Type of Motorcycle Engines


We all have primarily seen one type of bike engine, the single-cylinder engine found in most motorcycles, but there is so much variety in the engines used in two-wheelers that you need to know about it. So the different types of motorcycle engines are given below;

Single Cylinder Engine

A piston engine with only one cylinder is a single-cylinder engine commonly termed a thumper. Single-cylinder engines work best on small CC bikes. They are cheap to maintain and fix if something goes wrong. Single cylinders are sluggish at higher RPMs but are very aggressive and punchy down low making them great for adrenaline-pumped low-speed rides. Also, these engines are more suitable for lightweight and low-cost motorcycles. Therefore, light-weighted sports bikes are made with single-cylinder engines.

The HONDA super cub the motor vehicle with the highest overall sales since its introduction in 1958 uses a 49CC four-stroke single-cylinder engine. There are also several single-cylinder sport bikes such as the KTM 690 due to car dual sport motorcycles such as the BMW G650 GS and the classic style royal Enfield 500 bullet.


Two Cylinder Engine

The engine has two cylinders, more cylinders mean more weight, more cost, and more power. There are different types of two cylinders used in a motorcycle they are;

Inline Twin Engine

An inline twin engine is also known as a straight twin engine. In this two cylinders are arranged in a line and a shared common crankshaft. This engine type is generally found in medium and high displacement models. The world’s first production motorcycle is in 1894 Hildebrand and WOLFMOLER were used as a straight twin engines and in 1938 triumph speed twin was a successful straight twin motorcycle which also led to straight twin engines becoming more widely used by other brands.

Examples of inline twin engines are;

  • Kawasaki ninja 650
  • HONDA CB-500 Range
  • YAMAHA MT-03
  • BMW F750GS
  • Royal Enfield Interceptor 650

V Twin Engine

A V twin engine is a two-cylinder piston engine where the cylinders share a common crankshaft and are arranged in a V configuration. God leap Daimler built one of the world’s earliest V-twin engines in 1889 and it is still in use today. Although widely associated with motorcycles installed either transversely or longitudinally. V twin engine has also been used for industrial engines and in several small cars.

You can find these engines mostly in Harleys. Although many of the angles between zero and 180 degrees are theoretically attainable for V twin engine angles smaller than 40 degrees are rarely used. The most frequent V angle for a V twin engine is 90 degrees which can produce a perfect primary balance assuming the correct counterweight is employed like most DUCATI’S, MOTO GOODIE’s, HONDA RC 51, SUZUKI TL 1000S, and TL 1000. V twin engine provides a good balance the two cylinders of this engine balance each other perfectly resulting in weight savings and increased vehicle economy.

Also, the V-twin engine provides excellent air cooling. Engines that are air-cooled or liquid-cooled perform equally well. V-type engines are tiny and lightweight compared to other engine designs making them ideal for small vehicles.

Examples of V-twin engines are;

  • Harley Davidson road glide
  • Kawasaki Vulcan 900
  • KTM 1290superduke R

L-Twin Engines

L twin engines are twin cylinder engines that have a 90-degree angle between the cylinders. These engines are relatively similar to V-twin engines in power and weight. The DUCATI V twin has the V tilted forward so the front cylinder is nearly parallel to the ground hence the terminal twin only DUCATI and moto GUZZI currently make bikes with the I-twin 90-degree engine and it is inherently the smoothest angle of any twin.

BOXER Engines

Boxer engines are also known as flat twin engines. Each pair of opposing pistons moves inwards and outwards simultaneously like boxing competitors punching their gloves together before a fight. The cylinders are present on two banks on opposite sides connected to a common crankshaft.

CARL BENZ received the patent for the flat twin engine design in 1896 and it was the Lanchester eight-horsepower phaeton automobile that had the first production flat twin engine in 1900. Since then the flat twin engine has been used in various other cars but it is most commonly found in motorcycles.

Boxer engines do not require a balance shaft or counterweights on the crankshaft to balance the weight of the reciprocating parts. These engines have excellent air cooling and good balancing and are found in many BMW models like the 1250gs.

Triple Cylinder Engines

A straight three-engine is also called an inline triple engine. It is a three-cylinder piston engine where cylinders are arranged in a line and a common crankshaft. Triple cylinder engines are a lot smoother compared to a V twin and are narrow and lighter than an inline-four.

They also provide torque like a twin cylinder and power like an inline four. These engines are not found in many motorcycles except triumph ranges like street triple and YAMAHA MT-09. The advantages of a straight three engine for motorcycles are that it has a shorter length than an inline-four engine and produces less vibration than a straight twin engine.

Examples of triple cylinder engines are;

  • SUZUKI GT380
  • LEVERTA 1003C
  • BMW K75

V-3 Engines

The V-3 engine is an engine with two cylinders in one bank and one cylinder in the other bank. It is a rare configuration that has been primarily used in two-stroke engines for motorcycles competing in racing. The first example was the 1955 DKW 350. The 1968 SUZUKI RP68 was also used in the V-3 engine and was intended to compete in the 1968 season but it never raced due to a rule change.

Examples of V-3 engines are;

  • BSL 500V3
  • HONDA MVX-250F
  • HONDA S500

W-3 Engine

One of the first W engines was the ANZANI-3 cylinder built in 1906 and used in ANZANI motorcycles. The W-3 has all three cylinders in the same plane but none of them in the same bank. The fueling W3 is a 205-liter motorcycle engine built by an aftermarket parts company in the united states in the early 2000s. The W3 engine is air cooled with two valves four bores and four strokes creating a 150 cubic inch monster. This engine will deliver 150 horsepower and 170-foot pounds of torque to the rear wheel.

Four-cylinder Engines

There are several types of the four-cylinder engine. These types are given below;

Inline four-Cylinder

The straight or inline four-cylinder engine is an engine with all cylinders aligned in one row and having no offset. Inline-four engines are also smaller in overall physical dimensions than designs and can be mounted in any direction. Straight configurations are simpler than their V-shaped counterparts. These engines have high power, comfort, good balancing, fluid operation, and very low vibrations. Belgian arms manufacturer FN HERSTAL which had been making motorcycles since 1901 began producing the first motorcycles with inline fours in 1905.

This bike looks a bit like a stretched bicycle with the engine hanging from the bottom tube of the frame with the cylinders going up the side of the bottom tube. The first across-the-frame four-cylinder motorcycle was the 1939 RACER GILERA 500 RONDINE. It also has a double inducting supercharger and was liquid-cooled. Modern inline 4 motorcycle engines first became popular with HONDA’S CB750 introduced in 1969 and others followed in the 1970s. since then the inline-four has become one of the most common engine configurations in street bikes.

The inline-four is the most common configuration because of its relatively high performance-to-cost ratio. The ability to put out large amounts of horsepower at high revs made it the ideal engine during the era of Japanese sports bikes. From the 1986 SUZUKI GSX R1100 and the 1992 HONDA CBR900RR FIREBLADE to the latest YAMAHA R1. The inline-four was the power unit of choice and that includes the current fastest production motorbike available the supercharged 998CC inline-four KAWASAKI NINJA H2.

V4 Engines

A V4 engine is a four-cylinder piston engine where the cylinders share a common crankshaft and are arranged in a V configuration. V4 engines are much less common than inline-four engines. One of the first motorcycles powered by a V4 engine was the 1931-1935 Matchless Silver Hawk built in the United Kingdom. V4 engines were used during the mid to late 1980s, especially in transverse engines. Honda motorcycles had a 90-degree V4 engine with water cooling. The majority of 2020 moto GP manufacturers chose the V4 configuration for their bikes.

Examples of V4 engines are;

  • Honda NC30
  • Honda NC35
  • Ducati DISMO
  • Honda RC213V

Five-cylinder engine

The straight five or inline five-engine is an IC engine with five cylinders aligned in one row or plane sharing a single engine block and crankcase. The five-cylinder engine is almost as compact as an inline-four and nearly as smooth as a straight-six engine. The smallest straight-five was found on the Honda racing motorcycle RC-149 in 1966.

The five-cylinder configuration engine was used because it shared components and hence simultaneous development with the two-cylinder engine. It is worth noting that Honda had experience with inline sixes already in RC165 and RC166. In contrast, a high revving even firing inline 5 and its diversity of potential configurations would have been quite the engineering change from a vibration point of view.

V5 Engine

The engine design is a five-cylinder engine in a V configuration consisting of three-four cylinders and two rear cylinders. RC211V is the first four-stroke V5 racing engine designed by Honda for the first year of the 21st century. The five cylinders have round pistons and four valves each programmed fuel injection has been adopted for the intake system. The Honda racing corporation developed the Honda RC211V motorcycle in 2001 to replace the two-stroke NSR500. It was developed directly due to significant changes to the world championship motorcycle road racing regulations 500CC class for the 2002 season.

The name of the class was modified to moto GP and while two-stroke engines remained limited to 500CC and four cylinders four-stroke engines were now allowed to be as large as 990CC and from three to six cylinders which led many teams to switch to four-stroke designs.

Six-cylinder Engine

There are three types of six-cylinder engines used in motorcycles. They are;

Straight 6 or Inline 6

The straight 6 is an icy engine with 6 cylinders mounted straight along the crankcase with all pistons driving a common crankshaft. The bank of cylinders may be oriented at any angle and where the bank is inclined away from the vertical the engine is sometimes called a slant six which is also called a Chrysler inline-six. The straight six-layout is the simplest engine layout that possesses both primary and secondary mechanical engine balance resulting in much less vibration than engines with fewer cylinders.

Honda raced several straight six engines. In the Honda RC series of motorcycles starting with the 249CC3 in 1964 RC165, RC166 also in 1967 Honda raced the straight six 297CCRC 174 in the 350 class for road use Honda introduced the Honda CBX in 1978. Kawasaki introduced the 1300 CC KZ in 1979. The Nelly introduced the first production motorcycle with a six-cylinder engine. BMW has developed a straight-six engine for motorcycle use debuting in a concept bike in 2009 which features on the K-1600 GT and K-1600 GTL motorcycles that were launched in thousand eleven.

Flat six-cylinder Engine

These engines are pretty rare and rarely seen outside of large touring models. A modern example of a flat six would be Honda’s gold wing which has three cylinders laid out horizontally on either side of the engine. Initially, the engine had a displacement of 1.5 liters until it was enlarged to 1.8 liters in 2001.

The Honda VALKYRIE F6C was a cruiser based on the GL 1500 gold wing. The limited edition 2004 Valkyrie Rune was based on the GL1800.

V6 engine

In this cylinders are arranged in a V-shape with 3 cylinders at each bank. The LAVERDA V6 was a racing motorcycle unveiled at the 1977 Milan show. It entered the 1978 bulldog 24-hour endurance race. However, it retired with mechanical issues after approximately eight hours. HORAX has produced rode motorcycles with VR6 engines since 2012.

Eight-Cylinder Engine

Motorcycles have rarely used V8 engines with the few in existence being built for motor racing. In 1907 CURTIS V8 set an unofficial world record of 136.36 miles per hour on a homemade 4.0-liter motorcycle. The moto GUZZI V8 was a 499 CC motorcycle used for a grand prix racing from 1955 to 1957. The 1944 MORBIDELLI V8 was an 848 CC concept motorcycle which did not reach production.

Examples of V8 engines are;

  • HONDA CB 800 V8

Ten-Cylinder Engine

In ten-cylinder engine only V-type configuration is used in motorcycles that is V10. The Milliard Viper V10 is a one-off motorcycle capable of over 200 miles per hour. The bike has 8-liter dodge viper V10 engine producing 500 brake horsepower. Milliard has stated that he aims to reach a top speed of 250 miles per hour with this bike.

The dodge Tomahawk is non-street legal vehicle introduced in 2003 by dodge at the north American international auto show. The Tomahawk attracted significant press and industry attention for its striking design outsized displacement. Ten-cylinder car engine and four close coupled wheels which give it a motorcycle-like appearance. The retro art deco design central visual element is the 500 horsepower 8.3 liter. V10 SRT10 engine from the dodge viper sports car.

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