You can’t have a motorbike without a motor, and over the decades there’s been some truly glorious bike engines. This is our Top10 list of the greatest, most important and most innovative bike engines ever made, as we pay homage to horsepower.
10. KAWASAKI H1 500
Horsepower: 53bhp @ 7,400rpm
Torque: 38ft.lb @ 5,000rpm
Layout: 498cc, air-cooled, parallel-triple
There has arguably never been a streetbike more dominated by its engine than Kawasaki’s H1 triple of 1969. The 498cc, air-cooled two-stroke, also called the Mach III, was created mainly for the stoplight-racing crazy US market, so Kawasaki went all out for power-toweight ratio. This meant designing the most powerful engine possible, and bolting it into the lightest chassis they could make.
Kawasaki tested twin-cylinder prototype motors before choosing the piston-ported triple, which has potential for more power than a twin because its extra cylinder wall area allows more port area. Young engineer Yukio Otsuki, who headed the project, specified big cooling fins to guard against the middle cylinder overheating, and used an innovative ignition system to allow high revs. The smooth running, 120-degree crankshaft meant the clutch and gearbox could be notably light.
The H1 motor produced 60bhp at 8,000rpm - in a bike whose skinny steel frame and pencil-like forks contributed to a dry weight of just 174kg. The result was a stunning bike that screamed through the quarter in less than 13 seconds at over 100mph, and “trounced any mass production motorcycle regardless of displacement”, according to Cycle World.
The peaky motor came alive at 5,500rpm with a mighty kick and the H1’s high bars and 57 per cent rearwards weight bias made the Kawasaki the world’s first production streetbike with a barely controllable urge to wheelie. Predictably scary handling added to the excitement. The Mach III cost a dollar under $1,000 in the States in ’69, and was a huge hit that put Kawasaki firmly on the map.
Click here to read Kawasaki H1 500 owner reviews.
Posted: 13/03/2010 at 06:54
Good to see that this was not all about max horsepower and nothing else.
Don't see how a Harley engine can be in the top 10 but anyway.
Very pleased to see the C90 and the GSXR1100 in there though. Good stuff.
Posted: 15/03/2010 at 16:20
C90 is the most produced engine ever (I think)
I have number 4 - GSXR1100 it's a superb engine!!!
Posted: 17/03/2010 at 11:45
Posted: 15/04/2010 at 06:07
some great engines in there.
how about the 1100cc honda 4 (blackbird, x11)?
Posted: 12/07/2010 at 13:56
The Harley engine was posted for several reasons
1. It brought HD out of the slump created by AMF
2. Say what you will about the engine, it was far more reliable than it's predecessors, along with increased power to boot.
3. With that engine Harley asked the powers that be to remove the +750cc tariff that was meant to protect them. The brand succeeded on it's own terms, so historically it is significant enough to warrant inclusion in this article.
Posted: 12/07/2010 at 17:18
Posted: 13/07/2010 at 14:02
Posted: 16/07/2010 at 02:15
I have the final 2006 Oil Cooled bandit with the 1157cc version of this engine in it. Although detuned, it is a beautifully grunty motor , and still sounds good with a decent can on it. ... Love it
Posted: 20/07/2010 at 15:04
A provocative subject and even with a top 50 it would be hard not to leave out some good ones. However, devoting almost half of them to the usual across the frame 4s, which while undoubtedly are popular for the reason that they work well, they are not that dissimilar from each other. It is a pretty easy jump from Z1 to GSX-R to R1 to 675 (Not exactly like developing a rotary) and this leaves precious little room for some truly great engines.
Seems like the list was more drawn up to make the current generation of readers feel their bikes are the ones that count, when in reality most of the great ideas and configurations had already been tried before the second world war and while many were not reliable, in the context of their day, some were truly great (JAP in the Brough Superior for example) and became the new benchmark. I think this list will not stand up to the test of time. Obviously there are some future engines worthy of being added, but I can't see a 675 engine or an R1 engine being considered particularly notworthy in 20 years or so and being in an all time top 10 (instead of the 2010 perspective top ten) The NR should definitely have been here because it was and possibly still is at the pinnacle of the greatest motorcycle manufacturer's technological capability and I am sure they would be dismayed that the C90 or even the NSR500, for all their successes, be included but the NR not.
Posted: 20/07/2010 at 15:31
Posted: 26/07/2010 at 21:36
Elmer Reeb wrote (see)
A Harley engine? What a joke! A lot of other MUCH better engines deserved a place on that list. As far as Harleys slump, they were brought out of it by some pretty darn good marketing and a generally clueless american public.
I'm all for democracy.. what would you put in its place?
Posted: 30/07/2010 at 15:16
The Harley Evo engine was significant in that it was good enough to save the company from extinction. I would agree that if that's the criteria for selecting a great engine you might consider one or more BMW boxer engines.
And now for my $.02. Why not reference the latest version of the KTM LC-4 engine? 65 honest horsepower from a 654 cc. single is record breaking, as is the counterbalancer, the six speed transmission, and the low overall weight and bulk. I suppose this engine will never be "significant" as it's so advanced that it's being banned from competition. Dakar being the latest sanctioning body to cave in to the demands of lesser manufacturers. The Honda alternative makes all of 39 horsepower. Otherwise, the LC-4 broken in and installed in an '08, '09, or '10 Duke 690 certainly meets the criteria for launching the bike towards the horizon whenever the rider twists the right grip.
Posted: 30/07/2010 at 21:15
Posted: 03/08/2010 at 05:18
Such small number & so many could have made it into this list
this list is stonking!! Well chosen, well ridden!
Overall, the inclusion of triples (2T & 4T) is refreshing. I can't get enough of triples, followed by twins, V's and finally straight 4's. I've never ridden a straight 6, sadly, or ever ride a Z1/Z900, but if a ZX9, or ZX12 is anything to go by... they are still blinding!
Posted: 10/08/2010 at 19:06
Ahem, on the subject of triples, did I miss the Triumph Trident? Also, the XS750/850 - they were floored, but still deserve a mention because Yamaha were brave enough to try to palm...sorry, attempt to sell us a 'new' design at a time when 4's & twin 4T's were the norm.
Anyone for a reversed crank 900 triple?
Posted: 11/08/2010 at 18:21
Posted: 24/08/2010 at 15:16
Posted: 24/08/2010 at 15:35
What is the H1 motor parallel to? Shouldn't it be described as a transverse inline and not a parallel?
Posted: 18/11/2010 at 20:40
Posted: 19/11/2010 at 12:54
Posted: 02/12/2010 at 04:33
MV Agusta V-8, RD 350 that won Daytona, little 125's that spawned a new
Life for the ISDT and all the FIA MotoCross variants of big singles ?
Street fighters abound, boxers, vertical twins, v Twins, etc.
No mention of Economics of the Industry, Honda 350 was cheap, powerful
and afforable and brought the Future to Honda, 750 was a good choice !
Cylinder Head design was a milestone for Ducatti. Bike engines generally
were ahead of the Formula 1 Shops, they all loved to write a deal with
Yamaha for consulting on various ideas. Still Do !
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