Horex’s Handmade Motorcycle Skips V-Twins for a VW-Style VR6

Horex VR6 motorcycle article highlights:

  • After going bankrupt twice, German motorcycle brand Horex officially returned in 2015 with its VR6 bikes
  • The Horex VR6 Classic, Raw, and Café Racer pack features like Ohlins suspension, Brembo brakes, carbon-fiber components, and the only motorcycle-mounted VR6
  • These handmade bikes aren’t cheap and you can’t officially buy them in the US, though you could theoretically import and modify one

When was the last time you saw an unconventional engine in a production motorcycle? Not unconventionally big, but simply something that doesn’t normally appear in the two-wheeled world. Apart from the odd rotary-powered bike like the Crighton CR700W, most road-going motorcycles stick to long-established piston-engine designs. But there’s one German company that eschews typical setups like V-twins, inline-fours, and so on. Instead, Horex makes motorcycles with VR6 engines.

Horex traveled a rocky road to rebuild its motorcycle legacy with an unconventional engine

A blue-clad Einbecker Kulturstiftung Kornhaus Collection curator inspects several classic Horex motorcycles
An Einbecker Kulturstiftung Kornhaus Collection curator inspects several classic Horex motorcycles | Swen Pförtner/picture alliance via Getty Images

Like several other motorcycle companies, Horex hasn’t had the easiest time of it. Established in 1923, it earned a solid reputation pre-WWII for its single-cylinder and parallel-twin bikes. And after the war, it was the first German company allowed to make bikes with engines bigger than 250cc.

Horex’s post-war motorcycles, like the single-cylinder 350 Regina and vertical-twin Imperator 400, were well-received, too. But disaster struck when it tried making a bike for the US market. Sold here under the Foreign Motorcycles Corporation (FMC) badge, the Imperator 400 wasn’t powerful or stylish enough, RideApart explains.

So, Horex enlarged the engine, fitted different handlebars, and repainted it. Unfortunately, it decided to sell this version in re-badged Citation 500 form in partnership with another German company, Zundapp. Then, to further muddy the legal waters, it signed a deal with FMC’s rival, Berliner Motors, to sell this ‘Zundapp’ bike in the US.

Inevitably, FMC found out about Horex’s motorcycle side hustle and decided to sue. Then Berliner, who supposedly had a deal with Zundapp to import the Citation, got involved. Plus, even after all this hard work, US customers still didn’t like the Citation’s looks. And eventually, all Citation and Imperator imports stopped and Horex went under after the 1950s.

But its story wasn’t over. In the mid-1970s, Friedl Munch of Munch Mammut fame briefly resurrected Horex before selling his ownership of the motorcycle brand. It then passed through several owners before landing in Clemens Neese’s and Frank Fischer’s hands. They officially restarted Horex in 2009 with a new motorcycle announcement. Not a single-cylinder bike, though, or a parallel-twin one, but with a supercharged VR6 heart.

This new chapter in Horex’s life ended almost before it began, though, after it filed for bankruptcy in 2014. But a new owner, 3C Carbon, came on board in 2015 and kept the Horex VR6 motorcycle dream alive. And today, the brand is still going.

The Horex VR6 motorcycle comes in several six-cylinder flavors

A green Horex VR6 Classic with a brown-leather seat
Horex VR6 Classic | Horex

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Horex VR6 Classic, Raw, Café Racer
Engine1218cc liquid-cooled VR6
Horsepower161 hp
Torque94 lb-ft
TransmissionSix-speed manual
Front suspension43mm fully-adjustable Ohlins inverted fork
Rear suspensionFully-adjustable Ohlins TTX36 monoshock
Seat height29.1”-30.7”
Dry weightClassic: 494 lbs
Raw: 485 lbs
Café Racer: 483 lbs

Admittedly, six-cylinder motorcycles aren’t unusual, even outside of a racetrack. The 1980s Honda CBX has an inline-six, for example, and the modern Gold Wing has a flat-six engine. You’ll find the latter in the BMW K 1600 GT, too.

Also, Horex isn’t the first motorcycle company to put more than two cylinders in a V-formation. Moto Guzzi had a V8-powered bike way back in the 1950s. And Ducati offers several V4-powered road bikes right now.

However, the Horex VR6 is the only road bike on sale today with, well, a VR6. No, it’s not actually a Volkswagen engine, but rather a Horex in-house design. But its name derives from the same narrow-V-angle layout that characterizes VW’s iconic six-cylinder engine. And no, it’s not a V6, because it only has one cylinder head.

Besides the engine, all three VR6 bikes use the same Ohlins suspension and ABS-equipped Brembo disc brake hardware. Horex also gives all its motorcycles 7” LED displays, stainless-steel exhaust, ride-by-wire throttles, lithium-ion batteries, carbon-fiber fenders, and LED lighting. But while the Raw has a microfiber seat and black exhaust, the Classic and Café Racer have leather seats and polished exhausts. Also, if you want to cut some additional weight, the Classic HL and Café Racer HL get some lighter CNC-milled aluminum components.

Where the Horex VR6 motorcycles differ significantly is their frame designs. The Classic has a tubular steel frame; the Raw ditches some of the steel for carbon-fiber subframes. Meanwhile, the Café Racer has a carbon-fiber trellis frame with the engine as a stressed member.

Can you get one of these bikes in the US?

A black Horex VR6 Café Racer in a concrete building
Horex VR6 Café Racer | Horex

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Given all these components, the unique engine, and the fact that they’re handmade, the Horex VR6 motorcycles aren’t cheap. The Classic starts at the equivalent of $43,240; the Café Racer HL starts at roughly $52,225. Though to be fair, a custom Arch motorcycle is even pricier, and it ‘only’ has a V-twin.

It’s not like these bikes are mere showpieces, though. MCN rode an early version of the Classic several years ago and was considerably impressed with the ergonomics, build quality, and the engine’s “sublimely creamy [power] delivery” and sound. And again, no other road-legal bike has a VR6.

That ‘road-legal’ part does spell trouble for potential US buyers, though. As of this writing, Horex doesn’t sell motorcycles here. Theoretically, the six-cylinder engine could pass emissions, but the company likely doesn’t see a business case in funding the federalization process. So, if you want one, you’d have to speak with an importer and an EPA-licensed shop.

Getting a Horex here therefore wouldn’t be cheap. But it would mean having a genuinely unique bike.

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