The 10 best sounding bikes of all time

We asked Niall Mackenzie, John Hackett, Stan Stephens, Chris Wilson, Gez Kane and Simon Hargreaves which bikes have an exhaust note that'll make a grown man weak at the knees.

Ask any biker what they like about motorcycles and noise will come up time and time again. You may remember a bike being particularly pretty, or the first time you went over 150mph, but absolutely nothing attacks the senses like a combustion engine singing it's tune through metal pipes. 

Take Yamaha's crossplane crank R1 for example, with aftermarket exhausts and baffles out, it leaves almost nothing to be desired. The same goes for big V-twins, or almost any V4 engined production bike for that matter, but are they special? Do they really stand out or will something new come out shortly after and make you re-evaluate? 

We asked some well-known players in the motorcycle industry which bikes have stood the test of time and continue to put smiles on faces everytime we're fortunate enough to hear them roar into life.

10. Kawasaki KR750:

John Hackett: "I’ve ridden one of these but you really need to be stood at the side of it to get the most from it. I built Mick Grant’s bike for him, they’re just beautiful. I raced another Kawasaki 3 cylinder in the early 70’s and the sound is just phenomenal. I remember watching Gregg Hansford race past me around the hairpin at Mallory park, changing down the gears and then accelerating away towards the Devil’s Elbow, it was just music."

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Read John Hackett's Top 3 best sounding bikes

9. Honda RC149/149:

Chris Wilson: "Everyone gets all horny about the 6 cylinder RC166 sound. The problem is they’re too smooth, almost too nice and sweet. The 5 cylinder bike just sounds like everything is going wrong, but in a good way. My friend is a current formula 1 engineer and when describing what the bike was whilst standing beside it, he took a look at the engine. The Japanese engineers fired it up and started blipping the throttle, taking her to around 16,000rpm; he jumped back and said: “It’s gonna blow, it’s gonna blow!” The guy who spends his life designing engines couldn’t understand the mechanical noise that this bike made! When the Japanese engineers explained how the motor works, my friend said he couldn’t make an engine like that these days. The mechanical noise, so much tension and stress in the engine like a balloon about to burst, but then of course it runs fine! That engine is the epitome of a race engine, any racing machine must frighten you. If it doesn’t frighten you then it’s not a race bike."

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Read Chris Wilson's Top 3 best sounding bikes

8. Yamaha RD56:

Stan Stephens: "Most guys from my era who were into racing are now deaf. Everybody's heard the scream of an inline four or the barking of a loud Ducati but it doesn't nearly compare to the noise made when 20 of these bikes line up on a grid. A swarm of multi-cylinder machines that sounded like rifle shots going through your ears. I'm slightly deaf but I can still hear them..."

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Read Stan Stephens' Top 3 best sounding bikes

7. Ducati Desmosedici GP bike:

John Hackett: "I’ve ridden the Desmo GP bike several times and it's unbelievable. I was doing a demo on one at Brands Hatch a while ago and I forgot to put my earplugs in. I couldn’t hear properly for three days and I only did five or six laps! It was unbelievable and just so special to hear that thing! I also get to listen to the Desmosedici D16 RR road bike on an almost daily basis. My office is right next to the workshop, when the team start them up it’s just an awesome sound, it’s like being in heaven."

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Read John Hackett's Top 3 best sounding bikes

6. 1976 Laverda Jota:

Gez Kane: It has to be the original model with the 180 degree crank – at full throttle naturally. A mate of mine owned one in the early 80s and the rest of us wondered why – until we heard it at full throttle. The big triple drowned out our effeminate Jap fours with a glorious, soulful wail. It might not have been any faster than my Suzuki GS1000 from A to B, but to listen to the big Laverda howl past our local at full chat. Memories are mode of this.

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Read Gez Kane's Top 3 best sounding bikes

5. 1966-1974 MV Agusta 500 3 cylinder:

Chris Wilson: "A couple of years ago at Spa I went out on Kenny Roberts’ Yamaha OW48 YZR 500. Just as I trickled out the pit lane, Agostini pulled out in front of me and pointed at his back wheel. He was riding the MV and after 3 laps I nearly went off because I was listening to the bike in front of me, I couldn’t focus on anything else. It was like being serenaded onto the rocks by the mermaids. It utterly mesmerised me and that was whilst riding a world championship winning Yamaha GP bike! It sounds silly but I was listening to it whilst going down towards Eau Rouge and it just sounded absolutely fantastic, like cream laced with Vodka."

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Read Chris Wilson's Top 3 best sounding bikes

4. Honda RC30:

Niall Mackenzie: "After racing RVF750s at the Suzuka 8 Hour race in Japan I became addicted to the distinctive sound of V4 750 four stokes.  Although the standard (homologated for racing) road bike sounded slightly muffled, if you slipped on a Micron system it instantly sounded like an HRC special.  The deep, torquey rumble, came from a high performance engine with gear driven cams and sounded so much nicer than the inline four cylinder Japanese competition of the same era.  The gruff rumble turned into what only can be described as an almighty roar at higher revs but like most Hondas, the power came in a very linear, civilised manner.  The ultimate place to hear these awesome machines is undoubtedly around the IOM TT."   

Simon Hargreaves: "Although an RC30 and RC45 are acceptable alternatives (a VFR800 isn’t quite as nice; has a kind of metallic aural aftertaste; and the 400s are too small). There’s something about the gear-driven cam-ness of the V4; a mechanical perfection to it. When it revs, you can almost hear Soichiro whispering a spell. It doesn’t sound powerful or potent, but it sounds fast; Isle Of Man fast, real road fast, Joey and Hizzy and Foggy fast. And it sounds reliable. Shit, it even manages to sound compact. You hear a V4 and you think, 'Oh, good, this'll handle then...'

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Read Niall Mackenzie's Top 3 best sounding bikes

Read Simon Hargreaves' Top 3 best sounding bikes

3. Yamaha RD350LC:

Simon Hargreaves: "As the expansion chambers crackle into life and settle into an easy burble, they stimulate a part of the brain no other sound can reach. It triggers an ancient instinct, quickening the pulse and making your palms itch. You’ll have an uncontrollable urge to slip into a pair of Frank Thomas paddock boots, chuck on a red and white paddock jacket and go pull some wheelies in front of a schoolgirl’s house in the hope she’ll drag you inside (it’s okay, this was pre-Saville. And it never happened anyway)."

Niall Mackenzie: "I worship this machine as it set me up in racing and indeed my life. I desired this bike like no other when I heard it was in production so the sound that came with it was the absolute icing on the cake.  One kick with no throttle brings an LC to life and ticking over with a two stroke burble that to me is quite therapeutic.  Once warm, a few stabs on the throttle clears the pipes with a great raspy resonance that lets you know there is a nice powerband to hand.  The best bit however is once you are onboard and upwards of 6000rpm, a distinct whistle arrives in your ears that only a 350 LC can deliver.  A well set up standard bike with stock pipes is incredible fun to ride and a joy to the senses.  I still have a 1982 white/blue one in my shed and it’s my pride and joy."

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Read Niall Mackenzie's Top 3 best sounding bikes

Read Simon Hargreaves' Top 3 best sounding bikes

2. Triumph F750 Trident:

Chris Wilson: "I’ve ridden the Triumph and I think they’re beautiful. So nice, they’re like your favourite uncle or aunt, nice and fun. They look very handsome, I come from Guernsey and at the time there were no pure race bikes. When I first came over to England to join the airforce, one guy in training invited me to the Transatlantic race at Brands Hatch. When I got to Brands the bikes were in qualifying and the engine’s exhaust noise sounded like a musical instrument, a proper wail. You saw how fast they were and thought holy shit these are proper bikes, like your first love, a beautiful bike and it goes like hell. They were racing against Norton twins which sounded nothing like the Triumph. I find the best sounding engines, even in cars, are when an engine has an odd number of cylinders, than uneven number just seems to make the best sound. I remember hearing the noise coming from a Triumph made me proud to be British. It has a similar sound to the MV in as much as its melodic purr, but still very aggressive. You still see them in Classic racing and they’re still fantastic."

Stan Stephens: "Throughout the 1970's, BSA and Triumph made race bikes from triples. I remember them racing over Easter weekend being helmed by top riders like Tony Jefferies, Paul Smart, John Cooper and the other boys at the top. Back in those days if you were watching them from Paddock Hill bend you were practically touching them. There was no run-off area or safety barriers, none of that health and safety rubbish in those days, people had a job and didn't worry about silly things like that. Firing once every 120 degrees and running a 3 into 1 megaphone exhaust with no silencers made a noise totally different to anything else, the sound was unique."

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Read Chris Wilson's Top 3 best sounding bikes

Read Stan Stephens' Top 3 best sounding bikes

1. Honda RC166:

John Hackett: "I saw this bike when I was racing at Mallory park, it went flying past me with Hailwood on it, it was absolutely mind-blowing. All I wanted to do was come in to the pits, stand by its side and listen to it because I definitely couldn’t keep up with it. Watching and hearing it go past me was phenomenal. "

Stan Stephens: "I have early memories of Hailwood and other GP riders bringing back their priceless machines and racing big meetings like Mallory Park Race of The Year and Race of The South. When people like Hailwood raced, it brought other racers along and upped the prize money. They would turn up with their crew of Japanese mechanics and fire up the six cylinder machine. It would wail through open exhausts, if I remember correctly it would rev to around 18,000rpm and delivered an ear-splitting shriek."

Gez Kane: "Honda’s 1966 RC166 is one of the maddest GP bikes ever built. I’m too young to have heard the originals actually racing, though I’ve heard one start up. George Beale’s faithful replica does the rounds though, so there’s still a chance to feel the noise of a works Honda six. And feel it you will, the shriek of six tiny cylinders revving to an improbable RPM could make your ears bleed and your eyeballs rattle. No wonder so many old school racers are deaf."

Click here to listen.

Read John Hackett's Top 3 best sounding bikes

Read Stan Stephens' Top 3 best sounding bikes

Read Gez Kane's Top 3 best sounding bikes

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