Layout: A single barrel and piston. Benefits: Strong low-down torque, simple design, light and compact.
In 1894, German manufacturer Hildebrand & Wolfmüller (H&W) became what is acknowledged as the first series manufacturer of motorcycles. As with the steam-powered bicycles that had come before it, the H&W was powered by a simple single-cylinder engine.
Easy to produce and affordably manufactured, the popular configuration has been utilised by almost every two-wheel manufacturer ever since. As early as the 1920s, more vibrant engine designs started to challenge the single’s universal application, but some manufacturers persisted longer than others, including Rudge, which went on to produce a 750cc single.
Most British bikes pre-Second World War were powered by singles, with many manufacturers simply altering the stroke of the barrel – while maintaining the bore and piston previously used to increase the capacity of the motor.
Honda released the single-cylindered XBR in the 1980s, but it never won over the market as intended. Nowadays, most singles are related to lower capacity machines, with a particular orientation towards off-road motorcycles.