If you’ve ever been out with bike enthusiasts, you know that it doesn’t take long for everyone to start talking shop: a game of one-upping one another on things like engine stats, horsepower, and the always hot topic of torque. All the hype about higher torque might give newbies the impression that more torque is always better. Not necessarily.
Before you rush out to buy the world’s most powerful bike, make sure you understand what torque is and how it affects your riding experience. Choosing the right level of torque for you — and especially for your first glorious motorcycle — is a bit more complicated than you might think.
Let’s start with a little refresher course. On a very basic level, torque is twisting motion. You produce torque when you do anything from turning a doorknob to cranking the throttle on a motorcycle. So how does it relate to your bike’s performance? Every engine produces torque through the movement of the piston, and that torque directly affects horsepower. Horsepower is derived from a fancy math equation factoring in torque and the time it takes to produce said torque (RPMs). In the horsepower equation, torque and RPMs have an inverse relationship; as you increase one, the other decreases (and vice versa). This dynamic enables a single-stroke, 5hp engine to potentially move something as massive as a freight train if it produced gobs of torque. It might just take a while. With us so far? Good. Let’s kick this into high gear.
Before we get to the higher vs. lower debate, keep in mind that torque alone is not an effective measure of an engine’s ability. Another important factor is gearing. Gears amplify torque through leverage. How, you ask? Well, lets imagine that a heavyweight boxer (horsepower) and a kindergartener (gears) are trying to turn the same bolt. If the champ is using a short enough wrench and the five-year-old has a long enough wrench, they could both turn the bolt with equal ease, but they would be employing different factors. The boxer will use power and the child will use leverage. Gearing gives your engine the leverage of a longer wrench, so to speak. By adjusting your gearing, a low-torque engine is capable of accelerating at the same rate as a higher-horsepower engine.
The amount of torque you want depends on the kind of riding you’ll be doing. In general, first time riders still mastering things like gear shifts might feel more comfortable on a bike with lower torque. Engine speed will still get you plenty of torque when you shift from first to sixth gear, but it will do so more slowly (remember the train analogy?). This additional time will allow you to get your bearings and remain comfortable with the bike. Slower acceleration time may not be appealing for veteran sportbike riders, but it’s perfect for motorcycle newbies, riders looking to cruise and tour, and those who have to navigate stop-and-go traffic. (Besides, once you’re in the power band, you’ll feel all the pull.) If you plan on zooming around a racetrack, on the other hand, go crazy with your torque self.
Honda’s CBR300R and CB300F are two lower torque options that also feature single-cylinder engines — this means you won’t need to hold high revs to prevent the bike from stalling. Their 286cc DOHC engines produce smooth, even torque off the bottom and into the midrange. Translation: you’ll have a much easier time going from standing still to moving forward and, therefor, a much lower chance of embarrassing yourself when a stoplight turns green.
As for those riders bragging about their insanely high torque levels; let ‘em. While great starter bikes like the Honda’s 300s may not have the torque of a 600 or a 1000, they do have fantastic horsepower to weight ratio, which means they can accelerate quickly. Another plus? Lower revs will save you at the garage and at the pump. Fewer revolutions means longer service intervals, higher MPGs, less maintenance, and fewer trips to the gas station. Boast about that little tidbit the next time you’re with the braggarts.
It depends on what you want, but for many riders there’s certainly value in fighting the myth that higher torque is always ideal. And not only do Honda’s CBR300R and CB300F have a manageable level of torque, they’ve also increased the piston stroke by 8mm compared to the previous generation 250 model. This may not sound like much, but it actually boosts power throughout the rev range. Significantly. The resulting increase in torque leads to a 7% increase in horsepower. Put simply, with these bikes, you won’t spend a boatload of money (on purchase, fuel, or upkeep) and you’ll still have ample power to play with.
Sean Evans is a writer living in New York who is as shocked as you are that it’s still possible to make a living as a writer. He’s big on all things automotive, whiskey and heinous reality television. He tweets here.