There ain’t no substitute for cubes, at least that’s how the old American saying goes. In recent years, that old adage has never been truer, as manufacturers broke the traditional old capacity barriers that had previously been influenced by racing and licencing laws.
As ever changing emissions regulations mean manufacturers need to find new ways in which to retain power outputs while meeting pollution targets, one of the easiest ways to achieve this has been by making motors bigger.
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Over the years we have seen the evolution of BMW’s boxer motor from an 1100 to 1250cc, with 1150 and 1200 versions appearing in between. Ducati too has given its bikes a regular capacity hike, while Kawasaki’s latest ZX-6R packs a 636cc motor against a traditional class norm of 600.
But while everyday bikes are getting bigger, what about the real big boys? Bikes built with a large motor as their raison d’être have always attracted a certain type of customer. Big engines don’t always mean scary amounts of horsepower, but they almost certainly lead to great dollops of torque and a laid back riding experience.
We’ve banged our heads together to compile this list of big engined motorbikes that you can buy today. All are pretty rare, some could even be described as obscure. Most are aimed at American riders but, one thing’s for sure, any one of these five bikes will definitely get you noticed down at the local bike meet…
FGR Midalu V6
‘It’s a what?’ is the most likely response you’ll get if you rock up on one of these, a hand-built, Czech made V6 with a 2442cc V6 motor putting out an almost MotoGP like 240bhp.
FGR is a small engineering company based close to the Polish border. Over the years they’ve made a number of frames for the tiny 125cc and Moto3 Grand Prix classes, which it was a surprise when they unveiled this 262kg (dry) behemoth in 2016.
Each one is hand made to the customer’s individual specifications, which is why there’s no specific list price (or indeed a dealer network). We’ve never actually seen one on the road (although the one we saw at a show did look mighty impressive) but if you’ve got a Midalu sized space in your garage you’d like filled, you’ll need a six-figure sized bank balance to go with it.
Triumph Rocket III
Think big and you’ll inevitably think of Triumph’s mighty Rocket III.
The Hinckley factory stunned the world when it unleashed the 2294cc triple back in 2003. This was Triumph’s tilt at wooing American riders from their Harleys, with the fact that it was the world’s biggest capacity production motorcycle (and sharing its piston diameter with a V10 Dodge Viper supercar no less) a big selling point for riders who believed that bigger was most definitely better.
Demand was high, with an 18 month waiting list upon launch, and reviews were positive. Despite the big numbers, the Rocket III was something of a pussy cat to ride. Sure the saddle was wide, but the package remained relatively low. Ok, so the gearbox was pretty agricultural, but with 221Nm of torque, changing cogs is a relatively infrequent occurrence anyway.
The big Rocket drifted out of Triumph’s UK range when Euro4 came in, however it’s still available outside of Europe and there’s a new one on the way. Triumph has confirmed that they’ll be bringing back the Rocket III, rumoured to be powered by a 2.5 litre engine, later this year, and has unveiled a prototype as part of its TFC custom programme.
Arch Method 143
If you want a big V-twin to fit in your special project, Wisconsin tuning shop S&S are the go-to guys.
S&S engines are designed to slot into Harleys and are available over the counter for anyone with around 10 grand to spare. They’re also the powerplant of choice for Keanu Reeves’ Arch Motorcycle company, with the 143ci (2343cc) version used in the range topping Method 143.
The futuristic Arch has been developed in association with Swiss race chassis manufacturer Suter Industries and features a full carbon fibre ‘MonoCell’ frame. The engineering is exquisite, with a beautifully CNC machined swingarm, carbon wheels and the best of everything when it comes to brakes, tyres and pretty much anything you care to mention. It’s part art, part motorcycle – and more likely to be seen as part of a high-end motorcycle collection than on the open road.
Technically you can buy one of these. Well you can if you’re one of only 23 lucky motorcyclists with enough wedge to buy one. How much? Well they’re no list price as such, as all 23 will be built to the owner’s individual specs. Let’s be honest though, we probably can’t afford it…
Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited
Back in the real world, Harley-Davidson have been punting out big twins for decades.
Biggest of the H-D motors these days is the new ‘Milwaukee-Eight’ 114 engine. The ‘114’ stands for the capacity in old American units, with 114 cubic inches equating to 1868 metric cubic centimetres.
Only the third all-new Harley motor in eight decades, the Milwaukee-Eight engine debuted in 2017 on the iconic Motor Company’s Touring and Trike range. With the huge ‘Batwing’ fairing, H-D ‘Boom GTS’ infotainment system (that’s stereo to you and me) and massive luggage capacity, there is probably no better bike to tackle Route 66 on than this, the Ultra Limited.
Currently priced at just under £25,000 the Ultra Limited isn’t cheap, but fully-loaded touring bikes don’t come much more fully loaded than this.
Honda GL1800 Gold Wing
If you’re looking for a fully loaded tourer and don’t fancy a Harley, you’ll probably be looking at BMW’s silky smooth K1600GT or this, Honda’s iconic Gold Wing.
The GL1800, to give the Gold Wing its full title, is the bike that defined luxury touring. Originally introduced in 1975, it was the second generation Gold Wings of the early 1980s that defined the genre. The flat-four Interstate and Aspencade models introduced the world to the fully dressed tourer, with a massive screen, luggage, king and queen seat and even a stereo. With the American market very much in its sights, Gold Wing production even moved from Japan to Ohio in 1980.
Honda continued to develop the Gold Wing concept over the years, with the late 1980s seeing the introduction of the first six-cylinder model – the GL1500. The current, sixth-gen, ‘Wing was introduced in 2018. Now with an 1833cc six, in a boxer configuration, the Gold Wing has been slimmed down a little when compared to its predecessor, making it a more prodigious machine in the twisties while remaining true to its roots as a mile munching tourer.