Welcome to The Manual’s dictionary of motorcycle slang. This unofficial glossary was created by those who prefer travel on “twos” to teach people the lingo of the road. Learning this language might not only bring you a new level of enjoyment, but it also could ensure your safety. 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.” Winter is the perfect time to prepare for lots of riding in spring, and what better way to do that then learn the ins and outs of motorcycle lingo?
Motorcycling, just like any other special activity, has its own vocabulary. This slang might make you sound like a veteran rider and give you helpful tips, like what to know when you need to tune your motorcycle and what to look for when purchasing your first
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 such as 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
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
‘Busa: Nickname for the iconic Suzuki Hayabusa sportbike. Pronounced either “Bee-you-saw” or “Boo-saw” depending on to whom you are talking. 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
Bonneville: This time we’re talking about a place, not a bike, except to say that the Triumph Bonneville
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 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)
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 Honda 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
Choke: The carburetor “choke” disappeared from
CC/CI/displacement: In general,
CL: “CL” usually refers to Craigslist, the international marketplace of
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
DILLIGAF: You may see this most often as a sticker on a motorcycle 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
Dual front disc brakes: If you’ve never ridden a
Dual Sport: A relatively new type of
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
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
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
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,
Gap, or The Gap: Refers to The Darien Gap, a roadless stretch in Central America about 100 miles in length bordering Columbia and Panama. 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
Gearbox/box: Slang for the transmission on a
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
Harley: Short for Harley-Davidson, the iconic American
High-side: A very dangerous kind of crash where the rear tire of the
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
“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.”
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
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,
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
Motard: Pronounced “moe-tard.” A motard
MotoGP: MotoGP (Motorcycle Grand Prix) is the top tier of
Motorbike: Term for a
Motorcyclist: Politically correct and all-encompassing term for people who ride
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
Naked/naked bike: A recent term that has come to describe
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
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
One-percenter: Millions of people ride
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
Pillion: This is another name for the passenger seat on a
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
Rat bike: A rat bike is any
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
Ring-ding: Slang for a two-stroke
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
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
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)
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”
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
Vintage/classic: In general, an old
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
The Wave: Once you start riding, you’ll notice that other riders on
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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