FAMILIARIZING YOURSELF WITH TERMS RELATED TO MOTORCYCLES
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
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
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
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
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
CAM- A metal shaft with oval "lobes" that rotates to open the valves in a
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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"
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
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
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
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
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
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
SHAFT DRIVE- A final drive system on some motorcycles
that utilizes a shaft to transmit power to the rear wheel, as opposed to a
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
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
STANDARD- A motorcycle intended for general, all-around street use,
typically with an upright seating posture and higher handlebars.
STANDARD BIKE- 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:
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.
VICARIOUS LIABILITY- 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.
-Motorcycle Hand Signal Guide
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