The 10 best motorcycle engines ... ever!

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.

Posted: 9 July 2010
by Ben Cope

 1 of 11 

It’s one of the best feelings in the world. You grab a big handful of throttle and the bike instantly surges forward, torrents of power blasting you towards the horizon. It never fails to make you smile, this is why you got into bikes in the first place. But what separates a good bike engine from a truly great one?

Power, obviously. But how it makes that power, what it powers, and that model’s impact on motorcycling are all part of the equation. Over the years there have been some extraordinary, ground-breaking bike engines, but these are our Top 10 of the finest, fastest or most important engines ever made. We argued long and hard and this is our list. See if yours is on here…

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10. KAWASAKI H1 500

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Discuss this story

I always remember taking one of the first Evo engined bikes out for a test ride.I spent about thirty minutes riding the bike and a further fortyfive minutes backtracking trying to find the ignition keys that had viberated out of the switch and onto the road. A couple of years later I looked after a fleet of police bikes, mainly Yamaha XJ's that where very reliable. Part of the fleet was replaced by Evo Harleys,and from a mechanical , running costs and fleet availability point of veiw, they turned out to be an absolute nightmare

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

Excellent artical. Nice broad range of different engine types, but Harley engine should not have been in it. What about Suzuki's or Norton's Rotary engines?, Scotts water cooled 700cc two stroke?, and BMW's Boxer instead?.

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

Good list. The only thing I might have done is drop one of the four cylinder bikes (not the CB750 obviously) and added a BMW flat twin or maybe a watercooled twin (TZR250 or RD350LC). Good choices none the less.

Posted: 13/07/2010 at 14:02

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.

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

Just retired after 45 years selling most makes from American to Vespa, also did spares and warranty work for most major makes from a large retailer. All bikes have problems the higher mileage jap bikes are soon shot if ridden hard in the top end area plus electrics are not as good as made out plus price of parts are insane. Harley Evolution motors are superb if run in correctly and are reasonable on parts due to many after market sources, plus easy to work on. Try changing plugs on most jap sports bikes, plus crap corrode away fixings. I did hundreds of accident repair estimates, parts prices are in many cases obscene! agree the little Honda 90 was a gem, still fetch good prices if in fair nick.

Posted: 26/07/2010 at 21:36

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

I think the TL motor should have been in here somewhere, its a beast.

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

Ooo, Ooo!

 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

No BMW boxer in the list ? What ? You need to explain that one.

Posted: 24/08/2010 at 15:16

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

Significant motorcycle engines? How about Edward Turner's 1937 Triumph Speed Twin? Spawned a generation (or two) of British parallel twins that pretty much ruled the world for 30 years. And what about Honda's CX 500? 80degree V layout, integral cast cylinder liners, valve gear operation twisted through 22degrees, counter-rotating clutch etc.

Posted: 19/11/2010 at 12:54

I heard the evo motor was not even a Harley design,someone else bailed them out. Says AMI.

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 !

Posted: 14/06/2011 at 06:40

I have just sold my Fireblade and got a Honda 90 Cub. Never had so much fun in my life.

Posted: 23/08/2011 at 15:07

200+hp version of the nsr500 engine on a go-kart!! but its ganna cost between $80 000 to $100 000 just to make a replica of that engine

Posted: 13/09/2011 at 22:20

I was kind of surprised to see that the Kawasaki GPz900r engine wasn’t mentioned. As for the Harley, although it was the engine that launched a thousand chops I don’t think it can claim anything else but being in the top 10 for just style and street posing.

But there are a lot of land mark engines that didn’t get a mention so it makes you wonder if the people who wrote the piece knew much about the history of motorcycle engines and how they changed the market of the day when released.

Posted: 17/09/2011 at 23:34

So the evo engine is on the list because it 'saved' HD? Because it was 'significant' to the company? I still don't get how that makes it a 'best' engine. 'Best' and 'Very significant' seem like wildly different lists to me.

Posted: 19/09/2011 at 18:01

I'd toss the R1 out for sure. Maybe (actually definitely) I'm biased to Suzuki, but the TL really makes it on my list. Not only because of its vicious and wonderful character, but because of its evolution into DL and SV further on.

But what really places it on the list is the sound! :>

Posted: 02/04/2012 at 21:36

I'm suprised they missed the '85 VMX1200.

Posted: 01/06/2012 at 09:30

jap v twin, rudge 4 valve, turner triumph twin, vincent v twin, bsa gold star, velocette ktt, norton manx, moto guzzi v8, 7r/g50, a75/t150...

Posted: 18/06/2012 at 11:56

The 750-4 was the first production 4 cylinder? What about the Ariel Square Four? The earlier Henderson,Ace and F N's?

Posted: 21/07/2012 at 20:10

See a lot of Dukes with this lump on the hard shoulder though....

For the most reliable yet powerful massive lump of multipurpose engine ever made, I'm going for old the Suzuki oil-cooled GSXR1100/Bandit 1200 lump. Had a bunch of them in different bikes over the years, had shit loads of fun on the back wheel, and never did one of them break down, ever.

Posted: 02/08/2012 at 14:26

Wow, so many valid points you've all made. Least we agree on one thing. There's no other feeling than YOUR bike.....Road or track, single or twin, V or parallel, 4 stroke or 2 stroke...single, twin, triple, four....V four or square four....just magic on song.

Posted: 06/09/2012 at 13:21

What about the Honda V4's? The RC30, NC30 etc have incredible engines.

Posted: 19/09/2012 at 10:09

I have owned an 80 cubic inch Evolution engined Super-glide for over 15 years now and the only things that I have replaced in that engine are the camshaft, lifters and pushrods after 92000km (only because I was worried about the original non-Torington cam bearings). The ignition module was replaced after about 85000km because the resin actually melted out of it whilst giving it a hiding on an interstate run on a really hot day. The bike never even broke down and did in fact rev faster because it seemed to lose the limiter. Got home after living on the bike for 5 days and it was still running great but decided to put a single fire ignition on it so as to not push my luck and get stuck far from home. I bought the bike brand new and do the servicing myself and swear that this is half the trick to longevity because I don't rely on someone else's apprentice to learn at my expense. You are right to say that this is a great engine (mine is one of the last from the second last year of production 1997) Thumbs up from me.

Posted: 07/10/2012 at 09:33

I am surprised you picked the 675 over the 1050 because your own criteria was horsepower(homage to HP) and the 1050 makes more than the 675. In your homage to HP you left out some truly great engines, but I am happy that you included the triple which is actually a very old configuration and has been under utilized for street bikes until triumph brought it once again to the front of view. Its also a wonder why you included the harley engine in your homage to hp because the harley is better known for torque than for HP. I wonder if you mean't to say homage to HP and/or Torque, Good to see it wasn't all 4s, because they are essentially the same engine, so I would not experc both the 675 and 1050 for the same reason, but if HP and arguably torque is your engine criteria, then 1050 fits better than 675.

Posted: 07/04/2013 at 08:13


Posted: 12/04/2013 at 00:26

What about the Honda Flat 6? Arguably one of the most reliable power plants ever made. From the CB1000 to the Valkyrie Rune and Goldwing 1800cc version. Anybody else produce a 6? I don't think so.

Posted: 22/04/2013 at 17:03

Ok, I can see all the engines here but, tell me gays, what aboat my exelent Honda xrv Africa twin RD07 2002 model ? Isen't that a real prooven engine through the years ? And also deserve a star in the competition here

Posted: 08/05/2013 at 20:26

This list is dominated by religious fanatics.

Posted: 01/06/2013 at 17:50


Benneli Sei (6 cylinder) 1973-1989
Honda CBX (6 cylinder) 1978-1982
Kawasaki KZ 1300 (6 cylinder) 1979-1989

But a fun list. If I made my own list..... I wonder if I could stick to any criteria at all. I still love the simple gear box in my Hodaka!!

Posted: 28/07/2013 at 03:52

I get a real kick out of this type response! My bike did great and ONLY NEEDED this or that! Not really a good engine if something needed changed due to a design flaw or needed replaced because they all do! My kawasaki now has 137,498 miles on it and has not had anything done to it other than spark plugs and oil changes! Talk to me when your Harley can do that and still crank out 11 second quarter mile timeslips!

Posted: 29/07/2013 at 07:56

Its amazing how you can extract 200bhp out of a 500cc awesome! bring them back to Moto GP! more exciting! go 2 strokes!!

Posted: 01/08/2013 at 10:34

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