We have previously covered the iconic engines starting from the Honda Super Cub/C90 up to the Honda NSR500l in Parts 1 & 2. Let us continue reading about the remaining four best motorcycle engines, based on their year of production. 


7. Ducati 851 (1988)

Ducati 851 engine - courtesy of

The father of the Desmodromic V-Twin, Fabio Taglioni, firmly resisted the idea of creating a four-valve head for the engine and left the project to Massimo Bordi.

Bordi had designed a four-valve Desmo engine as his thesis while studying engineering at the Bologna University to develop a new cylinder head design, in collaboration with specialist engine builders Cosworth.

The new 851cc, liquid-cooled, SOHC, 90o V-Twin engine made 95 bhp @ 9000 RPM and 63 lb. ft. @ 7500 had a strong midrange that made riding effortless. Entered in the fledgling World Superbike Championship, Raymond Roche won the first of Ducati’s many WSB titles in 1990 on the 851 racebike.

The engine was soon enlarged to 888cc, then again to the legendary 916cc. The capacity kept increasing while gaining the Testastretta head update, until the Panigale 1299R Final Edition which signals the end of the 90o Desmodromic V-Twin for Ducati’s superbikes. But the engines which were derived from Bordi’s 851 still soldier on in Monsters, Diavels, and Multistradas.

8. Yamaha R1 (1998)

Yamaha YZF-R1 engine - courtesy of

Yamaha’s FZR750 superbike was soundly trounced by Honda CBR900RR Fireblade in 1992. They had to respond but debuted the unpopular YZF1000R Thunderace in 1996, instead.

The real answer came in 1998 with the shark-like 998cc, DOHC, 20-valve, inline-Four, YZF-R1. There were three things the Yamaha R1 was famous for: weight, power, wheelbase.

The powerplant produced 150 bhp and 72 lb. ft., trumping the now Honda CBR919RR which made only 123 bhp. The revolution in engineering design was the “stacked” transmission. Instead of leaving it below and behind the engines, Yamaha’s engineers moved the transmission to just behind the engine, making the whole unit more compact. This compactness contributes to less weight and a longer swingarm could be used for more stability without compromising the overall wheelbase. This solution was so effective that virtually every manufacturer copied this design.

Additionally, the cylinder and crankcase were cast as one piece and are thereby making the engine more rigid as a stressed member, in turn allowing the frame to build lighter.

9. Triumph Daytona 675 (2006)

2006 Triumph Daytona 675 - courtesy of Triumph Motorcycles

When Triumph Motorcycles Ltd. was launched in the early 90’s, they had started out with 750cc and 900cc triple-cylinder bikes and 1000cc and 1200cc four-cylinder bikes. Triumph had tried cracking the 600cc middleweight class in 1997 with the TT600 but it was never as successful as the company hoped since it was swamped by the Japanese entrants.

The real breakthrough came when Triumph launched the Daytona 675 in 2006. The new triple not only produced a healthy 125 bhp and 69 Nm, but it also had an abundance of midrange torque. The engine was then wrapped under a superb chassis and great-looking design. However, it was the character of the engine which won the bike accolades the world over.

When the bodywork came off, the Daytona became the equally – if not more – entertaining Street Triple naked sportbike/street fighter, which went on to become the best-selling motorcycle for Triumph. The Street Triple design as well as the 675cc inline-Triple went through a few revisions before it finally became the current 765cc iteration. That is not all, as the race-kitted 765cc engine will go on to power Moto2 bikes beginning 2019.

The 675 also gave birth to the 800cc inline-Triple in the hot-selling Tiger dual-purpose bikes.

10. Ducati Panigale V4 (2018)

Ducati Desmosedici Stradale V4 engine - courtesy of Ducati

Although Ducati’s V-Twins have once dominated superbike racing (13 titles), the format has hit its performance ceiling within the superbike rules. The Panigale 1199 had won a number of races during its long campaign but have not won Ducati a single title.

The obvious step would be to increase the number of cylinders to the V-Four format used by the Desmosedici GP bikes.

The new (street-going) Desmosedici Stradale V4 displaces 1103cc, producing 214 hp @ 13,000 RPM and 91.5 lb. ft. of torque @ 10,000 RPM. With a race kit in which includes a full Akrapovic exhaust system, power if bumped up to 226 hp.

While that power rating may seem as if the Panigale V4 is a beast to ride, Ducati’s concerns were to produce a fast bike that is easy to ride fast, and it starts with the engine.

The engine features a whole host of innovations lifted from Ducati’s MotoGP experience, including the counter-rotating crankshaft to partly compensate for the centrifugal forces of the wheels. The bike is hence more agile while also lower the front end during acceleration while lifting the rear when braking to reduce power wheelies off corners.

Apart from that, as what Ducati calls the “Twin Pulse” firing order, the crankpins are offset by 70o as with the GP bike, in order to fire all four cylinders in close succession while leaving the rest of the crankshaft rotation unmolested by combustion pressure. The pair of cylinders on the left side fire first, followed by the pair on the right. This has the effect of making the bike sound like a V-Twin rather than a traditional V-Four.

The entire package was made as compact as possible and is only 10mm wider than the V-Twin. Consequently, Ducati was able create a new aluminum “forward frame” for the Panigale V4 which resembles a short aluminum twin beam frame, thus forgoing the Panigale’s usual monocoque frameless design. It is this type of frame that seeks to return front end feedback to riders. Additionally, a longer swingarm could be fitted while retaining the overall short wheelbase. A longer swingarm has the effect of straightline and braking, besides being able to hold the chosen cornering line while power is added on.

It may be premature to include this engine in this list, but the Desmosedici Stradale V4 is a technological wonder that is difficult to dismiss.

Back to blog