According to this Dec 21, 2007 press release (pdf) from the Federation Internationale de Motorcyclisme, the Permanent Bureau has decreed the following:

2) Motocross Classes: as of 2010, single cylinder engines will be used in MX1 and MX2 and multicylinder in MX3, whether 2 or 4-stroke (open concept). The cubic capacity will be 250cc in MX2, and up to 650cc in MX3. Discussions are currently being held about the cubic capacity in MX1. A decision should be taken in the next three months. Concerning the MX2 class, a maximum age limit of 23 years will be introduced. Moreover, a World Champion will be allowed to defend his title only one time (in the following year).

3) The FIM Junior World Championship will have an additional class as of 1.1.2010: 65cc. All the classes (65cc, 85cc, 125cc) will be exclusively 2-stroke.

I think this is a move that’s long overdue. I’d prefer that there not be a specific technology decreed, even for the tiddler classes, but I’m glad to see this happening. For far too long MX has been run as a corporate organ for the Big 4 Japanese mfgs. We can only hope that AMA/DMG/NPG follow suit.

A rule whose time has passed

The idea of granting 4-strokes a 2:1 displacement advantage (30% in MX3) was fine 20+ years ago, and was intended to prompt the development of competitive 4-stroke engines. That purpose has been served. But for at least the last 10 years the net effect has been to kill all 2-stroke technical development. This, I have been told, was at the behest of Honda, who have been dedicated to eliminating 2-strokes from the market since shortly after Soichiro’s death in 1991.

The end result has been a very cloistered, cozy, little world of coopetition for the Big 4 in MX. They leisurely roll out technology as it suits their budgets, without fear that anyone new will come along and rock their boat. Now that may change. We have long needed technical rules that foster innovation and invite new players into the sport. One of the reasons so many of us are not interested in modern bikes is they are so damn boring – not an ounce of personality amongst a warehouse full of them.

The myths of modern marketing

We have all heard the anti-2-stroke arguments — 2-strokes can’t compete anymore, 2-strokes can’t meet emissions standards, 2-strokes are too hard to ride, etc. Many of these “everyone knows…” comments started in a Honda marketing department and their pervasiveness should serve as a lesson to us that just because a major motorcycle manufacturer says a thing is true, doesn’t mean it is. Thanks to Honda and their motorcycle keiretsu we are well past the point where even general comparisons between 2-stroke and 4-stroke MX motors are valid. You simply can’t compare a technology that hasn’t been developed for a decade in any meaningful way to the state-of-the-art in another technology. It’s nonsense.

In conversations with a well-placed industry engineer I was told that the real issue for Honda (who, ironically, have declared they will produce no 2-strokes after 2010) is intellectual property – they don’t own any patents on two-stroke technology. So, like any big, market-dominating company, they attempted to kill off what they could not control. It appears they have failed.

Which is better?

This does not mean that the different designs don’t have relative advantages and disadvantages. In a Cycle News editorial titled “R.I.P. Two-Strokes? Not So Fast” (Cycle News issue #26, July 2, 2008, pg 60) Michael Scott discusses the 2-stroke situation in the context of the dissolution of the 250GP road race class. He lists a number of the well-documented, legitimate differences in the 2-stroke vs 4-stroke debate — simplicity via fewer moving parts, lighter weight for a given displacement and, typically, better power/performance at the smaller displacements. Scott interviews Aprilia two-stroke engine designer Jan Witteveen and notes that modern technologies have brought two-stroke fuel efficiency, emissions, and performance well into the modern era. Modern direct injection significantly lowers the amount of oil needed in the cylinder, and there are already 2-stroke engines which meet stringent Euro-3 emissions standards. With newer materials like ceramics and carbon fiber the need for oil injection may soon be completely eliminated.

Witteveen is, understandably, a 2-stroke advocate and insists, “There is definitely a need for the two-stroke motorcycle engine, particularly in small capacities.” He recently designed the innovative Maxtra 125 for Chinese company Haojue and is currently working on a rather secretive project for the future of the 2-stroke engine. It is likely the emerging markets (like China) that have driven the realization that 2-strokes are not only viable, but necessary. Cost matters in these markets and 2-strokes have, historically, been cheaper to design and manufacture.

No favorites

It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out. I’m curious why this rule change hasn’t seen more conversation on this side of the pond. It has to be pissing the Big 4 off, having spent millions developing, marketing, and selling the mythical advantages of their 4-stroke race bikes. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t favor 2-stroke over 4-stroke. What I favor is choice, free market policy, innovation, competition, and variety. MX has been the cozy playground of the Big 4 for nearly 30 years. It is the role of the FIM/AMA to safeguard the future of motorcycling for all of us, not just for a handful a big corporations. It’s high time they gave us an environment that encourages new players to get in the game. This is an important step in the right direction.

I look forward to the new discussions that should come out of this change. For the first time in a long time we might actually get new blood into the MX marketplace. At the very least we can begin to have productive discussions about engine technology and what the future might hold. It’s great to throw off the stifling blanket of corporate market speak that has controlled our choices for decades. We can only hope the US sanctioning bodies follow the FIM’s lead.

7 thoughts on “FIM to put two-strokes on even footing in 2010

  1. Ok,

    So the FIM have decided that the MX1 (old 250) class be restricted to 350cc 4-strokes, but the same FIM have also decided that the replacement class for 250GP road racing should be 600cc 4-strokes?

    Don’t get it.

    Also, what about the 2-stroke equivalent/limit for the MX2 class? They seem to be allowing up to 250cc 2-strokes in MX2 (which I think is a bit too much).

    Are they saying that the environment that bikes are in makes that much difference in 2-stroke vs 4-stroke equivalency?


  2. > So the FIM have decided that the MX1 (old 250) class be
    > restricted to 350cc 4-strokes, but the same FIM have
    > also decided that the replacement class for 250GP road
    > racing should be 600cc 4-strokes?


    Don’t look here for any explanation of the FIM’s logic. I have no idea why they would kill the 250GP class. I do know that FIM decisions have input from other groups – just like happens here. In MX it’s Youthstream plus the Motorcycle Sport Manufacturers Assn. These groups made this public statement recently: “The FIM, Youthstream and MSMA are in favour to keep Motocross as a basic sport, easy affordable for young riders with low maintenance costs.” Maybe DORNA doesn’t feel that way.

    As for the 350cc MX1 limit… Where have you seen that confirmed? It’s not on the FIM site, and I would expect a formal announcement to be there if the rule were final. I suspect they’ll leave it at 450cc, since MX3 is now multi-cylinder. But maybe not. People seem to like the 450Fs just fine. It’s just that forcing riders from 85cc bikes onto 250Fs was dangerously stupid (kinda like what seems to be happening in road race now.)

    As for evening the playing field on displacement? I favor making it heads up. The entire 4-stroke revolution was profit-driven marketing bullshit shoved down out throats by Honda and Kawasaki. Let them continue to run their 13,000 rpm single-cylinder F1 motors. Let them do whatever they want. Let’s give them the opportunity to actually prove that their motors are really superior in every way instead of just write press releases about it.

    If it turns out that in a year or two modern two-strokes are kicking their ass again I’m sure there will be rules revisions. Nothing lasts forever.

    Thanks for writing. How did you find the site?

    – twf

  3. New MuddyWatersMX reader Chris Wilson recently asked the following question:

    The code used on this site exposes the email address of the registered commenters. In the item in the right-hand margin that says “Logged in as X”, the name inserted as “X” is a direct email link to the address used when registering to comment. That means that any email harvester crawling this site will be able to collect my email address.

    Can you confirm or deny and/or fix?

    I thought this was a good opportunity to explain how the system works for everyone. First, let me put your mind at ease. The content system used for MuddyWatersMX has been around a long time and its privacy features are quite robust.

    The link you see in the right-hand column that says, “Logged in as YourNameHere” is only seen by you – and only when you are logged in. It’s just a link to your account settings, which are tracked by your e-mail address. No one else can see it. And no harvester can get to it. If you logoff the site you will see that your name and account info disappear.

    The only place that your e-mail address is ever exposed — and this is exactly the same as Yahoo! and Google Groups e-mail lists — is in the FROM: address when your posts go out to the MuddyWatersMX mail list.

    But we even give you control over that. The MuddyWatersMX system provides a completely anonymized FROM: address in outgoing list mails for any registered user who wants it. You can change this setting in your preferences.

    I hope this clears up any confusion and thanks to Chris for prompting me to write it.

  4. No confirmation on the 350 MX1 limit yet, just rumors surrounding the fact that a revised limit is still in discussion.

    I’m just looking for consistency. If four-strokes need more displacement to be competitive with two-strokes, fine, but power is power. The same displacement differences should apply regardless of environment. A given engine produces the same power on dirt as it does on asphalt. Period.

  5. Hi terry,

    Also, I’ve been desperately trying to get directly in touch with you, but all contact links from sites associated with you route through I understand your desire to protect your email address. Hopefully that will encourage you to change your site to protect my email address (and anyone else registered to comment).

    The code used on this site exposes the email address of the registered commenters. In the item in the right-hand margin that says “Logged in as X”, the name inserted as “X” is a direct email link to the address used when registering to comment. That means that any email harvester crawling this site will be able to collect my email address.

    Can you confirm or deny and/or fix?



  6. My cable provider swapped channels so I’ve not seen the MotoGP for 2 years, nor the F1. And I’ve not missed it. F1 has been boring for years and MotoGP was heading the same way. Even worse now, for I cannot relate to the new classes. Apart from Imola, Donington and Philip Island (I was once a member of PIARC, back when I lived in Oz) all the tracks are the same now, if the commentators don’t mention which track it is I often can’t work it out. Yes. I’m all for safety, I’ve had riders die in front of me (mx) but the road-racing tracks are boring today. It was dangerous before, but the tracks had personality. The bikes, too. All roadracers – well, mx too! – look the same today, you can’t look at them and tell who made them other than the logo on the tank. I now spend my spare time trolling the www checking out vintage bikes. Now THEY are worth pouring an extra large glass of vodka and drooling-over! My screensaver is a very natty ESO 4-stroke mx from the 60’s (mmm…. the engine sits further forward in the frame than the ones I’ve seen before, it’s now in the right place, did Simandel make an uprated version in the early 70’s? Nobody bought them anyway, maybe a works-bike?) I don’t know the answer to the problem, either in roadracing or mx. Maybe development has come as far as it can go, both with the petrol-engine and suspension? There has to be a limit somewhere. Ban fairings, so the punter can see the engines, maybe? I hate the ‘fruit-sallad’ paint and decal jobs they festoon mx-bikes with today, especially the ‘camo’ clothing rife in mx. We dressed functionally in the old days, not for fashion, but we looked good with it. I do wonder where we’ll be in 20 years. I’ll be dead, hopefully, and thus not find out the hard way. But you know what I mean.

    Bring back Bill Ivy and Mike Hailwood!

    • This is what we here at MuddyWatersMX refer to as the Bold New Graphics phenomenon. How sad is it when the new features list on a bike says that? I do believe that we’re at a plateau, of sorts, in development. There is a point at which the scale of human beings places absolute limits on things such as suspension travel. And the advent of affordable computer design, simulation, and testing makes it relatively easy to find a near-optimum solution point for common problems toward which nearly everyone races. So we end up with bikes very nearly identical.

      I miss the adventure and innovation of the ’70s.

      Still, it makes me sad that MX gear is now a fashion business rather than a protection business, and that some of the most successful companies now produce decals instead of useful parts.

      Filling a market need is fine, and I don’t begrudge the companies for giving the market what it wants and making a buck. I feel much like I do about reality TV — I’m not saddened that someone produces these shows. I’m not even saddened by the self-serving morons who star in them. I’m saddened that there is a market for it. That’s what’s really scary.

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