Why you need to own a two-stroke... or two

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The world is changing. Fossil fuel powered vehicles now have just nine years left before manufacturers stop producing new petrol and diesel four-wheelers. Bikes will follow suit, and in time the internal combustion engine will be purely the preserve of us enthusiasts.

You may well have your hydrogen fuel cell ‘powered two-wheeler’ puffing out water vapour on the weekday commute, but you’ll get your kicks burning hydrocarbons on your ‘classic’ come the weekend.

Owning a two-stoke motorcycle

Just look at two-strokes: legislated out of the mainstream by emissions laws 17 years ago, they are now the ultimate nostalgia fix. Prices for ’90s classics such as Suzuki RGV250s and Kawasaki KR-1Ss have gone crazy, following the surge of earlier models such as Yamaha’s RD series and Kawasaki’s 500s triples. Meanwhile, small-scale builders like Vins Motors and Langen are riding the zeitgeist and producing new models for those lucky enough to be able to afford them.

And the reason the world’s clamouring for them is because, as those in the know are already aware, everything about a two-stroke is so out of kilter with modern motorcycling (excessively noisy, smelly, vibey, needy, and in some cases tricky to ride) that owning one is like super-food for the soul. And now more than ever, that’s something we all need.

Emma gets to grips with her Kawasaki KR-1S

Riding one is like a holiday from ‘normal’ biking; things are the same but somehow different. Climb aboard, give it some choke, then kick or poke the starter. Ignition isn’t guaranteed first time but that’s all part of the appeal.

Getting the engine to fire into life becomes a learned skill; just the right amount of throttle applied at the right time, a mixture of knack and know-how, and once you get a feel for it, it’s something you’ll be able to do better than anyone else on Earth.

Feeling the engine catch then hearing the spannies crackle still produces the same triumphant feeling, regardless of whether it’s taken five seconds or five minutes. Then, kick back and savour the smoke as you wait for the cylinders to reach optimum temperature. Skimp on this part of the process at your peril, as expansion rates of hot piston and cooler cylinder will result in a cold seizure, and the associated locked rear wheel and replating costs that brings with it. But that’s not to say two-strokes are unreliable.

Yes, you have to be prepared to be a bit hands-on, of course, but not as much as the urban myths would have you believe. The first rule of stroker club is making sure you buy good quality two-stroke injector oil (if yours has an injector pump) and keeping the reservoir topped up. Don’t ever use oil designed for premix in an injector system because it’s thicker and has a higher flash point than injector oil, meaning it won’t protect the engine quite as well. You’ll find there’s always something that needs looking at or tinkering with, but, a lot like owning a puppy, there’s a huge amount of feel-good that comes from having this very needy, often badly behaved, but always fun plaything inside your garage. There’s never a dull moment.

Riding a Kawasaki KR-1S

The next rule is, don’t be shy about thrashing it. The short-shifters of this world need not apply because two-strokes work best at the upper reaches of the rev range. Yes, power valve systems will give more drive at lower engine speeds, but simply pottering around will in time lead to a performance-limiting fouled plug. Speaking from personal experience, this is where the narcotic effect of two-strokes is at its most compelling. The redline; the speed at which the engine spins up; the noise; the buzz; the elastic power – so hollow-feeling yet so strong – this is where, for those susceptible, the two-stroke addiction bites hard.

Before you know it, the slippery slope that saw you first dabble in a cheap Yamaha DT125, progresses to a TZR250, then a KR-1S project, then you’re into the hard stuff: GP bikes. With that, your cupboards are full of shattered 100-mile-old pistons, you get a shot of adrenaline at the faintest whiff of Castrol R, there’s a permanent ringing in your ears and you’ve not been on a foreign holiday in years. But none of it matters and all you care about is that next fix.

Maybe one day they’ll ban two-strokes outright, to save both the planet and the weak-willed addicts amongst us. So, what better time than now to take up smoking?

Go two-stroke touring or racing

So you fancy experiencing the thrill of the ride while you still can? Luckily, there are a few ways you can swing a leg over a stroker without signing the New Keeper section of a V5…

A paddock full of MZ racers

Trailworld Guided Classic Tour Spain-based off-road specialists Trailworld are launching guided two-day on-road tours through the Andalusian mountains this summer, on their fleet of classic Suzuki strokers. They’ve got fully restored GT750s, 550s and 250s for guests to smoke around on in the Spanish sunshine. Prices will be in the region of £500 for a two-day fully guided tour, bike hire, fuel, insurance and self-catering accommodation. www.trailworld.co.uk

BEMSEE rent-a-racer Why not live out your old-school GP racer fantasies by signing up for a race meeting on a Yamaha TZR250 or MZ 250 ETZ. Both the Yamaha Past Masters Racing Club and MZ Racing Club offer a rent-a-racer package at most BEMSEE meetings for around £500. www.ypmrc.co.uk, www.bmzrc.net.

How to do it: Your next steps

Two-stroke addiction can lead to GP bike ownership

So you want to get into two-stroke ownership? Don’t go for a 250cc race rep from the 1990s unless you’re hellbent on owning one. Prices have gone barmy in recent years with buyers snapping them up as investment bikes, meaning you’re now looking at anywhere between £4500-£10,000. And the trouble with investment bikes is that you become reluctant to ride them.

Although values of all two-strokes appear to be on the climb, MCN used bike expert Neil Murray reckons that bagging yourself an MZ ETZ or Suzuki GT250 now could result in you enjoying the pleasures of two-stroke ownership for a summer or two and then selling it on for a small profit at a later date, then progressing to bigger and better things… Honda RS or Yamaha TZ, perhaps?

‘I did it too! And now I’m going racing’

Roland Shaw, Cambridgeshire shares his story

Roland Shaw is a big two-stroke fan

“The love you have for two-strokes never really goes away. I had a Suzuki TS125 on the road when I was younger, but then I got into business tuning off-road bikes and ‘crossers so obviously I was always around two-stroke engines even if I wasn’t actually riding them myself. Then I wanted to get a bike for the road and because I’m a Yamaha off-road dealer I bagged myself a new R6 and took it on a trackday. It was great fun but all the time I was riding it I was just thinking how much more fun I’d be having if it was a two-stroke!

“They’re just so much more involving as a riding experience and you feel like a part of it – whereas a modern four-stroke sportsbike almost isolates you from the feelings. Straight after the trackday, I found an early 1990s Yamaha TZR250 V-twin for sale and bought it. I’m doing it up so hopefully it’ll be ready for the summer. Also during lockdown, I went one step beyond and bought a TZ250 GP bike from America too – and when it arrives I’ll be taking it racing for the first time in my life! I just love everything about them.”

Emma Franklin

By Emma Franklin

Deputy Editor, road tester, club racer