Why are Motorcycle Engines So Powerful? [Video]

Certain motorcycle engines are very powerful because they have high compression ratios, feature more cylinders, and have very short strokes. Simply put, “short stroke” means that the pistons have a short distance to go, which results in higher RPMs and engine power. However, contrary to popular belief, not all motorcycle engines are extremely powerful, as most engine layouts deliver the same or even less horsepower per liter than the average car.

If you would like to compare the performance of the motorcycle and car engines, this post is for you.

We at PowerSportsGuide have done the research and compiled many different motorcycle and car engine specs into one chart. In addition, you can find out which motorcycle engines on the market are the most powerful!

Why are Motorcycle Engines So Powerful?

Although some motorcycle engines are very powerful, many others have less power than the engine in the average car. This is because the power of a motorcycle engine depends on many factors, such as:

Let’s take a closer look at each factor!

Generally speaking, motorcycles are typically divided into three major categories: lightweight, middle-weight, and heavy.

Lightweight motorcycles are powered by the smallest (50-400cc) engines, and many of them feature only 1-3 cylinders. These motorcycle engines are significantly less powerful than car engines, especially because many of them are restricted to fit within the A1 driving license category.

On the other hand, it’s good to know that many small-bore motorcycle engines offer a great cc/HP ratio. For instance, 250cc motorcycle engines deliver about 25-40 HP.

But to get an apples-to-apples comparison, we have to measure middle-weight and heavy motorcycles to cars. The majority of these bikes feature a bigger, 600-2000cc engine that puts out 60-240 HP depending on the model.

Besides the displacement, the layout of the engine and the number of cylinders are also important factors. For instance, sportbike engines are very powerful because they feature four-cylinder inline engines, which have high compression ratios.

The power sources of these bikes are typically “over square” engines, meaning that they feature wide bore but short stroke. To put it more simply, they have pistons with a large diameter that have to go a short distance.

This is the key to a much higher piston speed and RPMs, and finally more engine power. As you can assume, this wears out the engine’s internals much faster, which often results in short engine life.

In contrast, cruisers and touring motorcycles deliver much less power. Surprisingly, many of these bikes have engines as big as cars, but they only crank out 80-130 HP. Why?

This is because these bikes are designed for longer tours, so they typically feature V-twin, parallel-twin, or even flat (boxer) engines. Thanks to these layouts these engines have more torque but run at lower RPMs than inline-fours.

For a better comparison, we’ve compiled the specifications of some popular car and motorcycle engines into one chart.

Car vs. Motorcycle Performance Chart

Model HP cc cc/HP Category
Yamaha Star Venture 85 1854 21.8 Touring
Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special 100 1868 18.7 Cruiser
Honda Gold Wing GL1800 125 1812 14.5 Touring
Honda NC750X 54 745 13.8 ADV-touring
Nissan Altima 188 2500 13.3 Car
Toyota Camry 203 2500 12.3 Car
Toyota RAV4 203 2500 12.3 Car
Honda Fit 128 1500 11.7 Car
Nissan 370Z 332 3696 11.1 Car
Yamaha Super Tenere 109 1199 11.0 Adventure
Ford Mustang 460 5000 10.9 Car
BMW K 1600 GTL 160 1649 10.3 Touring
Kawasaki Concours 14 160 1352 8.5 Sport-Touring
KTM 1290 Super Adventure R 160 1309 8.2 Adventure
Suzuki Hayabusa 197 1340 6.8 Sport
Ducati Panigale V4 214 1103 5.2 Sport
Suzuki GSX-R1000 199 1000 5.0 Sport
BMW S1000RR Sport 205 1000 4.9 Sport
Honda CBR1000RR 215 1000 4.7 Sport

As you can see, only the sport and sport-touring motorcycle engines are more powerful than the average car engine. Based on our research, many touring and adventure motorcycles offer the same (or only slightly better) cc to HP ratios than cars.

What’s more, cruisers and the biggest touring bikes crank out significantly less HP per liter!

Another reason why motorcycles are considered high-performance machines is their great power-to-weight ratio figures.

Motorcycles are more lightweight compared to cars, which means their engines require less torque. Besides, motorcycles are also known for their outstanding acceleration.

It’s a fun fact that many street-legal sportbikes can beat many supercars!

Which Motorcycle Engine is the Most Powerful?

When it comes to mass-production, the most powerful motorcycle engines are the inline-four and V4 power sources. These engines feature four cylinders, a displacement of 1000-1300cc, and deliver up to 230 HP.  On the other hand, you can find some extremely powerful engines in some custom and small-series motorcycles like the legendary Boss-Hoss. These machines feature oversized, 6000-7500cc engines that offer 400-600 HP.


Contrary to popular belief, not all motorcycle engines are extremely powerful. In fact, the average motorcycle engine offers as much cc/HP ratio as that of the average car.

High-performance sportbikes are powered by inline-four and V4 engines. They feature four cylinders that run at high RPMs thanks to their large-diameter cylinders and short strokes. This is why four-cylinder motorcycle engines are so powerful!

But other motorcycle engine layouts like V-twin, parallel-twin, triple, or boxer deliver significantly less power because of their design.

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