Missing Two Strokes

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There’s only one kind of gas-burning engine we’re allowed to have, which is a shame for reasons that go beyond the obnoxious effrontery of being told what we’ll be allowed to have.

The engine type we’re allowed to have is the four stroke engine.

There is nothing wrong with this type of engine. There is a lot to like about this type of engine. But there is a simpler type of engine that has many fewer moving parts, that makes more power for its size and – like a diesel engine – uses its fuel as a lubricant, which serves to keep the wear-parts within it from wearing sooner rather than later.

It is the two-stroke engine.

This type of engine generally does not have a valvetrain; i.e., it does not have a camshaft, intake/exhaust valves and all the associated small parts, such as springs and retainers. Instead it has ports – which are basically just openings cast into the cylinder that are closed (and opened) as the piston moves up and down during its stroke. These ports don’t move and aren’t themselves subject to wear and tear, unlike valves, seals and springs, etc. They also double the power made (all else being equal) by adding a power stroke to the combustion cycle. A four stroke engine only makes power once – during the power stroke. The other three strokes – intake, compression and exhaust – are just the before-and-after the main event.

Two strokes are also lighter – by dint of not needing the extra parts – and more compact in size. They are much easier to work on when repairs/maintenance are needed because there is much less to work on.

Or that might need work.

So why can’t you buy a two-stroke engine anymore?

Well, you can. Just not in a street-legal vehicle. Two strokes are still the go-to engine for chainsaws and small outdoor power equipment generally. Precisely because they make a lot of power for their displacement and because they are simpler and so less expensive to make (and buy) than four-stroke stuff.

You used to be able to buy motorcycles with two-stroke engines – and you still can. Just not street legal ones. Those have been out-regulated (as distinct from outlawed) for decades. The distinction is important because it matters. Laws are passed by elected lawmakers – who are at least subject to elections. Regulations are imposed by bureaucrats – who never have to answer to voters. Things that might be hard to outlaw are easily out-regulated.

And what are you going to do about it?

That’s what happened to two-stroke-powered street bikes, which were once very commonly available due to all the two-stroke engine’s strengths. A fine example – a series of examples – being Kawasaki’s line of two-stroke powered street bikes that once ruled the streets. I have one of these bikes. It is a 1975 S1, which is powered by a small (250 cc) three cylinder two stroke that makes about twice the power of a two-stroke single of the same displacement. But the big Kahuna of the line was the infamous H2 750. Same basic bike plus 500 cc more engine. It was affectionately – and respectfully – known as the widowmaker, on account of its abundant horsepower that came online very suddenly. One moment, you’d be looking at the road ahead; the next, you’d be looking at the sky above.

This was hooligan fun, assuming you knew how to handle it. Some didn’t – and hence the name (and respect).

The point, though, is that this very quick street bike was also very affordable; almost anyone who dared to ride it could own it. Never before had such high-performance been so accessible. The H2 – and even its slightly less ferocious sibling, the H1 500 – were the performance equals of four-stroke superbikes of the same era, including Kawasaki’s own Z1900 (I own one of these also) that were not very affordable. The Kaw 900 is a more sophisticated performance bike – but what good does that do you if you can’t afford it?

Luckily, there was an alternative to it.

But that’s all in the past now.

Two strokes for street bikes ran afoul of the regulations back in the late 1970s and by the early-mid-1980s, they were relegated to off-road bikes (and outdoor power equipment).

Some will say, good riddance! Those two-stroke bikes smelled! They left clouds of blue smoke in their wake! And – god – they are so awfully loud! All of which is entirely true – and also part of the charm. If you’ve ever heard one of these rippers cut loose you either know it – and love it – or you are one of those people who can’t stand it.

In which case, you’re probably one of those people who thinks engines you can hear are manifestations of psychopathy. As opposed to the sound of being alive – and enjoying it!

. . .

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42 COMMENTS

  1. I could only imagine that if the EPA didn’t exist, we would have the benefits of the two stroke. There was a company, Orbital, who built two stroke motors. I don’t know what happened to them, but they were supposedly efficient and also suprisingly non “polluting.” (not that I care).

    I think that they couldn’t be manufactured because of NOX regualtions. I’m not sure.

    In any case, there is no reason why these engines couldn’t be made as quiet or as loud as their owners desired.

    For me, I prefer quiet, but I’m okay with anyone who wants to rip down the road.

  2. Sir Peters ,

    Thank you for highlighting the virtues of the
    Dominican Republic “Mascot “…i.e. The ubiquitous “Motoconchos”….. favorite wheeled conveyance ….

    2 stroke bikes RULE THE ROAD….in the DR…AND GET THIS…. The cops KNOW IT!…..

    And they let you know it…. By the way….im sure you guys have experienced “mosquito swarms “ upon occasion …..Same technique ….
    Better than even odds you will “bug out “ of the situation…

    • Forgot to add that the DR authorities have ordered A STRICT LIMIT OF 5 PERSONS PER BIKE!!!!

      For saaaaaafffy reasons, of course 😂🎯

  3. In 1955 there was a 4 passenger micro car…the Goggomobil…..that weighed 1000 lb, it had a 2 cycle ice engine that got 53 MPG….

    These will be banned…replaced by 5000 lb EV’s….the EV uses 5 times the energy and resources to manufacture it….. and it uses resources mined by slave labor…it only gets 25 MPG and most are powered by coal….

    Some of these 69 year old micro cars are still on the road today…EV’s will last 10 years and will be scrapped…because the battery is screwed…So seven EV’s to last as long as one 2 cycle ice micro car….a huge waste…..

    The Goggomobil cost about $1300…about $13,000 in 2024 dollars…The slaves are being forced into EV’s that cost $50,000…only last 10 years and are very unreliable, are very difficult to repair and are a huge fire hazard…unsafe……..

    The Goggomobil cost about $1300…in 1955….about $13,000 in 2024 dollars…one sold on bringatrailer 2 years ago for $17,000…..69 year depreciation…zero….an EV’s 10 year depreciation…100%….

    In video @ 5:40 Goggomobil…a 4 passenger microcar…weighed only 1000 lb…53 MPG..

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlVNHqLxBnk&t=564s

  4. Correct me if I am wrong, but after riding motorbikes with 2 stroke and 4 stroke engines, specifically with capacities of about 150cc to 250cc, I noticed that 2-stroke engines perform very poorly in hilly areas, needing a lot of revving and heavy gears to tackle relatively steep inclines compared to 4 stroke engines, which handle them with aplomb. When carrying a load, the 2 strokes loose power very quickly the moment one encounters an incline. On flat ground though, nothing can beat a 2 stroke.

  5. Theres nothing like the smell of two-stroke in the morning, it smells like, like fun. Owning a two-stroke bike makes you one lucky man, I am envious. I have two -strokes saws, boat motor and a suzuki DS-80 that are 40+ years old, never rebuilt and run like tops. First they came for two-strokes and i said nothing, then they came for diesels, and i said nothing, then they came for my V-8 and no one was left to fight them.

  6. These 10 Engines Are Truly The Best Sounding Two-Stroke Units…sound cooler then 4 cycle…

    All the best sounding engines are being banned by the government…..soon all EV’s…no sound…the sound of the dead….

    Sound is 60% of the experience….the fun….soon gone

    In video @ 2:06…Evinrude 400 HP V8 2 cycle in a Volvo…very cool….

    In video @ 5:40 Goggomobil…a 4 passenger microcar…weighed only 1000 lb…53 MPG..a very cool car….bring these back for around town…ban 5000 lb EV’s…cars were better in 1955….

    In video @ 9:25….1969 Melkus RS 1000 mid engine race car from East Germany…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlVNHqLxBnk&t=564s

  7. The bikes sound cool.

    But I can tell you that 4 stroke outboards are a godsend on a quiet morning on the lake! While it is true that 2S will get you out of the hole faster, nothing beats being able to troll and still hear the call of the loons.

  8. Two-stroke, like air-cooled four-stroke engines like the VW, simply can’t meet modern emissions standards. But for sheer, raw power in a compact package, can’t be beat!

  9. I had a Kawasaki 500 in the 1970’s. It had the scariest torque curve of anything I have ever ridden. Low power at below 3 or 4 thousand rpms, but then when you hit a certain point it would take off like a rocket and almost crawl out from between your legs.

    • Same with my two-stroke racing dirt bikes especially the 80’s models, taming that explosive torque curve was scary as a kid. Man do i miss it. I will say the new 4-stroke dirt bikes dont disappoint, the power is smooth and immediate.

  10. Wasn’t the Trabant, in Eastern Europe in the 1960s thru 1980s, a car with a 2-stroke engine? I would love to have such an inexpensive option

    • Yes, indeed it was. The “Trabbi” was an example of forced resourcefulness on the part of the DDR to produce a local car. The engine was adapted from a DKW two-stroke motorcycle engine, mainly to use what production equipment the Soviets hadn’t either destroyed or carried off back to the Soviet Union as “reparations”. The body was cleverly designed to be of monocoque design, using, as steel for DDR car bodies wasn’t in the overall COMECON plan, a concoction called “Duroplast”, made of pine resins and shredded cloth scrap. Worked quite well, but the only trouble was, barnyard animals found them to be “tasty”! While derided as clunky, smoky, and smelly, the “Trabbi” did have its own charm of the ability of the Germans, even the “Commie Rat” ones, to improvise with limited resources.

      • I am in the process of shipping an ’87 Trabi to the Americas now. I had one in early 1990 which I purchased from a guy who had waited (I believe) 10 years for delivery. It was a late ’88 which had the coil instead of leaf springs. Had it for 10 years and sold it to a guy in Pennsylvania.

  11. Timely writing Eric..Just yesterday I was looking at prices on RD 400`s…Want one bad….Not gonna happen should have gotten one in the 80s…And what little I have saved has to go to the God dam county.

  12. Every morning at 8:00 AM, the Catholic church rings the bells as loud as the bell ringer can. I can’t do a thing to stop it, ban church bells or something.

    Very disruptive, it’s every day, the bell ringer is a psychopath, I just know it.

    A church bell with a 42 inch diameter will be about 2 and one-half inches thick up to the top. It is going to ring as loud as it can. The clapper will strike the bell, it’ll ring.

    Thunder during a summer storm makes a big noise. Lightning lights up the night sky, can be seen for miles at night. Mother Nature is a disruptive psychopath, causes all sorts of trouble for everything, doesn’t even care.

    Too many engines in the world, it will never get better, always worse than before.

    Julie has a lot to learn, maybe try to cope with life somehow. Bellyaching about disruptive cars must get old for Julie.

    Sometimes I wonder what I’m a gonna do, ’cause there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues – Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran

  13. Oh the good old days!
    My first legally ridden street bike was a 1975 Suzuki GT-185 twin 2-Stroke, about the same size as it’s modern counterpart the TU-250 but mutch quicker!
    My next bike was the Suzuki GT-380 3cyl 2-Stroke. Now the triple did smoke a lot until I found an oil by Bel-Ray. I think it was called Synthetic 7. It was a little pricey for oil back then but worth it. I got all the power, all of the sound and non of the smoke. For the record, neither of those 2-stroke bikes were loud. Actually fairly quiet but did have a wonderful unique sound of their own.

  14. I have mixed feelings about 2 strokes. I spent my years from age 5 to 17 with 2 stroke snowmobiles, which were awesome things and a very good and fun application of a CVT to boot. I learned to port and polish, and about the magic of tuned exhaust and carbs on these things. Then in my 20s a buddy gave me a crapped out Yammerhammer RD350 he had laying in a junk pile in his yard, and I got to experience the legendary all at once/see the stars when you’re not ready thing. But in the last 20 years I’ve tried to deal with 70s era trail bikes and old chainsaws, and have found that the simple and powerful 2 stroke is a miserable PITA when it’s worn out. You just cannot make them run right. FWIW the Chinese motorized bike kits are a lot of cheap fun, that 2 stroke is great, but they only seem to last about a year.

  15. Some good and bad news:
    As you mentioned, 2S are still very prevalent in off-road motorcycle racing. About 70% at a ‘woods’ race, but only 10-20% at a motocross event.
    In more-free states, you can still ride/drive non-DOT bikes/ATV/UTV on public roads with different versions of ‘special use tags’. In very rural areas, you can do anything.
    Even in a not-free state, we have found ways to get registered, and can legally ride on roads, and do. These bikes just can’t meet inspection, but no one cares if you are smart/respectful (and we usually have a cop(s) riding with us).

    The bad news is something you mentioned, smoke. They do if not tuned right, and a lot don’t. This problem itself has created a disaster for off-road racers/riders in the Phila. metro area as a bureaucrat/eco-freak went to race, saw the smoke and made it his mission to get our races cancelled. He did. 6-8 races per year, cancelled (on public land). Tons of lost revenue, riding outlet, and fun for the region, and now illegal riding will rise to epic levels that they will not be able to control. Roughly a 1000 riders/people went to each event, twice a month. Disaster from an idiot. These events go back 50 years.

  16. My first bike was a two stroke Hodaka Ace 100. My dad had his midlife crisis and bought a 71 Yamaha R5 350. In California in the mid-seventies, before it became a communist state, you could ride a motorcycle with a learners permit at 15 as long as you didn’t go on the freeways. Which meant I could go tear-ripping around Skyline Blvd., in the Oakland hills at 15 when my dad would let me ride his bike (or I’d take it when he wasn’t looking).

    [Sidebar: I was talking with my brother last weekend and he mentioned the time my brother got into some real trouble with the law and my dad was giving it to him real good. My brother, trying to buy some shade for himself, said that Hans does a lot worst things. My dad said, yes, I know, but Hans doesn’t get caught.]

    Ahh, the good old days of freedom in the former land which was a paradise that was ruined by Demo-Marxist and RINO republicans that let it happen.

  17. In the hit-n-miss engine world there’s a subgroup that collects antique Maytag 2-cycle engines. The engine / transmission combo that came with the washing machine could be adapted power milking machines, sheep shears, and anything else imaginable. They were built well into the 40s/50s I think.

    Here’s an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xa8tLm-GNmk

    • Ha ha ha … I love it. Fire up the washer, honey. Ring-a-ding-ding-ding!

      Whoops, you over-revved it and ripped my jeans. 🙁

  18. Hi Eric,
    quote: Regulations are imposed by bureaucrats – who never have to answer to voters. Things that might be hard to outlaw are easily out-regulated.
    To me laws and regulations are same shit. Distinctions are purely arbitrary and in the minds of bureaucrats.
    You will get a fine and go to prison if you dont follow either. Bureaucrats shouldn’t decide anything and shouldn’t even exist. Make a national referendum for your “regulations” if it passes fine but I bet it wont pass.

  19. A long time ago I had a Kawasaki KH400 triple but could never get it to run right and sold it. I built it out of a combination of used parts from dead ones and some new parts. Guy down the road from me had anH1 and wheelied regularly down the road. Good times.

    I got my ass kicked racing my 750K by a RD400, left me in the dust he did.

    One reason 2 strokes work better for chainsaws is could you imagine trying to design a cost effective lubrication system for a 4 stroke chainsaw? .Gov is of course writing laws to make you use emission free landscaping tools; so I’ve heard of contractors powering them with generators as battery powered high load tools kill a battery in less than 10 minutes.

  20. Used a sears push mower two stroke as a kid. Lasted my entire childhood and required just about zero maintenance.

    I like the sound of a two stroke. Just something about it.

    Sure they pollute, but also sure a capture system can be devised to cut down on that could be developed.

    The real crime is allowing them to be outlawed for motorcycles means we are one step closer to being outlawed for weed whackers, chainsaws, and anything else. But don’t worry, we can use electrics. Just buy 10 batteries to get the job done.

  21. Im not a fan of loud noise, but there is no reason to ban these things. I have no problem with them being in bokes ,cars or whatever. As fas as “pollution” goes? Pfffft. Who cares?

  22. ‘You’re probably one of those people who thinks engines you can hear are manifestations of psychopathy.’ — eric

    A guy in town has an early 1960s Suzuki tiny car. It has a 360 cc two-stroke engine, coupled to a 4-speed manual trans — basically a motorcycle engine, installed in a tiny 2-seat vehicle that probably weighs around 1,200 pounds. It’s an OEM, street-legal go-kart.

    It is interesting to contemplate what modern combustion engineering — which has tripled the specific output of four-strokes — could do for the infamous Kawasaki H2 750 triple. It had an horrific reputation in the 1970s: said to be as dangerous as handing teenaged boys the car keys, a bottle of whiskey, a loaded pistol, and a baggie full of Quaaludes. Y’all have fun now, ya hear?

    Equally entertaining would be for Eric to rev his little S1 outside the Clinton residence in Chappaqua: Ring-a-ding-ding-ding! RING-A-DING-DING-DING!!

    Inside, through an open window, one might hear the sound of crockery getting smashed in the kitchen, as an enraged Hildabeest flaps her hideous leather wings and cries, KAW! KAW!

  23. For once I‘m not with you. 2strokes pollute like crazy, they are only „ lubricated by fuel“ because fucking oil is added to it. Also instead of maintainig valves you have to swap pistons and literally burn out the mufflers ever so often. The chainsaw like noise doesn‘t help either. The kids in the neighborhood with their mopeds ( with open exhausts of course) are annoying enough, I only keep quiet because I was once like them.

    • Hairy Ass: You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re mentally comparing 1970’s carbureted 2-strokes with points to fuel injected, electronic ignition 2024 4-strokes. 1970s 4-strokes suffered from incomplete combustion as well. By the way, with PCV systems, oil is added to 4-stroke combustion as well. It’s just that with fuel injection and electronic ignition benefitted by feedback from O2 sensors in the exhaust, it can be adjusted to ensure complete combustion; thus, you don’t see any blue smoke coming from the tailpipe.

      Until it shut down operations in 2020 (it claimed for “Covid” bah ha ha ha!), Evinrude made great 2-stroke “E-Tec” boat motors. Here’s an excerpt from Wiki:

      The discontinuation occurred in spite of modern Evinrude E-TEC engines being among the lowest emission and highest power-to-weight ratio outboards produced, in large ” due to a technological choice not understood by boaters”, according to a yachting trade magazine,[7] and reflected in the contrast between the superior environmental performance of the Evinrude E-TEC engine versus four-stroke engine alternatives, incorrectly perceived as more environmentally friendly. The Evinrude E-TEC was the first outboard engine technology to win the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Excellence Award, which recognizes low emission levels. According to the EPA, when compared to a similar four-stroke engine at the time of the award, carbon monoxide emissions with Evinrude E-TEC were typically 30 to 50 percent lower; and at idle are lower by a factor of 50 to 100 times. In addition, Evinrude E-TEC emit 30 to 40 percent less total particulate matter on a weight basis than a similar “ultra-low emissions” four-stroke outboard. Furthermore, oxides of nitrogen and hydrocarbon emissions for Evinrude E-TEC are similar to, if not lower than, a four-stroke outboard.

      • Thanks for your points. I was reacting to Eric‘s article and nothing you wrote is in there. He goes on about the kind of engines I was commenting on. „Modern“ scooters ( as sold all over europe) and competition bike motors are stll more or less still dealing with what I described.

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