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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.