Ten motorcycles that remind us why we miss two-strokes

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Roland Sands 2 Stroke Attack(Credit: Roland Sands Design)

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During the last 20 years two-stroke motorcycles have practically vanished from the streets, substituted by cleaner, safer and more reliable four-strokes. Their demise is unquestionably a good thing when it comes to air quality in big cities, but despite this many people still miss them, seeking solace in restorations and custom builds. For those who understand this nostalgia, here are ten modern motorcycles that keep the oil-burning spirit alive. Some are available to buy, although most of them can hardly be considered cheap, easy to find or environmentally-friendly. The dilemma, of course, is that they're all likely to deliver a delicious ride.

In 1975 a certain Mr. Giacomo Agostini won the 500 cc class of the Grand Prix World Championship on a two-stroke Yamaha. After the historic triumph these machines whitewashed the field until 2001, when Valentino Rossi conquered his first 500GP title on a Honda NSR500; the last ever by a two-stroke smoker.

In off road racing the two-strokes had already made their mark by the mid-1950s, going on to dominate the scene in the early 1960s.

Giacomo Agostini's Yamaha YZR500 OW23(Credit: Yamaha)

Two-strokes have an outright advantage over any four-stroke; more power from equal displacement, less weight and easier servicing due to less moving parts in the engine. On the other hand, their disadvantages include shorter service life, increased fuel consumption, terrible emissions and a nasty disposition because of their narrow powerband.

Things started changing as the world grew more environmentally conscious and by the 1990s it was becoming obvious that the two-stroke era was coming to an end.

Honda presented the revolutionary EXP-2 two-stroke Activated Radical Combustion engine in 1995, raced it in a few Rally Raids to prove that it could be clean and efficient and then proceeded to kill its own project – despite successfully vindicating its own claims.

In 1998 Yamaha introduced the YZ400F, a revolutionary four-stroke motocross racer that produced incredible power at higher rpm than any four-stroke had ever achieved before. It was a game changer, and in just a few years the off-road racing world was turned upside down. By the early 2000s the two-strokes had been confined to a handful of competitors in every class – more of a niche than actually competitive motorcycles.

People have always been attracted to race replicas. "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" is an old adage of the motorsport world that has yet to be proven wrong. A new generation of hi-tech four-stroke machines dominated the global motorcycle market, a trend still holding strong today.

The factories are happy; four-strokes are more expensive, they need more parts and their service is equally costlier. The environment should be in a better place, having rid itself from those oil-burning smokers. Four-strokes are safer to ride, with a linear power delivery, engine braking and no unexpected outbursts from engines that suddenly hit a mountain of torque. But who really knows what kind of two-strokes we’d have if modern technology was applied to them? (We may yet find out if this recent Honda patent for a direct fuel injection, cleaner burning two-stroke is any indication).

Yamaha is the only Japanese factory to produce a 2015 two-stroke motocross YZ250(Credit: Yamaha)

But people still want them. They are cheaper, lighter and more powerful, but despite some recent signs that the two-stroke might not have fallen completely off the agenda like this cleaner burning Honda patent design, the two-stroke doesn't look likely to make a comeback anytime soon.

Today the only available two-strokes are off-road models. Road-going bikes have practically disappeared, with the exception of the 50 cc Aprilia RS4. The only choice for a die-hard two-stroke fan is to go for a used old model, or do something along the lines of the following ten motorcycles.

RDTZ 2-Stroke Attack by Roland Sands Design

Before emerging as a famous custom builder, Roland Sands was a motorcycle racer. When he accepted an invitation to the Born Free Motorcycle Show that took place in late June at Silverado, USA, he dove into his two-stroke racing past in order to draw inspiration for the custom he’d build for the show.

A few frames Sands had designed back in the day for racing Yamaha TZ250s were still laying around in his warehouse. Claiming they are the best frames ever designed for these motorcycles, he soon found a Yamaha RD400 engine to wedge on one of them – the RDTZ is named after these two donor bikes.

Sands selected a fine collection of race gear, the majority of which comes from his own stock pile of TZ parts and from Team Roberts’ shelves. These include a vintage triple clamp set, a rare dry clutch setup made up from parts gathered from all over the world and Performance Machine magnesium wheels from Sands’ own 1998 250GP championship-winning bike.

The engine was tuned by Ed Erlenbacher, an engineer with ample experience in two-stroke tuning, mated to a custom-made twin exhaust system.

In case you were wondering, the silver leafed inscription on the sides of the carbon fiber fairing reads "2-Stroke Attack" in Kanji.

"Fast, incredibly light and good handling, the RDTZ is a blast from the past and a look into the future of what custom bikes can be," Sands says.

If you felt cupid’s arrow piercing your heart, you should know that this is a one-off build. Maybe you could convince him to make another – after all, he must still have some TZ frames sitting around in his shop.

NSR250R by TYGA Performance

If you like the good old 250GP race replicas of the 1980s and 1990s, Tyga Performance may be the specialists you need. Its English owners, Paul Pearmain and Matt Patterson, make no effort to hide their love for two-stroke racebikes and their Thailand-based company has a very long list of special parts to cater for every need.

Their latest creation is a tribute to Honda’s 1994 NSR250R MC28 and serves as a rolling showcase of their products. The parts’ list is too long to mention here, so we’ll just stick to the basics: VHM cylinder heads, Wiseco pistons, handmade Tyga exhausts, revalved CBR600RR forks, Ohlins shock and steering damper, RC45 triple tees, Brembo M4 monobloc calipers with CBR1000RR master cylinder, Marchesini magnesium rear wheel.

Add to these a collection of highly coveted HRC race parts, among many others including a magnesium front wheel, close ratio gearbox, Keihin 30 mm carburetors, swing arm, radiator, water pump and ignition system.

Believe it or not, the frame is a stock piece.

The engine is bored out to 300 cc and ported, reaching up to 70 hp (52.2 kW) for a ready to ride weight of 115 kg (253.5 ld). Compare that to the 40 hp (29.8 kW), 157 kg (346 lb) of the stock model and you get an idea of the two-stroke advantage.

Although the complete bike is not for sale, most of the parts on it are – minus some discontinued HRC items. Pearmain tells us that the carbon fairing will be available soon.

Surprisingly enough, this motorcycle is still registered in Thailand as a 1994 NSR and has all the equipment required to be ridden legally on the road by whoever dares to take this V2 two-stroke maniac for a stroll downtown.

Ronax 500

Anyone fancy a road-legal 500GP racebike? Ronax makes one and it may well be the only one of its kind in the world. Based in Dresden Germany, Ronax pays homage to the fire-breathing 500s that ruled the queen Grand Prix class for many years until Valentino Rossi’s championship on a Honda NSR500 in 2001.

The Ronax is powered by a bespoke fuel injected 80-degree V4 with two counter-rotating crankshafts, putting out 160 hp (119.3 kW) at 11,500 rpm. Combined with a wet weight of 145 kg (319.7 lb) this fiery two-stroke probably has more than enough to put modern superbikes to shame ... at least before you factor in reliability.

Equipped with the typical gear, Ohlins suspension and Brembo brakes, the Ronax 500 is adorned with a black paint scheme and graphics reminiscent of Rossi’s NSR.

Production of the Ronax 500 is limited to 46 units. Brace yourself for the price though – €100,000 (US$111,000), with 30 percent advance payment and a 6-month waiting period. Every customer gets to choose the number he wants on his motorcycle, provided of course it hasn't been already taken. For some reason we suspect number 46 will be the most sought after.

Source: Ronax

TZ Racer by Deus Ex Machina

The Yamaha TZ250 is a prime example of the motorcycles that Yamaha raced in the 250GP during the 1970s. This TZ is probably an example from the 1976-1980 era, before the power valve engine was introduced in 1981 to lift the TZ from strong competitor to all-conquering machine.

The TZ Racer was restored in California, USA, at the Deus Ex Machina workshop as a personal project by Motorcycle Design Director Michael Woolaway, with a lot of attention to detail and every intention of taking it racing.

The high-revving air-cooled engine is fed by two Micuni ZC carbs and produces 50 hp (37.3 kW) at 10,500 rpm, more than enough to make this lightweight racebike a real cracker on a race track.

Bimota V-Due

The news that Bimota was designing a two-stroke 500 cc road legal motorcycle to take on the superbikes was initially met with great enthusiasm in Italy. In 1997 the V-Due was introduced to the world, a 90-degree V2 that promised to solve the two main problems that plagued the two-strokes, emissions and service life, by means of advanced fuel injection system and forced lubrication for the bottom end of the engine.

Unfortunately for Bimota, the V-Due turned out to be an unrideable beast, with a horrifyingly unpredictable power delivery and, to top this, several reliability issues. Many of the 1997-1998 models were returned to the factory and in 1999 Bimota went bankrupt. The first motorcycle with an engine made by the Italian company was the one that killed it.

A group of Bimota engineers who had bought the company’s stock of V-Due motorcycles and parts modified the engine by tossing the injection for a pair of Dell Orto VHSB 39 carbs, reworked the lubrication system accordingly and in 1999 introduced the V-Due Evoluzione series. Having solved the problems that initially doomed the V-Due, it remained in limited production until the 2005 Edizione Finale.

The Evoluzione versions produce reliably 135 hp (100 kW), weigh 150 kg (331 lb) and allow their owners to enjoy the legendary handling that had made a name for the Italian boutique brand. These models have since become highly sought after collectibles, so anyone in the market for one should expect a salty price tag.

Source: V-Due

Husqvarna Wasted Years by Lorenzo Buratti

Lorenzo Buratti is an Italian designer with a passion for motorcycles. Most of his work is around designer items for the home, usually made out of wood and metal, occasionally mixed with the unexpected motorcycle part – like a boxer engine chair or a Vespa desk light. He also designs some elegant custom motorcycles, such as his latest creation which came about after he bought a very cheap 1999 Husqvarna WR360.

His inspiration was a streamlined speed record chaser, so there was a lot of work to be done on this old Swedish enduro bike. The frame was extensively redesigned to end up with a wider caster angle and the rear converted to a hardtail design. The Husky was equipped with a front suspension from a first generation Yamaha R6 and the front brake was completely removed.

The engine was rebuilt with original parts and fitted with a custom exhaust Buratti designed for performance, achieving a hefty 65 hp (48.5 kW) from the single cylinder two-stroke. Dressed in custom made fiberglass fairings and painted in flashy colors inspired by Evel Knievel, the end result weighs just 85 kg (187.4 lb).

Buratti was planning to take his custom to Bonneville for a run at the Speed Week, hoping to break the 200 km/h (125 mph) mark. This wouldn’t constitute a record, it would just be a target set for his satisfaction. Unfortunately Speed Week has been cancelled this year, so Buratti will have to either find another event to run his custom Husky, or wait another year.

In case you were wondering about the name: "Wasted Years is not only my favorite Iron Maiden song, it is also a common opinion I sometimes had to fight against," explains Buratti. "This bike wants to be a tribute for all the people who believe in something, to people who put ideas and real soul in life and maybe not so much money."

Ossa Copa 250 Grand Prix by Café Racer Dreams

Ossa built its fame on off-road race success, but also had a strong, yet short-lived presence in the road racing scene. In the late 1960s Ossa managed four race wins at the 250GP class before retiring from road racing after its star rider, Santiago Herrero, was killed at the Isle of Man on 1970.

This Grand Prix custom build is a tribute to those days, being based on a 1979 Ossa Copa 250. Spanish custom builders, Café Racer Dreams (CRD) subjected the donor model to a transformation process with older technology, removing the cast wheels and disc brakes in favor of spoked rims and ventilated drum brakes. The original frame was reinforced for extra rigidity and several features were designed to successfully replicate the vintage racing aura, such as the petrol tank and the tail unit.

After a full engine restoration and a new exhaust system, the suspension was upgraded with fresh units from Spain's Betor. The whole build took three months to complete and by now the Copa 250 Grand Prix has been returned to its happy owner.

CRD will gladly undertake such projects – it might even be a nice change from the hordes of BMWs and Hondas that occupy most of its time.

500AF by Service Honda

Despite going out of production in 2001, the Honda CR500 is one of those motorcycles that will forever haunt our dreams. Thanks to companies like Service Honda from Indiana, USA, the legend doesn’t just live on, it thrives. These two-stroke lovers have prepared a special treat for those who would like to get a 500 missile on their hands.

The bike's engine is housed in a brand new aluminum twin spar, semi cradle frame that can be customized to the customer’s ergonomics in order to (hopefully) help tame all the insane power that this engine produces.

The 500AF (for Aluminum Frame) boasts a collection of parts one would expect to see on every top of the line modern four-stroke off-roader, including adjustable Showa suspension, Service Honda’s aluminum swing arm, FMF Q-series or Pro Circuit 296 series exhaust and, of course, a steering damper. The latter is a welcome aid in the effort to keep the front wheel in line when opening the throttle on a machine that produces almost twice the torque of contemporary open class off-road models.

Customization options including bodywork, suspension tuning and cylinder porting.

This is the motorcycle that many motocross and enduro fans around the world hoped Honda would produce. This two-stroke legend can still find its way to your garage, provided you are willing to part with at least US$13,499. Service Honda can also cater for customers in Europe, via its partners in UK, France and Denmark, as well as in Australia.

KX500AF by Service Kawasaki

Following the success Service Honda has enjoyed with the 500AF, a separate part of the same company prepared a similar model based on the green KX500. After reaching a special agreement with Kawasaki to supply them with brand new parts, the KX500AF was made available to the public in 2012.

The big KX is another monster of torque, benefiting from a Power Valve that controls the exhaust port in order to enhance power delivery over a wider rpm range – an upgrade that Honda never offered to the CR500. The base model also features a Kayaba AOS (Air-Oil Separate) fork and a Unitrak single rear suspension setup.

The starting price for the KX500AF by Service Kawasaki is US$18,499.

Maico 700

The CR500 and KX500 are monsters of torque, then there's the Maico 700. The German company produced a variety of two-stroke off road machines, with the 700 being the most famous of all. It couldn’t have been any different, with the single cylinder 685 cc engine that was born in the US motocross sidecar racing scene eliminating every four-stroke competitor that stood against it.

Maico went bankrupt in 1986, but its motorcycles never disappeared. At one time they were sold in the USA by ATK, with the rebadged 700 Intimidator leading the charge. Since 1999 a German KTM dealer in Leverkusen is the only producer in the world to offer several Maico models, limited to around 50 motorcycles per year.

The contemporary Maicos feature WP suspension and modern bodywork, and they are available in Enduro, Motocross and Supermoto versions with capacities of 250, 320, 500 and 620 cc, plus the 685 cc bad boy. The Enduro and Supermoto models can be ordered with road-legal equipment, allowing legal registration in Germany.

Those dreaming of a two-stroke behemoth that produces 82 hp (61.1 kW) for 110 kg (242.5 lb) can visit the link below and prepare for a €11,995 (US$13,300) price tag.

Source: KTM Koestler

Two-Stroke Smoke Candle

So getting your hands on a two-stroke can be a little difficult (and expensive) these days, but if you're a true die-hard fan who pines for that oily aroma, Flying Tiger Motorcycles from Maplewood, Missouri, has just the thing.

The Two-Stroke Smoke Candle is made with real live two-stroke oil with "high-octane fragrance." It costs $20 and we bet you can legally light it up even in California ... plus the rest of us won't have to put up with the fumes.

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