How a Motorcycle Works

A motorcycle is loosely defined as any motor vehicle with fewer than four wheels. This encompasses vehicles known as “trikes” as well as motorized vehicles with sidecars, scooters, and mopeds. However, the classic two-wheel variety of motorcycle that was designed in the 1910s is what is commonly thought of when a motorcycle is referenced. This design has remained largely unchanged since that time.

Motorcycle Design

For the most part, motorcycle creators follow the same basic design. This typically always includes the frame, front fork, suspension, wheels, tires, brakes, final drive, transmission, instrument panel, and engine. The motorcycle parts function in synchronization to allow a smooth ride. The quality of these parts dictates how well a motorcycle will work.

The frame supports the other motorcycle parts and is typically made out of aluminum or steel, but can be made from other metals, such as titanium. The front fork has two fork tubes that hold the front wheel. These forks are attached to a triple tree, which connects the fork tubes to the handlebars. The triple tree runs through the head tube of the frame. Both are cylindrical and designed to allow a pivot for steering of the motorcycle.

The suspension system on motorcycles can vary according to design. The front suspension can be inside of the triple tree, or it can be included externally. The most common forms of rear suspension include dual shock, monoshock, and softtail style suspension. The wheels are usually steel or aluminum, but other metals can be used. The wheels hold the tires. The design and style of the tires can vary according to the motorcycle’s intended use.

Motorcycle Function

The engine, transmission, final drive, and instrument panel are the key elements in the function of the motorcycle, or how the motorcycle works. Most motorcycle engines are gasoline powered, internal combustion engines. However, some electric engines are used, as well as diesel engines. In the standard gasoline powered engine, the motion of pistons is converted into rotary motion. The size of the engine dictates the power of the motorcycle, and larger engine sizes may allow motorcycles to reach faster speeds more quickly.

The transmission is what conveys this piston motion to the final drive. The transmission is controlled by a foot lever, which can be shifted by the driver to control motorcycle speeds. The final drive can be a chain drive, belt drive, or shaft drive, depending upon the design of the motorcycle. This line of energy that starts at the engine ends at the rear wheel, propelling the motorcycle forward. The instrument panel usually consists of a speedometer, odometer, and tachometer. More recently, motorcycle designers have also started to include a fuel gauge.


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