Many people consider motorcycles to be very fast, in some instances, even faster than many cars. To a certain point, this may be right, but it can also be an oversimplification and not exactly true.
But what makes motorcycles so fast in the first place?
Why are motorcycles so fast? Motorcycles are fast because they are powerful but lightweight. They have a better power-to-weight ratio and traction, both of which allow the motorcycles to accelerate faster than many cars. Although there are very fast motorcycles out there, they are not as fast as some sports cars.
There are some interesting points that are worth mentioning, and in this article, I go into more detail about why motorcycles are so fast as well as why they are not as fast as people consider them to be. If you are interested in learning more, continue reading below.
What Makes Motorcycles Accelerate So Fast?
The answer to what makes motorcycles accelerate so fast has a lot to do with two fundamental factors.
The first one is the power-to-weight ratio, and the second one is the traction force. Let’s take a look at each one.
The power-to-weight ratio (PWR) has a significant effect on how fast a motorcycle can accelerate.
If we omit the air resistance (for now), acceleration is calculated by dividing power over momentum. The formula is as follows:
- PWR = horsepower (hp) / pounds (lb).
- PWR = watts (W) / kilograms (kg)
The PWR represents the ratio between the motorcycle’s power and its weight. And the higher the PWR, the faster the motorcycle will accelerate. This applies to any vehicle.
The average weight of motorcycles and the average power (hp) of motorcycles varies a lot depending on what kind of motorcycles we are talking about.
But for the sake of the example, let’s imagine we have a motorcycle weighing 450 lbs and has a 100 hp engine. Dividing the power (100) by the weight (450) will give us a PWR of 0.222.
Now, if we compare that to an average car weighing 2,800 lbs rocking a 120 hp engine, we would get a PWR of 0.043.
For example, Bugatti Veyron, considered one of the fastest cars, has a PWR of 0.284. And the MV Agusta F4 R 312, considered one of the fastest motorcycles, has a PWR of 0.432.
Compared to cars, the higher average power-to-weight ratio of motorcycles allows them to accelerate significantly faster at lower speeds.
Motorcycles have another advantage up their sleeves. This is the traction force.
Higher traction leads to better acceleration. Thus traction is an important factor in utilizing all that power and translating it into actual movement. This is why some vehicles also have traction control in order to prevent tire slip and loss of traction.
Motorcycles usually have better traction compared to cars. The traction depends on several different factors, one of which is the mass or weight, which is put on the driving wheels.
While accelerating FWD cars usually have less traction and thus lowered acceleration, while RWD cars have better traction. Motorcycles have a higher percentage of the motorcycle weight distributed to the driving compared to both RWD and FWD cars.
In the case of a wheelie, all the weight of the motorcycle will be transferred to the rear wheel.
How Fast Are Motorcycles?
Motorcycles depending on their type and use, can reach speeds between 31 mph (50 km/h) up to 240 mph (380 km/h). Mopeds can reach speeds up to 60 mph, while sportbikes can reach over 200 mph. Touring, sport touring, cruisers, and dirt bikes usually fall in between with average speeds of up to 150 mph.
So far, we have gone over what makes motorcycles accelerate so fast. However, acceleration is one thing, and top speed is a different animal altogether.
Faster acceleration does not, necessarily, translate into higher top speed. This is why you will see that some motorcycles will be a lot faster and gain some distance on sportscars in the beginning; however, given enough time, the said sportscar may be able to overtake the motorcycle.
In a way, the faster acceleration motorcycles are capable of creates a relatively false impression of how fast they are in reality.
The top speed is dependant on the resistive forces that the vehicle needs to overcome as it moves. Those are the aerodynamic drag, friction, and rolling resistance.
The higher the speed, the more dominant becomes the aerodynamic drag (or air resistance). The drag also tends to increase in force as the speed increases, which increases the power demand. Thus a more powerful, but not necessarily lighter, vehicle will have an advantage.
The average motorcycles are usually between 15 to 200 horsepower. The higher-end track-only motorcycles can reach as much as 300 hp.
Let’s take a look at some of the most powerful motorcycles out there and what their top speeds are.
- Ducati 1098: 173.3 mph (278.9 km/h)
- BMW K1300S: 174.5 mph (280.8 km/h)
- Kawasaki Ninja ZX-11: 169–176 mph (272–283 km/h)
- Yamaha YZF R1: 176.7 mph (284.4 km/h)
- Aprilia RSV1000R: 178 mph (286 km/h)
- Honda CBR1100XX: 178.5 mph (287.3 km/h)
- Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14: 186 mph (299 km/h)
- MV Agusta F4: 193.24 mph (310.99 km/h)
- Suzuki Hayabusa: 188 to 194 mph (303 to 312 km/h)
- Ducati 1199 Panigale R: 186 to 202 mph (299 to 325 km/h)
- Kawasaki Ninja H2R: 240 mph (380 km/h)
The Dodge Tomahawk is considered to be the fastest motorcycle build to date. It rocks a 500 hp engine, and it is believed that it can reach theoretical speeds ranging between 300 to 420 mph (480 km/h to 680 km/h).
However, the motorcycle has never been tested to confirm those claims, which many experts consider to be either unplausible or simply physically impossible.
Are Motorcycles Faster Than Cars?
Now that you have a good idea of how fast motorcycles are, it is time to compare them to cars.
Below I have listed some of the fastest cars that can be found out there.
- McLaren F1: 221 mph (355 km/h)
- SSC Ultimate Aero TT: 256.2 mph (412.3 km/h)
- Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport: 267.8 mph (431.1 km/h)
- Hennessey Venom GT: 270 mph (434.5 km/h)
- Koenigsegg Agera RS: 277.8 mph (447.1 km/h)
- Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+: 304 mph (489.2 km/h)
When we compare the fastest motorcycles to the fastest cars, we can clearly see that cars are significantly faster when it comes to top speed.
Motorcycles may be on par with them and even gain on them in the first few seconds as both vehicles accelerate. Eventually, however, those cars will overtake them despite the bigger frame and heavier weight.
At low speeds, the power-to-weight ratio is more important, and this is why the motorcycles will gain on most cars; however, as the speed increases, the power becomes more important.
Cars simply can pack a lot more horsepower under their hoods, and this gives them an advantage in the later stages.
Are Motorcycles Faster Than Cars on the Track?
Cars are usually faster than motorcycles on the track. Although motorcycles accelerate and even stop faster than most cars, they do not stand a chance against faster cars on the track. F1 cars, for example, have more powerful engines, better aerodynamics, lower center of gravity, and better traction and stability.
The video below is a good example of what happens when a motorcycle competes on the track with a car.
However, when it comes to smaller straight sections where acceleration is dominant, we can see that the results can be very different.
Why Motorcycles Seem So Fast?
Now that you have all the pieces of the puzzle, you can see that motorcycles, compared to many other cars, are actually not that fast. They do seem fast, but they are not really at the top of the food chain.
I believe there are a few factors that play an important role and make motorcycles seem a lot faster than they actually are.
First, there are a lot more motorcycles out there than there are sports cars and more powerful cars in general. A motorcycle does not cost anywhere as much as a very powerful car—thus, it is more affordable, and more people can buy one.
Motorcycles are also cheaper to own compared to a car, which makes them more appealing.
Motorcycles are also a lot quicker than cars. The fact that motorcycles accelerate a lot faster than cars creates a false impression in many people that motorcycles are really fast. Even dangerously fast.
An interesting phenomenon is that you will feel like moving faster when riding a motorcycle compared to driving a car at the same speed. And this is completely normal.
While riding a motorcycle, you are exposed to all the elements. You can feel the air moving, the road irregularities, the wind noise, the warm and cold air spots, the engine’s noise, and vibrations. You also have a lot better visibility compared to riding in a car. You can also see the road passing by beneath your feet.
Suppose you are in a car driving at the same speed. What do you feel? You are taken away from all that. All those factors that will otherwise signal to your brain that you are moving at high speeds have been severely limited and reduced for the sake of your comfort.
No longer are you exposed to everything that happens around you; thus, even high speeds will feel slow, not dangerous at all, and even boring.