Bril­liant en­gines

From V-twin to in­line-four, be­hind ev­ery great bike is a great pow­er­plant, but which of the best 2016 units truly stirs the emo­tions?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week in MCN - By Jon Urry MCN GUEST ROAD TESTER

They de­fine the char­ac­ter of our bikes far more than the styling, and many rid­ers never stray once they’ve found their favourite con­fig­u­ra­tion. But which is best? We pitch in­line-four, V-twin, par­al­lel-twin, V4, in­line-triple and sin­gle cylin­der bikes against each other to see what re­ally works best on the A and B-roads of bik­ing Bri­tain.

We are truly liv­ing in a blessed time when to comes to two-wheeled de­vel­op­ment. Gone are any signs of the ‘Uni­ver­sal Ja­panese Mo­tor­cy­cle’, now ev­ery man­u­fac­turer is striv­ing to stand out from the crowd. And what bet­ter way to achieve this than to have its own sig­na­ture en­gine?

On a mo­tor­cy­cle, the en­gine pro­vides far more than just power. This lump of an­i­mated metal con­tains the bike’s heart and soul and, in terms of show­room pulling power, can be a stronger draw than the rest of the bike’s tech­nol­ogy put to­gether. Some rid­ers fall in love with the feel of a spe­cific mo­tor and base their en­tire buy­ing de­ci­sion on that sin­gle emo­tion. Oth­ers refuse to step out­side their com­fort zone and fail to ex­pe­ri­ence the vari­a­tions on of­fer.

So what is it that makes an en­gine truly great? Is it a vi­bra­tion, the num­ber of cylin­ders, or sim­ply a sound? Can a sin­gle cylin­der evoke the same plea­sure as a in­line-four? MCN brought to­gether six of 2016’s best en­gines - the Aprilia Tuono’s V4 1100, the BMW S1000XR’S 999cc in­line four, the 675cc triple from the Tri­umph Day­tona, Du­cati’s Mon­ster 1200 R’s L-twin, Yamaha’s cross­plane-cranked MT-10 and KTM’S 690 Duke sin­gle - to dis­cover which is the great­est of them all.


There was a time when big sin­gles vi­brated like jack­ham­mers, earn­ing them the nick­name ‘thumpers’. With its lat­est gen­er­a­tion of LC4 mo­tor, KTM has to­tally dis­pelled this per­cep­tion. This is a large-ca­pac­ity sin­gle that is smooth and al­lows all of the en­gine’s many plus points to shine through rather than be­ing hid­den be­hind an ir­ri­tat­ing wall of vi­bra­tion.

Sin­gles are never go­ing to be ev­ery­one’s cup of tea due to the fact that they will al­ways be lim­ited in their per­for­mance, and de­spite the fact the Duke’s is the most ad­vanced mo­tor of its kind ever built, it still only makes 72bhp. But head­line power fig­ures don’t tell you the whole story…

When it comes to per­for­mance, power and weight are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked and the more the weight drops, the more power the bike ap­pears to have. And that’s the key to KTM’S sin­gle.

De­spite its mod­est power, the Duke feels far more spir­ited thanks to the fact that it tips the scales at just 148kg. And that’s what shows up in the ride.

Com­pared to the other bikes, the Duke feels like a toy. With only one cylin­der in­side its frame, the Duke is ex­tremely com­pact while its light­ness gives it real agility. The sin­gle-cylin­der mo­tor punches its power out with a lovely in­stant throt­tle re­sponse and an ex­haust note that is pleas­ingly brash and unashamed. While the rev lim­iter does chime in with an­noy­ing reg­u­lar­ity, that’s sim­ply down to the fact a sin­gle can’t han­dle as many revs as a multi-cylin­der en­gine and this trait adds to its charm. If you want to feel like you are work­ing a mo­tor and en­joy keep­ing some­thing on the boil while whip­ping through both the gears and bends, then a sin­gle will cer­tainly ap­peal and the LC4 is the best of the bunch. Best for: Light weight and a de­liv­ery that smacks like a solid punch Worst for: Out­right power and top-end per­for­mance


Over the years the in­line-four has dom­i­nated the sports­bike mar­ket thanks to its abil­ity to make huge power fig­ures with seem­ing ease. Yet it hasn’t been un­til re­cently that it has started to stray away from sports or naked bikes and in­stead moved into the likes of ad­ven­ture-style ma­chines such as the XR or Ver­sys. Do an in­line-four’s en­gine char­ac­ter­is­tics lend them­selves to this new role in life? I’m not con­vinced.

Make no mis­take, the in­line-four en­gine is prob­a­bly the great­est con­figu- ra­tion ever de­vel­oped. It has al­lowed road bikes to pro­duce power fig­ures touch­ing 200bhp with to­tal re­li­a­bil­ity, which is a stag­ger­ing achieve­ment, but it has its draw­backs. As a sports­bike rider you need to love feed­ing your bike revs as that’s how you get power from the con­fig­u­ra­tion, but that’s also one of its dis­ad­van­tages. No mat­ter how much re-tun­ing you give an in­line four, they al­ways feel like they want you to rev them harder and faster, mak­ing them less re­laxed than the likes of a twin. Th­ese are mo­tors that love to be worked which suits their role within the frame spars of sports­bikes but isn’t so ideal on a more re­laxed tourer, as the BMW S1000XR demon­strates.

On a con­stant throt­tle the XR seems to be strain­ing to go faster while the en­gine buzzes and the ex­haust note howls

‘If you want to feel like you are work­ing a mo­tor, a sin­gle will cer­tainly ap­peal’

‘More than just power, this lump of an­i­mated metal con­tains the bike’s heart and soul’

– an­other in­line-four dis­ad­van­tage.

This en­gine for­mat has the most au­rally grat­ing ex­haust note of any en­gine con­fig­u­ra­tion. Fit loud pipes to a twin or V4 and peo­ple gen­er­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the ex­tra vol­ume, do the same to an in­line and its high-pitched wail only ir­ri­tates. What do you hear break­ing the si­lence of the coun­try­side at week­ends? It’s not the drone of a V-twin...

Yet de­spite its dis­ad­van­tages, in many ways the in­line-four still rules the en­gine roost. It’s cheap to man­u­fac­ture, sim­ple to tune, re­li­able, gen­er­ally lacks vi­bra­tion and can have its power de­liv­ery tai­lored with rel­a­tive ease. But com­pared to a V4 or soul­ful V-twin, it does lack a de­gree of char­ac­ter.

Best for: Ac­ces­si­ble per­for­mance Worst for: Char­ac­ter and feel


No other ex­haust note epit­o­mises the sound of race­tracks in the 1990s than the flat drone of a V-twin – or an ‘L-twin’ if you’re a Du­cati owner. It’s a noise that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and when you are revving a V-twin hard it’s easy to be trans­ported back to Brands Hatch WSB, stand­ing on the banks in a sea of red.

This style of en­gine splits opin­ions and when you ride a mod­ern V-twin you can see why. On a con­stant throt­tle the mo­tor is nice and smooth, but ask it to ac­cel­er­ate and its char­ac­ter changes and you can al­most feel the two huge pis­tons thrash­ing up and down in the cylin­ders. V-twins aren’t smooth like in­line-fours, they vi­brate and rat­tle when asked to work hard, yet the power out­put isn’t as en­gag­ing as on other mo­tors.

You never feel like you are rush­ing on a V-twin as the mono­tone ex­haust and flat torque de­liv­ery are de­ceiv­ingly fast. Th­ese aren’t mo­tors that de­liver the in­stant hit of thrills that you get with a fast-revving V4 or in­line-four, in­stead they hide their true po­tency be­hind a wall of smooth drive.

Many rid­ers were put off V-twins due to some hor­rific early fuel-in­jected mod­els mak­ing their throt­tle re­sponse snatchy and ag­gres­sive. Mod­ern fuel sys­tems have re­moved much of this feel­ing, but sim­ply down to the mo­men­tum re­quired to shift the mas­sive pis­tons V-twins are never go­ing to be per­fect. Let the revs drop too low and they shud­der and protest, while fail to pay at­ten­tion to the tacho and the rev lim­iter rushes in seem­ingly from nowhere. But if you want to go fast with min­i­mal ef­fort, no mo­tor does it bet­ter than a V-twin. Best for: Lazy rid­ing, mid-range drive, char­ac­ter Worst for: Ini­tial throt­tle feel


From the mo­ment you first open the throt­tle the Tuono’s en­gine feels light and fast to rev, pick­ing up speed with enough fe­roc­ity that the trac­tion con­trol warn­ing light is con­tin­u­ously flash­ing as the elec­tron­ics strug­gle

to keep it all un­der con­trol. It’s not a re­laxed ride, and is ac­com­pa­nied by a sym­phony of me­chan­i­cal clat­ters and rat­tles from deep within the en­gine that only height­ens the raw na­ture of the ex­pe­ri­ence.

From the mighty 500GP two strokes to the lat­est RCVS and even the le­gendary RC30 and RC45, the V4 en­gine has long his­tory of track suc­cess and Aprilia’s own V4 has taken three WSB ti­tles. What makes it so suc­cess­ful? The V4’s ar­chi­tec­ture lends it­self to track rid­ing and Aprilia have tai­lored their ver­sion to not only drive out of bends with typ­i­cal V4 thrust, but to also have a sear­ing top-end rush thanks to light­ened en­gine in­ter­nals. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Other V4s such as Honda’s VFR range demon­strate the flex­i­bil­ity of this style of mo­tor by de­liv­er­ing a far more re­laxed ride that con­cen­trates on midrange and flu­id­ity of drive. But when it comes to show­cas­ing the sheer speed and ag­gres­sion pos­si­ble from a thor­ough­bred V4, the Tuono 1100 knocks the prac­ti­cal VFRS out of the wa­ter. If you want an en­gine to thrill, and also some­times scare, you need look no fur­ther than Aprilia’s V4. Best for: Mind-bend­ing per­for­mance Worst for: Dis­con­cert­ing ag­gres­sion


Yamaha’s CP4 cross­plane crank en­gine is a real Mar­mite mo­tor as ini­tially it dis­ap­points, but once you spend a bit of time with one, it will change your whole per­cep­tion on in­line fours. Or you will hate it and wish it had a con­ven­tional fir­ing or­der…

While Yamaha will bang on about in­er­tial torque and the ben­e­fits the cross­plane has when it comes to drive out of bends, to road rid­ers this doesn’t mat­ter one iota. What the cross­plane of­fers to road rid­ers is a truly dif­fer­ent rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and one that in­jects a real dose of char­ac­ter that is lack­ing in a con­ven­tional across-the-frame four.

When you are on a con­stant throt­tle the CP4 en­gine is to­tally in­ert and lack­ing any kind of vi­bra­tion or quirks, how­ever give it some gas and its whole char­ac­ter changes. The smooth­ness van­ishes and the mo­tor de­vel­ops a lumpy feel­ing in a sim­i­lar fash­ion to a twin as it picks up revs. It doesn’t

‘If you want to go fast with min­i­mal ef­fort, no mo­tor does it bet­ter than a V-twin’

scream to­wards the red line like a con­ven­tional four, but again like a twin it builds mo­men­tum de­cep­tively quick while punch­ing for­ward and de­liv­er­ing a won­der­ful off-beat ex­haust note. It’s a unique feel­ing in the mo­tor­cy­cle world and one that ei­ther wins it friends or en­e­mies de­pend­ing on what rid­ers seek in an en­gine.

Doubters detest the lumpi­ness of the mo­tor un­der power, fans en­joy the V-twin grunt with­out the tra­di­tional stut­ter­ing caused by the twin-cylin­der con­fig­u­ra­tion at lower revs. But when you look at Yamaha’s YZR-M1 race bikes, it’s hard to ar­gue against its ef­fec­tive­ness. Best for: Char­ac­ter and per­for­mance com­bined Worst for: In­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion, and rough­ness dur­ing low to mid-range hard ac­cel­er­a­tion


Within a few sec­onds of pulling away on the Day­tona 675R one ques­tion is rat­tling around in my head ‘why on earth does ev­ery­one for­get about this bike?’ The Day­tona is a sim­ply beau­ti­ful to ride and it is all down to one fac­tor – its in­line-triple en­gine.

When Tri­umph first un­leashed their small ca­pac­ity triple in 2006 it caught ev­ery­one by sur­prise and to this day it re­mains a rev­e­la­tion. I can’t think of an­other en­gine that de­liv­ers such a thrilling and en­joy­able ride with so few, if any, ir­ri­ta­tions. It’s a bril­liant mo­tor and that’s why both Yamaha and MV Agusta have fol­lowed suit and de­vel­oped their own ver­sions of the for­mat. Al­though nei­ther have matched Tri­umph’s near-per­fect ex­e­cu­tion.

It’s very hard to put a fin­ger on what makes the 675 triple so plea­sur­able to ride. The rasp­ing ex­haust note cer­tainly plays its part. Then there is the use­able midrange, which is so much more than you would ex­pect from ‘just’ 675cc. It could be the kick of top-end drive, which is in­jected pre­cisely when the mid-range starts to dip, or even the bike’s light­ness and agility. But in truth it’s a com­bi­na­tion of all th­ese fac­tors.

The thing that makes the 675 triple so spe­cial is the bal­ance that Tri­umph have en­gi­neered into the mo­tor. As well as a beau­ti­ful throt­tle re­sponse, it is the way that ev­ery as­pect of the en­gine works to­gether seam­lessly to en­hance the ride that makes it so spell­bind­ingly good. There isn’t the feel­ing of the drive over­pow­er­ing you as there is on the Aprilia V4, it’s en­gag­ing un­like the BMW’S in­line four, it has a sim­i­lar off-beat cross­plane feel as the Yamaha and even the light­ness of KTM’S sin­gle. The Tri­umph triple is the best of all worlds and aside from slightly lack­ing in ul­ti­mate top-end power, it’s in­cred­i­bly hard to fault. What a mo­tor. Best for: Com­bin­ing midrange and top-end power ef­fort­lessly Worst for: Big power

BMW’S mighty in­line four loves to rev but is a lit­tle buzzy for a tourer

Revvy, gutsy, light and ag­ile, the Day­tona 675 is the per­fect sports­bike

KTM 690 Duke is a sin­gle-minded fun ma­chine

Odd­ball looks com­bine with an odd­ball en­gine

The Mon­ster’s roar has al­ways been cre­ated by a Du­cati L-twin

Blis­ter­ing out of bends, the Tuono’s V4 shove will thrust you at the hori­zon

A V4 lay­out al­lows for bikes like the Aprilia to be very slim

Groov­ing to a dif­fer­ent beat, cross­plane MT-10 sounds like Rossi’s bike

Naked MT-10’S in­line four has an un­even fir­ing or­der

Itõs a tri­umph of en­gi­neer­ing, the Day­ton­aõs 675cc triple is the per­fect bal­ance

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