Types of Motorcycle Engines

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Among the different manufactures and types of motorcycles you’ll find a variety of different types of motorcycle engines.

Each engine comes with its own performance and engineering pros and cons, and this page will go over some of them.

You’ll also start to notice that certain types of engines are more common for certain styles of motorcycle and certain manufacturers.

The type of engine a motorcycle has will have a big influence over its overall style and configuration as well as how it performs. As you gain more riding experience and try different bikes, you may find that you prefer a certain type of engine over another. A lot of it comes down to personal preference.

Sometimes you’ll notice a certain bike referred to by the type of engine it has. i.e. twin, triple, four, etc.

This page will provide you with an overview of the common and less common types of motorcycle engine designs you’ll find with a few examples of some bikes that use them.

Single Cylinder Motorcycle Engines

Single cylinder motorcycle engines are just what they sound like – an engine with one cylinder and piston.

Singles are common in smaller engines, but can be found in mid-sized dual sports as well, e.g. the Kawasaki KLR 650.

Most enduros and off-road motorcycle feature a single cylinder engine.

Singles, of thumpers, have the benefit of being cheaper to build and easier to maintain. They’re lightweight and compact too, making them a common choice for smaller motorcycles.

These engines produce good low-end torque, but come with a lot more vibration.

Some bikes that feature single cylinder engines include:

  • Honda CBR300R
  • Kawasaki KLR650
  • KTM 690 Duke
  • Suzuki DR650

Parallel Twin Motorcycle Engines (Inline Twin)

Parallel twin engines feature two cylinders side-by-side.

This is another light and compact engine design that can be found in a variety of bikes from sports bikes to cruisers to standards.

These twins are known for responsive power and high performance.

Like the single, parallel twins can also have a noticeably higher vibration than some of the engine designs below.

Some examples of bikes that feature parallel twin engines include:

  • BMW F800 GS
  • Honda NC750X
  • Kawasaki Ninja
  • Kawasaki Versys 650
  • Triumph Bonneville
  • Yamaha R3

V-Twin Engine

The V-Twin engine is pretty much synonymous with American cruisers like Harley Davidsons and Indians, but they’re found in plenty of other bikes as well.

V-Twins feature two large cylinders opposite one another in a V shape.

They have an unmistakable low-pitched sound and feature a wide powerband and excellent torque.

They also have the benefit of having a good ratio of power output to their overall size and weight. Plus they can really add to the overall appearance of a given bike.

V-Twins do come with some vibration, and can experience some cooling issues when the cylinders are designed in a front-to-back orientation.

Some bikes that feature a V-Twin engine include:

  • Most American Cruisers – Harley, Indians
  • Honda Shadow
  • KTM Superduke
  • Yamaha Virago

Boxer Twin or Flat Twin

Boxer twins or flat twins are found in many BMW motorcycles.

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This type of engine features two cylinders opposite each other lying flat out of each side.

These engines are powerful throughout the engine’s entire range and have a low center of gravity.

The downsides to this design is their wide profile, which can reduce the lean angle limit of the bike.

Bikes with a flat twin engine include:

  • BMW GS
  • BMW RnineT
  • BMW RT

Inline-Three or Triple

Inline three or triples feature three cylinders side by side in the front of the engine.

This type of engine performs well in most riding conditions.

While they typically don’t have the highest top speeds, they excel in pretty much every other aspect.

Bikes featuring an inline three engine include:

  • Many Triumphs
  • Yamaha FZ
  • Yamaha MT

Inline-Four

The inline four features 4 cylinders side by side in the front of the engine. These were popularized by superbikes like the Honda CB750 and many of the other Japanese motorcycles at the time.

Inline-4s feature great performance in a well engineered design.

These engines are smooth, rev high, and are capable of producing a lot of horsepower.

The drawback being the larger overall size and weight these engines add to the bike.

Motorcycles that feature an inline four include:

  • Honda CB750
  • Honda CB650
  • Kawasaki Z800
  • Suzuki GSR750

V-4 Motorcycle Engine

A V-4 motorcycle engine is essentially two V-twins combined.

They are extremely powerful engines, but their large, heavy, complex, and expensive to build.

Some examples of motorcycles with a V4 include:

  • Aprilia RSV4 RF
  • Honda VFR 1200F
  • Honda VFR800X
  • Yamaha V-Max

Less Common Motorcycle Engines

Here are some other less common motorcycle engines that you can find in older machines as well as a handful of modern bikes.

Flat Four

The flat four adds two extra cylinders to each side of the flat twin.

Examples include the original Honda GL1000.

Inline-Six

An Inline-6 engines adds another two cylinders to the already larger inline 4 described above.

Examples include the Honda CBX and the Kawasaki Z1300.

Rotary Motorcycle Engine or Wankel

The Wankel engine, or a rotary motorcycle engine, is probably the most unique engine design.

Instead of the standard up and down piston motion that most of the engines above feature, a rotary engine is designed to spin to create power.

Some examples include the Suzuki RE5 and the Norton RCW588.

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