For gear heads, there’s just something about a diesel engine that’s nothing short of attractive. From the mechanics to the fuel mileage to the sheer torque and towing power these engines offer drivers of diesel trucks, SUVs, and even passenger cars is something that ordinary gas powered engines simply can’t provide. Here, it’s a reliability unlike any other, and with the right amount of wherewithal and due diligence in maintaining these powerful engines, a trusted classic ride could easily last a lifetime.
So wouldn’t it make sense that the same principles apply to diesel-powered motorcycles? At least in terms of reliability and longevity, a diesel powered motorcycle seems like a killer investment given what we know about these engines. However, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of options out there that are available to the public. In fact, very little’s been placed into production for civilian purchase with the majority of diesel-powered motorcycles reserved for military use. At any rate, if you’re interested in making a purchase, building your own, or simply learning more about this small niche of two-wheeled rides continue on through this list of the best diesel motorcycles out there.
The Best Diesel Motorcycles
Sommer 462 Diesel
Hayes M1030 Military Motorcycle
Neander Turbo Diesel
Royal Enfield Taurus
What Are The Upsides To Diesel Motorcycles?
When we think diesel we often think utility. From military-grade vehicles to big rigs to production pickups with commercial towing capacity, diesel engines are without a doubt the hardest-working engines out there. However, when it comes to motorcycles, they leave something to be desired.
First off, it is worth noting that bikes boasting a diesel engine under the saddle feature a fuel economy unlike anything else out there (it’s not abnormal for a diesel motorcycle to get upwards of 100 mpg). And they’re tough. We speak a lot of apocalyptic-ready rides, but if there really was a motorcycle best suited for a Mad Max-type scenario, then odds are it would be a dual-purpose bike outfitted with a diesel engine.
However, since we’re not living in a post-apocalyptic landscape, bikes these days are still valued on one trait in particular. We’re speaking of course about their high power-to-weight ratio. It’s their generally light nature and relatively powerful gas powered engines that give motorcycles that adrenaline-fueled high RPMs and rapid acceleration. Diesel engines, however, underperform in this realm due to their heavier nature. The result is – more often than not – poor acceleration thanks to a weighty build.
What’s also worth considering is that as the number of cylinders is reduced in a diesel engine, more and more driveline issues become apparent thanks to peak pressures that become very high in engines purposed to produce enough power to get and maintain highway speeds. Don’t get us wrong, these small diesel engines do exist. They’re just expensive to make and result in a price point that’s undesirable considering their lackluster performance relative to their quicker gas-powered brethren.
The Downsides To Distillate
Why Aren’t There More Diesel Motorcycles?
Though there have been numerous diesel motorcycles that have been brought to market, they have been few and far between — and none of them live on today. For ideal performance on a motorcycle, you want a compact engine that’s centrally placed. One of the biggest downsides to diesel-powered motorcycles is the size of the Diesel engines. For starters, diesel motors feature a longer stroke that ultimately allows for a much high compression ratio, as well as resulting in these motors being fairly large compared to standard petrol mills. Additionally, the longer the stroke, the taller the engine block has to be as well — the same goes for a diesel motor’s crank.
This size issue is exacerbated by the fact that these engines need to withstand higher compression ratios, which in turn requires more robust constructions, making the powertrains even larger — and even less ideal for use in a scoot. If that wasn’t enough, diesel mills also tend to operate at higher temperatures, which in turn requires a larger cooling system. This problem is further complicated by the fact that Diesel engines typically utilize multiple, large-ratio transmission gears, which alone require a large footprint. With more robust constructions running at higher temps, these engines can also be more expensive to produce.
It doesn’t end there, however, as diesel engines have also never been known for their green emissions standards, and with petrol-powered engines already facing increasingly stringent emissions standards (looking at you Euro5!) diesel lumps simply don’t make very much sense from a practical standpoint. Lastly, on top of generating more vibration, diesel engines also typically make gobs of torque at lower RPM, which is fantastic for a massive work truck, but less so for a motorcycle, as these machines tend to put a major premium on speed and acceleration. Combine these factors together and it isn’t difficult to wrap your head around why you don’t ever really see diesel motorcycles — at least out in the wild.
Sommer 462 Diesel
- Often based on Royal Enfield Bullet model
- Roughly-half-liter engine offers 65-mph top speed
- 3.5-gallon tanks affords 300+ mile range
- Diesel engine comes mated to 4-speed transmission
- Lacks power at higher RPMs
Built with coveted German engineering, this Sommer motorcycle is ideal for both long rides through the countryside and urban commuting through Europe’s narrow city streets. It comes complete with a single cylinder four stroke diesel engine, can get over 300 miles of range on a full tank, and an easy-going 4-speed transmission. The bike’s classic stance also makes it a great candidate for panniers and looks mighty fine when cruising the city streets thanks to its dated yet sleek vintage look.
Engine: 462cc HATZ Single-Cylinder
Power: 11 HP
Torque: 19.4 lb-ft
Hayes M1030 Military Motorcycle
- Built around Kawasaki’s bulletproof KLR650 platform
- Originally built for & used by U.S. Marine Corps
- Can handle water-crossings as deep as 2’
- Offers 95-mph top speed & 400+ mile range
- Runs on variety of fuel types
- Lacks performance of KLR650
If there was one motorcycle on this list that we could award as the toughest, it’d certainly be the Hayes M1030. Originally built out for the US Marine Corps, we now have access to this technology through the civilian arm of Hayes Diversified Technologies. The bike itself is based on the heavily reliable Kawasaki KLR650 and can actually run on biodiesel and JP8 aviation kerosene in addition to standard diesel fuel. It’s all powered by a 670cc 4-stroke indirect injection liquid cooled engine and the entire bike is practically waterproof (it can even cruise through water up to two feet deep without any issues.)
Engine: 670cc 4-Stroke Single-Cylinder
Torque: 39 lb-ft
- Powered by turbocharged engine
- Equipped w/ top-shelf WP suspension
- Features a shaft final drive
- Can do 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds
- Gets up to 110mpg
- Costs today’s equivalent of over $30,000
- Only ever sold in Holland
With upwards of 140mph fuel economy, 45 hp and 78 lb-ft of torque, the Evaproducts Track T800CDI is certainly one of the more advanced diesel motorcycles around. In fact, this ride appears to be in direct competition with dual-purpose adventure bikes in general, specifically those offered by the likes of BMW and KTM. It uses a turbocharged 800cc triple cylinder from a Smart Car combined with a CVT transmission and shaft drive to get you going. Who would have thought a Smart Car engine could deliver the goods?
Engine: Turbocharged 800cc Inline-Three
Power: 45 HP
Torque: 78 lb-ft
Neander Turbo Diesel
- Engine uses same cylinder head setup as BMW’s 1960s Formula 2 racing cars
- Turbodiesel engine has twin crankshaft
- Generates massive amounts of horsepower & torque
- Equipped w/ Brembo brakes & double telescopic fork
- Can also run on kerosene
- Makes its power very low in the power band
- Costs today’s equivalent of almost $125,000
What we can say about this monstrous ride is that Neander successfully built the first turbodiesel motorcycle in the world. Here, we have the best of both worlds with upwards of 112 horses at the helm and a 1340cc turbodiesel engine complete with twin crankshaft. Additionally, this bike features a Neander double telescopic fork, a compact 6-speed cassette transmission, a high-end Brembo brake system, and a 1920mm wheelbase for excellent handling at both high and low speeds. Outfitted as both a cruiser for the city and a tourer for weekend-long adventures, this is one smooth and powerful ride that’s a cut above the rest.
Engine: 1,340cc Turbodiesel Parallel-Twin
Power: 112 HP
Torque: 129 lb-ft
Royal Enfield Taurus
- India’s only mass-production diesel motorcycle
- Produced from 1993 through 2001
- Based on legendary Bullet platform
- Engine featured Lombardini indirect injection
- Is extremely underpowered
- Weighs more than 60bs more than regular Bullet
- Top speed limited to 40mph
Launched back in 1993, the Indian leg of Royal Enfield began toying with the notion of diesel-powered motorcycles. The result was the Royal Enfield Taurus that was in fact commercially produced in that country. While discontinued back in 2001, there is still a chance you could scoop up a used option complete with the stock 325cc four stroke air cooled engine with a little due digging and due diligence. In fact, it could actually make for a cool barn find – resulting in a one-of-a-kind custom job to bring it back to life.
Engine: 325cc Four-Stroke Single-Cylinder
Power: 6.5 HP
Torque: 11 lb-ft
The Best Electric Motorcycles
Want to check out a more modern selection of scoots that aren’t powered by traditional petrol fuel? Then be sure to cruise over to our guide to the best electric motorcycles for the latest and greatest EV two-wheelers that money can currently buy.