Motorbike or motorcycle? Same same, or different?

Stock photo via Piqsels

Motorbikes, motorcycles…..what’s the difference? Although some say there is a difference, having this conversation can end in confusion and mixed results, depending on who you are talking with. As many use such vehicles in their daily lives here in Thailand, the topic often comes up in some way, shape, or form. But, that topic is usually discussed between expats, who bring their home country’s lingo with them upon arriving in the Kingdom.

Same same? Or different?

Although the 2 terms are quite similar, many argue that they are, indeed, different. Some say that the difference is in the size and horsepower. But others say the terms are identical in meaning. Depending on where you are from, the terms ‘motorbike’ and ‘motorcycle’ could be used interchangeably. And, if they are not considered the same, expats oftentimes think using such words to describe the same thing is absolutely mental.

Common myths

One of the most common myths is that a motorcycle is bigger and more powerful than a motorbike. However, there is no known legislation that backs up such a claim. Although this difference in bikes could be true, it has never actually been proven, therefore it is best thought of as a myth.

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A history of the words’ meanings

Although the 2 terms are interchangeable when describing the same type of vehicle, many still claim there is a difference. Yet, if you look at the words that were fused together when creating the terminology, it is essentially the same meaning. As motorcycle technically means the combination of a ‘motor’ and ‘bicycle’, a motorbike combines the terms ‘motor’ and ‘bike.’

It’s all about the context

Many wonder why ‘motorcycle’ is used in certain situations, while ‘motorbike’ is used in others. As the word ‘motorcycle’ is thought to be more formal, it is known to be used more in formal contexts. While using the word ‘motorbike’ is thought to be less formal, many use it in less formal contexts. Confused yet? The best way to explain this is when using shortened word forms that indicate the same thing as the longer word form. For example, many people say ‘bike’ instead of ‘bicycle.’ Essentially, many use motorbike as a sort of nickname for motorcycle. Legally, you may notice that the word ‘motorcycle’ is used over ‘motorbike.’

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Global differences in usage

The UK and Australia refer to the vehicle as a motorbike, though you may hear the other term as well. North and South Americans commonly say ‘motorcycle’ with hardly anyone using ‘motorbike.’ As with other differences between British and American English, various synonyms often end up sounding like a totally different language.


The arguments that a motorcycle has more power and is larger in size, don’t exactly hold up to most published definitions of the 2 words. As they are used interchangeably and basically mean the same thing, it all comes down to where you are from and how formal you speak. But, if you are wanting to impress someone, using the word ‘motorcycle’ may be the way to go, as many brands of motorcycles can go quite faster than motorbikes. And, if this last statement gets you riled up, remember that a ‘synonym,’ in the English language, exists for a reason.

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Ann Carter

Ann Carter is an award-winning journalist from the United States with over 12 years experience in print and broadcast news. Her work has been featured in America, China and Thailand as she has worked internationally at major news stations as a writer and producer. Carter graduated from the Walter Williams Missouri School of Journalism in the USA.