The ultrafast dynamics of polybutadiene have been studied using ultrafast optical-Kerr-effect spectroscopy. The data are compared with measurements on 1,3- and 1,4-pentadiene. The two diene derivatives have quite distinct subpicosecond dynamics, with an important contribution from an intramolecular torsional mode in the 1,4-derivative. The main part of the polymer spectral density can be assigned, by analogy with the data for 1,4-pentadiene, to intramolecular torsional motion about carbon-carbon single bonds. The picosecond diffusive orientational relaxation times of the dienes are not well described by simple hydrodynamics. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.