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?


7 Answers 7


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.

  • 2
    Hmmm... I would say the passenger is riding pillion and call the person riding the bike the rider.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 21:24
  • +1 - But you could call out the difference more, I misread your answer the first time.
    – Nicole
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 23:09
  • Does the first sentence of your answer mean that "driving a motorcycle" is wrong while "riding a motorcycle" is correct, or that both of them are equally acceptable? Commented Mar 19, 2020 at 22:00
  • @MrReality: They are equivalent.
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 19, 2020 at 23:16

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.

  • How do you explain "ride a train"?
    – Betty
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 19:18

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).

  • 2
    The last para. is interesting to me, since it vaguely reflects my comment about trikes. Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 5:54
  • This ngram result is mostly irrelevant. "Bikes" first and foremost are BICYCLES, only secondarily motorcycles. So of course the result is heavily skewed in favor of "ride a bike" Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 9:55
  • According to Lexico, to drive is too "operate a motor vehicle". The OP's confusion is perfectly understandable because motorbikes are motor vehicles. Non-electric bicycles aren't, so it might not be appropriate to say "drive a bike", which could explain your skewed ngram result. Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 12:01

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 means 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.

  • 1
    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
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 21:28
  • 3
    Ride does imply control if you are known to be alone on the conveyance (vehicle or animal).
    – msanford
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 23:48
  • 1
    Not necessarily. You can ride a bucking horse or ride a train. You can ride a roller coaster too.
    – JDF
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 14:57

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"


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.

  • 1
    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
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 19:42
  • 1
    Sure, but you still drive a motorcycle.
    – MrHen
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 19:48
  • 2
    @The Raven: I don't understand the problem here: Google; NGram. "Ride" is significantly more common but "drive" works just fine.
    – MrHen
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 20:09
  • 1
    @Raven Really? What makes you say that?
    – HaL
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 20:15
  • 1
    @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
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 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?

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