Rotax, Motorcyclists Miss You

Aprilia, BMW, KTM all used you. But where have all the Rotax gone?

The Austrian company’s absence from the two-wheel market has become conspicuousRotax

Rotax has supplied powerful, stone-reliable engines for anything and everything wonderful in the world. Airplanes, karts, snowmobiles, and watercraft have all benefited from power provided by the storied Austrian engine manufacturer. If it could thrill you, it could be powered by Rotax, which is why the company thrived alongside motorcycle manufacturers, building power plants for the likes of Aprilia, BMW, and KTM.

By the time Rotax helped Buell shake the yoke of Harley-Davidson in the early part of this decade, it was building four-stroke twins with better than 150 horses, and the 1,000cc V-twin it shipped Aprilia for its flagship RSV Mille literbike made close to 140 horsepower.

There was a legacy to uphold, after all. Those V-twins were descendents of brawny two-stroke engines built for some of the scariest dirt bikes of the ’70s and ’80s. The Rotax Type 486, for instance. Named for its displacement, it was famous as the only redeeming quality of the Can-Am 500 MX. But that long run might have come to a quiet end.

Engines made by BRP-Rotax have all but vanished from motorcycles. The holdout is something of a technicality: Can-Am's three-wheeled Spyder runs a 1,330cc Rotax inline three-cylinder.

You can still find Rotax’s fingerprints in the usual, weird places—and some new ones. BRP’s UTVs are obvious homes for Rotax power, and the flat-four 912 line is a hit with the light aircraft community. Rotax might be missed by motorcyclists, but the company seems poised to thrill the pants off humanity for years to come.