Torque, Horsepower, Bore and Stroke

While these topics can get very scientific here is a overview that you will find useful to understand the characteristics of a particular engine. This can assist you to make an informed choice based on scientific grounds when comparing two motorcycles.


Torque is the ability of the engine to continue to twist (rotate) the rear wheel with great force. Torque has nothing to do with speed. Maximum torque is not to be found at the highest revs but somewhere below that - perhaps as much as 25%. Because lower revs are involved, the rear wheel is less inclined to spin and loose traction - an important issue when riding your bike up a steep gravel road.


Horsepower is the ability of your engine to move your bike forward at a certain speed - the higher the speed, the shorter the time taken, the greater the horsepower needed.
Every engine has its own characteristics of torque and horsepower - something you as the rider can only learn with experience and hopefully, not too much trial and error! In the example specs given below the engine develops the most torque at 4000 rpm before it starts to drop again. By contrast the horsepower available increases steadily all the way to 5000 rpm.

torqueHorsepower.gif (3943 bytes)

Practically what does this mean for me the rider? Let us take the BMW F650 as an example. The bike's manual gives the following technical specs

Maximum permissible rpm7500
Maximum rated capacity (horsepower)35 kW at 6500 rpm
Maximum torque57 N.M. at 5200 rpm

From this we can see that the difference between max torque and max power is 1300rpm - quite a big gap that we must utilise for different conditions.
Consider these two scenarios below based on the specs in the table above. (Your bike will have its own characteristics - consult your manual)

Scenario One

You are traveling along on your motorcycle on a country road behind a long truck doing about 85km. The oncoming traffic is heavy. Things are going to be tight. You will need maximum torque for fast acceleration and maximum horsepower for the necessary speed to take you past and beyond.

The gap you are waiting for arrives! You check your rev counter and it is sitting around 3000rpm. The specs tell us that 5200rpm delivers the maximum torque. The situation demands the maximum. You change down a gear and the revs shoot up drawing on the torque available. You open the throttle up and gun the bike into the gap.

The bikes speed and revs climb quickly. There is not much point taking the revs past 6500 as the horsepower begins to  level off after that (the maximum rated capacity). You change to a higher gear and the revs drop back towards the 5200 mark allowing you to again draw on the torque to give added impetus to the bike's acceleration.

Again the bike's speed and revs climb quickly. As you do not have another gear to change to you keep the throttle wide open gunning for 7000 rpm. Here the bike is using its horsepower to cover greater and greater distance in a shorter and shorter time period (distance over time i.e. speed)

By now the truck is a speck in your mirror and it's time to relax and check to see that your passenger was not left somewhere behind on the tarmac!

Scenario Two

You are travelling up a steep gravel-road mountain pass on a 4 x 4 route. You do not want the motorbike to falter and equally you do not want to go too fast. Thus you change to whatever gear that maintains the revs around 4500rpm and maintains the desired speed. This still gives you some extra torque to use if you need it (from 4500 to 5200 rpm)

If both the speed and revs begin to increase you can change to a higher gear and bring them back down. If the speed and revs begin to drop below 4000rpm it is time to change to a lower gear and bring them back up. At all times the idea is to keep the bike in striking distance of the maximum torque level (sometimes called the powerband - yes, confusing as it has nothing to do with horsepower)

The great thing about this topic is that we naturally know all of this just by doing. Listening to the engine and feeling the amount of power still left untapped is the real teacher in this instance.

Bore and Stoke

The combined attributes of bore and stroke makes motorcycle engines very different. Bore is the diameter of the piston (or the diameter of the inside of the cylinder). Stroke is the maximum distance that the piston travels up and down inside the cylinder

Example: The Ducati 999R has a bore of 104mm and a stroke of 58.8mm while a Harley Davidson Road King Classic has a bore of 95.3mm and a stroke of 111.3mm. These big differences in bore and stroke makes the first a superbike with enormous horsepower and the latter a cruiser with a lot of torque.

To make comparisons between bikes we divide the bore by the stroke. If the resultant number is more than 1, then the bike is horsepower orientated and must be operated at high revs. If the number is less than 1 then the bike is torque orientated and is operated at low revs. In the case of the HD Road King above the number is 0.86, therefore a cruiser. The Ducati by comparison yields a number of 1.76, a number comparable to a formula one racing car. The average result for motorcycles is generally around 1.2

NOTE: A motorcycle is not only a product of bore and stroke as many other factors come into play e.g. number of cylinders, gearbox, suspension, rake angle etc. Nevertheless the trend is clearly visible in the table below.

MotorcycleBoreStrokeResultType of bike
Ducati 999R10458.81.76Sportbike
Honda CBR 600 F46742.51.57Sportbike
Kawasaki KX45096621.54Motorcross
Honda XL 1000 Varadero98661.48Touring
Suzuki DRZ40090621.45Enduro offroad
Suzuki GSX 7507048.71.43Sport Touring
Kawasaki KX 2507753.61.43Motorcross
Yamaha FZ1 Fazer7753.61.4Naked sportbike
Harley Davidson VRSCA V-Rod100721.38Cruiser
Honda CBR 1100 Super Blackbird79581.36Sport Touring
BMW 1200GS101731.3Sport Touring*
Yamaha TDM92671.3All round
Yamaha XVS 1100 Dragstar95751.26Cruiser
Suzuki GSX R100073.4591.24Sportbike
BMW F650GS100831.2Dual Sport
Piaggio X9 Evolution 25072601.2Commuter
Yamaha XT 660100841.19Enduro off road
Yamaha V Max76661.15Cruiser
Moto Guzzi California Stone92801.15Cruiser
Triumph Speed Triple7971.41.1Sportbike
Buell Lightening8879.41.1Naked
Honda Goldwing74711.04Touring
Honda CB 250 Nighthawk53531.0Commuter
Suzuki Intruder M8008374.41.1Cruiser
Victory Kingpin1011020.99Cruiser
Vespa PX 150 Scooter57580.98Commuter
Buell Ulysses88.996.80.91Enduro offroad
Harley Davidson Fat Boy95.3101.60.93Cruiser
Harley Davidson Road King Classic95.3111.30.86Cruiser

* Other factors is design in fact make this BMW motorcycle a capable off road touring bike as well.

NOTE. Older cruiser engine designs have the longest stroke measurement. . Engines with long strokes have a lower compression ratio, poorer fuel economy, poor exhaust emissions, greater friction and have crankshafts that are subject to greater destructive forces. For this reason modern performance cruisers like the HD V-Rod have moved quite far up the table as a result of their shorter strokes.

A good website to find out technical information about your motorcycle is .

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