Understanding Basic Motorcycle Parts and What They Do
Motorcycles may vary in design for many factors including performance, looks and cost, but the basic anatomy of any motorcycle remains the same. There are a number of different parts that make up any given motorcycle, so let's take a look at those key components.
You can use the key below to skip to the corresponding section:
- Motorcycle Engine
- Motorcycle Transmissions
- Final Drive
- Wheels and Tires
- Body Panels
- Motorcycle Brakes
The chassis forms the foundation of any motorcycle and consists of the mainframe, front forks, rear suspension/swingarm and subframe.
Frames can be manufactured from a range of materials including steel, aluminium, magnesium and even more exotic materials such as carbon fibre and Kevlar. Depending on cost and application, manufacturers could use any of the abovementioned materials to build a frame. The frame has a head tube up front which houses the front fork assembly. Some motorbikes may have a rigid rear suspension built into the frame (common on choppers), however in most cases, the rear suspension consists of a swingarm bolted to the frame. The subframe is the section where the seats and rear cowl are mounted, completing the basic structure of the bike.
In some cases, the engine forms part of the structural integrity for the chassis, as this allows manufacturers to reduce cost and build lighter motorcycles. A number of engine configurations are available across manufacturers, with inline 4-cylinder screamers being the most common on Japanese sports bikes, and large capacity V-twins on touring bikes. They all have unique performance characteristics and the engine type you choose is largely based on preference.
Various forms of motorcycle transmissions exist, with the most common being foot-operated sequential manuals found in most bikes, and CVT systems which are very common on scooters and e-bikes. There are some bikes that run stand-alone transmissions, however, in most cases, transmissions are built directly into the engine casing.
Power is transferred from the transmission output shaft to the rear wheel in a number of ways. Some motorcycles use a chain drive, some use driveshafts and some even use belts. They all have different benefits and disadvantages, but it has been found that the chain-driven system is the most versatile, as the final drive ratio can be adjusted to suit the bike's application through differently-sized sprockets.
Wheels transfer power from the final drive to the surface you are riding on. Off-road bikes make use of knobbly motorcycle tyres to improve grip on loose surfaces, and road bikes make use of motorbike tyres designed for use on tarmac and concrete.
The above-mentioned components make up the main structure of any motorcycle. Let us take a look at what makes up the rest of the bike...
Body panels are what give a bike its aesthetics. Some bikes have full fairings that cover most of the exposed parts and some are semi-naked. These panels are mostly made of high-quality moulded plastics and include side fairings, top fairings, rear cowls, tanks/ tank covers and windscreens.
Mudguards sit on top of both wheels, with the rear wheel mudguard referred to as a hugger. These pieces protect both the bike and the rider from potential debris coming off the tyres.
Not only do motorcycle lights provide illumination in the dark, but they also add to your bike being visible during daylight hours. Furthermore, there are various types of lights that make up motorbike lighting systems. Arguably one of the most important is the turn signal of the motorbike. These lights are found on both the front and back of the motorbike and indicate to other drivers the direction in which you intend to turn.
Another key motorbike light is the rear light, whose function is to indicate to other drivers that you are applying the brakes. A further important light to consider is the licence plate light; this light can be found above the licence plate holder and can sometimes be integrated into the tail light.
Handlebars for motorcycles come in many different styles but ultimately serve the same purpose. Handlebars not only allow you to control the front end of the motorcycle but also house all the switchgear and most of the controls. On the right handle, you will find your throttle which, when twisted towards you, opens the throttle. Switchgear found on the right-hand side typically includes an on/off switch, a starter button and a light switch.
On the left side, you will find controls for turn signals, low/full beams, horn and hazard lights. These are some of the basic functions that one would find on most bikes, although some manufacturers may have more features built into the switchgear. On the right handle, you will also find the front brake lever with the master cylinder, and on the left side, you will find the clutch lever with its master cylinder in the case of a hydraulic clutch. On some smaller automatic bikes and scooters, it is common to find the rear brake lever on the left handlebar. Above the handlebar will be the dashboard which displays all the driving data you need and any warning lights.
Footpegs/rearsets allow you as the rider or pillion/passenger to position your feet in the correct spot to allow your body to balance correctly on the bike. For the rider on a manual bike, the footpegs also include a rear brake lever on the right-hand side and a gear lever on the left.
Motorcycle brakes provide the force needed to bring your bike to a stop. Motorcycles generally have bigger brakes in the front, as all the weight is transferred to the front of the bike under braking. Braking on a motorcycle can be a tricky thing to get used to, as you use independent limbs to bring your bike to a standstill. It is advised to do some research on how to use motorcycle brakes effectively and to also understand how to use your engine to slow down your bike.
A bike's exhaust is a part that is most likely the first thing that any motorcycle enthusiast changes. Some standard exhausts are bulky and muffle a considerable amount of the bike's sounds. Many riders opt for lightweight titanium exhaust systems which not only reduce weight but also allow the engine to breathe better. Whichever you go for, always ensure that your choice in aftermarket products complies with local laws.
AND THAT'S IT!
We hope that this guide to the basic anatomy of motorbikes help you get to grips with knowing your own bike better. If this interests you please feel free to browse from a selection of premium motorbike accessories perfect for your needs.