Top 10s

Top 10 six-cylinder production bikes

Because more cylinders than you can count on one hand means good

THERE’S always been something extravagantly indulgent about six-cylinder bikes.

They’re inevitably expensive; the engines have 50% more of everything than a four, so in terms of parts alone there’s a penalty. They’re also heavy, wide, and rarely have a tangible performance advantage over smaller, lither fours or twins.

But the simple fact that they have six cylinders gives them a USP that run-of-the-mill machines with a fewer pots can’t live up to. It gives a notably different feel, a smoothness that twins, triples and fours can’t match.

We’re looking at bikes you could actually buy and ride on the street. We’d happily sing the praises of the Laverda V6 or Honda’s RC165, RC166 and RC174 straight-sixes, let alone the Suzuki Stratosphere concept bike, but they’re not machines any of us could ever hope to buy or ride, so let’s focus on some more achievable six-cylinder experiences…

10: Goldwing GL1500

The Goldwing GL1500 was the first ‘Wing to go to the now-legendary flat-six layout, and as such has a place in motorcycling history. Made for a dozen years from 1988, it was a technological marvel at launch. It’s marred, though, by a chrome-and-whip-aerials image that means a lot of riders see Wing users as a separate breed. It’s the cheapest way to get the six-cylinder experience, though. They go for as little as £2500 these days.

READ OUR BMW K1600 B REVIEW.

The 2001-on Goldwing 1800 took the ideas of its predecessor and ran with them, and in the process toned down the chrome and upped the technology even further. Even now, 16 years on from its launch and after only a few updates (including the famous optional airbag), it’s still a supreme long-distance tourer.
 

The original, 1500cc Honda F6C ‘Valkyrie’ doesn’t make this list but the new version, made from 2014 onwards, might be worth a look if you’re in the market for a distinctive cruiser. There’s no attempt to ape the Harley clichés here; the Honda is a resolutely modern take on the cruiser concept. Basically a Goldwing with the touring kit and bodywork stripped off, it arguably allows that six-cylinder motor to shine a little brighter. On the downside, it loses the Wing’s practical long-distance, luggage-lugging ability.

Perhaps, then, the F6B is a good compromise between the full-fat Goldwing and the cruiser-style F6C. Cashing in on the current trend for baggers, it loses the top box and armchair-like pillion of the Wing, as well as the tall screen, and gets a low-slung style in its place. That creamy flat six still lies underneath, and the F6B might be the best way to experience it on a bike that’s still got much of the Wing’s touring ability, but a bit more style thrown in.

The narrow-angle V6 Horex is one of the few six-cylinder machines on the market today – although you’ll have to venture to mainland Europe to buy one. It looks great, and despite hitting the usual financial stumbling blocks and ownership changes that ambitious new bike firms always seem to suffer, the company is still up and running, several years after launching the first VR6 model. Unfortunately, a sky-high price (€38,500 for the Classic, €42,500 for the Café Racer, and that’s before adding options) means few people are likely to get to experience them.

While most six-cylinder production bikes have been monstrously big, the Sei started life as a mere 750cc machine back in 1972. It was the first road-going, six-cylinder, mass-made motorcycle. Later (in 1979) it was upped to 900cc, but even then it’s still much smaller-capacity than anything else on this list. That translates to probably the lightest-feeling, least imposing six that you can get. They’re increasingly expensive these days, though.

If you’re a shrinking violet, the Rune is probably best avoided. Although you’ll struggle to find one even if you are bold enough to be seen on it. A limited edition machine, it used the same 1832cc six as the later Goldwings, but wrapped them in a completely new chassis and an innovatively modern take on the classic cruiser look. Never officially sold outside America, several have made their way across the Atlantic unofficially. 

If the Rune is an impractical, crazy take on the six cylinder theme, the most modern bike on this list – BMW’s K1600 – is the most useable. Like the Benelli, it’s an inline, across-the-frame six-cylinder, but at 1649cc it’s a lot bigger. It’s also powerful – not something that everything on this list can claim to be. With 160hp and 129lbft of torque it’s a serious performer. The GTL is a more luxurious, touring-oriented take on the theme, while the B adds a bagger-style, droopy tail.

Kawasaki joined the six-cylinder movement in 1979, adding innovative water-cooling and a large 1286cc capacity into the mix to make an impressive-for-the-time 120hp. Its in-yer-face engine was perfectly matched in the bike’s brutalist styling. These days it’s one of the most affordable routes onto a six-cylinder bike, too.

While every bike on this list has six cylinders, none of them shout “Count ’em!” quite as loudly as the CBX. No wonder that 1047cc, air-cooled engine became so in-demand from custom builders and tuners – it’s one of the best-looking engines ever made. One of the best-sounding ones, too, and back in 1978 its 105hp output was pretty impressive as well.

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