Motorbike vs Motorcycle: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve spent time browsing online forums or speaking to other riders, you would have undoubtedly heard “motorbike” and “motorcycle” used interchangeably. But is there a difference between the two?

This article will look to dispel some common myths, explore the trends of these terms over time, and how they’re used worldwide in 2022.

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Is There a Difference Between Motorbike and Motorcycle?

There is no difference between a motorbike and a motorcycle. “Motorbike” is often used to refer to smaller-capacity motorcycles, but no formal distinction has ever been made between the two.

Even though opinions and preferences differ globally, the good news is that anyone who understands “motorcycle” is going to understand “motorbike” and vice versa.

Motorcycle or Motorbike: A Brief History

The word “motorcycle” is a portmanteau of “motor” and “bicycle” and is considered the industry standard term. According to historical data, “motorcycle” started gaining popularity in the early 1900s, approximately 15 years after the motorcycle was invented in 1885.

The term “motorbike” is a combination of “motor” and “bike”, and didn’t emerge until much later, in the 1950s. Despite increasing in popularity since then, it’s never quite reached the heights of “motorcycle”.

So why is that?

Well, what we do know is that sustained production throughout the second world war led to a dramatic spike in the popularity and accessibility of motorcycles. Harley Davidson played an immense role in this effort, supplying the USA and its allies with over 88,000 examples.

“Motorbike”, being the more informal choice of the two, would have certainly been more popular with the younger generation learning to ride in the years following the war.

Considering that you often learn to ride on smaller-capacity machines, could this be where the association between “motorbike” and smaller motorcycles was born?

How Are the Terms Used Today?

While this might be surprising to some, “motorbike” is most frequently used in the United Kingdom and Australia, whereas the rest of the world has a strong preference for “motorcycle”. In fact, the former is almost non-existent in American English! 

While most of us use these terms interchangeably here in the UK, muttering the word “motorbike” across the pond will likely raise a few eyebrows (if the accent hasn’t done so already).

It is worth noting that all legal references (insurance, etc.) to our beloved two-wheeled machines solely use the word “motorcycle”, so that would be our preference if forced to choose.


Which Is Correct, “Motorcycle” or “Motorbike”?

Both “motorcycle” and “motorbike” are correct and refer to the same thing, but the former is used far more frequently worldwide. “Motorbike” is considered a slang term by comparison and is predominantly used in the UK and Australia.

Do Americans Say “Motorcycle” or “Motorbike”?

The term “motorcycle” is strongly preferred by most Americans and is used almost exclusively throughout the United States.

Final Thoughts

As with many things in life, the motorbike vs motorcycle debate is purely based on preference (and geography to some degree).

While many people still refer to smaller machines as motorbikes and larger ones as motorcycles, there is no legislation to differentiate between these two words.

And that’s pretty much all there is to it!

Have any questions for the team? Get in touch, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.