Michael Scott’s “In The Paddock” column in the new Cycle News, (pg 60, July 2, 2008) is all about the two-stroke motorcycle engine, its past, present, and future. Some interesting stuff there. Mostly Scott talks about road racing and the death of the 250 GP class, which DORNA has killed effective 2010. But he also interviews Jan Witteveen, legendary Aprilia two-stroke engine designer and gets his views on the state of the two-stroke, plus discusses possible changes at the FIM to bring the two-stroke back to MX.
According to Scott, Witteveen recently designed an innovative two-stroke 125 for Chinese company Haojue and is “working on a project for the future of the two-stroke engine.” Scott goes on to discuss the “death” of the two-stroke and, like others with whom I’ve spoken, lays the blame at the doorstep of Honda, who were the first of the Jap conglomerates to declare a moratorium on two-stroke production.
In fact, I’ve been told by one well-placed industry engineer that the entire affair at Honda has little or nothing to do with emissions, performance, or cost but rather with patents. He claims that Honda has no patentable two-stroke technology and, therefore, no way to control that segment of the industry. So they declared it a “very bad idea”, Yamaha meekly followed, and voila! the two-stroke is dead.
Or is it? According to Scott the FIM is now proposing a return to two-stroke racing in MX:
Over on the mud, they’ve already made the switch from two-stroke to four-stroke, and now there is a significant backlash. Four-stroke racing dirt bikes are expensive to buy, and virtually impossible for an amateur mechanic to maintain. Engine blowups can be financially crippling. They also have a strictly limited service life, making them lose value rapidly. And two-strokes are lighter and more fun. In response to these problems, which afflict all but factory riders, the FIM are now proposing a switch back to an all two-stroke formula, with the plonkers actually banned.
Now don’t go blaming me for the problems Scott attributes to four-bangers. I was actually told by one fellow that anyone who can read a manual can do a proper job servicing a modern four-stroke MX race motor. But then, I also know that people as well respected as Stu Peters (CMC founder) and Tim Cotter (MXSports.com and promoter of Loretta Lynn’s) feel that the maintenance cost and complexity of the modern four-stroke are serious problems for the long-term health of the sport. So it’s not just me, folks.
On the other hand, I’d hate to see four-strokes banned in MX, and I think that unlikely. After all, I’m sure Honda are dead serious about not making them anymore. But there should be displacement parity such that the two technologies can compete on more-or-less equal terms. Then the racers can choose. And that would be good for everyone. What we have now is an arbitrary policy imposed, essentially, by one big Jap conglomerate. It’s not to the racers’ benefit, it’s not to the fans’ benefit, it’s not even to the environment’s benefit. It’s mostly just to Honda’s benefit. And I’m getting tired of that.
Update: You may be interested in reading this article posted on July 10, 2008 which goes into more detail on this topic.