Motorcycle terminology

The motorcycle world is a distinct sub-culture with its own terminology.

Aero Moto™  — Make of Kriss Motors cyclecar (project abandoned in 2022)

Ape Hangers — Handlebars that are very high, and which often raise the rider’s hands above his or her shoulders.

Apex — The middle or center point of a turn.

Bagger — A motorcycle with touring accessories like saddlebags, top box, trunk.

Bevel gear — Gear assembly that transfers power from the drive shaft to the rear wheel.

Big Twin — Any large V-Twin motorcycle engine typically 1000cc and bigger like the Moto Guzzi California models.

Boxer Twin — A horizontal engine configuration with the two pistons opposing each other, commonly found on BMW twin-cylinder motorcycles.

Cafe Racer — Motorcycles modified to resemble racing motorcycles from the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Carving —Refers to hard fast cornering on roads with many curves.

Centerstand tang — A small lever attached to the centerstand, a mechanism attached to the frame that holds the motorcycle vertically upright.

Chopper — Originally, a motorcycle that has had all non-essential parts removed (or “chopped”) to make it lighter and faster; generally applies to custom built motorcycles that may have a rigid frame (no rear suspension), an extended fork, and a stretched or elongated appearance.

Clip-ons — Handlebars that are clamped around the top of the fork tubes, rather than bolted to the top triple-tree that lowers a rider’s upper body on the front of the motorcycle.

Crash bars – Curved engine guards that protect the front of the motorcycle.

Cruiser — A style of motorcycle generally equipped with a low seat and pullback handlebars; derived from customizing standard American motorcycles in the ’60s and ’70s.

Cush drive – A rear wheel dampening system designed to reduce stress on drive train components.

Dresser — A large motorcycle designed for long-distance touring, especially with luggage and a windshield; see also Bagger.

Dual plugging – Adding a second spark plug to the cylinder head of a motorcycle engine.

Dual-sport — Street legal motorcycles that provide varying levels of off-road capabilities.

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; see also kill switch.

Fairing — Bodywork and/or windshield at the front of the motorcycle designed to deflect the wind.

Fins – Heat sinks on an air cooled engine.

Fishtails – Exhaust tip resembling a fishtail when viewed from the side.

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

Foot pegs – The resting place for the riders or passengers feet on a motorcycle.

Footprint – The tire portion in contact with the ground.

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

Goose – Slang for a Moto Guzzi brand motorcycle.

Guzziology – a 650-page bible for Moto Guzzi owners, compiled by Dave Richardson.

Hack – A motorcycle sidecar.

Hardtail – A motorcycle with no rear suspension.

Highside — A type of crash resulting when the rear wheel starts to slide in a turn, then suddenly grips, flipping the bike sideways; see also lowside.

Integral helmet – A motorcycle helmet that encloses the head completely.

Jet helmet – A motorcycle helmet with no chin guard or visor.

Jiffy – Sidestand or kickstand.

Kill switch — See engine cut-off switch.

Lowside — A crash that results from a wheel losing traction, allowing the bike to fall sideways; see also highside.

L Twin – A V-twin engine with its cylinders splayed apart at a 90° angle, which creates a smoother running engine, like the Moto Guzzi 1046cc.

Mainshaft – The drive shaft in a gearbox which is connected to the engine and carries some of the gears.

Morgan – The original English 3-wheel innovator founded in 1910 by Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan.

Moto – Motor or motion; borrowed from Italian and derived from Latin motus.

Motocross — A light-weight motorcycle specifically designed for racing on a track.

Moto Guzzi – Italian motorcycle manufacturer founded on March 15, 1921 as “Società Anonima Moto Guzzi” in Corso Aurelio Saffi, Genoa.

Naked — Sport or standard motorcycles with minimum bodywork, fairings or windshields.

Neck – The front of a motorcycle frame, where the steering head is located.

Petcock — Gasoline cutoff valve, usually found on the underside of fuel tank.

Off-road — A motorcycle designed for use in the dirt or off-pavement.

Pillion — A small cushion designed for carrying a passenger mounted behind a solo saddle; also called P-pad.

Rake — Fork angle from perpendicular, usually expressed in degrees.

Rat — A running motorcycle with mismatched parts, minimal maintenance, and rough appearance.

Rear-sets – Multi-piece foot-controls including the pegs and pedals.

Reverse Trike – A three-wheeled vehicle with two wheels in front, like the Morgan Super Sport Aero.

Rigid – A type of frame that has no swing arm; a one piece neck to rear axle frame.

Roost — The debris kicked up by a spinning rear wheel.

Scissor lift – Small rectangular lift with a hand crank used to support the engine oil sump.

Shaft drive — A final drive system that utilizes a shaft to transmit power to the rear wheel, as opposed to a chain.

Spine – Main frame structure made up of two sheet steel pressings welded together along the center line.

Sport-tourer — A motorcycle that combines some of the handling and power of a sportbike, with touring amenities like saddlebags and comfortable ergonomics.

Sportbike — A motorcycle designed for speed and handling, usually with aerodynamic bodywork.

Springer – A motorcycle designed with large springs on the front forks to dampen and absorb road shock.

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

Step-thru – A frame layout with a low structure between the seat and the steering head.

Stretch — Indicates a tank or frame elongated from its stock design.

Swing arm – The rear portion of a bike with the rear wheel mount, a pivoting structure that moves up and down with the rear suspension.

Tank-slapper — Condition when handlebars slap back and forth at high speed.

Thumper — A single-cylinder, four-stroke motorcycle engine.

Trike – A three-wheeled motorcycle with two rear wheels and no sidecar; see also reverse trike.

Trail — 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 clamp — Two metal plates that connect the fork tubes to the steering stem, sometimes also used as a handlebar mount; also referred to as a triple tree.

Universal joint – Component used to transfer power between rotating shafts; often referred as a U-joint.

Upside-down forks – Telescopic forks in which the lower section telescopes into the fixed upper tube.

V-Twin – A two-cylinder motorcycle engine with the cylinders arranged in an angled V like the Moto Guzzi California 1100 models.

Z Bar – A handlebar that sweeps out of the risers toward the front of the bike and then sweeps back again towards the rider.