Top 8: Greatest Motorcycle Engines
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We really are a spoiled bunch when it comes to engine configurations on our motorcycles. Singles, twins, triples, fours. Inline, parallel, V - two stroke or four. The question is, which is the best powerplant of all time?
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It may not be the most powerful engine on this list but one thing's for sure, it's without doubt the toughest. Our very own James May loves the super cub for its robustness, even dubbing it the greatest machine ever, one huge accolade indeed. It's no overestimate to say the C90 engine will go forever, they can be dragged from ditches and left to rot outside for years, only to fire back into life once again. It truly was Honda's ultimate masterpiece.
Daytona 675 Triple
Prior to 2006, the supersport category was strictly the realm of four cylinder 600cc machines from Japan. Racing success flipped between Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki and the race bikes were required to mirror their road going counterparts. Only Kawasaki dared to venture away from the 600cc limit with their 636cc Ninja (whilst still making a 600 for racing)
At the start of the millenium Triumph was back in business and they also decided to up their cc limit from 600 to 650 for added midrange. In '06 they launched the three cylinder 675cc Daytona to huge fanfare. It was the perfect combination of lightweight, a narrow profile and a big lump of torque that was missing from the competition and is still a success over a decade on.
Honda CBR250RR (1991)
Listen to that! The early 90s Honda CBR250RR was the product of a mini arms race between the Japanese, each one keen to outdo the other factories when it came to upper rev limits. Kawasaki and Honda were pretty evenly matched at the 20,000rpm range with their CBR and ZXR 250s. Yamaha and Suzuki were also in the mix with their pocket rockets, although reliability was an issue for everyone except the Honda, who always seemed to over engineer their machinery in the early 90s.
Another engine that may not boast the headline power figures, but has the character and usability that stats on paper can't seem to capture.
The little MT's parallel twin 689cc motor is tame enough for new riders to get to grips with, whilst having a raw edge that makes wheelies all the way through the gearbox a possibility. It's also a very cheap engine to make, which keeps the whole cost of the bike down. It's one of the reasons they're such a popular bike and it could be argued the MT range pulled Yamaha out of a slump caused by the falling popularity of its R6.
Yes it's another Honda engine. The NR deserves a place on this list, not because it makes huge amounts of grunt, but because it demonstrates the innovation coming out of Honda at the time. 300 examples of the 750cc 32 valve engine were produced in '92 at a considerable cost. The powerplant made a reasonable enough 125bhp from its 90 degree V4. Each piston was oval with eight valves apiece, together with eight spark plugs.
Ducati's first 1199cc Panigale engine went away from the traditional approach of a long stroke for torque, instead utilising the most oversquare setup on any production motorcycle to date.
The motor now had an incredibly short stroke with two massive pistons revving to 12,000rpm, perfect for track performance where too much torque is a hindrance. As a road bike, some were unhappy Ducati had taken the engine in that direction. Even so, it was still an utter animal that revved like a four.
Yamaha YZF R1 Crossplane CP4
Yamaha had dabbled with 'big bang' configuration engines in British Superbike racing during the 2004 season, Virgin Yamaha's team modifying the firing order of its R1 racer.
It was nicknamed the 'Scunthorpe Pig' and stood out among the Ducati twins and the rest of the fours. Yamaha had also been using this technology to great effect in MotoGP, the uneven firing order giving the YZR-M1 more traction out of corners. 2009's R1 was the first road bike to bring this technology to the street, and they've persisted with the setup to the current day with the CP4 motor. It was a genius move for Yamaha to create their own USP and set the R1 apart from the rest of the field.
Crighton CR700P (rotary)
There are many people who believe the rotary setup is a thing of the past, best consigned to the history books. Brian Crighton believes it's an engine for the future.
He has developed a 700cc twin rotor powerplant for his CR700P racer, with road bikes that are Euro 4 compatible to come in the future. The minute, compact engine makes 200bhp whilst pumping out 110 flt lbs of torque. Advances in technology mean it's far cleaner and more economical than rotary motors of old. Crighton has tested one of these engines for 1000 hours non stop, the equivalent of running it around the world twice.
It just also happens to be the best sounding engine ever made.