Welcome to The Manual’s unofficial dictionary of motorcycle slang. This glossary was made by those who travel on two wheels to educate people on the language of the road. Learning the lingo — as with any hobby — might bring you a new level of enjoyment in your riding experience. Robert M. Pirsig captures this idea deftly in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, when he writes, “It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top.”
Just like any other specialty, motorcycling has its own vocabulary and lingo that newcomers should become familiar with. This slang dictionary will make you sound like a veteran rider and will also give you tips such as what to know when you need to tune your motorcycle. Whether you own a motorcycle or are thinking of purchasing a new bike now is a good time to get a better understanding of motorcycling. You might know the difference between a trike and a bobber, but do you know what a panny or a tiddler is? Good thing, we curated a cheat sheet of motorcycle terminology that will help you sound like a seasoned rider.
ADV: Short for “adventure,” ADV means both a kind of bike and a kind of riding. ADV bikes can be ridden on- and off-road and are often called “dual sport bikes” or “adventure bikes.” A ride on such a bike is often called an “ADV ride” and there are countless ADV groups, websites, clubs, etc. Usage: “Check out my new KLR 650. I can’t wait to take it on that epic ADV ride this summer.”
AMA: American Motorcyclist Association. This enormous riding organization puts on races, rallies, and more each year. It also lobbies politicians on behalf of riders and offers services like roadside assistance. Some riders love the AMA, some don’t. It’s your call on the value of joining.
Airfence: Back in the day, racers could expect to slide into a tire barrier when they crashed in a corner at the track. Guess what? Tires aren’t that soft and many riders got injured. Enter Airfence, an airbag system for racetracks. When a rider hits an Airfence, it rapidly deflates, absorbing the energy of the crash and lessening the chances of injury. Usage: “Did you see Bob’s crash? Good thing there was some Airfence in that corner; he walked away.”
Ape hangers/”Apes”: Very tall handlebars typically found on cruisers.
Apex: In a car or truck, you go around a corner. On a bike (especially when racing), you look for the apex of a corner or the point closest to the curb/shoulder between the entry and exit of a corner. “Hitting the apex” correctly helps carry speed through a corner. It’s also quite fun to do.
ATGATT (“AT-GAT”): Riders who crash and grind off large parts of their skin while sliding down the road have failed at following the ATGATT rule. Which is to say, if you want to avoid skin grafts, traumatic brain injury, broken ankles, and myriad other injuries sustained in a crash, you should be wearing All The Gear, All The Time.
Bike: An acceptable term for almost any motorcycle, which is also often called a ride, sled, beast, the old lady, sweetheart, my precious, That Broken Down Old Piece of … and so on. Usage: “Sweet bike. How long have you owned it?”
Big Twin: Any large displacement Harley-Davidson. Sorry, Sportsters and Street models don’t count.
Biker: Be careful with this term. In general, it means someone who rides a motorcycle, but in the sphere of those who actually ride motorcycles, it more precisely means someone who is in a motorcycle club or gang. A Hell’s Angel is a Biker, but your Uncle Bob who toots around on his Harley Sportster on the weekends isn’t. He’s a rider or motorcyclist. Bikers don’t mind being called “bikers,” that’s what they are, but they generally don’t like to be called “motorcyclists.” But motorcyclists (non-bikers) may take umbrage at being called a “biker.” Got it? There will be a quiz later. See also: rider, one-percenter, motorcyclist.
‘Busa: Nickname for the iconic Suzuki Hayabusa sportbike. Pronounced either “Bee-you-saw” or “Boo-saw” depending on whom you are talking to. Usage: “I used to pilot F-18s, so in order to get the same thrill, I’m gonna get a ‘Busa.”
Bobber: Bobbers are/were bikes that have been customized in a certain way. Typical features include a stripped-down look, no front fender, low handlebars, a solo seat, and very spare instrumentation (if any). You can turn almost any bike into a bobber with enough time, money, and tools. The name comes from the early practice of trimming, or “bobbing,” the fenders and seat on a bike to the bare minimum. From there, the minimalist aesthetic just kind of took over. Now, some bike makers actually sell production bobbers.
Bonnie: General nickname for a Triumph Bonneville, an iconic motorcycle from Britain, not that widow down the street hassling you for a ride (or more). Usage: “I’ll meet you at the pool hall for some darts in a couple of hours. Weather looks good so I’m gonna ride the Bonnie the long way.”
Bonneville: This time we’re talking about a place, not a bike, except to say that the Triumph Bonneville motorcycle is named after the place. That place is the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where riders and drivers take their machines to find out just exactly how fast they can go. Just call it “Bonneville” and other riders will know what you’re talking about. It’s also known as “The Salt.” Usage: “Bob has his turbocharged Vespa ready for Bonneville. He may even get a class speed record.”
Bullet bike: This is an outsider’s term for a sportbike, often used by media and non-riders to get attention. Usage: “I’m gonna go get some speeding tickets and maybe crash my bullet bike,” said no sportbike rider, ever.
Café racer: Back in the day in Jolly Olde England, riders known as Rockers would modify their bikes for speed (of course) with lower handlebars, rear-set footpegs, loud pipes, and more, riding quickly from nightspot to nightspot — usually a café — to show off and pick up girls was part of the scene. Bet I can beat ya there! Thus, the café racer. Today, modifying vintage bikes into “café racers” is a popular trend. (See also: The Ton)
Cage/Cager: Motorcycle slang (usually derogatory) for a car and the driver. Usage: “Some idiot cager on his phone nearly ran me off the road.”
Carb/Carbs: No, not a plate full of pasta. This refers to “carburetors,” which mixed fuel and air together for decades before fuel injection arrived. They are finicky, inefficient, and prone to clogging, which is why they aren’t used much anymore. Some smaller bikes and dirt bikes still come with them, but probably not for long. See also: petcock
CB: Slang for an old Honda, not CB radio, so avoid the confusion. Most vintage Hondas models start with CB, as in CB750, CB550, CBX, CB1100F, and so on (and on and on and on). Many current Hondas still start with CB, but in general, it means “generic old Honda.” Usage: “I’d like to do a cool bobber project so I’m looking for an old CB.”
CB750: The most iconic of all Honda models and a game-changer for the overall motorcycling industry. Introduced in 1969 after it was developed by Honda as a race bike, the CB750 featured the first mass-produced transverse inline-four engine on a motorcycle, a front disc brake (almost unheard of at the time), big power, reliability, and refinement that made high-performance bikes from Britain, America, and Europe suddenly look like oil-soaked relics of a bygone era. Subsequently, the Honda CB750 and its mechanical spawn are roundly pointed to as the death knell of the British heavyweight motorcycle industry and it nearly killed off Harley-Davidson as well. All modern inline-four-powered sportbikes can trace their DNA to the CB750. Honda made a zillion CB750s over the years and many still ply roadways today in various forms. However, the early years —especially those from 1969 — are very coveted, very expensive collector bikes, although you can still ride them with confidence.
Choke: The carburetor “choke” disappeared from cars long ago (along with carburetors), but it’s still pretty common on motorcycles. If your bike has carburetors, it’s got a choke somewhere, and you’re going to need it when starting up your bike if the engine is cold. A choke does just that: it chokes off the air going into the engine so it has more gas in the mixture, easing starting and cold running. Modern bikes with fuel injection just do this automatically after you push the starter button. Chokes are variable, so some bikes need “full choke” to start or maybe just a smidge if it’s a hot day. If your bike has one, you’ll learn to use it as a matter of course.
CC/CI/displacement: In general, motorcycle engines are much smaller than car engines (although, lately, the gap is narrowing). For bikes made in Asia and Europe, engine size (“displacement”) is expressed in “cc,” or cubic centimeters. If you know about cars, you’re familiar with things like a “3.6 liter V6.” In motorcycle terms, that would be a 3,600cc V6. In general, motorcycles range from 50cc at the smallest to 1,800cc or so at the largest. Of course, there are exceptions (example: Triumph makes a line of bikes with 2,300cc engines). Alternatively, U.S. bike makers Harley-Davidson and Indian (owned by Polaris) measure their motors in cubic inches (ci). A typical Harley motor can range from 53ci to 110ci depending on the model. Indian uses a 111ci engine. That converts to a range of 883cc to 1,819cc. Generally, anything under 500cc is considered a “lightweight” bike, while anything over 1000cc is a pretty big rig. Between them are “middleweight” bikes, usually 600, 700, 750, 800, or 900cc, although there’s no steadfast rule or size guide.
CL: “CL” usually refers to Craigslist, the international marketplace of motorcycles (and much else). While sites like eBay and Cycle Trader used to be the go-to places to find a used bike, Craiglist is now the place to sift for that dream bike, rare part, or used gear. Usage: “I don’t know anyone selling a vintage bike so you might want to check CL.”
Chopper: Any cruiser bike with extended forks, really. There are no specific criteria for what makes a chopper, but typical ingredients include extended forks, a stretched gas tank, fat rear tire, V-twin engine with loud pipes, and perhaps a custom paint job, although a chopper may have some, all, or none of those aspects. Usually, there are some long forks holding the front wheel and a lot of noise, so that’s pretty much a dead giveaway.
Cog/cogs: Slang for the gears in the transmission. Usage: “Check out my new Harley. It’s got that new 103 engine and six cogs in the box.”
Countersteering: If you have never ridden a motorcycle, it may shock you to learn that the best way to make a motorcycle turn while it’s in motion is exactly the opposite of what you would expect. Countersteering is the technique of pushing on a handlebar in the direction you want to go. If you try to “turn” the bars in the desired direction, you’ll go the opposite way (and typically, right into whatever you are trying to steer around — a common rookie mistake). That’s just how physics works on a motorcycle. You actually do the same thing on a bicycle, you just don’t recognize it because the effect is very slight. Find some open space, pedal your bicycles as fast as you can, then coast while steering with just one finger on each handlebar. Now push very, very lightly on the right handlebar. You’ll go to the right, not the left. Congratulations, you are now consciously countersteering. But do be careful, as it takes a while to get used to it.
DILLIGAF: You may see this most often as a sticker on a helmet, bike, or even as a tattoo. It’s an acronym for Does It Look Like I Give A F*ck. It’s pronounced “dill-eh-gaff,” or pretty much like what it looks like. Usage: Sportbike guy says, “Dude, check out my ‘Busa!” Leathered-up biker replies, “Dilligaf?”
Dresser: Slang for “touring bike,” not the place where you keep your undies in your bedroom. Back when motorcycles pretty much all looked the same, some riders added on windscreens or saddlebags for more comfort and carrying capacity. Bike makers took note and started making such things factory options, allowing buyers to “dress up” their bikes. Thus, the “dresser” was born. Today, bikes like the Honda Goldwing and Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic are the ultimate examples of a dressed-up touring bike and include things like heated seats, powerful stereos, intercoms, navigation, powered windscreens, cruise control, and more. Usage: “This sport bike is just too uncomfortable so I think I’ll trade it in on a dresser.”
Dual front disc brakes: If you’ve never ridden a motorcycle or are new to the sport, you may have noticed that some motorcycles have two disc brake rotors on the front wheel. Why? Quite simply, more braking power. Also, the two discs split up the braking forces so any slight “pull” from the braking mechanism is offset. However, brakes are heavy (and expensive), so many bikes with less performance potential or lower prices have just one front disc brake. With the advent of better brake systems and anti-lock braking systems (ABS), most bikes stop just fine with one disc upfront. However, top-tier performance bikes or very heavy bikes will usually have a pair of rotors.
Dual Sport: A relatively new type of motorcycle that is a purpose-made combination of a street bike and dirt bike and can be legally ridden both on public roads or off-road/on dirt. Dual sport motorcycles are also known as “adventure bikes” (see also: ADV ). Dual sport bikes can be bone-simple (Honda XR650L, etc.) or extremely high-tech (BMW GS1200 Adventure, Ducati Multistrada) and there are lots of them to choose from. They are an evolution of early “enduro” (see also: enduro) bikes, which were basically street bikes with knobby tires and different exhaust pipes. But after BMW introduced the more purpose-built GS1000 and Kawasaki offered the KLR650, both in the 1980s, the dual-sport niche has grown to become a major part of the riding experience. Many riders feel dual-sport bikes are both the most practical and toughest kind of motorcycle and often take them on epic rides. See also: Long Way ‘Round and Jupiter’s Travels.
Duck/Duc: Nickname for Ducati (“doo-caw-tee” or “doo-cat-ee,” depending on who you ask), the Italian maker of some of the most expensive, powerful, sweet-handling, and beautiful motorcycles in the world. Usage: “I’ll meet you and George Clooney at the racquet club in a few hours. I’m going to go wring out the Duck while the weather is good.”
Enduro: An older term that has largely been replaced by “dual-sport” but is still used by older riders when referring to street-legal dirtbikes or enduro (pronounced “endure-oh”) racing, which is where the term originated. Vintage dirtbikes that are street legal are generally known as enduros. Usage: “Check out this cool old Honda CL350 enduro I found at the swap meet.”
Fairing: On a motorcycle, the windscreen or plastic parts near the front of the bike are called fairings. Usage: “I just bought this old Honda Goldwing at an estate sale. It’s all there but it looks like I’ll have to replace that cracked fairing.”
Farkle/farkles: An ADV/dual-sport term for the gear you’ve added or want to add to your bike, such as more lights, GPS, heated grips, and so on. Usage: “I just bought that new KLR 650, so I’ve got to go load up on some farkles before the next ride.” See also: Kit.
Faster (the movie): No, not the movie with The Rock. Even if you’re not into motorcycle racing, Faster is required viewing for any rider. Chronicling the rise of Valentino Rossi, it gives an inside view of what it takes to succeed at racing’s highest level, known as MotoGP. And it takes a lot, including a lot of pain, fitness, mastering of balky million-dollar bikes, navigation of underhanded shenanigans by other racers, a fistfight or two, and balls the size of melons. Rossi and other riders wrestle 200-plus hp, 200-plus mph terror machines around the world’s premier racetracks within hundredths of a second of each other for victory. The skill, bravery, and determination involved make certain four-wheeled sports look like go-cart racing with your buddies in a vacant lot. Just don’t go ride right after you watch it. See also: On Any Sunday
Fool’s gear: Back in the 1970s, many dealerships displayed an iconic poster about riding called “Full Gear/Fool’s Gear” that showed the correct safety gear to use versus what not to wear (T-shirt, shorts, sandals, no helmet). It made a big impression on a lot of riders and has recently been updated to “Cool Gear/Fool’s Gear.” No one really talks about it, but almost every seasoned rider knows what it is. Here’s the original and the new version.
Gap, or The Gap: Refers to The Darien Gap, a roadless stretch in Central America about 100 miles in length bordering Columbia and Bolivia. No roads go through The Gap; it’s a mix of swampland, mountains, and thick jungle. Many of the critters and plants there can kill or injure you. Well-armed rebels inhabit some areas of the Gap and crossing paths with them can be fatal. As such, it is the Mount Everest of dual-sport riding challenges. Few have made it. One couple managed to drive across it in a Jeep — once. It took them two years to go the 100 miles.
Garage rot: One of the worst things you can do to a motorcycle is to not ride it. It’s one thing if you’ve got a super-rare vintage bike in your living room as an art installation, but if you leave your bike out in the garage next to your exercise equipment for two years, the brake fluid is going to go bad, brake pistons could stick, piston rings could rust, rust may form in the gas tank, and so on. That’s known as garage rot. Either ride it or store it properly. (I say just ride it).
Gearbox/box: Slang for the transmission on a motorcycle.
Get-off: Get your mind out of the gutter — this is another term for “crash” and usually denotes a minor crash. It’s called a “get-off” because the rider “gets off” the bike during the crash (which is what you want to happen). Usage: “I had a get-off in turn three at the track but it only scuffed up my leathers and bent the handlebars.”
Gixxer: Slang for any Suzuki GSX-R sportbike. Legendary for their high performance, GSX-Rs are uncomfortable for the most part but ungodly fast with good handling. A favorite of the too-much-testosterone set, they have a high rate of demolition (see also: squid ) but are rightful favorites of club racers and track day riders. Usage: “I’ve been thinking of hitting some track days so I’m looking for a good used Gixxer 750.”
GS: Nickname for BMW GS dual-sport models, the de facto honor guard of dual-sport riding. Most people are referring to the big GS models, such as the GS1200 Adventure when they say “GS.” BMW also makes smaller GS models as well and they are highly competent adventure bikes. Usage: “My rich uncle passed away and left me a small fortune, so I’m buying a GS and riding to South America and back next year.
Hairpin: A very tight turn. See also: Twisties
Hardtail: Any bike with no rear suspension. The earliest motorcycles were all hardtails since they were essentially powered bicycles but eventually, someone got sick of having their spine realigned by a pothole and decided some springs would help smooth out the ride. Thank goodness for that idea, because while riding a hardtail may prove you’re a “real man,” it may also lead to getting fillings and/or organs replaced from all the jarring your body takes.
Harley: Short for Harley-Davidson, the iconic American motorcycle maker. See also: Hog/hawg and biker.
High-side: A very dangerous kind of crash where the rear tire of the motorcycle loses traction, starts to rotate around the motorcycle’s center axis, suddenly regains traction, and then flips the rider into the air (over the “high side” of the bike), all while moving at a good clip. More common in racing (at least it was before traction controls). Trust me, you don’t want to have one. It looks like this.
Hog/hawg: Nickname for almost any Harley, but usually reserved for the bigger bikes in the lineup (as in, not Sportsters). Also, HOG is the acronym of the Harley Owners Group. Usage: “I’ll meet you at the pool hall for some nine-ball in a couple of hours. Weather looks good so I’m gonna ride my hog.”
Hyperbike: General term for the highest-performing sportbikes, usually of the 1000cc variety and capable of astronomical speeds. Usage: “My wife says I have to have a million-dollar life insurance policy before I can buy a hyperbike.” Here’s one.
“I had to lay it down to save it”: If you ever encounter someone saying this phrase while regaling you with stories about their many riding adventures, just smile, nod and say “good thing you were OK!” Because the truth is, pretty much no one — ever — has had enough time to lock their brakes and then gently “lay down” their pride and joy into a controlled slide down the asphalt to avoid some greater catastrophe. Just like in cars, motorcycle crashes happen in the blink of an eye with little or no warning. Besides, if you have time to “lay it down,” then you probably have time to properly hit the brakes and just avoid the crash altogether. If you have POV cam footage of yourself “laying it down to save it”, please send it my way. But I won’t hold my breath. Basically, it really means “I crashed but am too embarrassed to admit it, so here’s a heroic story I made up.”
“It’s a Honda”: A phrase often uttered by riders (usually on a Honda) in reference to the brand’s legendary reliability. Usage: “I found this old CB750 in a guy’s barn. I cleaned the carbs out, put some gas in and it started right up. It’s a Honda.”
IOMTT: Acronym for the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race, which takes place on a small island (the Isle of Man) each year. It is one of the most exciting, insane, and insanely dangerous races in the world. Riders pilot 200 hp sportbikes at speeds close to 200 mph around a 37-mile road course that is made up of city and country roads. There is little margin for error and many riders have died on the course. Also known simply as “the Isle of Man” or the “IoM.” Take a look at the craziness here.
Jupiter’s Travels: Essential reading for anyone with a bit (or a lot) of wanderlust, Jupiter’s Travels is Ted Simon’s chronicle of his amazing four-year journey around the globe in the 1970s on what was essentially a slightly modified Triumph motorcycle. Many people give it partial credit (or more) for inspiring the dual-sport movement. See also: Long Way ‘Round.
Katoom: Pronounced “kah-toooom.” Slang for bike maker KTM.
Kawi: Pronounced “cow-ee.” Short for Kawasaki. Usage: “I was a Honda guy for a long time until I got this crazy Kawi.”
“Keep the rubber side down”: A common way to say goodbye to another rider. Basically, it means to stay safe (the “rubber side” being the tires).
Kit: A Britishism and general term for “gear” that’s catching on in the U.S. Usage: “Did you see Bob’s new panniers? That’s some nice kit.”
KLR: Short for the Kawasaki KLR 650, one of the first purpose-built dual sportbikes. Not fast, complicated, or especially stylish, it is the Jeep of the dual-sport world and has been in production for about 30 years in pretty much the same form. Riders have circled the globe on their trusty KLRs, which have a well-deserved reputation for toughness, simplicity, and low cost. Usage: “I was thinking about getting a BMW GS, but I think I’ll get a KLR and ride it to Africa and back with the money I’ll save.”
Laguna: Short for Laguna Seca Raceway, a famous racetrack in California. For a while, MotoGP races were held there, but no longer. However, a lot of other racing do take place there. The track features a very severe turn called “The Corkscrew.” Much of the action (and crashing) in this video is on said Corkscrew.
Leathers: Pretty much what you’d expect ⌂this is a general term for protective gear, both jackets and pants or one-piece racing suits. You can get non-leather riding gear (known as “textile” gear) but even then, most riders just call all riding gear “leathers.” Usage: “We’re heading for the canyons so leave the jeans at home and wear your leathers.”
Long Way ’Round: Long Way ‘Round is a multi-part video series hosted by actors Ewan McGregor and Charles “Charlie” Boorman, two (rich) friends who overloaded some big BMW GS1200 dual-sport models and rode them around the world the “long way.” That is, they rode across Europe, Russia, and numerous other countries over a period of several weeks, often on primitive or barely-there roads. While the show chronicles many hardships and challenges (and fun moments), they also had a comparatively massive support team, including a GS-mounted cameraman and two additional vehicles. Long Way ‘Round gave the dual-sport segment of motorcycling a huge boost and BMW is forever in their debt (KTM passed on supplying bikes for the show because they didn’t think the two could actually complete the trip … oops). The series is hugely entertaining and inspired two equally inspiring sequels, Long Way Down, in which the two ride from Britain to the southern tip of Africa, and Long Way Up which sees the duo travel on fully electric bikes from Patagonia to Los Angeles. It’s must-see viewing for anyone who rides, dual-sport or otherwise.
Low-side: A somewhat less dangerous kind of crash that almost always takes place during a turn. Typically, the front wheel loses traction, and basically, the bike just falls down and slides (on its “low side”). Often, the rider “detaches” from the sliding bike (see also: get-off), which is what you want to happen, unless you’re not wearing safety gear (see also: road rash and Fool’s Gear). It looks like this.
Magic button: Slang for the starter button. For decades, motorcycles were kick-start only machines. While they weren’t the first by a long shot, Honda made electric starting commonplace on motorcycles. Usage: “I’ll never forget that 1973 Honda CB450 I had. It was the first bike I owned that had the magic button.”
Mod or mods: Two things here. “Mods” as describing a rider is a British term for someone who rides a scooter, usually as part of a club. A sharp sense of style and a sweet customized Vespa or Lambretta scooter are required. Mods often fought with their motorcycle-riding enemies, the Rockers. “Mod” or “mods” as it applies to machinery is another way of saying you’ve customized (modified) something on your bike. Usage: “This old Gixxer works pretty good, but I’ve got some mods in mind to bring it up to speed.” See also: Rocker, Quadrophenia
Moped: A small motorcycle that also has bicycle pedals – and can be pedaled. Mopeds usually have 50cc or smaller engines, and so aren’t very fast. However, there is a whole hop-up culture around mopeds so you can actually see some pretty insane customs here and there. Some people call the lightest of the lightweight scooters “mopeds” but unless they have pedals, they are still technically scooters.
Motard: Pronounced “moe-tard.” A motard motorcycle is essentially a dirtbike or dual-sport bike that has been converted to street use and only street use. It’s not a dual-sport. Motards retain the tall stance, long suspension, thin profile, and lightweight of a dirt bike, but have sportbike tires, reworked suspension, lights, signals, etc. Once a fringe bike type pieced together by garage builders, motards are crazy fun to ride because they are so light, fast, and maneuverable. That makes them great as city bikes, but not so great for distance, although many people kit them out for long trips because they are so much fun to ride. You can get factory motards from a few major bike makers, including Ducati, which makes the rightly named Hypermotard.
MotoGP: MotoGP (Motorcycle Grand Prix) is the top tier of motorcycle racing. Much as Formula 1 or IndyCar is to car racing, MotoGP is where the best of the best, both in terms of bikes and riders, meet to do battle. The races are held all over the world at the best tracks and consistently attract 100,000 or more fans on race days. Only in the U.S. is MotoGP relatively unknown and overshadowed by car-based motorsports such as NASCAR and Indy racing. There are is usually one MotoGP race a year in the States: at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. If you can go to a race, be sure to do it. And bring earplugs. Other popular racing leagues include Moto2 (600cc machines) and World Superbike, which is also known as SBK.
Motorbike: Term for a motorcycle used largely across the pond.
Motorcyclist: Politically correct and all-encompassing term for people who ride motorcycles, typically used by people outside the riding sphere. Like “biker,” some riders don’t mind being referred to as motorcyclists, while others do. It might be easier to just say “motorcycle rider.” Motorcyclist is also the title of a popular motorcycle magazine, which was originally called American Motorcyclist.
MSF: MSF stands for Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Formed in the 1970s, the MSF offers basic and advanced riding instruction. In some states, it’s mandatory that riders attend and pass an MSF class before getting their motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s license. The MSF supplies the motorcycle (usually 250cc beginner bikes) and teaches proven riding skills. It’s not as easy as you might think! Once you pass the beginner class and have a few hundred miles under your belt, take some advanced MSF classes to up your skill level. Well worth it.
Naked/naked bike: A recent term that has come to describe motorcycles that don’t have plastic bodywork covering them up. Before about 1980, almost all bikes were “naked” because that’s just the way it was — for decades. But when motorcycle makers began offering purpose-built sportbikes in the image of their race bikes, they came covered in sporty plastic fairing panels. Very often, once a plastic-covered bike was lightly crashed, the owner (or new owner) would just strip off all the munged-up plastic stuff and keep riding it. Thus the “naked” and “streetfighter” bike segments were born. Now, most major bike makers sell a naked bike in some form. Usage: “Bob sold me that Gixxer he crashed, so I’m going to turn it into a naked.”
On Any Sunday: Quite possibly the best movie about motorcycling ever made, On Any Sunday was released in 1970 and is as much fun to watch today as it was then, especially since a lot of the bikes involved are now vintage machines that sit in collections. But in OAS, they get ridden — and hard at that. Plus, it’s a cavalcade of stars from when the Golden Age of motorcycling was just beginning, including the King of Cool, Steve McQueen, out desert racing with a bunch of regular blokes, no entourage or fun-crushing lawyers in sight. If you haven’t seen it, see it. Other must-see motorcycle movies include Take It to the Limit, Faster (see above), and the more recent Why We Ride. OAS recently got a worthy and updated sequel.
OFR: Not used much anymore due to the technical evolution of bikes and riding gear, but it used to be that if you were out on the road in driving rain, at night, wearing soaking wet gear, and essentially risking life and limb for nothing, you were the Only Fool Riding while more sensible people were safe, dry and warm at home or in cars.
One-percenter: Millions of people ride motorcycles and most are ordinary folks you deal with every day. Then there are the outlaw bikers most people like to steer clear of, except for Hollywood types, who enjoy constantly making movies and TV shows about them (Born Loser, The Wild One, Sons of Anarchy, and so on, ad nauseam). Riders refer to them as “one-percenters” because, despite their high profile in the public eye that regular riders are constantly trying to live down, they actually make up a tiny, tiny fraction of the actual riding population. In general, riders/bikers who many people would consider one-percenters often refer to themselves as such, so to them, it’s not an insult. Usage: “I was going to go to the rally over in Smithville but Bob said a lot of one-percenters are going to be there, so I think I’ll pass.”
Pannier or panny/pannies: Fancy French name for saddlebags or luggage that is located on either side of the passenger seat. With the rise of dual-sport riding, panniers now more refer to hard-sided cases while traditional leather or soft-sided bags are still called saddlebags. It’s probably not a good idea to ask a burly biker if he has some hand lotion in his pannies, but most dual-sport riders may very well have some and won’t mind at all. Usage: “Hey Lou, you got some Aveeno in your pannies? I’m drying out over here.”
Peg/Pegs: Short for footpegs
Petcock: Another term that sounds naughty but actually describes something totally mundane. On older motorcycles with carburetors, there’s a little toggle or switch that turns the flow of gas on and off. That’s the petcock. Remember to turn it on when you start your (probably vintage) bike.
Pillion: This is another name for the passenger seat on a motorcycle. Also, it’s another name for a passenger. Usage: “Rhonda was my pillion on the way here, but her butt got sore so she took the bus home.”
Poker run: A ride with a set route and certain stops where each rider picks up an additional playing card. The best hand at the end wins money/swag/beer or some combination thereof.
Quadrophenia: A 1970s movie chronicling the life and times of a young British scooter rider, or “Mod.” Worth seeing if only for the blazing soundtrack by The Who, for which the film is made. Sting makes an appearance as well, looking all of about 16.
Rally: A big group ride, often organized around a location with camping/hotels and loops to local scenic rides. Rallies can be you and ten buddies on an annual ride, or an event like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally with thousands of riders. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but try attending at least one — or plan your own with friends. It’s a great way to be among others who love to ride as much as you hopefully do.
Rat bike: A rat bike is any motorcycle in good to a crappy condition that you don’t really care about. That said, some people care plenty about their rat bikes. But for the most part, rat bikes are machines for just gettin’ around and if it gets crashed, tipped over, snowed on, or some drunk idiot pukes on it, oh well, hose it off and it’s good to go. Be sure to own at least one rat bike in your riding career. They grow on you.
Rear-sets: Where you put your feet while riding is important and ranges widely depending on what kind of bike you ride. Cruisers tend to place the feet forward (ostensibly for comfort and the right look) while your feet are up high and back on a sportbike. Other bikes put your feet somewhere in between those extremes. Many sport bike owners purchase customizable “rear sets,” which allow them to move the footpegs and bike controls around a bit depending on what kind of riding they’re doing (such as up high and back for a track day session, or lower and more comfortable for commuting). Rear seats can be works of art on their own and are typically easy to install.
Rider: Anyone riding a motorcycle. You drive cars. You pilot airplanes. You ride motorcycles. Keep it straight. Usage: (Newscaster’s voice) “Police finally caught a fleeing motorcycle rider last night after a high-speed chase on the Interstate.”
Ring-ding: Slang for a two-stroke motorcycle, which used to be common but is now mostly resigned to vintage status after being legislated out of existence (they are quite good at polluting the air in their immediate vicinity). The term comes from the “ringing” sound the engine makes. Also known as buzz bombs, skeeter bikes, and fog machines. Ride behind one and you’ll understand why.
Road rash: What’s left after the stripping away of skin from unprotected parts of your body as you slide down the roadway during a crash. Wearing correct gear prevents road rash, which is painful, takes forever to heal, leaves scars, and could give you a nasty infection. It also tells everyone you foolishly didn’t gear up for your ride.
Rocker: Vintage British term for a motorcycle rider, as opposed to a scooter rider (or “Mod”). For a more lengthy explanation, watch the movie Quadrophenia. See also: Mod and Quadrophenia.
Rubbie: Pronounced “rub-ee,” not “ruby.” Not used as much as it used to be, “rubbie” is somewhat derogatory slang for Rich Urban Biker, or those riders who buy expensive Harleys and then ride them only to coffee shops, bars, or hardly at all. Rubbies will sometimes even call themselves such, so it’s not like it’s a terrible thing to be called. At least they ride. Sometimes. Usage: “Paul said he has to wax his Porsche so he can’t ride today. He’s such a rubbie.”
Salt/The Salt: Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where you go to see how fast your ride is… by riding it wide open on a low-grip dry lake bed made of salt.
Skins: Slang for tires.
Slicks: A special kind of tire with no tread pattern. Used in racing, slicks afford the maximum amount of contact and traction between a tire and the racetrack. They are not street legal and wear very quickly (usually only lasting for one race) and are no good in the rain.
Squid: This is a mocking term for sportbike riders who are long on talk and short on skill, and generally means “idiot rider.” Also, squids typically don’t wear safety gear when riding. The term comes from what happens when said idiot piles his hyperbike into the back of a dump truck while showing off for the ladies, breaking every bone in his body (thus, a body like a boneless squid). Usage: “Whoa, did you just see that idiot ride by wearing shorts and no helmet? Enjoy the road rash, squid.”
Stoppie: A reverse wheelie. While a wheelie stands the bike up on the back wheel, a stoppie stands it up on the front. Made possible by advances in braking technology, it is still enormously difficult to do a stoppie. Do it wrong and you trash your bike and possibly injure yourself. Do it right and you’re a god among men and women. It looks like this.
Sturgis: Short for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, but ostensibly, it’s the small South Dakota town that hosts one of the largest (and probably most famous) motorcycle rallies in the world. About 250,000 riders typically attend each year, so book those hotel rooms early (like, 10 years early) or prepare to camp. Sturgis is primarily a Harley/cruiser-dominated event, but all bikes and riders are welcomed. Bring earplugs. And money. And aspirin. Usage: “Now that I’ve got Dad’s old Harley up and running, I think I’ll go to Sturgis this year.”
Sportster/Sporty: The “entry-level” Harley-Davidson (before the Street line appeared). Sportsters began production in 1957 as a lighter-weight speed machine and have been in HD’s lineup since. While they are smaller than the full-size (or “big-inch”) Harleys, they aren’t exactly small, with the smallest Sportster model coming in at 883cc. There is also a 1200cc version, and 883cc bikes can be up-converted to 1200cc pretty easily. Sportsters have traditionally been the most affordable Harleys to buy and a favorite of women riders, although, if you’re a guy, have no shame in getting a Sportster. They are (relatively) light, lean, and fast for a Harley and are great for cruising in the city while also having some long-distance capability.
Standard: A “regular” motorcycle that isn’t specialized for one type of riding. Until the 1980s, most all street bikes could be described as “standards.” Now, they are quite rare, but they are making a comeback.
Sweeper: A long, broad, constant turn. There are many kinds of turns out on the road or at the track, but a sweeper lets riders maintain high speed and push their cornering skills to the limit. Ask any performance rider and they’ll likely tell you a sweeper is the sweetest kind of corner.
The Ton: These days, even the smallest of sportbikes can easily top 100 miles an hour. But way back when, owning a bike that could go that fast — known then as “doing the ton” — meant you had something pretty special. It might blow itself to bits if you went that fast for long (or at least some parts might fall off), but being able to hit triple digits when most bikes could barely do 80 was an accomplishment. Usage: “I just got my ’66 Bonnie back from the shop and they turned it up just right. I took it out last night and it did the ton — just barely.”
Tiddler: A somewhat derogatory term meaning “small bike” or “beginner bike.” Typically, street bikes under 250cc qualify as tiddlers. Usage: “My friend wanted to get a Gixxer for his first bike, but I don’t want him to die so I told him to learn on a tiddler.”
Track day: Track days are organized riding events at actual race tracks. No matter what you ride, consider getting your bike out on a race track. While track days are dominated by riders on amped-up sportbikes, track days are great for learning the limits of your bike — any bike — and improving your riding skills. Instructors will help diagnose your riding problems and give you tips to improve your experience. Track day skills translate directly to improved street riding and there’s nowhere else you can safely push the limits to the maximum without fear of cops, dumb-ass car drivers, obstructions, and speed limits. Well worth the time and investment, and quite possibly the most fun you can have while clothed. Check with your closest track or a local riding club to see where track days are taking place near you – and then go attend one, no matter what you ride.
Torque: Engines/motors make power primarily in two distinct ways: horsepower and torque. Torque is the “twisting force” an engine is able to achieve as opposed to a measure of work, which is the horsepower figure. You can have a zillion horsepower but if you have no torque, you’re not going to get going very quickly. Torque is also called “grunt” because it usually lives in the lower registers of an engine’s powerband and can be felt at low revs, especially in single and twin-cylinder engines. Sportbikes tend to have a lot more horsepower than torque to achieve high speeds; cruisers flip that equation for better acceleration (grunt) and “cruise-ability” at legal-ish speeds. Every engine is a mix of horsepower and torque but a lot of riders will tell you that a bike can never have too much torque.
Twisties: Slang for roads with a lot of curves. Usage: “I’m gonna ride the Gixxer if we’re heading for the twisties.”
Two-Stroke: A specific kind of engine that made a lot of power combined with lightweight and simplicity. Problem is, they pollute like crazy, so they were essentially legislated out of existence in the United States and the EU. However, they are still used in many Asian countries. In the U.S., some small devices still use two-stroke engines, like weed eaters, but even those are converting over to four-stroke designs.
UJM: Acronym for Universal Japanese Motorcycle. For a while there (mostly in the 1970s), if you took the badges off of a large selection of the motorcycle models from Kawasaki, Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha, they were so similar most people would have a tough time differentiating one model or brand from another. Common traits included steel frames, inline-4 engines, disc brakes, and so on. Those bikes became known as Universal Japanese Motorcycles because it seemed like any of the bikes could have come from any of the big four Japanese bike makers. Today, we call UJMs “standard” motorcycles. Beginning in the 1980s, motorcycles began to become specialized (sportbikes, touring bikes, cruisers, etc.) so today, a purely standard “new” UJM motorcycle is pretty rare, but there are a few out there. Usage: “Check out this old KZ750 I just got off CL. It’s a classic UJM.”
Vintage/classic: In general, an old motorcycle. What constitutes “vintage” varies from brand to brand and rider to rider (or collector to collector). The Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club sets vintage as a bike 15 years or older, while for others, bikes made before World War II are true vintage bikes. In general, if it doesn’t have modern electronics, uses drum brakes, and fires on a points ignition system, it’s probably vintage. But it will depend on whom you ask.
V-Twin: This engine configuration, which consists of a two-cylinder motor with the cylinders in a V format, is the predominant engine type found in cruiser motorcycles. In fact, it’s the only kind of engine Harley-Davidson makes. Almost every other motorcycle maker makes their own V-twin as well, but the Harley motor is the most iconic. V-twin engines can produce a lot of torque and are therefore ideal for cruising around as they can accelerate quickly at low revs. However, Ducati also makes a V-twin, but since the cylinders are split at exactly 90 degrees, they call their engine an “L-twin.” V-twins are also known for their robust, booming sound signature.
The Wave: Once you start riding, you’ll notice that other riders on motorcycles will wave or make a gesture (peace sign, thumbs up, etc) of some sort as you pass by each other. Why? It’s called The Wave, and it’s just a friendly way to say you are a member of a select group of adventurers: a motorcycle rider. So wave back. This phenomenon is mostly restricted to North America (Brits use something much more subtle: “the nod”); in other parts of the world, riding motorcycles is as common (or more so) than driving cars, so they don’t tend to wave or they’d be doing it all the time.
WFO: Acronym for Wide Fucking Open, or full throttle. Usage: “Once you get out of turn three, it’s WFO all the way to the turn-four sweeper.”
Z-bars: A set of tallish, angled handlebars, usually found on a chopper or cruiser. You’ll know them when you see them.
Did we miss your favorite bit of moto speak? Let us know in the comments.
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