Knowing how your motorcycle works can help make you a better rider, and it will make it much easier to diagnose issues and fix your bike.
The page will provide an overview of some of the main parts you’ll find on most motorcycles.
If you’re ready to dive in, check out our free motorcycle repair and maintenance guides.
- Motorcycle Controls
- Electrical Components
- Wheels & Brakes
- Frame, Body, and Suspension
- Engine, Fuel, and Intake Components
- Transmission and Final Drive
First up is the motorcycle’s control components. These parts are what allow you to accelerate, stop, steer, and control the bike’s electronics.
The clutch lever is found on the left side of your handlebars. Pulling in the clutch will disengage the gears and allow the engine to spin freely. You’ll do this to shift gears.
Gear Shift Lever
Also on your left-hand side if the gear shift lever.
When you operate the clutch with your left hand, you’ll use your left foot to tap up or down on the gear shift lever to change gears.
Front Brake Lever
The front brake lever is located on the right side of your handlebar. This controls the front brake, which has the majority of your motorcycle’s stopping power.
Rear Brake Pedal
The rear brake pedal is located on the right side of your motorcycle and is operated by pressing down on it with your foot.
For optimal braking, both the rear brake pedal and the front brake lever should be operated at the same time.
The throttle is located on the right side of your handlebars.
To open the throttle and speed up, you roll it backwards or up towards you.
To close the throttle and slow down, you roll it forwards or down away from you.
Your handlebars allow you to steer your motorcycle and contain all of the hand controls.
To steer your motorcycle, you’ll need to practice pressing on the handlebars in order to corner properly.
Foot pegs are located near each foot control. These are where you’ll place your feet as you ride and operate the clutch gear shift and the rear brake.
If your bike has room for passengers, there will also be passenger foot pegs towards the back of the bike.
Both the left and right side of your handlebars has an electronic hand control.
The left side control typically includes controls for your lights, turn signals, and horn.
The right side control typically includes controls for the ignition and the kill switch.
The tachometer is a gauge that measures engine speed, or RPM. It can be in mechanical or digital form.
The speedometer is a gauge that measures your motorcycle’s speed. It can also be in mechanical or digital form.
Electrical components are the systems that power your bike. This includes both ignition spark as well as lights and accessories.
The ignition switch takes your ignition key and allows you to control power from the battery to your bike.
The ignition coils are the part of the ignition system that deliver a spark to the spark plugs.
Ignition Timing System
The ignition system relies on a timing component to deliver the spark to the spark plug when the pistons are in the right positions.
On older bikes, this consisted of a points ignition. Modern motorcycles feature electronic ignitions.
The spark plugs sit at the top of the combustion chambers and deliver a spark that ignites the fuel/air mixture and moves the pistons.
The battery provides power to the ignition to start the bike and powers the electrical components.
The motorcycle charging system works to keep the battery charged as the bike operates. It consists of a stator, regulator, and rectifier that convert AC to DC to charge the battery.
Motorcycles, like cars, consist of headlights (high beams/low beams), tail lights, turn signals, and brake lights.
Most bikes will also include auxiliary lights to illuminate the gauges and dashboard indicators and components.
The wire harness is designed to contain and organize all the different wires that need to route from the back and front of the bike to the battery and other electrical systems.
Wheels & Brakes
Your wheels and brakes allow you to stop and go. Here are the main components.
Your motorcycle’s tires are what keep your bike in contact the ground. They have an affect on how your bike handles and performs.
Depending on the bike you have, tires can come in different patterns and designs that are suited more for pavement or dirt use.
Tires also come in a variety of sizes and speed ratings.
Depending on the type of tire and rims, you’ll either use them with a tube or tubeless.
Rims & Wheel Hub
The rims and hub connect the tires to the axels.
Motorcycle rims are either spoked or a solid unit connected to the hubs.
The hubs are what connect the wheels to the brakes, sprockets, and axels. They include bearings that allow the wheel to spin around its axel.
Motorcycle brakes typically come in the form of disc brakes or drum brakes.
A disc brake features a brake disc that spins with the hub and a brake caliper and brake pads that stop the disc when the brake lever is engaged.
A drum brake is built into the hub and features a spring and lever mechanism that expand brake pads towards an outer hub to stop the wheel.
The axel goes through the hub to attach the wheel to the front forks and the rear swingarm.
Frame, Body, and Suspension
The frame, body, and suspension components are what hold everything together and keep everything together as you ride. The main ones you should know about are below.
The side stand or kick stand is located on the left-side of the motorcycle near the foot peg.
When you park your bike, you lower the side stand and turn your handlebars to the left to balance it.
Some bikes also feature a center stand. A center stand connect underneath the bike and allows you to prop up the bike with the rear wheel suspended in the air.
The front forks attach the front wheel to the triple tree and handlebars.
These absorb impact and shock as you ride.
The rear suspension connects to the rear swingarm and the frame.
These also aid in absorbing shocks and bumps as you ride.
The swing arm connects to the frame and rear suspension. This is what the rear wheel connects to.
As you ride, the swingarm will move up and down along with the rear suspension.
The seat, or saddle, is where the rider and passengers sit.
Fenders go over the front and rear wheels to prevent dirt and road debris from hitting the riding and the motorcycle’s engine and other components.
The triple tree connects through the frame’s steering stem, forks, and handlebars.
This allows your to control the bike.
The frame is what keeps everything contained, organized, and secured.
Side covers or body covers are used to cover up and protect electrical components on the sides of your bike.
Fairs and windshields connect to the front of the bike to shield the rider from wind and road debris.
Engine, Fuel, and Intake Components
This is the stuff that makes your bike go. The heart of your motorcycle, if you will.
The petcock controls the flow of fuel from the gas tanks. Depending on the type of petcock, they may features some of the following positions:
- On: Fuel flows freely from the gas tank to the carbs/fuel system.
- Off: Fuel will not flow.
- Reserve: Fuel will flow from the reserve level.
- Auto: Fuel will be pulled in to the system through the vacuum of the fuel system or fuel injectors..
The gas tank holds your motorcycle’s fuel. It sits in the front of the rider on top of the frame.
On liquid cooled motorcycles, the radiator cools and holds the liquid used to cool the engine.
The exhaust connects to the engine’s cylinder block and releases the combustion gases after each cycle.
On carbureted motorcycles, the carbs control the fuel and air mixture that gets to the combustion chamber at different speeds.
On carbureted motorcycles, the choke can temporarily enrich the fuel mixture to make it easier to start a cold bike.
On motorcycles with fuel injectors, these take the place of carbs and supply the engine with the right amount of fuel depending on engine speed and throttle position.
Air filters control the air flow going into the combustion chamber and make sure nothing but air passes through.
The engine consists of a camshaft, valves, combustion chamber, pistons, and a crankshaft. As the engine goes through its combustion cycles, the crankshaft moves and transfers energy to the clutch and transmission.
Transmission and Final Drive
And finally, these components are what turn your engine’s combustion cycles into forward momentum and speed. Check it out.
The clutch connects the crankshaft gears to the transmission gears.
It consists of plates and springs that can either engage and connect the gears or disengage and allow the engine to spin freely.
The transmission consists of gears, shift forks, and gear shafts that can move to different configurations and gear ratios as the shift lever is activated.
These connect the clutch and the final drive.
The front sprocket connects to the transmission.
The rear sprocket connects to the rear hub.
The drive chain connects the front and rear sprockets and transfers the energy from the transmission to the rear wheel to make the bike go.