amenities of a touring bike, like saddlebags, comfortable ergonomics, etc. Not as focused as either a pure sport bike or a pure tourer.

SQUID- A term generally associated with a new or reckless motorcyclist seen riding erratically and/or beyond his or her capabilities.

SNELL RATING- A foundation formed in 1957, is the world’s most popular independent motorcycle helmet testing organization. A Snell rating on a helmet, indicated by a sticker inside the helmet, states that the helmet has passed performance tests.

- A motorcycle intended for general, all-around street use, typically with an upright seating posture and higher handlebars.

- Tends to be a motorcycle without frills such as saddlebags, windshield, radio, or trunk. It is the cheapest to buy and usually has small rake and trail.

STRETCH- Used by those that customize motorcycles; an expression of how much a tank or frame has been elongated from its stock design.

SUPERMOTTO- Generally, a style of motorcycle usually built around, and looking like, off-road machines with street tires. They tend to be very light, flickable machines, and are used in a new genre of racing that usually encompasses riding on a mixture of pavement and dirt surfaces.

SUSHI WAGON- An import motorcycle of Japanese origin.

TACHOMETER- A gauge that measures how fast an engine is spinning. The measurement is usually expressed in revolutions per minute. Also: "tach."

TANK SLAPPER- What happens in rare cases when a motorcycle’s handlebars slap back and forth at high speed, often due to alignment or suspension issues.

THROTTLE LOCK- Manual device fitted to the throttle of a motorcycle that applies friction to keep the throttle from moving. Used to temporarily give your hand a rest on long rides.

THUMPER- A single-cylinder, four-stroke motorcycle engine.

TIERED LICENSING- Tiered licensing is an insurance practice that restricts operation of a motorcycle, based on its engine displacement.

TORQUE- A unit of measure describing the twisting force, or leverage, an engine can exert on the rear wheel. Typically, an engine with a lot of torque will have the potential to speed up faster at lower RPM’s.

TORT – A civil wrong; a wrongful injury to a person’s property. There are three types of torts: intentional, negligence and strict liability.

TRAIL- The distance from the front axle’s vertical position on the ground, to the spot in front of it created by drawing a straight line from the angle of the forks.

TRIPLE TREE- The two metal plates that connect the fork tubes to the steering stem, sometimes also used as a handlebar mount.

TUBELESS TIRE- A tubeless tire is just that – a tire without an inner tube. It’s not recommended for a motorcycle because it tends to deflate rapidly when it’s punctured, which would cause sudden loss of control for the rider. Learn more about buying motorcycle tires.

TWO-SECOND RULE- This is the minimum spacing in seconds between moving motorcycles. While in formation, maintain a 2-second interval from the rider in front of you. It is measured by counting "one-thousand one, one-thousand two" as you see the rider in front of you pass a sign or landmark. Stop counting when you pass the same marker. Under poor weather conditions, maintain longer intervals consistent with safety.

TWO STROKE ENGINE- A once-common type of engine now found almost exclusively in off-road motorcycles. A two-stroke motor fires once with every two strokes of the piston. 1) Once fired, the downward stroke of the piston delivers power and then draws in a mixture of fuel, air and oil which displaces the exhaust gases in the combustion chamber; 2) the upward stroke compresses the mixture for ignition.

UNDER BRAKE- Failure to apply the brakes to their full capability, resulting in a longer than needed stopping distance. This is usually caused by fear of the results of over braking. 

VIN- Vehicle Identification Number.

The liability of one person for the torts of another.

WIND TRIANGLE- A wind triangle is a simple triangular-shaped piece of cloth or leather worn around the neck for protection.

Related Reading:
-Motorcycle Hand Signal Guide


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