Top ten 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

Husqvarna Svartpilen 401

THERE was a time when the single-cylinder configuration was one of the most common of all engine configurations. Inline fours hadn’t yet taken off thanks to their complicated manufacturing methods, and V-twins and parallel arrangements were saved for more sporty offerings.

Fast forwards 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 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 before we’ve even mentioned the sound…

Jawa Forty Two

Although not confirmed as being available in the UK (yet) the Jawa Forty Two is an attractive take on the single-cylinder question. Unashamedly retro, the Forty Two uses a 293cc engine, four-valve engine that produces 27bhp. While that might not win the prize for the fastest machine on this page, it does make it one of the quirkier looking machines.

Royal Enfield Trials 500

Another bike that is leaning heavily on some retro heritage, the Royal Enfield Trials 500 is also an Indian originating machine, although this one does come to the UK.

Built to replicate the 350cc Bullet Trials machines that competed in events like the International Six Days Trial, the Bullet Trials uses the low-stressed (and fairly low-spec) 499cc, the air-cooled lump that is without a doubt one of the longest-running motorcycle engines on the planet. Low spec it may be but it is full of character and thanks to that lazy delivery the Bullet Trails 500 is a very capable off-road machine. Just don’t drop it and ruin the chrome brightwork!

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.

Honda CRF450L

If you prefer your enduro machine to be less of an arm stretcher and a little bit more easy-going, the Honda CRF450L should be on your shopping list. 450 enduro bikes are notoriously hard going, thanks in some part to the single-cylinder engine’s grunty delivery and masses of torque. The CRF450L though is quite different, with a detuned engine giving the bike a much more relaxed demeanour.

If there is one fly in the ointment of CRF450L ownership though it’d have to be the oil-service interval, which will see you draining the sump every 1000km – not ideal!

Husqvarna 701 Svartpilen

The Svartpilen (translated to black arrow) was one of my favourite bikes tested last year thanks to its capable handling, punchy KTM engine and otherworldly styling.

As a B-road blaster it’s a cracking bike, with that punchy motor from the KTM 690 Duke providing more than enough thrills to see you keeping pace with your mates on their sportsbikes. Part of the engine appeal is its over-square design (105mm bore x 80mm stroke) meaning the Duke-derived engine is all fizzy and fast-revving when you expect it to be lazy torque and low down grunt. If you’ve not ridden on already, it’s definitely one to add to your list!

Royal Enfield Himalayan

Since its launch in 2016, the Himalayan has been steadily gaining popularity with those that like to ride off-road at a more leisurely pace. Its SOHC, 411cc engine develops a lazy 24.5bhp and 23ft-lb of torque which makes it more capable of hitting some green lanes and light trails.

CCM Spitfire

Since the 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 bike’s selling out at shows and endorsements from celebrity motorcyclists coming thick and fast.

Brought in when their GP450 adventure machine was phased out, the Spitfire uses a BMW designed and Husqvarna built engine that produces 55bhp and 43ft-lbs of torque. If stripped back motorcycling is what you’re after, the experience doesn’t get much more authentic than this!

Benelli Imperiale 400

Built around a 373cc, the Imperiale is the polar opposite to bikes like Husqvarana’s Svartpilen we mentioned above. The Husky’s over-square configuration makes it revvy and peaky, the 72mm bore x 90mm stroke means the Benelli is much less rev happy and more at home plodding its way to the horizon in a more fittingly retro fashion!


The AJP PR7 is a full-on the 600cc rally 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.

Beta Alp

The Suzuki powered Beta Alp is like the mountain goat of the motorcycle world. Other bikes on this page may be faster, better looking and better equipped, but few will be able to reach the trails the Alp can.

It’s trials bike geometry, and featherweight features make riding an Alp more like piloting a mountain bike with an engine strapped to the crossbar.

Weighing in at just 133kg and being powered by a punchy 350cc engine, the Alp is designed to keep going where other bikes end up turning around and heading back.

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