Some of the folks who have contributed to a lively discussion on motorcycle engine power and torque have referred to "low-torque, high-horsepower engines."

I don’t know of any such thing. Just pulling some stock numbers from the internet, I see a 117 cubic-inch Harley-Davidson Big Twin dynoed at 112 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. By simple arithmetic, that is 112/117 = 0.96 pound-feet of torque per cubic inch.

I had another look around and averaged the torques of three late-model 1,000cc sportbike engines: a Suzuki GSX-R1000, a Yamaha YZF-R1, and a Honda CBR1000RR. The average of their peak torques is 76.5 pound-feet. Since 1,000cc is 61 cubic inches, converting that into torque per cubic inch, we get 76.5/61 = 1.25, which, if I’m not mistaken, is 30 percent greater than that of the 117-inch Harley-Davidson engine.

Does that mean the literbikes are “low-torque” engines?

What gives the illusion of being a “low-torque motor” is that sportbike engines don’t deliver their torque at low rpm.

Because these two different kinds of engines have such different purposes, their peak torques are located differently in their rpm ranges. A big touring engine—that 117 is 16 percent bigger than the engine in my car—needs torque from low revs to start and accelerate a heavy bike.

A literbike, designed for trackdays and other high-speed uses, is cammed and dimensioned to deliver its maximum torque at higher rpm, about 9,250 rpm in the previously mentioned examples, where it can make the horsepower necessary to reach very high speeds.

2020 BMW S 1000 RR
On the Cycle World dyno, a 2020 BMW S 1000 RR produced 77 pound-feet of torque at 11,040 rpm, which is slightly more torque than produced by either the Honda CBR1000RR, the Suzuki GSX-R1000, or the Yamaha YZF-R1 tested in 2017.BMW

But as we’ve seen, those literbikes are not low-torque engines, for they actually produce 30 percent more peak torque per cubic inch of displacement than does the Big Twin.

What gives the illusion of being a “low-torque motor” is that sportbike engines don’t deliver their torque at low rpm. That is, if you try to ride them as you would ride that 117, they will feel weak. Clearly, trying to ride a literbike that way is silly, like trying to use a chisel as a screwdriver.

Just as silly would be trying to ride the 117 like a literbike because, long before it reached the rpm of literbike peak torque, it would either be saved by its rev limiter or parts would be broken.

Enjoy the kind of motorcycling that pleases you best.