English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

When you are the one steering the motorbike/motorcycle, are you driving the motorcycle, or riding the motorcycle?

I am asking because someone tried to correct my status update. Here's my status and the comment:

Today, after 6 years, I drove a motorcycle on a long route. Great Feeling. Loved it!

Comment: you don't drive a bicycle or motocycle... You ride a motorcycle... You drive a car...

Is that right?

share|improve this question
Just thought I'd add a 'side note' that while one would drive a car and ride a motorcycle, the experience of controlling a trike is so much more like a car than a bike that I'd call it 'driving a trike'. – Andrew Thompson Apr 15 '11 at 5:52
Looking at the American corpus, 'drive a motorcycle' has 5 hits, 'ride' has 26. Ride seems to be the more standard usage. – Adam Jun 23 '12 at 14:29
up vote 10 down vote accepted

If you are driving the motorcycle you are riding it. If you are on the back while someone else is driving it, you are riding on it.

share|improve this answer
Hmmm... I would say the passenger is riding pillion and call the person riding the bike the rider. – z7sg Ѫ Apr 14 '11 at 21:24
+1 - But you could call out the difference more, I misread your answer the first time. – NickC Apr 14 '11 at 23:09

The terminology is left over from the days before motorized conveyances, where to "drive" horses or cattle was to induce them to move in a desired direction. People "rode" horses by sitting on them. People "drove" carriages by inducing the horses pulling them to move. People "rode in" carriages or "rode on" wagons when they weren't the driver.

So now,

  • if something is a one-person mechanical conveyance you sit on, like a horse, you "ride" it.
  • if something looks more like a carriage than a horse, you "drive" it.
  • If something looks more like a carriage than a horse, and you are not controlling it, you "ride in" or "ride on" it (depending on whether you are inside or outside).

If elephants (which more than one person can ride) had been more common in England, we might "ride" rather than "drive" cars.

share|improve this answer

Ride means, as reported by the NOAD and the OED, "sit on and control a bicycle or motorcycle for recreation or as a means of transport;" it also mean "sit on and control the movement of an animal, especially a horse."

Diana went to watch him ride his horse.
She rode a Harley Davidson across the U.S.

share|improve this answer
Technically, ride does not necessarily imply control as you can simply sit there and let something else do the controlling. But otherwise yeah, this is accurate. – MrHen Apr 14 '11 at 21:28
Ride does imply control if you are known to be alone on the conveyance (vehicle or animal). – msanford Apr 14 '11 at 23:48

A bike is ridden. Please see Google NGrams Viewer for some empirical evidence.

I caution against using "drive motorcycle" as a search term because, while hugely prevalent, it refers not to the action but to the type of drive-train.

Additionally: a horse is ridden when atop it but driven when behind it (as with a carriage or a plough horse).

share|improve this answer
The last para. is interesting to me, since it vaguely reflects my comment about trikes. – Andrew Thompson Apr 15 '11 at 5:54

I would say ride/rode a motorcycle.
Unless you were making a deliberate point about a car alternative = "I don't drive a car I drive a motorbike"

share|improve this answer

I would use "drive" to describe operating most machines or motorized vehicles. You can drive a car, bus, truck, motorcycle, tractor. "Ride" would be necessary for bicycles, horses, donkeys and very large dogs.

That being said, the term "cattle drive" is a good example of the word's usage aside from the riding/driving meaning.

share|improve this answer
The reason one "rides" a motorcycle instead of "driving" it because of the seating position; in the case of bicycles and motorcycles, one sits astride them, as with horses, hence "ride." – The Raven Apr 14 '11 at 19:42
Sure, but you still drive a motorcycle. – MrHen Apr 14 '11 at 19:48
@The Raven: I don't understand the problem here: Google; NGram. "Ride" is significantly more common but "drive" works just fine. – MrHen Apr 14 '11 at 20:09
@Raven Really? What makes you say that? – HaL Apr 14 '11 at 20:15
@MrHen Well OK, you do have a point, and perhaps it is indeed acceptable in common usage, but it really grates for me! Certainly in the official literature they studiously avoid using the verb drive for motorcylists. – z7sg Ѫ Apr 14 '11 at 21:48

I would say it depends on the context of what you are saying.

If you need to state that

there is something funny about the way he is riding the motorbike

it is different than saying

there is something funny about the way he is driving the motorbike


where riding indicates the activity of sitting on, and driving indicates the activity of pushing forwards.

So... were you sitting on the motorbike whilst it was taking you for a ride? or were you pushing that motorbike around like a slave of your will?

share|improve this answer

protected by RegDwigнt Jun 23 '12 at 11:58

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.