Motorcycle engines can have between one and six cylinders. For years, the V-twin design was the engine of choice for motorcycle engineers in America, Europe and Japan. The V-twin gets its name from the fact that the two cylinders form a V shape, such as the classic Harley-Davidson V-twin shown below. Notice the 45-degree angle in the Harley-Davidson V-twin — other manufacturers may vary this angle to reduce vibration.
The V-twin is just one way to accommodate two cylinders. When the cylinders are oriented so that the pistons oppose each other, the result is an opposed-twin design. Parallel-twin engines have their pistons placed side by side in an upright position.
Today, the most popular design is the four-cylinder, w88 which runs more smoothly and at higher revolutions per minute (rpms) than a comparable twin. The four cylinders can be placed in a row, or they can be arranged in a V-shape configuration, with two cylinders on each side of the V.
The size of the combustion chamber in a motorcycle engine is directly related to its power output. The upper limit is about 1500 cubic centimeters (cc), while the lower limit is about 50 cc. The latter engines are usually found on small motorcycles (mopeds) that offer 100-miles-to-the-gallon fuel economy but only reach top speeds of 30 to 35 miles per hour.
Next, we’ll examine the motorcycle transmission.