Diesel Motorcycles Used To Exist But Many Were Terrible

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When I’m trying to get a good night’s sleep, I sometimes find myself tossing and turning, thinking about what I could do to improve a motorcycle. Some of my ideas have been downright wacky, like cramming a 670cc Predator V-twin from Harbor Freight into the frame of a tiny Honda Ruckus. However, one persistent idea has been to take an old beater of a motorcycle, remove whatever boring engine resides in the frame, and drop in a diesel. Apparently, I am not alone with this idea. They are rare, but there are some diesel motorcycles out there.

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Those of you familiar with military equipment will be quick to point out an obvious (well, to nerds) motorcycle that runs on diesel. It’s a fine example to start with:

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The HDT M1030M1 was an off-road motorcycle based on the Kawasaki KLR650 and built by Hayes Diversified Technologies of Hesperia, California. Like many military vehicles, it can run on multiple fuels. It runs on JP-8 jet fuel or regular old diesel, and it served in the Marines and NATO. Amazingly, sometimes you can even buy these bikes once the military is done with them. However, as these are no longer being produced, finding them on the market is becoming harder by the day.

What about civilian diesel motorcycles? I launched a search to see if I could maybe buy one.

Disappointingly, I only found a few. My favorite is the EVA Track T-800CDI. This mishmash of characters is a low-volume adventure motorcycle by EVA Products BV Holland from the Netherlands. How low volume? I couldn’t even find a website for the manufacturer and came across only one review for this thing.

To quote that Motorcycle News review from Chris Newbigging:

Bizarre

Starting the Track T800CDI gives an unusual experience – it clatters into life like a tractor giving rumbling vibration and the disgusting-smelling exhaust gases rising from the small forward-facing silencer in front of the right footpeg will be familiar to anyone who’s ever got stuck behind an old school bus. You can’t blip the throttle either – doing so will engage drive and send you shooting forward.

Crude

It doesn’t get better with speed – vibration subsides a little but it’s still enough to be intrusive, and the CVT means the engine is always at the same revs giving a monotous tractor-like noise, which even on MCN’s short test ride became tiresome. Even with an open mind there’s no getting away from the fact is just isn’t quick or refined enough to be compared with petrol rivals on riding enjoyment.

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I think I can see a potential reason why these weren’t so popular...

Illustration for article titled Diesel Motorcycles Used To Exist But Many Were Terrible
Photo: EVA Products BV Holland (via TopSpeed (Fair Use)
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This motorcycle was meant to compete with the likes of the KTM 990 Adventure, but it does so with an 800cc common rail diesel engine sourced from the Smart Fortwo CDI. However, with only 45 ponies being transmitted through a CVT and shaft drive, you really aren’t going many places quickly.

Yes, you heard that right, this motorcycle sports an engine used in the Smart Fortwo CDI.

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Royal Enfield was the only manufacturer I could find that managed to put diesel motorcycles into mass production for civilian use.

Illustration for article titled Diesel Motorcycles Used To Exist But Many Were Terrible
Photo: Güwy/Wikimedia Commons (Fair Use)
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The Taurus was essentially a Royal Enfield Bullet with its engine replaced by an industrial diesel. According to DriveSpark (automotive/motorcycle news), these were 325cc models made by Greaves Lombardini in Italy. Per what I found on the web, the bikes reportedly remained in production from the 1980s until emissions laws pushed them out in 2000. They definitely weren’t for riders with a need for speed, as they pumped out only a heart-racing 6.5 horsepower and 11.06 lb-ft of torque.

But if you were a rider with a need for speed, Neander Motors out of Germany produced a turbodiesel cruiser with 112 horsepower and a claimed 4.5 second 0-62 mph run. Like the Track T-800, the Neander venture was so short-lived that only a single review for it turned up. Out of all the diesels built by a company on this list, this one is reportedly the most “normal” in terms of performance. Most of the diesels in this group were slow and clattery, as if someone strapped a tractor engine to a motorcycle frame.

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The Motorcycle Cruiser review by Alan Cathcart suggests the Neander is a bit of a hoot, unlike the others on this list:

But maybe the biggest surprise once you’ve adjusted your mindset to accepting you’re riding an oil-burning powerbike, is how fast this diesel motor gains revs. Coupled with the relatively short span of power and especially torque, this means you’ll find yourself using the six-speed Aprilia gearbox much harder than you might have expected with a supposedly humble diesel, if you ride the Neander like the sport-cruiser it undoubtedly is. I regularly saw 100 mph/160 kph at just 2820 rpm during my afternoon road rumble around Bavaria, and thanks to a reasonably rational riding stance I wasn’t blown off the back in achieving it, so figure this is a genuine 240 kph/150 mph turbodiesel mile eater in real-world riding.

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Illustration for article titled Diesel Motorcycles Used To Exist But Many Were Terrible
Photo: Wikimedia Commons (Fair Use)

Sadly, it does appear Neander Motors will not be producing more anytime soon, instead deciding to focus its development on diesel outboard motors. It seems to me that powering a motorcycle with a diesel engine may be somewhat of a novel concept that lacks a whole lot of interest. Riders may enjoy the thumping of a Harley V-twin, but perhaps not the clatter of a diesel. Regardless, I tried looking even deeper.

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Aside from crazy concepts like the Hero RNT 150 diesel-electric hybrid scooter, the most interesting diesel motorcycles to me are custom builds. The Diesel Brothers (yes, those Diesel Brothers) even managed to make a diesel motorcycle powered by a cement mixer engine.

With the push for electrification in the motorcycle world, I doubt we’ll be seeing any new diesel motorcycle concepts. Cycle World feels the problem is one of market demand rather than the cost to build them. It’s still a fun thought that I may act on one day. Should I move forward with a build, I think I’ll start small with making the diesel equivalent of a Predator engine the power source for something like a scooter.

Staff Writer at Jalopnik. Loves all types of vehicles!! Smart Fortwo (05, 08, 12, 16), International 3800, VW W8, Jetta TDI (04, 12), Audi TT, Buell Lightning, Suzuki Burgman, Yamaha U7E, Honda CBR600

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DISCUSSION

Meanwhile, in Olde Englande, the 2WD diesel hybrid engined moped/tiny pick up hybrid thing is hugely popular and sells in the thousands to all the fashionable young folks. ( some of that may not be entirely accurate)

https://www.eta.co.uk/2014/02/14/the-hero-rnt-a-diesel-motorcycle-thats-a-two-wheeled-pickup/