Motorcycle forums often contain arguments over terminology. For example, is “motorbike” interchangeable with “motorcycle”? You could check a motorcycle guide and not find much clarification, and the motorbike vs. motorcycle debate lives on in Las Vegas. However, it is largely a matter of linguistics rather than technical differences, although there are times when you’ll need to distinguish between different types of vehicles. Here is where the language comes from and when you need to concern yourself with technical differences.
All a matter of word choice
The myth is that a motorbike is just a smaller and less powerful motorcycle. In reality, there is nothing in any state legislation that defines it that way. Even motorcycle guide specifications in Las Vegas fail to make such a distinction.
Ultimately, you can use either term. “Motorcycle” is a combination of “motor” and “bicycle,” and since “bike” is the short form of “bicycle,” the less formal “motorbike” conveys the same idea. “Motorbike” is less formal and likely has its genesis in the 1950s, when younger people started riding. However, as “motorcycle” is used more frequently in journalism, legal documentation, insurance policies and product descriptions, it has caught on better than “motorbike”—at least in the U.S.
Now, if you visit the U.K. or Australia, you will notice “motorbike” is used more often. Just like in the U.S., it is also interchangeable with “motorcycle.” At the end of the day, usage depends on geography and preferences rather than technical differences.
The true technical difference
This does not mean you are completely off the hook for technical differences—they are just not present with the difference between “motorcycle” and “motorbike” in Las Vegas. The discussion of differences belongs instead between these three terms: “scooter,” “moped” and “motorcycle.”
The smaller of the three is the moped. They are frequently confused with scooters because they are not as common in the U.S. as they are in Europe. It is a bicycle-type vehicle equipped with pedals and a low-power engine. Mopeds are designed to be efficient transportation options through city streets. They never have an engine bigger than 50cc, and they don’t exceed 28 mph, so they aren’t allowed on highways. In some states, drivers are not required to have a motorcycle license to operate a moped.
Scooters are larger. They have two wheels with a step-through chassis and footrest platform. Engine size varies from 50cc to 250cc, and the larger ones can drive on highways. There are models with 850cc engines that some people argue should be classified as motorcycles. However, as they have a step-through chassis, they remain classified as scooters. All states require a motorcycle license to drive them.
Motorcycles are the largest and most powerful of these three. They have larger engines that are 250cc or larger. Maximum speed varies by engine size, but all models are capable of highway speeds. Drivers must be at least 16 years old and secure a motorcycle license.
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