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"Motorcyclist" redirects here. For the US motorcycling magazine, see Motorcyclist (magazine).
Three riders on a motorcycle in Tehran.

Motorcycling is riding a motorcycle. For most people in the world, motorcycling is the only affordable form of individual motorized transportation, and small displacement motorcycles are the most common motor vehicle in the most populous countries of the world, including India, China and Indonesia.[1][2][3][4]

In the developed world, motorcycling goes beyond being just a mode of motor transportation or sport. It is also leisure activity and numerous subcultures and lifestyles have evolved around the use of motorcycles. Although mainly a solo activity, motorcycling can be very social and motorcyclists tend to have a strong sense of community with each other.[5][6]


For most riders, motorcycle is a cheaper and more convenient form of transportation which causes less commuter congestion within cities and has less environmental impacts than automobile ownership.

A motorcyclist
Motorcycle social activity
Enduro riders
Circuit racers

Others ride as a way to relieve stress and to "clear their minds" as described in Robert M. Pirsig's book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig contrasted the sense of connection experienced by motorcyclists with the isolation of drivers who are "always in a compartment", passively observing the passing landscape. Pirsig portrayed motorcycling as being in "completely in contact with it all... in the scene."[7] The connection to ones motorcycle is sensed further, as Pirsig explained, by the frequent need to maintain its mechanical operation. Pirsig felt that connection deepen when faced with a difficult mechanical problem that required walking away from it until the solution became clear. Similarly, motorcyclists experience pleasure at the feeling of being far more connected to their motor vehicles than in a motorcar, as being part of it rather than in it.[8]

Speed draws many people to motorcycling because the power-to-weight ratios of even low-power motorcycles rivals that of an expensive sports car. The power-to-weight ratio of many modestly priced sport bikes is well beyond any mass-production automobile and rivals that of supercars for a fraction of the price.[9] Hunter S. Thompson's book Hell's Angels includes an ode to the joys of pushing a motorcycle to its limits, "with the throttle screwed on there is only the barest margin, and no room at all for mistakes ... that's when the strange music starts ... fear becomes exhilaration [and the] only sounds are the wind and a dull roar floating back from the mufflers"[10] and T. E. Lawrence wrote of the "lustfulness of moving swiftly" and the "pleasure of speeding on the road". A sensation he compared to feeling "the earth moulding herself under me ... coming alive ... and heaving and tossing on each side like a sea."[11]

Not only is the sensation of speed greater but motorcycles negotiate turns by leaning, therefore the greater the speed, the greater the lean, sometimes to the point of scraping parts of the motorcycle on the road. Some riders will point proudly to the worn-away parts of their motorcycle, proof that they take turns so fast that they must lean the motorcycle over to the limits of its capabilities.

As the restriction of mobility is common element in oppressive circumstances, motorcycling is also a significant tool of mobility[12] and a symbol of independence, adventure and self-reliance.[13]


Number of motorcycles vs number of cars by country. Size of pie indicates population. 2002 estimates.[14][15]
Millions of cars (light blue) and motorcycles (dark blue) in the top 20 countries with the most motorcycles. Population in red. 2002 estimates.[14][15]
Motorbikes are the primary form of transportation in Vietnam.

In numerous cultures, motorcycles are the primary means of motorised transport. According to the Taiwanese government, for example, "the number of automobiles per ten thousand population is around 2,500, and the number of motorcycles is about 5,000."[16] In places such as Vietnam, motorised traffic consist of mostly motorbikes[2] due to a lack of public transport and low income levels that put automobiles out of reach for many.[1]

Recent years have seen an increase in the popularity of motorcycles elsewhere. In the USA, registrations increased by 51% between 2000 and 2005.[17] This is mainly attributed to increasing fuel prices and urban congestion.[18] A Consumer Reports subscribers' survey of mainly United States motorcycle and scooter owners reported that they rode an average of only 1,000 miles (1,600 km) per year, 82% for recreation and 38% for commuting.[19] Americans put 10,000–12,000 miles (16,000–19,000 km) per year on their cars and light trucks.[20] In South Africa motorcycle ownership hit a slump in 2009, but recovered in 2011 with 34 214 sales, according to Association of Motorcycle Importers and Distributors (AMID). However, this is was still much lower than when 50 593 bikes were sold in 2007 and 54 720 units in 2008. 21.2% of sales are attributed to scooters and another 16.6% to bikes smaller than 150 cc. Increased ownership in South Africa has been attributed to rising fuel prices and the practicality of motorcycles versus cars. [21]

As motorcyclists in mainly Western countries age, there is a tendency for riders to choose touring bikes over sports bikes.[22]


Motorcycling is a more dangerous means of transport than other road alternatives: the relative risk of a motorcycle rider being killed or seriously injured per kilometre travelled was around 54 times higher in Great Britain in 2006 than for car drivers.[23] However, motorcycling is less dangerous than many other popular outdoor recreational activities, including horseback riding.[24]

To address motorcycle safety issues, motorcycle-specific training and personal protective equipment is important for motorcyclists' survival on the road, and mandated in many countries and several U.S. states and counties.


Motorcycling lifestyles have been adopted by many different groups spanning nations and cultures. They include commuters, mainstream motorcycle clubs such as long-distance riding clubs, adventurer touring, trail riding and those involved with motorcycle sports, such as motocross riding, drag racing, circuit racing and trick or stunt enthusiasts; and those involved in customizing their vehicles in various different styles. Organized rides are a key element of many groups.

Around the world, motorcycles have historically been associated with highly visible subcultures.[25] Some of these subcultures have been loose-knit social groups, such as the scooter riders and cafe racer riders of the 1950s and 60s in Great Britain, and they often are seen as inhabiting the fringes of society.[25] Numerous books about motorcycle subcultures have been written, including Hunter S. Thompson's Hells Angels, Lee Gutkind's Bike Fever, and Daniel R. Wolf's The Rebels.

Clubs, lobbying groups, and outlaw gangs[edit]

Motorcycle clubs[edit]

See also: Motorcycle club
A Motorcycle club in Durban, South Africa

Social motorcyclist organisations are popular and are sometimes organised geographically, focus on individual makes, or even specific models. Example motorcycle clubs include: American Motorcyclist Association, Harley Owners Group and BMW MOA. Some organisations hold large international motorcycle rallies in different parts of the world that are attended by many thousands of riders. Many social motorcycle organisations raise money for charities as a secondary activity, through organised events and rides, and others exist primarily as social benefit organisations, such as Bikers Against Child Abuse.[26] In South Africa, motorcycle clubs usually have anthems which they play using the throttles of the bikes.


Since the late 20th century, motorcyclists have formed political lobbying organisations in order to influence legislators to introduce motorcycle-friendly legislation. One of the oldest such organisations, the British Motorcycle Action Group, was founded in 1973 specifically in response to helmet compulsion, introduced without public consultation.[27] In addition, the British Motorcyclists Federation (BMF), originally founded in 1960 as a reaction to the public perception of motorcyclists as leather-jacketed hooligans, has itself moved into political lobbying. Likewise, the U.S. has ABATE, which, like most such organisations, also works to improve motorcycle safety, as well as running the usual charity fund-raising events and rallies, often for motorcycle-related political interests.[28]

Outlaw gangs[edit]

At the other end of the spectrum from the charitable organisations and the motorcycle rights activists are the "outlaw motorcycle gangs." These are defined by the Provincial Court of Manitoba as: "Any group of motorcycle enthusiasts who have voluntarily made a commitment to band together and abide by their organisations' rigorous rules enforced by violence, who engage in activities that bring them and their club into serious conflict with society and the law."[29] The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Criminal Intelligence Service Canada have designated four MCs as Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs), which are the Pagans, Hells Angels, Outlaws MC, and Bandidos,[30][31] known as the "Big Four." [32]

The motorcycle manufacturing industry and many government entities around the world have taken actions to clean up the reputation and activities of motorcyclists.[33][34]


Maintenance on a Kawasaki Ninja 250 motorcycle

Motorcyclists will refer to maintenance or repair of a motorcycle as wrenching in the USA and "spannering" in the UK. A do it yourself self-sufficiency is said to be part of motorcycles allure in an "increasingly monolithic, unfixable world"[6] and being able to maintain one's own motorcycle is seen as part of the competency of being a motorcyclist.

Historically, motorcycle maintenance was a necessary skill for riders, since the materials and technology used in motorcycles often meant that repairs had to be done on the road-side miles from home. Modern motorcycles are as reliable as automobiles but many riders feel that their motorcycle is more than just a means of transportation which leads them to want to do maintenance on the motorcycles themselves.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hiroko Nakata (8 October 2008). "Motorcycle makers battle it out in Vietnam". Japan Times. Retrieved 11 March 2009. 
  2. ^ a b Patti McCracken (1 October 2008). "Vietnam eats, sleeps, and dreams on motorbikes". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 11 March 2009. 
  3. ^ Alexei Barrionuevo (3 November 2008). "That Roar in the Jungle Is 15,000 Motorbikes". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 March 2009. 
  4. ^ Sharma, Sopan (11 November 2010), "Bike Review: Honda CBR250R", The Economic Times, OCLC 61311680, retrieved 2011-03-19 
  5. ^ Motorcycling and Leisure; Understanding the Recreational PTW Rider, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., May 6, 2009, ISBN 9780754675013 
  6. ^ a b Melissa Holbrook Pierson, The Perfect Vehicle: What It is about Motorcycles, 1997, W.W. Norton & Company, New York
  7. ^ Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, 1974, HarperCollins Publishers Inc., New York
  8. ^ Bikers: Culture, Politics and Power, Suzanne McDonald-Walker. Berg, 1 Mar 2000
  9. ^ Ford, Dexter (October 12, 2010), "Nice Supercar. Now Eat My Dust", New York Times: F13, ISSN 0362-4331, retrieved 2011-03-01 
  10. ^ Hunter S. Thompson, Hell's Angels, 1967, Random House, New York
  11. ^ T. E. Lawrence, T. E. Lawrence to his Biographers Robert Graves and Liddell Hart, (edited by Robert Graves and B. H. Liddell Hart), 1963, Casell, London
  12. ^ Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls: Gender in Film at the End of the Twentieth Century. Murray Pomerance. SUNY Press, 2001
  13. ^ The Wright stuff. Young, Robert. American Motorcyclist, Aug 1997
  14. ^ a b "Passenger Cars; Map No. 31". Worldmapper: The world as you've never seen it before. 2002.  See Technical notes for this data
  15. ^ a b "Mopeds And Motorcycles Map No. 32". Worldmapper: The world as you've never seen it before. 2002.  See data files for the statistics
  16. ^ Chung-Li. "Sustainable Development Indicators for Taiwan". Workshop on Sustainable Development Indicators. Retrieved 14 August 2006. [dead link]
  17. ^ "Popularity of high-performance motorcycles helps push rider deaths to near-record high". Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 11 September 2007. Retrieved 22 October 2008. 
  18. ^ PRNewswire (19 May 2008). "Soaring Gas Prices Shine Money-Saving Spotlight on Motorcycles". Reuters. Retrieved 28 January 2010. 
  19. ^ Travers, Jim (1 June 2010). "Survey: Motorcycle and scooter owners are very satisfied with their bikes". Consumer Reports. Retrieved 2 August 2010. 
  20. ^ Emission Facts: Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Transportation and Air Quality. February 2005. Retrieved 2 August 2010. 
  21. ^ SA motorcycle market begins to show signs of life again Back, BY: IRMA VENTER
  22. ^ Broughton, Paul; Walker, Linda (6 May 2009). Motorcycling and Leisure: Understanding the Recreational Ptw Rider. Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 74. ISBN 0754675017. 
  23. ^ "Transport Statistics Bulletin: Compendium of Motorcycling Statistics". United Kingdom Department for Transport. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  24. ^ Karen Thomas (September 25, 2007), Study finds horseback riding more dangerous than motorbikes, skiing, and football, University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine, retrieved 2012-10-21 
  25. ^ a b The Science and Art of Branding. Giep Franzen, Sandra Moriarty. M.E. Sharpe, 1 Oct 2008
  26. ^ "About BACA". Bikers Against Child Abuse. Retrieved 10 October 2007. 
  27. ^ "About MAG". MAG UK. Retrieved 10 October 2007. 
  28. ^ Some other lobbying organisations are listed in Category:Motorcyclists organizations.
  29. ^ Organized Crime Fact Sheet – Public Safety Canada
  30. ^ FBI Safe Street Violent Crime Initiative – Report Fiscal Year 2000 –
  31. ^ 2004 Annual Report – Criminal Intelligence Service Canada,
  32. ^ Motorcycle Gangs – Connecticut Gang Investigators Association
  33. ^ The Corporate Cyclists. Emile Milne, Black Enterprise Aug 1981
  34. ^ The Government's motorcycling strategy: fifth report of session 2006-07. House of Commons: Transport Committee, UK

External links[edit]

  • Season of the Bike "The difference between driving a car and climbing onto a motorcycle is the difference between watching TV and actually living your life."
  • IHIE Guidelines for Motorcycling - these authoritative Guidelines are the first in the UK, setting out comprehensive, practical guidance for highway engineers, traffic engineers, road safety officers and transport planners on providing a safer transport environment for motorcycles, mopeds and scooters.
  • Motorcycling at the Open Directory Project