Parallel Universe: Top 10 Modern Parallel Twin Motorcycles!
Inline-fours are great, triples are interesting, v-twins are fantastic – but there’s nothing quite like a parallel twin.
Updated August 23, 2018
While there’s nothing wrong with a single cylinder thumper, or a screaming inline-four, there’s something quite special about a parallel twin powered motorcycle – and here are our favorite models. The humble parallel twin first came into its own in the post-war years when motorcycle manufacturers noticed that it made more sense to divide up the large displacement single cylinder machines into more economical, more efficient twin cylinder parallel twin engines. It was this logic that led to the rise of companies such as Triumph, BSA, and Norton.
Compared to the single cylinder models of the time, the new parallel twin engines were faster, and provided a smoother power delivery. Even when compared to their loping V-twin brethren, the parallel configuration still ruled supreme. Rather than having one large bang followed by three silent cycles like a single cylinder engine would, the parallel twin could trigger two smaller, more manageable explosions in the same space of time, making it easy for the engine to convert the power that has been generated into nice, smooth acceleration. It’s no wonder that the early parallel twin machines were such a success on the race tracks of their era.
Things changed though. Japanese manufacturers realized that by adding more cylinders, more advances could be made and bigger engines could be used, and the humble parallel twin was more or less relegated to the realms basic transport, as something to tinker with for weekend enthusiast or a steadfast choice for the cool commuter. However, parallel twins never really went away and most of the major manufacturers will still have one or two in their arsenal somewhere. In fact, they’re enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment: they’re cheap, economical, smooth, and versatile. They’re never going to be as popular as inline-fours, they’ll never be as iconic as a v-twin, and they’ll never have the exotic feel of a triple, but if you’re like me, you’ll appreciate the parallel twin for exactly what it is: a damn good engine.
The Top 10 Parallel Twin Engine Bikes On The Market!
#10. Kawasaki ER-6N/ER-6F/Versys/Ninja 650
No self-respecting list about the industry’s best parallel twin engines could begin without the Kawasaki ER-6. No matter what year you like it, or whether you prefer it in the “F” or “N” configuration, there’s no denying that when it first came on the scene it added some much needed spice to the V-twin and inline-four dominated middleweight section. Armed with a fun loving liquid-cooled 649cc engine that currently produces are rather splendid 72.1 hp and 47.2 lb-ft of torque. It hasn’t really evolved much in its life, but thanks to the addition of fuel-injection and some modern ECU wizardry, it has become one of the smoothest parallel twin engines on the market. It’s the same unit found in the Kawasaki Versys, and the Ninja 650 too, although the latter is a little more sexed up – but it’s essentially the same.
#09. BMW F800GS
The new wave of BMW parallel twins that arrived back in 2008 have been a popular choice for dual-sport riders all over the world. One of the most memorable things about the F-Series – which includes the F650GS, the F700GS, the F800GS, and the F800GSA – is that they’re all 798cc parallel twin machines, despite what you’d guess from their names. It was because that 798cc parallel twin engine was such a success that BMW decided to use it to power a number of models, each with different power outputs and differing equipment quality – the higher the number, the more powerful and advanced the motorcycle. From the F-Series, our personal favorite has to be the F800GS. Shooting out 85hp, 60 lb-ft of torque and boasting a respectable top speed of 130 mph, this belt-driven beauty is a real winner on the roads, but it’s also a bit of a demon in the dirt too.
#08 Triumph Thunderbird Storm
While the Triumph Thunderbird might not be everyone’s idea of the ideal parallel twin engine, it does have some rather amazing stats to its name. For a start, it’s easily the largest production parallel twin engine you can buy with a frightening 1699 cubic centimeters to its name. That should be reason alone to include it on the list. Despite its size, it is actually surprisingly comfortable, handles well, and has exceptional braking. In fact, Cycle World awarded it the Best Cruiser trophy for both 2009 and 2010. For this list, we’re talking about the biggest iteration of the Thunderbird, the Thunderbird Storm. With 93 hp available and 111 lb-ft of torque on tap, it’s one hell of a beast – and it’s a muscular power cruiser that’s breaks the mold by not being a V-twin. And that’s why we like it.
#07. Honda CBR500R
Honda’s 500cc parallel twin engine is fantastic in whatever package you put it in: the CBR500R sports bike, the naked and street savvy CB500F, or the CB500X adventure tourer. Since we’re a little light on sportsbikes in this list, we’re going to focus on the CBR500R. Since the new breed to parallel twin engine 500 was introduced in 2013, the platform has been a resounding success winning fans from all over the world. If you weren’t already aware, these Honda machines are built and assembled in Thailand, and boast a punchy 46.9 hp (@ 8,500 rpm) and 32 lb-ft of torque (@ 7,000 rpm) from their 471cc four stroke, DOHC, parallel twin engines. All models in the CB500 range are now Euro4 certified, come with LED lighting, and ABS as standard – apart from in the USA, where ABS is an optional extra. Great fun for racing, excellent for the urban streets, and a great package in general. The CBR500R might be little plain, but what it lacks in character on the surface, it makes up for in ride experience.
#06. Suzuki GW250 Inazuma
While you’re not going to see many of these on American roads, the Suzuki GW250 Inazuma has plenty of fans in other parts of the world. Built almost exclusively for the Asian market, the Inazuma was once a regular sight in the European Union too but thanks to new EU regulations, the Inazuma was discontinued in Europe because Suzuki didn’t want to go through the effort of adding mandatory ABS to the model. We know what you’re thinking though – “how can this make a top list of great parallel twins? It looks so boring!” and that’s the reason it makes the cut. It’s solid and rock steady. It’s easy enough for a beginner motorcyclist to learn their craft on, but practical and reliable enough to be a sensible commuter option. We admit that it is boring to look at, but at the heart of the bike there’s a fantastic 248cc parallel twin engine that pushes out a respectable 24 hp, 16 lb-ft of torque, with a top speed of 85 mph if you’re really hammering it.
#05. Triumph Bonneville T100
If the Suzuki GW250 Inazuma was a little on the safe and boring side for you, then perhaps the addition of the Triumph Bonneville T100 will cheer you up? Since 2002, the Triumph Bonneville T100 parallel twin has come in three distinct flavors: a 790cc version (2002 – 2004), a 865cc version (2005 – 2016), and the most current iteration, the 900cc model. All three came powered with a parallel twin engine, but we’re going to focus on the most recent version. For the 2017 Bonneville T100, Triumph played around with the motor, turning it into a liquid-cooled, SOHC, 270° parallel twin engine with 54 hp at 5,900 rpm and 59 lb-ft of torque at 3,230 rpm. With the addition of traction control, the 2017 Triumph Bonneville became quite the advanced motorcycle and that’s why it made our list.
#04. Yamaha YZF-R3
Bucking the trend, and going against the grain, we honestly prefer the Yamaha YZF-R3 over the Kawasaki Ninja 300. While both are great motorcycles, there’s something about the R3 that gives it the edge. The 321cc parallel twin engine is larger than that of the Ninja 300 and the extra cc’s do go a long way. With 42 hp on offer at 10,750 rpm and 21.8 lb-ft of torque at 7,000 rpm, the R3 is a great mover. If you want to hit the canyons then keeping it above 7,000 rpm will put a smile on your face, but if you’re also looking for comfort and practicality around town then you’ll be pleased to know that despite the sportsbike styling and clip-on handlebars, the riding style doesn’t have to be aggressive and uncomfortable. As far as parallel twin engines go, it’s one of the best on the market and easily our favorite in the 300cc segment.
#03. Triumph Thruxton 1200
For number three on our list of favorite parallel twin engines, we’re going back to Hinckley to give Triumph another visit. The Triumph Thruxton power plant is an absolute dream of a parallel twin. Specifically, we’re talking about the Thruxton 1200 engine. The 900 is fantastic too, but it’s just a rejigged version of the Bonneville T100 that we’ve already talked about. The Thruxton 1200, however, offers a little more bang for buck, and a smoother power delivery. The 1200cc, liquid-cooled, four stroke, 8-valve, SOHC, parallel twin engine throws a little more performance into the mix compared to the rest of Triumph’s retro themed line. It’s able to wear the Thruxton name with pride thanks to its sports oriented engine that’s capable of 97 hp at 6,750 rpm and 83 lb-ft of torque at 4,950 rpm. The engine has been delightfully coupled with the best of modern rider aids such as ABS, ride by wire throttle, switchable traction control, torque assist, and differing rider modes to bring us a powerful, performance focused, category leading parallel twin motorcycle.
#02. Yamaha FZ-07
Nearly topping our list, we have the Yamaha FZ-07 (or MT-07, as it’s affectionately known in Europe). There’s no denying that the FZ range has been a global success for dear old Yamaha, but if you’re looking for a versatile motorcycle that can act calm and casual around town and still play rough on the highways, then the parallel twin engine’d FZ-07 should be your weapon of choice. The bike is built around the no nonsense 689cc, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, DOHC, parallel twin engine, which comes equipped with Yamaha’s all-important “Crossplane Concept” 270° crank. Even though it’s a hearty middleweight engine that shoots out 75 hp at 9,000 rpm and 50 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm, the actual engine is quite a small and compact unit. Thanks to the actual dimensions of the engine, it gives the FZ-07 a nice light and maneuverable ride experience. As a motorcycle, the overall look is fairly standard and uninspiring – especially when compared to something like the bigger FZ-10 – but what it lacks in aesthetic character, it makes up for in fun.
#01. Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin
While the Honda Africa Twin may be bettered remember as a v-twin powered icon, let’s not forget that the current version of the Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin is very much a parallel twin engine powered machine. For many, it doesn’t have the romance of the older XRV750 750cc v-twin, but we say to those people: “why stay stuck in the past?” The new version of the Africa Twin features the best of Honda’s new technology built around a rather fantastic parallel twin engine. The engine itself is a 998cc, liquid-cooled, parallel twin engine that comes with a cool four-valve Unicam head, a CBR1000RR inspired lightweight cast camshaft, switchable engine maps, 94 hp at 7,500 rpm, 72 lb-ft of torque at 6,000 rpm – and to make things even more interesting you can have it with Dual Clutch Transmission too, should you feel that way inclined. Built to be a solid touring machine, the new generation of Africa Twins have been designed with the adventure of the Paris-Dakar Rally in mind. If you’re looking for a motorcycle with a parallel twin engine that can handle harsh environments, hold its own on the highway, and comfortably poodle around town, then look no further – because this is the best on the market. For now, at least.
Bonus: The KTM 790 Duke
The Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin currently wears our parallel twin crown but there’s something rather exciting lurking in the wings for next year: the KTM 790 Duke. Bridging the gap between the already successful KTM 690 Duke single cylinder and the KTM 1290 Super Duke R’s V-twin engine, this parallel twin beauty may very well be our new favorite. What we’ve seen so far has impressed us, but until it becomes a proper production model or at least evolves into something more than just a prototype, it’s not going to get a proper mention on this list. If you’ve missed the hype about it all, we urge you to get researching – because we’re expecting this bike to be an absolute knockout when it arrives in dealerships.