14 motorcycle parts that are simply and easily explained!

Terminology can be confusing, to say the least, especially for people just getting into something or even just trying to find out more about it. To make things worse the explanations of these terms often use other terminology from the niche which needs even more explanation.

This creates what I call endless rabbit hole searches where every time you look something up, it has a term in it you don’t understand leading to another search that has yet another term you don’t understand and so on.

I have tried my best to answer the following questions with as little motorcycle terminology as I can and even when I’m forced to use one, I explain that term immediately afterward to help avoid these rabbit holes.

What is a cylinder on a motorcycle?

When someone refers to a cylinder on a motorcycle they are talking about the housing where the piston moves up and down in the engine.

This is where the power is made via burning gasoline.

It is given this name because the inside liner of this housing is a cylinder shape, even though the outside shape looks like a rectangle.

What is a motorcycle drive belt?

A motorcycle drive belt is a thin rubber/nylon strip, fastened in a loop, that transfers power from the transmission to the rear wheel.

It is typically connected to the transmission via a sprocket and to the rear wheel with yet another larger sprocket.

For proper operation, the drive belt must also have the correct tension and alignment set.

What is a motorcycle exhaust?

A motorcycle exhaust is steel tubing and a muffler connected to the cylinder that directs combustion gasses (burnt gasoline) away from the engine and rider.

It also helps reduce noise and creates a backflow which helps keep raw fuel inside the cylinder longer increasing fuel economy and improving emissions.

What is a motorcycle muffler?

A motorcycle muffler is a metal canister that has 1 or more layers of metal sheets inside with holes, wire mesh, or a combination of both that is mounted to the end of the exhaust pipe.

This makes burnt gasoline (combustion gases) flow through the extra material helping to break up or “muffle” the noise made by the motorcycle’s engine.

What are motorcycle exhaust slip-ons?

A motorcycle exhaust slip-on refers to the muffler. These 2 terms are in fact, the same thing.

A motorcycle slip-on exhaust gets its name from the fact that once you remove the old muffler the new one actually slips onto the end of the exhaust pipe and is clamped down.

What are motorcycle frame sliders?

Motorcycle frame sliders are pieces fitted to the frame to help prevent damage to exhaust systems, fairings, and other related pieces if the motorcycle falls on its side.

These are usually made of some type of plastic and are very popular on sport bikes because replacing the fairings on these bikes can cost as much or more than the motorcycle itself.

What is a motorcycle ECU or ECM?

An ECU (Electronic Control Unit) or ECM (Electronic Control Module) is the control center of the electrical system and is sometimes referred to as the computer or “brain” of the motorcycle.

This is where all the programming and decision-making for electrical components are located, such as ignition and fuel injector timing, anti-lock brake and traction control system, and also tip over and crash sensors.

What is a motorcycle regulator?

A motorcycle regulator is the part of a charging system responsible for making sure the battery does not get too much voltage from the charging system while it charges the battery.

It does this by connecting the excess voltage to the ground of the motorcycle.

This can cause quite a bit of heat so most motorcycle regulators have cooling fins to help get rid of the heat.

What is a kill switch on a motorcycle?

A kill switch on a motorcycle is an electronic shut-off button that stops all electric power to the engine essentially “killing” the motorcycle.

This is usually located on the handlebars and can be the only way to shut off most dirt bikes.

On most cruiser-style motorcycles the keys are usually located on the side near the seat so having a switch on the handlebar is very convenient.

What is a clutch lever on a motorcycle?

A clutch lever on a motorcycle is a hand-operated lever that either pulls on a cable or pushes on a piston inside a hydraulic cylinder which causes the clutch plates to separate.

This allows them to move independently from one another disconnecting the engine from the transmission.

Making the clutch hand-operated allows the rider more control, especially on initial take-off.

What is a brake lever on a motorcycle?

A brake lever on a motorcycle is a hand-operated lever that pulls on a cable or pushes on a piston inside a hydraulic cylinder which causes brake pads to close on a rotor or brake shoes to push outward on an external drum slowing the tire.

This is lever is mounted to the handlebars and is usually on the same side as the throttle which gives the rider control of the front brake.

What are motorcycle brake shoes?

Motorcycle brake shoes are half-moon-shaped brake pads used in a drum brake system.

A drum brake system, unlike disc brakes which clamps pads against a disc from the outside to slow down a tire, uses brake shoes that push outward against a drum from the inside to achieve the same goal.

To help build a mental picture of this think of a drum as an empty can that is mounted to a wheel and spins with it and also has 2 of these half-moon brake shoes inside that don’t move with the wheel but can be pressed against the drum to slow down the wheel.

The rider can control the movement of these shoes via a hand-lever or foot pedal by a cable or hydraulic system. The name is believed to have arisen from the similarity to train brakes, which operate quite differently, but look similar, and have the appearance of an old shoe.

What is a brake pedal on a motorcycle?

A brake pedal on a motorcycle is a foot-operated lever that pulls on a cable or pushes on a piston inside a hydraulic cylinder which causes brake pads to close on a rotor or brake shoes to push outward on an external drum slowing the rear tire.

When someone is referencing a brake pedal on a motorcycle they are referring to the pedal on the side of the motorcycle which controls the rear wheel.

What is a motorcycle gear shift lever?

A motorcycle gear shift lever is a foot-operated pedal that controls the shifting of the transmission.

When the gear shift lever is depressed the transmission will be placed into a lower gear. Similarly when the lever is pulled upward the transmission will be placed into a higher gear.

This is recommended to be done in concert with pulling and releasing the clutch lever for smoother shifting and to help prevent damage to the transmission.

Final thoughts

With any luck, this has cleared up some of the more basic questions about motorcycle parts for you and can be a reference for you to use.

Now you will know what someone is talking about when they say things such as motorcycle cylinder or ECU and can impress them with terms like brake shoes or drum brakes.