What is a Powersport Vehicle? [Infographic + Video]


Powersport vehicles are designed for racing and recreational pleasure riding. The main defining feature of powersport vehicles is that on these machines the rider sits on a saddle rather than inside an enclosed space. These machines are typically powered by a high-performance engine and controlled with a handlebar. The most well-known powersport vehicles are as follows:

If you want to find out more about these amazing adrenaline-rushing machines, this post is for you.

For your convenience, we at PowerSportsGuide have compiled the basics of powersport vehicles under one roof!

What is a powersport vehicle?

What’s the Difference Between Motorsports and Powersports?

Generally speaking, powersports is considered to be a subset of motorsports. The term ‘motorsports’ typically refers to a bunch of sporting events and competitions involving the use of high-performance vehicles or vessels. The most popular ‘general’ motorsport vehicles are racing cars and boats. But if the races or events involve motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles, or jet skis, they are considered to be powersports’ events.

This subcategory typically includes off-road ATV and motocross racing as well. The most popular competition for powersport vehicles is arguably the X-Games.

Types of Powersport Vehicles

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and take a closer look at the different types of powersport vehicles!

Motorcycles

There is no question that the most popular powersport vehicles are street motorcycles. Why?

This is because these machines can be ridden on public roads!

That’s why they are also known as ‘street-legal powersport vehicles.’

In contrast, if you want to legally ride a dirt bike, ATV, or snowmobile, you typically must transport these vehicles to a trail.

Of course, they can be ridden on private lands as well or even certain public lands (where it’s permitted), but it’s safe to say that most of these machines are used on trails.

As you might assume, hauling these machines is always a big hassle. You have to load and unload them onto a trailer every time and getting to the trail also requires time and money.

But if you own a street-legal motorcycle, you can simply jump on the saddle in your driveway and go for a quick ride. It’s far easier than hauling an off-road powersport vehicle every weekend!

What’s more, today’s motorcycles offer plenty of power, even entry-level models offer a ton of fun. The flagship models can hit an amazing 185 mph!

Another reason why motorcycles are the most popular powersport vehicles is that they are very small and take up very little space in the garage. Jet skis, snowmobiles, and ATVs typically sit on a trailer that takes the place of a second car or other types of gear!

On top of that, motorcycles are among the cheapest powersport vehicles. You can find many affordable entry-level models on the market, and a dealership is virtually on every corner.

That’s why there are about 8.5 million registered motorcycles are in the United States!

Just like street-legal motorcycles, dirt bikes are also popular due to their small dimensions and weight.

Trikes

Besides regular motorcycles, trikes are also gaining in popularity. These vehicles are actually 3-wheeler motorcycles, so they are often classified together.

Trikes come in many shapes such as regular or reverse trikes, but “old-school” sidecar motorcycles are still available on the market. (Just as aftermarket sidecar manufacturers still exist!)

The most well-known factory-built trikes are the Can-Am Spyder/Ryker, and the legendary Harley Trikes.

Regular touring or cruiser motorcycles can also be turned into trikes by installing an aftermarket trike kit. Fortunately, besides the regular “rigid” design, leaning trike kits are also available!

Trikes are great for seniors or disabled riders as they offer excellent stability and more safety than their 2-wheeler brothers.

Drawbacks?

To the greatest regret of many fans, trike motorcycles are typically very expensive. And a trike hogs as much space as a car in the garage.

Snowmobiles

When winter comes powersport enthusiasts (or at least the lucky ones) store their jet skis and/or motorcycles and take out their snowmobiles!

Snowmobiles are extremely fast and offer an outstanding experience as many of them can run in deep snow with ease. Others are designed for fast trail riding, touring, or even for work.

At first glance, snowmobiles look like reverse trikes.

One of the main differences between these machines is that snowmobiles feature a pair of skis on their front instead of two wheels. As you can imagine, they do a much better job on snow!

For a better grip, these skis are often equipped with carbides, which work like skate blades on ice and hard-packed snow.

Another special feature of snowmobiles is that they are propelled by a huge track instead of a rear wheel. The track features many lugs (paddles) that bite into the snow in order to move the machine forward.

Owners who often ride on ice and hard-packed trails often add studs to the track for better performance.

Snowmobiles are manufactured with CVT transmissions, meaning that you don’t have to shift. It’s very convenient, but on the other hand, CVT clutches require much more attention than regular motorcycle transmissions.

The main cons of snowmobiles are their hefty price tags and short seasons.

Other lesser-known powersport vehicles are the more and more popular snow bikes.

In a nutshell, these machines are dirt bikes that have been converted into a snowmobile. This means that its front wheel is replaced with a ski while the rear wheel is switched out for a track.

Jet skis (PWCs)

Jet skis are the only powersport vehicles that run on the water. There are two main types of jet skis on the market, the stand-up and sit-down models.

Sit-down jet skis are far more popular as they can typically carry up to three passengers and require far fewer skills to ride.

They are powered with 60-310 HP engines and can reach amazing top speeds on the water (up to 67-70 mph!).

Today’s sit-down jet skis are pretty huge, so they can be used for many other purposes besides pleasure riding.

The most popular activities involve jet ski fishing, touring, and even towing a wakeboarder.

Unlike sit-down models, stand-up jet skis are designed for tricks and buoy racing. These require some practice and athletic skills to ride. What’s more, riding a stand-up is always a solo activity.

This is why these models are much less popular, even if they are significantly cheaper compared to sit-down jet skis.

ATVs

Other popular off-road powersport vehicles are ATVs (All-Terrain Vehicles).

As their name implies these vehicles can be used on various terrains. They basically look like a 4-wheeler motorcycle that runs on low-pressure tires.

ATVs are also known by many other names like quads, 4-wheelers, or LUVs. The latter stands for Light Utility Vehicles.

This is because ATVs are categorized into two main groups, Sport and Utility ATVs.

Sport ATVs are more aggressive as they are designed for racing and great adrenaline rushes. Therefore, these machines offer a lot of power and excellent maneuverability.

Even if Sport ATVs are more stable than dirt bikes, they still require a lot of strength and attention to ride them properly.

In contrast, Utility ATVs are typically used for work and touring. They typically come with bigger wheels and two or four-wheel drive depending on the model. Utility ATVs are often equipped with a hitch, winch, and storage racks.

Simply put, these machines are more for farm work rather than trail riding. However, they are also commonly used for touring, as they offer better capacities and more comfort than their Sport siblings.

The main advantage of ATVs is their affordable prices, at least compared to other powersport vehicles like snowmobiles or jet skis!

UTVs

UTVs are the big brothers of ATVs, as they come with larger chassis, higher-performance engines, roll-cages, and much higher price tags.

The name of these vehicles (UTV: Utility Terrain Vehicles) suggests that they were originally built and used for work, especially hauling heavy supplies and equipment.

But as in the case of ATVs, more and more sport UTVs have been designed for racing and pleasure riding rather than for utility purposes.

Surprisingly, by definition UTVs are not powersport vehicles as the driver sits inside the vehicle instead on it.

This means that UTVs feature car-like bucket seats as well as regular steering wheels and pedals. The seats are mounted next to each other, which is why UTVs are often referred to as side-by-sides, or SxS.

But despite these facts, just like ATVs, sport UTVs are typically considered to be powersport vehicles, even if they don’t perfectly fit the line.

Let’s face it, both of these vehicles are very similar and designed for the same purpose.

Besides UTVs we also have to mention dune buggies and sand rails, as these machines are all closely related to each other. The main difference is that the latter machines are built for driving on sand.

Again, UTVs, sand rails, and dune buggies offer a “car-like” driving experience.

Therefore, strictly speaking they are not powersport vehicles. But we can’t go wrong by classifying these vehicles in the same family!

Where Can You Ride a Powersport Vehicle?

Powersport vehicles are designed for various terrains and purposes, so it can be confusing as to where you can ride them. 

For your convenience we’ve listed the most popular powersport vehicles with their terrain into one chart!

Where to Ride Powersport Vehicles
Street Street-legal motorcycles, trikes
Off-Road ATVs, UTVs, dirt bikes, ADV and dual sport motorcycles
Sand Sand rails, dune buggies
Snow Snowmobiles, snow bikes, ATVs and UTVs with track kits
Water Jet skis

As you can see, if you want to ride on streets you should take a look at street-legal motorcycles and trikes. But if you like spending time on the water, then a jet ski is the only way to go!

Off-Road Powersports Vehicles

Powersport vehicles can also be classified as street-legal, as well as off-road machines. As a rule of thumb, off-road powersport vehicles are as follows:

  • Dirt bikes, ADV, and dual sport motorcycles
  • ATVs
  • UTVs
  • Sand rails and dune buggies

Besides dirt bikes, there are many other motorcycle models which can leave the road without issues.

You can find these bikes mainly in the ADV (adventure), and in dual-sport categories.

Performance of Powersport Vehicles

In the world of powersports the performance numbers are always the main focus, and with good reason. As their name suggests, these vehicles need a lot of power to produce high performance.

Are you wondering how powerful they are?

The engine power of these machines varies widely depending on the type and model. Generally speaking, powersport vehicles produce 20-310 HP and can go as fast as 70-185 mph! The fastest powersport vehicles are 1000-1400cc supersport motorcycles, which offer a (limited!) top speed of 185 mph.

For a better comparison, we’ve listed the HP ratings and top speed figures of powersport vehicles into one chart.

Powersport Vehicle Top Speed Chart

Vehicle Top speed (mph) HP
Motorcycle 30-185 10-230
Trike 80-130 80-150
Snowmobile 60-120 60-210
UTV, Buggy 40-85 40-170
ATV 30-80 20-90
Jet ski 40-70 60-310

These figures are for informational purposes only!

Jet skis are among the slowest powersport vehicles out there but beware that 70 mph is extremely fast on the water.

Especially if you are sitting so close to the water like on a tiny jet ski!

Passenger Capacity of Powersport Vehicles

Let’s face it, riding these machines is mainly a solo activity. Sure, you can take a passenger with you on a motorcycle or on a jet ski, but due to the extra weight you have to be prepared for a completely different riding experience. What’s more, you have to ride much more carefully as well. Because of this, many owners prefer riding alone.

However, most of these vehicles can carry one or even more passengers along with some gear.

Vehicle Rider Capacity
Motorcycle 1-2
Trike 1-2
Snowmobile 1-2
UTV, Buggy 1-6
ATV 1-2
Jet ski 1-3

The best vehicles for carrying more people are arguably UTVs and buggies as they can comfortably accommodate the passenger(s). It’s a fun fact that some UTVs can accommodate up to 6 riders!

But as we’ve discussed, these machines are not actually powersport vehicles by definition.

Powersport Dealerships Near Me

If you are in the market for a powersport vehicle, you probably want to know where you can buy one. The good news is that in many cases you can find these machines under one roof, as many powersport dealerships specialize in these machines. In these shops during the winter months, you are likely to find snowmobiles on the displays. When spring comes, these are replaced with ATVs, dirt bikes and jet skis.

If you want to find the closest shops, best practice is to go online to Google and search: “Powersport dealerships near me.”

Some of these companies are single-brand dealerships, while others offer multiple brands to reduce the risk.

Are you wondering which powersport brands are the best on the market? Keep reading!

Powersport Brands

It’s safe to say that the best and most well-known powersport brands are as follows:

  • Yamaha
  • Honda
  • Suzuki
  • Kawasaki
  • Can-Am
  • Polaris
  • Arctic Cat
  • CFMoto
  • Kymco

It also has to be mentioned that not every manufacturer offers all kinds of vehicles. While most of these companies offer motorcycles and ATVs/UTVs, only a few of them manufacture jet skis or snowmobiles.

For a better comparison, we’ve compiled the offerings of each brand in one place!

Powersport Manufacturers (Chart)

Brand Jet Ski Sled Bike ATV/ UTV
Yamaha Yes Yes Yes Yes
Honda Yes Yes
Kawasaki Yes Yes Yes
Suzuki Yes Yes
Polaris Yes Yes
BRP Yes Yes Trike Yes
Arctic Cat Yes Yes
CFMoto Yes Yes
Kymco Yes Yes

It’s also good to know that Can-Am belongs to the Canadian company BRP (Bombardier Recreational Product). The company markets its powersport vehicles under different brand names like Sea-Doo (jet skis) or Ski-Doo (snowmobiles).

Conclusion

Simply put, powersports is a subset category of motorsports. Motorsports is a border category that includes car, boat, or even airplane competitions and events.

The main defining features of powersport vehicles are as follows:

  • Designed for racing or recreational pleasure riding
  • Powered by a high-performance (often turbo/supercharged) engine
  • Controlled by a handlebar, levers and/or a twist throttle
  • The rider sits on a saddle rather than inside of a machine
  • The rider is exposed to the elements
  • Hefty price tags and high maintenance needs

Taking all this into account, the list of powersport vehicles are as follows:

  • Jet skis (PWCs)
  • Motorcycles
  • Trikes
  • Snowmobiles/Snow bikes
  • ATVs

Although UTVs (side-by-sides) are not powersport vehicles strictly by definition, they are often classified into this family too!

That’s why UTVs can be found in the offerings of many powersport dealerships.

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