Hooniverse Asks- What's Your Preferred Motorcycle Engine Layout?


More so than cars, motorcycles have great variety in engine layout options. Many times it’s driven by type of bike, number of cylinders, and how much the engineer had to drink the night prior to first getting out his slide rule.
Also unlike autos, a motorcycle’s engine becomes an integral and visceral part of the look and emotive energy that the bike gives off. Some bikes rock a very traditional format, regardless of size, as driven by some ancient code imprinted in their DNA.
A Harley that isn’t a V-Twin seems an abomination, despite models that carried other layouts in decades past. The long-L of the Ducati desmo twin is equally emblematic of the brand, as is the chromed and canted four in a row that powered hundreds of thousands of Hondas from the seventies on.
BMW boxer twins, Triumph Bonnie verticals, Moto Guzzi’s tractor-based V-twin, mounted at a right angle from where it would be in a Harley. The raw mechanical beauty of the Vincent HRD 500-cc single, or maybe the insanity that was the Honda CB500-based Benelli 750 Sei, there’s a motor and a cycle to set just about anyone’s heart a flutter whenever one passes by.
Do any of them make your boat float? I can tell you, for me it’s the traditional English Twin that really kicks my starter, although hearing the desmo valvetrain and dry clutch on a Duck is also molto bello. So which two-wheeler turner tickles your fancy?
Image sources: [The Kneeslider, The Biker Zone]

38 Comments

  1. Inline 4 cylinder and V4 configurations are my favorite. They ride SO much better than the popular-for-some-unknown-reason V-twin.

    1. It just depends on the kind of riding that you prefer. If you like fast bikes, then the inline fours that you find on many sport bikes are your best friend. High horsepower, low torque, and lightning fast revs. My problem with them parallels my problem with Ferrari V8s. When you are able to wind them out and let them stretch their legs, they are glorious. But there aren't a lot of places you can do that, and engines like that just aren't as tractable when it comes to dense traffic areas or streets where you're realistically limited to 35-40 mph, and maybe 70 on the freeway.
      V-twins, on the other hand, work perfectly in those situations.

  2. All I've ever had are vertical twins, and a two stroke triple. I like simplicity. I like the idea of something outrageous like a CBX, but then I think about working it, and then think, nahh, never mind. I'd love to have a modern Triumph Bonneville as my next bike, that would suit me fine.

    1. A Bonnie is going to be my first bike, hopefully sometime in the next few months. In the sea of Harley and Japanese-knockoff V-twin cruisers that dominates motorcycling in this U.S., I love the idea of British parallel twin on a standard bike.

  3. A simple V-Twin, or even a parallel twin, is where it's at for me.
    I don't like engines that have to rev to get power; I much prefer waves of low-end torque to keep me up and going at a reasonable, but relaxed pace. I don't care about hauling ass on a busy freeway, doing wheelies, or tackling the next set of chicanes at close to triple-digit speeds. Life goes fast enough without us rushing it.

  4. I love them all and can't decide. Last year my neighbour had a CB350 with megaphones on, and the mad-popcorn-popper sound of that little parallel twin never failed to get me grinning. The other day an unrestricted Honda V4 went roaring by outside my office window and immediately had me shopping for Interceptors. My own CBR600 has a mad rush above 10000rpm and a shriek that's as close as you'll get to F1 on the street. Then the Triumph triples with their half-a-flat-six howl are hair-raising too.
    V-twins, though, I think I like better in theory then in actuality. I mean performance v-twins. Harleys I wouldn't care about any more than any four-wheeled blandmobile, but the owners' propensity for removing their exhausts causes me to actively dislike them.

    1. I agree that Harley guys who tool around on straight-pipe equipped bikes are little douchey; but not all Harley guys do, so don't let that stereotype take too much root. As for Harley V-twins, the argument can be made that they are less advanced technologically than the performance V-Twins found in Aprilias, Ducatis, and KTMs; but the truth is, Harleys operate on the philosophy that if it aint' broke, why fix it? Thus is part of their charm; Evo and TwinCam engines are less advanced and a little less powerful, but they are as easy to work on as the ubiquitous Chevy small block and just as reliable.

      1. Most of them around here do. Stereotypes continue to exist because the facts support them.
        I fully understand the Harley design philosophy; I just have no interest in it.

        1. "Most of them around here do"
          And by around here, you mean where, exactly? Because around here, there are surprisingly few straight-pipe equipped Harleys.
          "Stereotypes continue to exist because the facts support them"
          No, stereotypes exist because people are too lazy or too ignorant to be able process facts that do not conform to their pre-conceived image of the world and adapt. Ignoring things requires a lot less effort.

          1. Count Fenwick, Ontario, Canada as "around here".
            Spiritual home of Henpecked and/or cuckolded middle aged accountants and lawyers gunning straight piped Harleys through residential streets and school zones, at least until the wife finds out.

      2. Around here for me is Milwaukee…home to HD. I think they make you sign something that says you will remove the factory installed exhaust within 100 miles after purchasing the bike. It seems odd when you actually here a stock one!
        If it ain't broke don't fix it? Yeah, can't really say that has worked out for them considering their stock is in the tank and they can't sell a bike to anyone under 60.

        1. Harley stock and sales have definitely hit the tank in the past year.
          But, then, the same has happened to every company that sells things that are considered "luxuries"; in the US, motorcycles are considered a luxury. You'll notice sales of Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda, and every other major motorcycle manufacturer have suffered just as much lately. Oddly, though, motorcycle companies that are also seen as being "lifestyle" brands (namely, Triumph, Ducati, and Harley-Davidson) have fared better than other brands, and are starting to recover sales at a faster rate than other manufacturers.
          The biggest problem that Harley has is not its bikes, not its customer demographics, and not its "lifestyle" products. Rather, it's their management. Watching H-D management in the past ten years has been akin to watching an ADD child on meth; they have made so many short-sighted decisions in recent years and had such poor carry-through that it's a wonder they haven't driven H-D into the ground yet,
          I live in Southern California, one of the great capitals of wealthy, lame, middle-aged, mid-life-crisis douchebags. Straight-pipe equipped Harleys are surprisingly few and far between.

          1. California just sets the trends…. how bad was it 5-10 years ago? That's how bad the rest of the continent has The Harleys right now.

          2. Well, then, If your logic is correct, I guess you probably ought to be grateful, as there really aren't all that many straight-pipe Harleys in Southern California. There are some, to be sure, but they are outnumbered by stock-exhaust Harleys almost 5-1 in the area that I live in. Give it another year or two, and that trend will spread, too.
            However, your logic probably isn't correct, considering that H-S is based out of Milwaukee.

          3. That should say "…considering that H-D is based out of Milwaukee."

          4. If only for the sake of moving the replies further across the screen…
            In the late '90's, Autoextremist used the fact that there were no american made cars in California to predict the upcomming collapse of the domestic market. Going further back: Hotrods, green cars, drifting, imports in general, electrics…. All of these things are born and raised in Cali before moving east. You guys set the trends for the US, and the US sets the trends for Canada.

          5. Autoextremist was right, but for the wrong reason. It wasn't the "lack of American cars in CA in the late 1990s" that caused the collapse of the domestic auto industry. Nor was there any particular lack of American cars in CA in the late 1990s. What Autoextremist did was look at the sales trends in the late 1990s, when brands like Lexus and were finally being perceived as legitimate rivals in their markets having established a level of credibility over the past 15 years. That, and that alone, was the justification for their "prediction". In the end, it wasn't the "lack of American cars in CA in the late 1990s" that screwed the domestic auto industry so badly; it was the financial meltdown. People weren't buying cars because people had no money.
            Drifting was pioneered in Japan, imports in general were pioneered across the country simultaneously (to wit, the Honda CVCC was not sold only in CA), electrics/green vehicles were pioneered (and later killed) in Detroit, and Hot Rodding was far from unique to California. We have our own variation of it, but, then, so does the east.
            This notion that California sets trends for the US and Canada is a load of crap. But don't take my word for it, here is another legit coincidental example to prove it: In & Out Burger is the most well-known burger chain in California. And yet, it cannot be found anywhere in the US, or Canada, or even China!

          6. Fair enough… You guys also started the trend of having endless miles of sandy beaches, which hasn't even made it past the rockies yet…
            Having worked at GM from '03 to '06, they were functionally bankrupt even then. The financial collapse was more of a convenient way to shift blame to some other factor, collect a pile of money, and offload a pile of debt.
            I took a couple of auto industry courses back then, and the sales trajectory data predicted when toyota would pass GM, and when GM would collapse due to lack of market share within a couple of months. Most of the reason I stopped working there.

  5. What? No love for the Suzuki RE5's rotary engine?!
    In all honesty, the correct answer is the desmo L-twin from Ducati. It's hard to find too many other engines that possess as much vocal talent.

  6. My favorite layout? Wheels down and touching the road, frame within 45 degrees of vertical, and rider's body parts not being sanded down on pavement.

  7. Flat twin, powering BMW since 1923. Not as high revving as inline 4s or as compact as a V-twin but smooth, torquey and easy to work on, plus it keeps your toes warm on cold mornings.

  8. I currently ride a Speed Triple with an Arrow 3 into 1, and I’m a big fan. My previous bike was a RC51, and it was a blast. I bought my wife a 250 Ninja, and I put about 20K miles on it and loved every minute. On the other hand, I’ve got an ’84 500 Interceptor that I bought brand new and can’t part with.
    So, yeah, I like them all.

  9. Man, I do loves me some Guzzi Pron. I've never ridden one, but I am determined to get me one as an antidote to all the Milquetoast Harley wannabes around here. They all sort of look the same, no matter how much crap you have hanging off of it, and they all wobble around my neighborhood acting like they know how to ride.
    Imagine a Valkrie blipping the throttle in an inner-city canyon; 40 story buildings all around, and that sound reverberating off the walls. It was one of the coolest things I've ever heard.

  10. What's "big" for a single? I'm on a 400 currently. It's alright, but I miss the smoothness of a twin. One of these days I'll find myself a CB400T to compare and contrast.

  11. I know that my Dad still misses his 600cc Norton single – which went with him from NZ to the UK and back again. He sold it when the folks moved to Aus to have me.

  12. +1 for the thumpers! I've probably said before that when I bought my KLR650 I was only intending to ride it for a year, and trade it for what I 'really wanted'… that all happened 5 years ago, and now when I think about a replacement my first thought is a new KLR. (Not that there's all that much choice about engine type in the dual-sport world, unless one's willing and able to spend the big bucks on a European bike…)

  13. Dear Mr. Robber,
    In the future, please do not post pictures of radial engine equipped motorcycles without providing a write-up of said bike.
    Thank you,
    The Whole Hooniverse

    1. I thought we had already done a write up on this bike. If not, well there's a two-wheel tuesday next week just itching for said write up.

      1. If a write up has been done, my apologies, I seem to be too lazy to do a search, so a linkey? If not, waiting, with coffee breath for the post!

  14. why not a square four a cuople of kwaka 250 cranks+bearings abox made ali -mild steel bit of tin for sump trim barrel fins carve up and reset heads 2scorpion engines should supply most commponents for aqudriple cam engine 500cc tools mstly hand tools some ali fabrictin and use of engineer co- minimal ps join cranks at fly wheel

  15. That's a toughie. I can say the prettiest I ever saw in the metal was the Ariel Square-four, a real jewel. But as for configuration in a general sense, my inline four is really great, but other layouts just intrigue me greatly. Maybe a good item for the bucket list is to try them all? And I agree Motor Guzzis and those old Honda Silverwings with the cross twins really look great too.

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