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Which Cruiser Engine Layout: A V-Twin Or Straight 3?

Updated on March 20, 2011
In the British corner, the pride of Triumph, the 2294cc Rocket III!
In the British corner, the pride of Triumph, the 2294cc Rocket III!
In the Japanese corner, the greatest Kawi alive, the 2053cc Vulcan!
In the Japanese corner, the greatest Kawi alive, the 2053cc Vulcan!
The 1923 Henderson Four engine layout foreshadowed the design of the Rocket III.
The 1923 Henderson Four engine layout foreshadowed the design of the Rocket III.
In cutaway, the Rocket III is all beast.
In cutaway, the Rocket III is all beast.
The Vulcan V-Twin's cutaway shows it's a classic all the way to the pushrods.
The Vulcan V-Twin's cutaway shows it's a classic all the way to the pushrods.

The Two Biggest Motorcycle Engines In The World Face Off!

It's time to strap on your best helmet, put on your full leathers, make sure your life insurance is paid up, and go out and compare the two biggest production motorcycles on earth.

In this corner, weighing 704 pounds dry, is the British champion and current world record displacement holder at 2294cc, the Triumph Rocket III. In the other corner, weighing 751 pounds dry, is the Japanese champion and current world record V-Twin at 2053cc, the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000!

This shootout is between the two Goliaths of the motorcycle world. Not more than a few years ago, the biggest motorcycle you could buy was a Harley Davidson 1340cc V-Twin, an engine which is now dwarfed by these amazing motors. To put it into an even greater perspective, most cars sold in Europe these days have smaller engines. Some more perspective? The Smart Car has a three cylinder engine like the Triumph, but its displacement is 698cc, which means that the motorcycle engine is more than three and a quarter times larger!

To place such overwhelming engines on two wheels takes a combination of chutzpah and cojones. Riding one takes the same combination.

The V-Twin engine has been a staple of motorcycle engineering for over a century. The vast majority of American motorcycles have always been V-Twins and had a general engine layout very similar to the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000, a narrow angled, single carb, pushrod actuated Vee. Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha and Harley Davidson's cruisers are all based on exactly the same engine layout and philosophy.

When the British engineers at Triumph wanted to come up with their own particular take on what constituted the world's largest cruiser, they went into a drastically different direction. They drafted a three cylinder motorcycle, set in line with the frame in much the same way that the old Henderson fours were, but with one cylinder lopped off and the rest massively increased in size. Triumph is proud to point out that the pistons from their motorcycle are the same size as those found in the Chrysler's Viper.

If it's any satisfaction, the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000s pistons are larger still. They're the size of the pistons in the mid-70s vintage Cadillac Eldorado 500 cubic inch V8!

With this amount of gasoline and air mixture blowing up between your legs several thousand times a minute, it's a good thing that both the Kawasaki and Triumph engineers saw fit to water cool their beasts to keep those massive heads at a reasonable operating temperature.

The engines are absolute monsters power drunk demons direct from Hades. The Kawi's V-Twin manages 97 BHP and 121 ft./lbs. of torque, while the Triumph cranks out 140 BHP and 147 ft./lbs. of torque. The Triumph's dyno numbers are almost identical to those of a base Jeep Wrangler!

When you have this much ooomph driving a single track vehicle, the results have to be nothing short of eye-flattening and that they certainly are. Right out of the dealership, the Rocket III can rip a quarter mile in 11.2 seconds. The Vulcan is no slouch either, with a 12.3 second time through the trap lights. And keep in mind that these motorcycles are not dragsters or race bikes, but meant to be staid cruisers. You can just imagine what a great tuner like Yoshimura could do with these motors.

When it really comes down to it, the choice has to be personal. Both of these motorcycles will do anything you ask of them and not even breathe hard. There is no doubt that under any form of absolute measure the Triumph carries the day. You just can't disagree with the performance figures that the big triple generates. But if you ask me which one I'd want to ride out of the dealership, there is no question whatsoever. The Triumph is butt ugly. Gimme the keys to the Vulcan.

 

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    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      9 years ago from Toronto

      I think that maybe the Vrod may be the second worst Porsche engine. The one in my old 924 was pretty bad too, let alone the ones in the 914 flying bricks! :)

    • profile image

      Kip 

      9 years ago

      Yep, your purism is the worship of marketing I mentioned before. What you see as "not a harley" I see as the worst engine design Porshe ever made. The humor is in the most important question. What was the reason for Porshe to design their worst engine ? Worshping a marketing tradition. Potato potato potato. Stop, gotta tighten vibrated loose bolts.

    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      9 years ago from Toronto

      The Porsche coengineered Vrod engine (IMHO) is not a Harley, but then again, I'm a purist! :)

    • profile image

      Kip 

      9 years ago

      Yes I admit it is the finest example of marketing over performance and engineering. The only v-twin designed for performance was assisted by Porshe, and I will guarantee they made compromises to pay worship to marketing tradition. When I look at an engine, I cannot ignore what's inside. That is the part that serves you, not the shape, not a nostalgic allure.

    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      9 years ago from Toronto

      Hey, I've been a Harley lover since my 78 XLH, but that's not the point. There is an unmistakeable allure about the traditional V-Twin look and that is why almost a century after their introduction they still are one of the largest selling motor layouts in motorcycling!

    • profile image

      Kip 

      9 years ago

      Jay, Have you even ridden a Rocket 3. I only feel road and thrust, I don't know what vibration you speak of.

      I ride with pleanty of Harley Riders. Not one of them try to or could make me feel any different about my choice.

      Hal, You made a very large claim of the Road Star being DOHC. On the same page you talked of Cylindar length as a necessity of style. This makes me wonder if your Cat avitar hides a big HD Tatoo stampped on your forhead ???

    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      9 years ago from Toronto

      At the time I wrote this Hub the Vulcan 2000 was my favorite ride too. I salivated over it. However, that was another age and far too much has happened since. In this day and age, the Rocket is just an abomination.

    • profile image

      Jay Mack 

      9 years ago

      Personally, I'd like to see a lighter cruiser from Triumph with one of their triples in it. The Rocket is too big, too heavy. My personal bike is the VN2000. I love it, but if Triumph put a smooth running triple into their Bonneville or Bonneville America, I'd be all over it. I'm looking at a used Thunderbird Sport this afternoon.

    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      9 years ago from Toronto

      Geez. Why don't you go get a radial aircraft engine and stick it in a moped frame, then. Or write your own Hub? You just did in the comments, at least you might make a couple of bucks in Adsense! :) And it may be only the HD Gods that are upset... maybe you should try Valium. :)

    • profile image

      Kip 

      9 years ago

      "The V-Twin engine has been a staple of motorcycle engineering for over a century."

      Not for a good reason. Take an airplane radial engine of 8 cylindars. Chop away all but 2, you have 45 degree v-twin. The problem is, this is worst case for balancing. The sustaining of a pushrod 45 degree v-twin is the best example of superiour marketing overcoming inferior engineering. That's when the hype results in attempted pattent of a sound.

      Your v-twin statement ignores the vast majority of motorcycle engineering.

      "The vast majority of American motorcycles have always been V-Twins and had a general engine layout very similar to the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000, a narrow angled, single carb, pushrod actuated Vee. Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha and Harley Davidson's cruisers are all based on exactly the same engine layout and philosophy."

      Not even all Harley Davidsons are a v-twin. Even now, not all Vulcans are v-twins. Not all vulcan v-twins are pushrod.

      The first metric v-twin cruiser, narrow angle AND pushrod I know of is the 2004 Yamaha Road Star.

      The first Metric v-twin was the 1981 Yamaha Virago. So that is 23 years of metric v-twins that are Over Head Cam, you are ignoring.

      This means, metric engines de-engineered to balance challenged v-twins, and then further de-engineered into pushrod designs.

      The design source of a radial aircraft engine, isn't practical to run a cam chain to all the numerous Overhead valvetrain. When you have only 2 cylindars, 2 cam chains is very practical. I saw a cut-away of a HD engine. It still had 2 chains. One to one camshaft, the other between camshafts. Explain to me why this central located cam solution has more chains than the Rocket 3 engine. Explain to me why a hotrod v-8 has the characteristic whir noise of a gear driven cam, but on two wheels it upsets the HD gods ???

    • profile image

      arjun 

      10 years ago

      can anybody give me some info! about boss hoss performance?

    • profile image

      arjun 

      10 years ago

      totally agree with mr.dragline, performance man.

    • profile image

      dragline708 

      10 years ago

      QUOTE

      " There is no doubt that under any form of absolute measure the Triumph carries the day. "

      why else would you pick the vulcan .... LOOK I'm pretty

      Like buying a 15 or $20,000 motorcycle mainly because the sound of

      the exhaust note , potato potato potato , ahh nothing like paying $20,000

      for sound forget about the inportant things , like how it performs LOL !

    • profile image

      dragline708 

      10 years ago

      OOPS ! typo mistake

      I've never really understood , to a degree , why

      everyone comments about a car or motorcycle as being ugly

      as the main point of buying one , its a mechanical object

      that should get the job done your looking to do .

      I know I buy my drills , saws , and grinders etc

      because there pretty , and not for torque & hp ratings

      Pretty gets the job done LOL !

      I never buy anything for performance , that just doesn't make sense

      being pretty is way more important .

      Ah! eureka , I just figured out what's important to you

      " The Triumph is butt ugly. Gimme the keys to the Vulcan. "

      You want to ride around and look pretty LOL !

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