Triumph Rocket III

"Horsepower sells cars, torque wins races." The quote has been attributed to Enzo Ferrari and Carroll Shelby, among others, and while it's overly simplistic, it does summarize the sentiment that torque does the heavy lifting. So, whether it's leaving a strip of black rubber, dusting your friends with roost, or carrying a passenger and supplies on the road for weeks at a time, these are the torque monsters to get the job done. Unsurprisingly, the highest torque output in motorcycling comes from the world's biggest production motorcycle engine. The 2,294cc motor in Triumph's Rocket III is bigger than the powerplant in many modern sedans, and that's why it's able to put out a stunning 163 pound-feet of torque.

Helping rein in control of that power were hefty brakes—four-piston, 310 mm dual disc front brakes from the Daytona 955i sportbike, and a 320 mm in the rear—as well as Triumph's first use of an upside-down fork. Sales weren't particularly impressive, so Triumph experimented with classic and tourer variants. The one you want is the Roadster, which was marketed as the "ultimate muscle street fighter." With some patience, $8,000 will get you a three-year-old example. MSRP for a new model is $15,700, and if you're feeling brave, you can call up Triumph tuning-legend Bob Carpenter—send him your stock head, stock cams, and $3,700, and you'll get back a package that bumps engine output to over 240 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque.

Zero SR

Zero SR on white background.
Zero had to limit initial torque to prevent looped-out wheelies at every stop sign.Motorcyclist Archives

Big numbers are one thing, but how the torque curve looks is also important. The advantage goes to electric motors: They produce peak torque from essentially zero rpm. This means that on the Zero SR, you not only got triple-digit torque figures (106 pound-feet), but you also had access to it right off the line. Zero seems to make updates every year (including the all-new SR/F for 2020), so keep your search to a 2015-plus model. That's when the entire Zero lineup got proper components, such as a fully adjustable Showa suspension, Pirelli tires, and J. Juan brakes with Bosch ABS. You should be able to find one for about $8,000.

Aprilia RXV 550

Aprilia RXV 550 on white background.
Reviewers said it was too much for all but the most experienced riders.Motorcyclist Archives

In the dirt, most riders are on single-cylinder thumpers ranging from 50cc to 650cc. But in 2006, Aprilia promised a revolution with the introduction of a racebike with lights powered by a compact V-twin. Thanks to advanced electronics and fuel injection, the RXV 550 produced 70 horsepower and 50 pound-feet of torque.

Unfortunately, early bikes had serious issues with the orange sealant used in the engine cases. If spotted early, you could reseal the motor and everything would be fine. If not, water would get into the oil and you’d be looking at a V-twin paperweight. Look for a 2008-plus model with an engine number of 2957 or higher with black sealant, but remember that racebike performance means racebike maintenance schedules. If the 550 is too overwhelming, Aprilia also offered an RXV 450, and for those who aren’t into getting dirty, there’s a supermoto SXV with both engine options as well. Budget $5,500 for a well-kept 550.

Yamaha VMAX

Yamaha VMAX on white background.
In many eyes, the VMAX is the definitive power cruiser.Motorcyclist Archives

Half cruiser, half sportbike, the Yamaha VMAX is possibly the ultimate expression of this list. The first generation created the category and will always be remembered as a classic, but the second generation (released in 2009) is worth the extra dough if you want something to ride, not just stare at. It introduced a new aluminum frame, fully adjustable suspension, big brakes, ABS, slipper clutch, and fuel injection. The 197 horsepower and 122 pound-feet will also ensure that you won't miss the old bike. It may not make as much torque as the Rocket III, but it makes 50 more ponies and weighs 100 pounds less. Early second-gen bikes can be found for approximately $8,000.