Where are all the diesel motorcycles? Diesel engines offer superb fuel economy, huge torque, and unparalleled reliability, so why aren’t there more of them? While diesel motorcycles are uncommon, there are a few out there worth talking about, so we’ve decided to compile a list of the top seven diesel motorcycles in existence. Now, if you were wondering why you haven’t heard of these, or why many of the bikes on the list never took off, then it’s probably because many of them never made it past the prototype stage. Some of the diesel motorcycles listed below did go into full production, but most of them didn’t. The diesel motorcycle was never really a viable thing, and now with the advent of electric motorcycles and tougher emissions laws sweeping across the globe, it’s pretty much a done deal that the lowly diesel motorcycle engine will never become the darling of the automotive industry. But that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the few that evolved into working machines.
But why didn’t the diesel motorcycle engine take over the world? The engines are indestructible, they’re cheap to run, and they last forever; what’s more, they’re strong and they work hard…but they’re not cheap to make. Well, they’re cheap enough to make, but if you want a diesel engine that’s small enough and light enough to afford the owner a respectable power-to-weight ratio then you’re talking about some tough engineering…and engineering like that ain’t cheap. And even if you’ve got your hands on a small and lightweight diesel engine and you manage to mate it to a decent rolling chassis, you’re still not going to be able to match a conventional gasoline powered motorcycle in terms of performance.
There have been a few enterprising manufacturers and eccentric inventors who have taken the idea under their wing though, and of course, the military has played around with different fueling methods – and that’s where most of these ideas originated from. If you’re in the market for a diesel motorcycle, you’re either going to have to build one yourself, borrow one from the military, or pay an astronomical price for one of the rare production machines. When we said they weren’t cheap, we weren’t kidding. Anyway, without further ado, here are our top seven diesel motorcycles.
Top Seven Diesel Motorcycles!
#7: The Royal Enfield Taurus
Let’s start with arguably the most famous diesel bike out there: the Royal Enfield Taurus. Back in 1993, Royal Enfield decided that what the world needed was a viable diesel motorcycle. After developing a decent 325cc four stroke diesel motor that didn’t have an absolutely awful power-to-weight ratio, the Taurus was born. The Taurus actually enjoyed a bit of success throughout the 90s and developed a bit of a cult following (in some weird circles) and eventually the motorcycle was sold in many European countries. However, at the turn of the century the interest in diesel motorcycles waned, and the once pioneering Taurus was discontinued. It certainly isn’t the best diesel motorcycle ever made, but it’s not the worst either – and it actually paved the way for a renewed interest in the diesel engine motorcycle world (more on that further down). Discontinued? Yes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find one if you’re looking hard enough. However, we’d recommend you ignore the old Royal Enfield and get in touch with Sommer (see below) for something same-same-but-different…
#6: The Hayes M1030 Military Motorcycle
How about something that’s good enough for the US Marine Corps? This is the Hayes M1030: a diesel motorcycle that was developed at the UK’s Cranfield University. Built on top of the legendary Kawasaki KLR650, the M1030 uses a specially developed 670cc liquid-cooled engine that can reach an impressive top speed of 90 mph and with a fuel economy touted at 96 miles per gallon but that’s not what makes it so special. The real secret to the military’s interest in the M1030 is the fact that it can run on a variety of fuels. Thanks to patented MAC-C1 technology, the M1030 can run on truck diesel, biodiesel, conventional gasoline, and up to five types of jet fuel too. The US military snapped up over 400 Hayes M1030 models and British and other European NATO forces also invested in a few models too, and the company had plans to bring a civilian model into production. It never happened though – since the military demand was so high, the civilian model plans were put on hold…indefinitely. Today, if you want one you’re going to have to contact the manufacturer directly and part with around $18,500 for the pleasure.
#5: The Sommer 462
German manufacturer Sommer have been building these exquisite diesel motorcycles since the early 2000s, but their history is a little older. You see, back in the late 90s, Royal Enfield began importing their own diesel powered model – however, the model didn’t sell well, but it left a lasting impression on some curious mechanics. The Sommer company managed to source a better engine, a compact 462cc single cylinder diesel engine that churns out 11 hp and reaches a top speed of 65 mph. It doesn’t sound like much, but for a motorcycle that offers more than 300 miles on a full tank, it’s not bad at all. The motor sits in a Royal Enfield frame and borrows a few other key components from the Indian manufacturer, though the gearbox only features four gears, and comes with a belt drive too. Each of these Sommer models are handmade, so it goes without saying that they’re not particularly cheap. You can get them for around $13,000…but that’s a lot of money for not a lot of performance.
#4: The Hero MotoCorp RNT
Now here’s a motorcycle that you shouldn’t discount straight away. It’s not a looker, sure. It might not appear to be all that in the performance department either, true. Despite your negative first impressions though, this little machine from Hero MotoCorp may very well be the most practical diesel bike on the list. You see, it’s not just a diesel motorcycle: it’s a two-wheel drive, diesel-electric hybrid that looks to be the ultimate utility vehicle… At its heart, this little scooter is powered by a 150cc diesel motor that packs quite a surprising punch: 13.5 horses and an unexpected 26 lb-ft of torque. If that wasn’t enough, Hero added in a 1.3 horsepower electric motor into the front wheel to make it a truly fascinating off-road, hybrid option. It’s pretty versatile too: it’s got luggage options, it’s tough and rugged, and the engine can be used as a generator for when you need power when you’re out on the trail. It’s like a hybrid Rokon trailbreaker, or a fiercer version of the Rukus. It’s not in production, and it probably never will be, but we would hope it would be reasonably priced.
#3: The Track T800CDI
The Track T800CDI is probably the first diesel motorcycle on this list that has the look and feel of a real, modern bike. It’s very much like the Yamaha Super Tenere in appearance, and it’s kitted out to give the rider a real dual-sport and adventure ride. Boasting long travel suspension, a modern trellis frame, an upright riding stance, modern Brembo brakes, and a turbocharged three cylinder engine that you’d normally find in a SmartCar, the Track T800CDI is a very admirable motorcycle. The engine has 45 hp on tap, 78 lb-ft of torque, promises a 0-60 mph time of four second and offers up to 140 miles per gallon – so why don’t we all own one? Well, we’re not entirely sure. The company began producing their exciting diesel motorcycle back in 2009 and over 50 of them have been reported as sold, but as of 2012, production has come to a halt. The blueprints are for sale though, should you want to build one of your own…but we reckon that the company have decided to focus on developing an electric model rather than trying to refine their diesel motorcycle design instead. But if you can find one of the 50 that were sold…you should be expecting to pay in the ball park of $25,000 for one.
#2: The Neander Turbo Diesel
Next up, we have this fearsome behemoth: the Neander Turbo Diesel. Yep, it’s a full on turbo diesel motorcycle that produces some impressive statistics. Thanks to the twin cylinder 1340cc turbo parallel twin motor, the Neander beast produces an impressive 112 horsepower, 144 lb-ft of torque, and can do 0-60 mph in a very healthy 4.5 seconds. As you can see, it’s quite the performance oriented diesel motorcycle, but rather than take on the form of a sportsbike, the Neander offering is more like your muscular power cruiser instead. Performance and comfort? Who’d have thought… Anyway, this diesel motorcycle features a wide range of other cool goodies, including a Neander double telescopic fork, a 6-speed cassette transmission, and top-end brakes from Brembo. It does weigh a massive 650 lbs though, and it’s because of that that the Neander Turbo Diesel motorcycle only offers a miserable 52 miles per gallon. Even so, it’s a totally rideable motorcycle that works – but it’s a touch on the expensive side… In fact, be prepared to shell out $133,000…Yikes, right?
#1: The Star Twin Thunder Star 1200 TDI
And in first place? Well, we’ve gone for the sporty option, haven’t we? This is the Thunder Star 1200 TDI by Star Twin. It’s a fully functional diesel motorcycle that first rolled on the scene in 2005, but apparently it was just too weird to go into full on production. As you can see, it’s powered by a burly 1.2 liter 3 cylinder turbo diesel engine that’s usually more at home in the Volkswagen Lupo (a car model that never made it across the Atlantic). Despite the massive engine, the Thunder Star actually produces some interesting performance statistics. The huge turbo-diesel engine can actually produce a fearsome and unprecedented 180 horsepower, 250 lb-ft of gut busting torque, and if that wasn’t all, it’s actually incredibly economical with an estimated 95 miles per gallon. But economy wasn’t the end goal here. As you can see, it was built to tear up the race tracks, with high-specification brakes, suspension, and carbon wheels too. Sadly, it never went into production…but it’s without doubt the most formidable diesel motorcycle out there.