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Parallel Twins and Big Thumpers On The Horizon

Husqvarna's Preview Drawing: Husky's new 900cc Twin promises big power in a light, relatively inexpensive package.

Sometimes the most pleasurable things are the simplest — think of a perfect hot-fudge sundae, or a summer afternoon spent in a hammock. Motorcycles have their simple pleasures as well — engine configurations that are fun, inexpensive and light. Two of the best — and most enduring — are the four-stroke Single (also known as the thumper), which was the sort of mill Gottleib Daimler had in his 1885 Reitwagen and the parallel Twin, made famous by Edward Turner’s Triumph Twins and the workhorse of the Japanese motorcycle industry in the ’60s and ’70s. The Single’s advantages are low weight (of course) and a user-friendly power delivery that is hard to describe but familiar to anybody who’s ridden a thumper. Parallel Twins are great because you get two cylinders in one head/block, which means it’s narrow, light and much cheaper to build than a V-Twin.

The problem with both these designs is vibration. Neither design offers the near-perfect primary balance of a 90-degree V-Twin, and an unbalanced Twin or Single will blur your vision, put your hands and feet to sleep and make everything not safety-wired fall off in your wake. Luckily, engineers have had over a century to come up with work-arounds, including counterbalancers and other tricks like vestigial connecting rods. Efforts like these have smoothed out bikes like Ducati’s Super Mono and BMW’s F800-series Rotax-based Twins. And that’s why, despite the fantastic power numbers being produced by middleweight and open-class Fours, these scrappy little setups are not only still alive, but actually flourishing. Here’s what’s on the horizon:

Husqvarna

When BMW bought Husqvarna in 2007, I had to scratch my head, especially when I was at the Cologne show that year, looking at BMW’s display of new off-road models that seemed to directly compete with the Huskys. My guess is BMW was offered the brand at a fire-sale price (from the MV Agusta/Cagiva group) and couldn’t say no, but four years later, with Germanic efficiency, the Bavarians may have found a use for Husqvarna.

The Mille3 concept, dreamed up by Raffaele Zaccagnini, who we must assume is short and has very long arms.

Behold the 900cc Husqvarna parallel Twin, based on BMW’s very good 800cc F-series powerplant. An extra 100cc should make it even better, with estimates of 90 to 95 horsepower and 70 ft.-lbs. of torque. Pack it into a minimalist supermoto-style trellis-frame chassis, festoon with premium brakes and suspension, and then take advantage of low-cost suppliers (something BMW now does with all its street models, resulting in very reasonable MSRPs) and you could out-KTM KTM. Bonus points for using avant-gard designer Raffaele Zaccagnini, who came up with the crazy-looking three-cylinder cruiser-dirtbike-supermoto Mille3 concept. Zaccagnini, who came to Husky via Cagiva, likes minimalist design — nothing wrong with that. Expect to see a roadster as well as an enduro model introduced as 2012 models this fall.

Honda

Honda already spent big money developing a purpose-built street thumper for its CBR250R, and it’s an impressive mill — smooth, torquey, and it makes almost as much power as its twin-cylinder Kawasaki rival. Expect to see more of that powerplant in future models. But Honda’s bread and butter was traditionally parallel Twins, although interestingly, the excellent liquid-cooled CB500 Twin was never available here in the States. That lack of Honda p-Twins may change — England’s Motorcycle News has spied a 700cc parallel Twin, equipped with dual-clutch transmission, testing in the European Alps. The bike is a standard, with a very upright seating position and is probably intended for new, re-entry or commuting riders. Will we see it here? Honda seems to be moving towards a global product strategy, so it wouldn’t be a surprise — expect the bike to be introduced at the Milan show in November.

KTM

According to Nieuwsmotor.nl, KTM is going to update its Duke 690 with a Duke 700. The new model will have a more aggressive styling, a revised motor and an “R” version with better componentry. KTM is benefitting from its partnership with India’s Bajaj Auto by being able to manufacture bikes at lower cost and also get a foot in the developing (and huge) Indian market, which must be just right for the kind of rugged, lightweight machines KTM is known for.

Royal Enfield

Speaking of India—and thumpers—how can we not mention Royal Enfield? Not the old Royal Enfield factory in Redditch, England that was shuttered in 1970; we’re talking about the plant in Chennai, India. That’s where vintage-y Singles have been license-built for the home market since 1955. These machines are now available in the USA at bargain prices—the fuel-injected Bullet B5 is just $5495 — and seem to be selling like samosas at a cricket match. Look for those sales numbers to keep going up, especially when a cafe racer model is introduced next year.

This cafe racer can be yours for the price of the kit ($2325) and a base-model B5 Bullet ($5495).

But as India grows into a superpower—with the superhighways that go along with that — it won’t be happy putting along on 30-hp singles. The company’s new CEO, Dr. Venki Padmanabhan, said the company would be introducing a parallel Twin in the next couple of years, along with a diesel-powered adventure tourer. After all, how can you be adventure touring if you can’t make your own fuel from rendered Fry-oil?

So, even if the future may see Italian-designed, Swedish-branded, German-engineered and Chinese-built Twins being chased by Indian-made bikes running on peanut oil, we’ll still be using tried-and-true engine configurations.

45 Comments

  1. Paul says:

    If they want simple, they need to dump the water cooling. Guzzis for years have had tight clearances with air cooling; it’s not like there is a mystery about how to do it. Just a little oil cooler like the Bandits. Radiators don’t belong on motorcycles. Save some weight too.

  2. Timothy in Seattle says:

    A GSXR spec 900 parallel twin with a 270 degree crank? Both naked and dressed? Suzuki could do that so easily!

  3. Scott says:

    I love the idea of big thumpers and parallel twins and I’ve been lamenting for quite some time the lack of such designs available for purchase . . . but your article jsut left me frustrated. Where are they? You’ve mentioned some potential bikes, but very little in the way of anything that sounds new and interesting and available to me any time soon.

  4. Conor says:

    The two riders in the artist picture look like theyre about 4’3″

  5. Dave says:

    Bring on the diesel adventure tourer !!

  6. brinskee says:

    Part of the article makes me sad (a move away from v-twins) and part makes me happy (more thumpers!). In reality, and new models that are light with good power/weight ratio is great in my book. That just means that everyone will want the new shizzle and I’ll pick up the older used stuff for cheep. :)

    Oh, and yes, that is one hell of a bad photoshop job. The pipes look like they’re made of plastic, for-the-love-of-god!

    Happy Memorial Day!

  7. paul246 says:

    I love my Honda 650L. Super simple and super satisfying.

  8. Don Fraser says:

    Go to Yamaha Europe website and take a look at the MT-03 and then bitch at Yamaha USA.

  9. Bob says:

    After all the more powerful sportbikes I have had, I am having more fun the last 2 years riding my DRZ400 motard. A simple engine like a single can be so much fun and low maintenance. Take a single and add it to a modern chassis and you will be smiling all day on a ride!

  10. ziggy says:

    Article’s lead photochop looks like rider is being pawed by his homosexual identical male twin. C’mon, this isn’t a scooter site.

    At least KTM has the good sense to appeal to riders’ red-blooded machismo.

    Epic marketing fail!

    • chris-nctriad says:

      I think the guy on the pillion is the same guy in the cockpit, just rotated a few degrees back. Shouldn’t be this easy to spot a photoshop. That bike looks huge compared to the rider(s).

    • jimbo says:

      Yeah, I agree about the apparent rider/passenger relationship, very “sweet and tender”.

      Sexual suggestions are legion in marketing images, especially where least expected. On the back of the wife’s BETTY CROCKER cake mix box (thank goodness she likes to cook as much as I like to eat), the largest graphic on this panel, uppermost leftmost: sum total two humans, one male, one female.

      Male: early-to-late 30s, faces the camera, left hand no the mixing spoon (see below), face quite visible, big happy innocent smile, Caucasian, well groomed, medium length brown hair, apparently seated, blue jeans and a pretty, ultra-crisp oversize sky blue button shirt with big collar.

      Female: age about 8-10, facing toward the camera but her face is mostly hidden because she looks down at angle at the cake mix in a bowl on a table in front of her, apparently seated right in the middle of the male’s lap, her right hand is off to the viewer’s right holding only air but in a wide relaxed grip shape as if she were holding something (I wonder what fits this grip?), her left hand and the male’s left hand share the mixing spoon, her face is not in full view but her hair thick abundant dark hair (maybe/almost black) is in a bun like a Geisha, her complexion and features could be Black, Asian, Latin, her clothing is an exact duplicate of the male’s.

      Quick glance and it means nothing…closer inspection and, well, you can see I have too much time on my hands.

    • Tom R says:

      And I was seriously considering a scooter. Clearly, can’t do that now!

  11. bikerrandy says:

    I have a 750 Guzzi V-twin and a MZ 660 single, both rated @ 48 hp and both weigh about 400#. The MZ is the best handling bike I’ve ever owned. Both get 55-65 mpg. and are comfortable even 2 up. They have as much power as I need now. Other than dirt bikes, I can’t think of any singles in the last 30 years that sold very well in the US. Street single lovers are definitely a minority here.

  12. Wilson R says:

    Do you really think that the Husky is going to be and affordable alternative? What we need is an affordable 500cc single without all the fluff of ABS and electronic gadgetry. Keep it simple, keep the price down and for heaven’s sake…make it attractive!

    • Tom R says:

      ABS is fluff? Now i’m really feeling insecure!

      • Wilson R says:

        Millions of riders have done without the complexity, weight,expense and extra maintenance of ABS for decades. Just a simple machine is all we ask.

  13. Martin says:

    I like twins for their smooth, creamy power, but singles just sort of get under your skin. You can somehow meld with the bike as just another part of its architecture, no need for gymnastics to get where you’re going. A mere flick of throttle, a slight twitch of the hips to lean in, hardly use the brakes due to the roll off back pressure. Just very wieldy, filter through the bends without any real effort, journey ends too soon with your mind humming away in perfect accord. Relaxing, satisfying and stupendous fun.

  14. Markus says:

    I’ll for sure buy the Honda if it has decent leg room.
    Us old people have knee problems and need room to strech our legs.

  15. Mitch says:

    Carburetted singles & twins with breakerless point ignitions (to keep running in case of EMP strike by loons like N.Korea) would be wonderful. Ah, to have my ’70’s Honda SL 350K2 with modern suspension!In fact, since everyone is into the retro thing these days, Honda should build SL’s in the original colors. I bet they would sell like crazy as everyone I talk to about them wishes they would have never sold thiers(me included).

    • jimbo says:

      “Carburetted singles & twins with breakerless point ignitions (to keep running in case of EMP strike by loons like N.Korea) would be wonderful…”

      On the one hand, yes, I suppose N. Korea might/could have the technology for such an act. But IIRC most of their food is imported, so such a strike would potentially starve their already underfed military and everyone else.

      “…Ah, to have my ’70’s Honda SL 350K2 with modern suspension!In fact, since everyone is into the retro thing these days, Honda should build SL’s in the original colors. I bet they would sell like crazy as everyone I talk to about them wishes they would have never sold thiers(me included).”

      Add me to your growing list of ex-SL350 owners (metallic yellow/green stripe) who “wishes they would have never sold theirs”, except I gave mine away!

      • PeteP says:

        I rebuilt and rode a ’73 SL350 a few years ago. I sold it soon thereafter. Keep your memories, guys, they are better than the reality.

  16. jimbo says:

    Wow! I’ll steal Honda’s prototype of the standard 700 p-twin/DSG rather than wait for the production model. Sign me up. Soichiro’s spirit smiles!

  17. RedZRX says:

    On the Husky:

    Still has the dirtbike look with all the space between the rear wheel and subframe. Lets get the passenger elevation down a bit, eh, with a single, roomy, non-stepped bar seat. It’ll even let the rider move around a bit.

    And, belt drive isn’t that bad an idea, is it?

  18. James says:

    I’ve been wishing for a modern minimalist thumper for years. The KTM Duke 690 is close, but way too expensive. A Husky might be the answer if the reliability is good and the price is significantly lower than the 690. If the Japanese companies would build a lightweight sport oriented 650cc thumper, I would have to sell my FZ1. But it probably won’t happen, or at least they won’t sell them in the USA – the SRX-6 and GB500 were really cool but didn’t sell very well in the land of crotch rockets and cruisers.

  19. MarkT says:

    I rode a SR500 exclusively during my college years of the early 80’s. I easily got 62mpg around town and upwards of 81(one time only)on the highway. That’s one of the reasons I ride; efficiency. I still own a 1980 SR500 today. I’m looking for a wrecked DR650 or XT600 to perform a heart transplant with. Then I get the style of the SR with the power and electric start of the bigger engine. If Honda would build the CBR250 as a 450-600cc I’d buy one in a minute. I can’t wait to see these new singles and twins.

  20. S Calwel says:

    A simpler, lighter (especially lighter), comfortable, standard configuration twin about 750 to 800cc makes so much sense. The Versys is close. Just pare off 50 lbs, add some displacement and make it more retro (a look most riders like). I will probably buy a Triumph Tiger 800, but I would rather have what I just described.

    5 bikes, all I need is one more.

  21. Mark says:

    I like it. I think the motorcycle world needs an 800 – 900 CC SIMPLE bike. No traction control. No automatic transmission. Thats’ what a throttle, the use of the grey matter between my ears, a motorcycle safety class are for. IMHO, if you have to rely on electrons to be a safe rider, you’re not a safe rider, and you certainly don’t need to be riding 800 CC +. Maybe ABS – but make it an option. Minimal body work – a well-designed fly screen would be fine – loose the beak over the front wheel. A comfortable saddle, upright ergos with reasonable leg room. A flat torque curve with good HP. I don’t need 150 hp at 12,000 rpm. 450 lbs wet max.

    I don’t care about saddle bags. I don’t want a sound system. I don’t need an 800 lb adventure bike that will never be ridden off pavement. Ever tried to pick up even a 450 lb bike – it ain’t easy.

    I don’t have the spare time to tour – 4 hours max. of canyon carving on a Sunday morning is all the time I can find. Reasonable mileage is good, but if I have to stop every couple of hours to fill up – no problem. My bladder can’t go past that point anyway.

    I always like Husky’s. If this one comes close to what I’d like, my car’s moving out the garage to make room.

  22. Michael says:

    Triumph (or at least my local Triumph dealer) is doing will with its P-twins, especially the the 1600cc Thunderbird. Can’t keep them in stock.

  23. Tim says:

    The Mille 3 concept is just plain ugly. Looks like a 1970’s three wheeler with only 2 wheels. I like the super motard concept in the top photo though. That would be a fun bike with a BMW 800cc derived twin. That’s a great motor, fuel efficient, smooth and it revs really fast. One of my bikes is a 650 Versys, and while I love the bike, I have to admit my friends BMW ST 800F has a motor that would make the Versys even more fun.

  24. MarkF says:

    I’ve own quite a few twins, V, parallel and boxer. Only two singles, a big Suzuki Dual Sport and a KLR. I absolutely love the Honda GB500 and the new TU250. I think all the manufacturers should make something like the TU but with a big 500-650 single. That would be the commuter of the western world!

  25. Bob says:

    This is a positive trend. Minimalist bikes is where it’s at. My favorite of all the bikes I’ve owned was the 1986 Yamaha SRX6. God, what a sweet lady! This Husky is really nice.

  26. Hot Dog says:

    The Mille 3 is beautiful with long, low flowing lines, simple lump of a motor and a aire of attitude. Americans aren’t ready for this, we’re much too narrow minded. Next thing you know, a 160 Dream will be cool–ya think? Great read!

  27. Haydn says:

    If they build it as lean as the sketch it will be an amazing motorcycle. 90-100hp and 170kg wet will be lunacy on two wheels. As long as the tank isn’t too small, say 15 litres I would be trying to figure out how to put one in my garage. I wonder if Christian Pfeiffer won’t be stunting a Husky soon…

  28. chris-nctriad says:

    Is it me or does the Husqy single look like an enormous elephant bike compared to the rider(s)? Almost like the riders are photoshopped in, and they didn’t get the scale quite right . . . What kind of riding position is that for either of them at highway speed? What a weird looking photo!

  29. Mickey says:

    Well Gabe, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To me it looks like a Yamaha BW 200 on steroids. I always thought the BW 200s were rather ugly. Hey if ugly is too strong of a word for you how about I find it very uunattractive. Better?

    • Gabe says:

      Its only resemblance to the BW200 is that it has two wheels and an engine…although I see what you’re saying with the low tank. But my larger point was this–you’re judging the bike from an artist’s concept sketch. Wait to see the finished bike from a few more angles before you pass judgement.

      • Mickey says:

        I understand. I was not real fond of the Diavel until I saw one and sat on it in person. Now, I like it. But how can you show us a picture or an artists rendering for that matter and not expect us to comment on it? Which I did. Both wheels look nearly the same size which immediately reminded me of the BW 200. There is no real front fender, just a wierd headlight shell, the tank/seat looks like a modern day motocrosser how it all belnds together (I suppose so you can slide forward onto the tank in the turn to help plant the fat front wheel). I, personally just find it unattractive, and apparently resing some of the other comments, others do too.

        On the other hand the Bullet cafe’ has the proper lines, a real front fender, a normal headlight, a distinguishable seat and gas tank (and a good looking tank at that). I know these are just my opinions but I find that motorcycle very attractive.

        I prefer blondes too. My tastes just might run differently from others (yours perhaps).

        If you don’t want me to make comments on these bikes and articles, just say so and I’ll refrain, but I thought the purpose of the articles was to gather comments/opinions from your readers.

  30. todd says:

    I love my Honda GB500. It doesn’t vibrate much, is quick enough to be fun, and is pure beauty. I’ve never felt I need more than what it has to offer even though much more powerful and less interesting bikes come and go through my collection.

    It’s interesting that much of the idea of a single being simple and adequate seems to be highly disregarded when manufacturers start thinking about bringing them back.

    -todd

  31. Mickey says:

    Wow the Bullet cafe’ is stunning. Kind of resembles a Norton Manx. Very cool.

    The Husky on the other hand is stone ugly.

    I had a 2003 Triumph Bonneville p-twin and it was actually smoother than my Honda V4 Sabre. If you’re thinking V twins have to vibrate like the old Triumphs, Nortons BSA’s or Yammie 650’s, it just ain’t so. The P-twin is a very good motor these days. They should make more of them, but give them around 90 horsepower, decent brakes and decent suspensions (the drawbacks of the Bonneville). If it had had those features I’d probably still be riding it, or considering another.

    • Gabe says:

      How can something be “stone ugly” when it is so minimal there’s almost nothing to criticize? There is almost no bodywork whatsoever.

      Sometimes I think, to motorcyclists, “different” means the same thing as “ugly.” Which is probably why motorcycle design moves so slowly.

  32. brian says:

    Just about gagged when I first looked at the Husqvarna twin but after digesting the odd look, I really like it. They may have something there. Another great article on Motorcycledaily.com…

  33. anon says:

    Doesn’t look like the driver in that “artist drawing” would be able to even get 1 foot to reach the ground when he stops (well, and still stay upright!) …

  34. Mark says:

    I previously owned a Husky TE610 and a KTM 950 SMR – really enjoyed them both. This is on my list for sure! Plenty of horsepower, lets hope they keep the weight down.