You Call it Your “Ride,” but What Does the State Call It?

by Driving Guide | Last Updated: January 11, 2021

So you just picked up a new scooter, moped or motorcycle and you’re ready to take to the open road. Before you swing your leg over that new beast, it’s important to know what your state considers that beast to be. Just because that 150CC bike seems like a motorcycle to you, doesn’t mean that the state sees it that way. This will be good to know as classification determines restrictions and licensing requirements. While concrete definitions are state specific, these general guidelines will give you a good idea of what qualifies as a motorcycle and what doesn’t.


If moving your bike down the road involves pedaling on your part, you probably don’t have a motorcycle. Even mopeds that offer minimal engine assistance likely don’t qualify to be called motorcycles.

Three or Less Wheels

A fully motorized vehicle with three or fewer wheels will most likely be classified as a motorcycle. That means that even though it has handlebars, you can’t ride your four-wheeler out on the road. The number of wheels on a vehicle may have a bearing on the type of license requires to operate it, so be sure to consult your state’s handbook.

Engine Size Matters

The total number of CC’s is usually the main determining factor as to whether a vehicle is a motorcycle or not. Check the handbook for your state, and you’ll likely see mention of engine sizes somewhere. If your bike falls beneath the minimum CC range, you may not be required to obtain a motorcycle license to operate it. On the other hand, we also hope that you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere…

Top Speed

In some states, it’s not size but speed that matters. In those states, the top speed that can be reached will be used to make the determination if a vehicle is a motorcycle or not. For example, if your bike tops out at 40 MPH, it might be classified as a scooter rather than a motorcycle. Again, this is important and pertinent information to have to properly license yourself and the bike.
Now that you know all the different ways that ride type is determined, you can assess what type you have. Having this information allows you to know what laws and rules apply to you, helping you take the proper steps to ride legally.