Top 10 Full-Size Single-Cylinder Motorcycles

The character and delivery of a big-capacity single-cylinder engine is an unmistakable thing. Here’s our pick of the top ten full-sized thumpers

Ducati Hypermotard 950 SP

Once upon a time, a single-cylinder configuration was the most common of all engine layouts in motorcycles. Inline fours hadn't taken off due to manufacturing complexities, while V-twins and parallel engines were reserved for the sporty stuff.

Fast forward 60 years, though, and the landscape of motorcycle design is a very different one indeed. Now it’s the multi-cylinder engines that rule the roost and the single-cylinder layout, in full-size bikes at least, is more of an oddity.

And that’s a shame because there is a lot of good that comes from a big single! The power delivery for one thing is something that no other configuration can replicate. With the evenly spaced pulses from the engine providing the rider with a dependable and user-friendly spread of torque and that’s before we’ve even mentioned the sound...

BSA Gold Star 650

The latest of the historic British brands to be revived (following Triumph and Norton) and, like the latter, now owned by an Indian concern (in this case Mahindra), the first all-new BSA in over 50 years arrived at the end of 2022 as a retro roadster powered by a 652cc liquid-cooled (but looking like an air-cooled) single producing 45bhp. It’s a great alternative to the similar twins from Royal Enfield and Triumph, has an impressively smooth but characterful and more grunty delivery, handles sweetly, has lots of nice detailing, is A2 license compliant and is well priced as well.

Royal Enfield Scram 411

New for 2023, with the demise of Royal Enfield’s old 500 singles, the roadster Scram fills the slot as being the Indian-built marque’s biggest air-cooled single – its other big single offering being the new liquid-cooled Himalayan 450 adventure bike, below. It’s effectively a stripped back more street version of the old Himalayan and uses that bike’s 24.3bhp motor and monoshock chassis but with added street style. The result looks great, is a doddle to ride, makes a great urban runaround with bags of character and is impressively cheap, too!

Read our full Royal Enfield Scram 411 review now. 

Fantic Caballero 500 Scrambler

Using the Zongshen 449cc engine, the Fantic is a mixture of retro charm and real off-road ability. Back in the 70s, Fantic’s range was mainly composed of funky-looking mopeds, with psychedelic graphics and obscure design touches. To legitimise their whacky line-up, Fantic also took to the motocross tracks and enduro competitions, building a range of off-road machines that took wins at the International Six Days Trial among others.

And it’s these bikes that are the inspiration for the 500 Scrambler or should we say the range of Scramblers, as these cool-looking retros are available in 125, 250 and 500cc variants.

Husqvarna 701 Supermoto

With the demise of Husqvarna’s 701 Svartpilen (the 693cc single has been replaced by a new, 799cc, twin cylinder Svartpilen 801 for 2024), the Swedish/Austrian brand’s biggest remaining street single is now its 701 Supermoto (although there is also an enduro version, too). And if your idea of big singles is for madcap, performance-focussed lunacy, then they don’t get much bigger or more madcap than this.

It’s powered by the same 693cc liquid cooled single producing 71bhp which was in the old Svartpilen, is impressively punchy and dynamic and arguably not for the faint-hearted (or short-legged as it has a very lofty 890mm seat height). But it’s also featherweight light, incredibly nimble and, once mastered, great fun.

Royal Enfield Himalayan 450

The original 411cc, air-cooled Himalayan budget adventure bike, as launched for the UK in 2016, proved a big hit for its combination of value, versatility and character. For 2024 that bike has now been replaced by an all-new liquid-cooled model. 

Its 450cc big single may still be fairly low on power at 40bhp claimed, but the modest output is more than compensated for by a flexible and willing delivery, the bike's unintimidating and easy manners, true versatility including genuine off-road prowess and a do-it-all approach for bargain money that’s already winning many admirers. We were certainly very impressed with it, as you can find out in our Royal Enfield Himalayan 450 review

CCM Spitfire

Since the British brand launched its funky-looking, single-cylinder machines at the tail end of 2016, the Spitfire has become something of a PR dream for the firm, with bikes selling out at shows and endorsements from celebrity motorcyclists coming thick and fast. Originally brought in when CCM’s GP450 adventure machine was phased out, the Spitfire uses a BMW-designed and Husqvarna-built engine that produces 55bhp and 43lb ft of torque. If stripped-back motorcycling is what you’re after, the experience doesn’t get much more authentic than this!

 

AJP PR7

The AJP PR7 is a full-on the 600cc rally-style motorcycle. It’s powered by a single water-cooled engine that is more Dakar rally than bimbling along the highlands. This is a bike for pro-level off-road riders though, with its huge 920mm seat height helping to rule out the less experienced among us! With 300mm of travel front and rear 310mm of ground clearance, the AJP will be able to clear the harshest of off-road terrain.

Herald Brute 500

Relatively new British brand Herald has carved out a significant niche by offering relatively simple and affordable British styled and assembled bikes based on Chinese made mechanicals. Mostly 125 and 250cc to date, the Brute is its most ambitious and biggest bike yet. It’s powered by a liquid-cooled 500cc single producing a healthy 42.9bhp, has adjustable Racetek front and rear suspension with a monoshock rear, and features stylish street single styling with detail touches which include a digital dash, LED lights and more.

Although a little raw around the edges and without the refinement of some, it’s a welcome addition and is a classic big street single at a very reasonable price.

MASH X-Ride 650 Classic

MASH is a French motorcycle brand that offers a range of mostly lightweight and middleweight singles derived from Chinese components. The X-Ride 650 Classic is currently its biggest offering and uses a revived version of Honda’s old 644cc air-cooled single (as used in the old NX650 Dominator) in a classic trail bike style chassis that reminds, visually at least, of Yamaha’s 1970s XT500.

The result delivers the classic old school big single trailie ‘vibe’, albeit again in. a fairly crude, unrefined way. But when a brand-new bike looks this good and costs so little (currently under £5K) you can forgive it a lot and probably use the money you saved in giving it the finishing touches it deserves! There’s also a roadster version available called the Six Hundred.

Ducati Hypermotard 698 Mono

All-new for 2024, the new, single-cylinder Ducati Hypermotard 698 Mono lives beside the Italian brand’s existing V-twin 950 Hypermotards yet, by virtue of an astonishing engine (which is effectively half of the old 1299cc Superquadro superbike V-twin) is both the most powerful big single currently available (with 77.5bhp) and, via an incredibly light, nimble chassis, one of the most exciting motorcycles you can buy.

Add to that slick electronics, top-quality cycle parts and neat detailing and the 698 is truly a quantum leap for the supermoto breed. Although it can happily be ridden gently or slowly, it’s not for everyone, has limited practicality and is very tall and focused. But in the right place at the right time, it’s one of the biggest thrills in motorcycling and certainly the most exciting single out there.