Anybody can don black leather and a bandana to look the part of a biker.

Holding your own at Street Vibrations may be more difficult if you can’t talk motorcycles. Bikers have their own lingo.

First and foremost, don’t ever say “drive” when talking about motorcycles. You drive a car, you ride a bike. I’ve been riding bikes since I got my driver’s license and still don’t understand why this is such a big pet peeve, but it is.

Bikers take this as seriously as Nevadans do the pronunciation of their state name, Nev-AD-a.

Chopper vs. bobber

The biker crowd at Street Vibrations represents a narrow segment of those who ride. Almost every bike will be an American cruiser, meaning a lot of Harley-Davidsons and some Indian motorcycles. You’ll probably see a few Victory motorcycles, as well. Cruisers differ from sport bikes in that riders sit back in a relaxed position, ideal for cruising.

These bikes can be customized into chopper and bobbers. The difference between the two: Bobbers are stripped down motorcycles with shortened fenders that look fairly stock, while choppers are extreme. Choppers have everything from oversized wheels to loud paint jobs, excessively long forks pushing the front wheel far out and high handlebars, commonly called ape-hangers because the rider has to reach up to grab them.

The talk

Talking motorcycles is simple for an obvious reason. There isn’t much to talk about.

Motorcycles are basic, consisting of little more than a rider on top of an engine between two wheels.

Here are the quintessential terms to hold a five-minute conversation with a biker:

  • Engine size – Motorcycle engines are almost exclusively measured in cubic centimeters, though bikers never say more than CCs when describing their engine sizes. Anything above 1,000 CCs is a large engine. Many motorcycle models include a number in their name, which is usually the engine size. Examples are the Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200, Iron 883 and 1200 Custom. It's important to note that American motorcycle manufacturers still use cubic inches when describing engine sizes of some models. 
  • Bagger – A motorcycle with saddlebags, usually referring to a big motorcycle with hard cases and not soft, leather bags.
  • Big Twin – Many Harley-Davidsons use a large V-twin engine. The name means the engine has two cylinders arranged in a distinct V-shape visible below the fuel tank.
  • Air-cooled vs. liquid cooled – Motorcycle engines are cooled in one of two ways. Air either circulates around the engine as the bike rolls down the road or coolant liquid is pumped through channels in the engine. A telltale sign of liquid cooling is a radiator in front of the engine, which looks similar to the radiator in front of your car engine, though much smaller. Air-cooled engines are usually covered in fins to help release heat. Liquid cooling is superior since it works even when the bike is stuck at a stoplight. Air-cooled engines can overheat if the bike isn’t moving. Many Harley-Davidsons are still air-cooled.
  • Belt vs. Chain – Motorcycles are propelled forward by either a metal chain, similar to a bicycle, or a rubber belt extending from the engine back to the rear wheel. A third option, shaft drives, is becoming more common. These bikes have a metal shaft, similar to a car's driveshaft, extending from the engine to the rear wheel. 

If you happen to hop on a bike during Street Vibrations week, you’ll no doubt pass other bikers on the road. Bikers often wave to each other. You’ll be excited by the inclusion but don’t show it in an overly enthusiastic wave.

Put in as little effort as possible, taking your left hand off the handlebar and giving one twitch of the wrist as you pass. Nothing more.

Read or Share this story: