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Motorcycle Engine Configurations And Layouts—All You Need To Know

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Ever heard bikers arguing about their motorcycles and its power? If you have, these are common terms: V-Twin, In-line four, V4, etc.

If you are not much of a motor-head, you would be confused or rather left wondering what the hell are they talking about? It might sound like they are speaking the weirdest language in the world.

The truth is, they are just arguing about their motorcycle engine configuration and how the engine is laid out on the vehicle.

So here are motorcycle engine configurations and layouts that are very common and seen on the road these days and some even from the past, that are now discontinued:

Single Cylinder:

This is one cylinder that is mounted either vertical, inclined or horizontal. Single-cylinders are relatively easy to maintain and repair in remote locations with few tools. These engines return good fuel efficiency and are cheap to build.

Parallel Twin:

The parallel twin configuration was the most common British motorcycle type. Parallel twins are usually mounted transversely, with the cylinders side by side above the crankshaft, and with exhaust pipes at the front. This set up is easy to mount since it saves a lot of space in the motorcycle's frame.

Photo credit: Wiki Commons/Peprovira


This is a common set up, mainly with big cruisers. The cylinders are mounted in a way that forms a "V". The cylinder angle can vary anywhere between 90 degrees to 42 degrees. Most V-twins have a single crankpin, and the cylinders are slightly offset. Engines that are not 90 degree V-twins may have offset crankpins to try to reduce vibration, since 90 degree twins can give perfect primary and secondary balance. V-Twin engines can be mounted longitudinally or transversely.

Flat Twin:

In this kind of setup, the cylinders are horizontally opposed. These have very low vibration levels and the cylinders protrude into the airstream to effectively be cooled with the wind flow. BMW and Ural used this engine configuration for long.

In-line Triple:

In this type of engine configuration, the cylinders are placed in a line, next to each other transversely. Triumph specialises in transverse triples, although the company's Rocket III motorcycle uses a longitudinally mounted three-cylinder engine. Another manufacturer that uses a three cylinder engine layout is Benelli. Kawasaki, Yamaha, and even Honda made a few three-cylinder motorcycles in the past.

In-line Four:

In-line four cylinders are mounted transversely, one next to the other in a line and are the most common layout for many modern motorcycles. In-line fours have dominated the non-cruiser street motorcycle segments for a long time. Most modern sport or street motorcycles have a liquid-cooled, in-line four-cylinder configuration.

Square Four:

A square four layout is a U engine with two cylinders on each side. This design was used on the Ariel Square Four motorcycle from 1931 to 1959. Suzuki too opted to make a couple of motorcycles with this design, but ditched it in favour of the in-line four configuration.

Flat Four:

A flat four has four cylinders arranged horizontally in two banks of two cylinders on each side of a central crankcase. This configuration is also called the boxer engine. This layout has good balance, a low centre of gravity, and a very short engine length.


Similar to the v-twins, this configuration uses 4 instead of two cylinders. Virtually all the bikes in the last decade of the two-stroke GP500 era were fours. These engines are compact and have almost zero vibration. A disadvantage is that it is usually more expensive to produce than an equivalent in-line four.


Honda had produced V5 engines for races. It has three cylinders on one side and two on the other, configured in a Vee layout. At present, there are no V5 engines offered in the market. Even BSA planned to manufacture a few motorcycles with a V5 configuration, but none reached production.

Photo credit: Wiki commons/Simon

In-Line Six:

In-line six cylinder engines are similar to in-line four cylinder engines, but have six cylinders instead of four, placed one next to the other. The Honda CBX which was produced from 1978 to 1982 is a good example of a in-line six cylinder motorcycle. The BMW K1600GTL and K1600GT have transverse mounted six-cylinder engines as well.

Flat Six:

The flat six again is similar to the flat four configuration, but has six cylinders. The Honda Gold Wing is a motorcycle that is offered in the market today with a flat six engine configuration.


Moto Guzzi had this set up in a race bike back in 1938. Honda almost made a V8 engine with the NR 750. The engine was a V4 configuration, but had eight connecting rods and oval pistons.

Photo credit: Wiki commons/Serge PIOTIN aka Sergio

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Story first published: Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 9:45 [IST]
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