Husqvarna Motorcycle tests
Jody, sitting in his garage, during the hey-day of two-strokes. Even Jody's road racers (the fairings are hanging from the rafters) were two-strokes. Jody raced his first two-stroke in 1968...and he raced one last weekend also.
By Jody Weisel
Motocross bikes have no ideology, no agenda, no catechism, no grand plan and no evil genius pulling the levers behind the curtain. Bikes have no Obama or Kim Jong Il. But, they do have a great divide—a schism so deep that it is the powder keg of a motocross civil war—two-stroke versus four-stroke. It is the engine equivalent of the left and right side of a street in Belfast, the hutus and tutsis, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, Hannah and Glover or the ghosts of Golda Meir and Yasser Arafat.
Regardless of its engine type, a motocross bike knows nothing about your finances, politics or mechanical know-how. It’s prime directive, especially when ridden with Spock-like precision, is to cover ground fast—even if that means returning to where it started 15 times.
Motocross bikes are not programmed to do harm—that is not the provenance of a gasoline-fueled, aluminum, steel and titanium contraption, but rather that of its testosterone-fueled operator. However, in spite of their inanimate nature, bikes do create blight in the form of engine failure, financial ruin and lost weekends. It is part of the nature of things—even unnatural things.
Jody's long hair dates this photo to the early 1970s, but the leading link forks, small seat, fiberglass gas tank, radial head and goat skin gloves scream 1972. Cheap two-strokes fueled the growth of motocross in the early 1970s (when they sold 1,000,000 dirt bikes a year).
IT IS NOT MY JOB TO TELL YOU WHAT’S GOOD FOR YOU (WELL, ACTUALLY IT IS, BUT IT’S NOT YOUR JOB TO LISTEN TO ME). IN TRUTH, I DON’T REALLY KNOW WHAT’S GOOD FOR YOU BECAUSE I DON’T WALK IN YOUR STINKY MOTOCROSS SOCKS.
It is not my job to tell you what’s good for you (well, actually it is, but it’s not your job to listen to me). In truth, I don’t really know what’s good for you because I don’t walk in your stinky motocross socks. Unfortunately, a major part of writing any manifesto is telling mankind what’s good for it. Manifesto-mavens are suppose to force feed their crackpot ideas down the throat of mankind. And I’m here to tell you that if you have a brain larger than Neanderthal man (or Jason Lawrence) you would own a two-stroke. This is my personal opinion and not, necessarily, that of MXA.
Of course I can’t force you to race a two-stroke (at least not yet) because this is a free country. But I should warn you that with freedom comes responsibility. And accepting responsibility comes with a punishment as well as reward. So, I implore you to come to your senses before it is too late (for your wallet, marriage and mental health).
Far be it from me to say that the four-stroke is the malevolent embodiment of a marketing scam, AMA rules manipulation and subliminal advertising rolled into one—but it could be viewed that way. The man getting scammed is you sir. You are the patsy in the battle of the haves (four-strokes) versus the have-nots (two-strokes). We, and by that I mean you, have been buying four-strokes with a wool cap pulled over our eyes (which seems to be some kind of fashion statement as of late).
The best way to put that four-stroke in your garage into perspective is to say that it’s a “magic elixir sold out of the back of a traveling medicine show wagon to a local rube.” In this scenario the four-stroke is the wonder elixir and the wagon is a conglomerate of manufacturers, AMA officials, marketing men and human belief in miracle cures. The local rube is, of course, you.
We, and by that I mean all of us, have been choosing what bikes to buy based on the pit racing equivalent of a dorm room bull session; no facts, too many beers and at least one guy who wants to play "Dungeons and Dragons." That is not the way to make a buying decision or to annex Canada.
American motocross racers were sold a bill of goods (which is the best selling product of the 20th Century) and once the hook got set everybody got in line and goose-stepped to the four-stroke beat. Talk about mixed metaphors!
In the good old days there were 15 brands of race bikes to choose from. Jody lets it all hang out on a 1976 Spanish-built Ossa Phantom at the long-gone Escape Country track. He doesn't ride with this much gusto anymore.
NOT ME! I NEVER BOUGHT INTO THE IDEA THAT A 245-POUND BIKE WAS BETTER THAN A 217-POUND ONE—ESPECIALLY WHEN THE LIGHTER ONE MADE MORE POWER PER CC AND WAS MORE FUN TO RIDE.
They may have fooled you, but not me! I never bought into the idea that a 245-pound bike was better than a 217-pound one—especially when the lighter one made more power per cc and was more fun to ride. Sadly, I have spent my life testing motorcycles, so I don’t get to race what I want, but rather what is put on my plate. Thus, I’m racing four-strokes the majority of the time. If the time was mine, to do with as I pleased, I’d be racing a two-stroke (not because I’m smarter than you, but probably because you are stupider than me).
Please, pretty please, please let me sell you some snake oil out of the back of my wagon. Imagine that I told you that a motorcycle manufacturer was working on a revolutionary engine design for 2013 that was eight pounds lighter, revved quicker, produced ten more horsepower (per quarter liter), had one-tenth the moving parts, was cheap to produce, cost less to maintain and could be rebuilt for a quarter of the price of your four-stroke? Would you be interested?
Step a little closer to "Doctor Jody’s Traveling Medicine Show," while I repeat the promises. Lighter, revvier, more powerful, simpler, cheaper and easier to maintain. Did I mention that this new idea would hit the showroom floors about $1000 cheaper than a 450 four-stroke? Oh, one more thing. The revolutionary engine I’m hyping has been a staple of American motocross since 1968—it’s called the two-stroke.
The Heckel boots are right at home on a Bultaco because they imported them to the USA. Note Jody's socks above his boots, leather pants and Bell Moto-Star helmet.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF I WANTED TO SELL YOU A BIKE THAT WEIGHED 30 POUNDS MORE, WAS 20 PERCENT MORE EXPENSIVE, HAD LOTS OF EXTRA MOVING PARTS, COULDN’T BE REPAIRED WITHOUT AN OHMMETER AND MADE LESS POWER PER CUBIC CENTIMETER? INTERESTED IN THAT BIKE?
Let me put it a different way. What would you say if I wanted to sell you a bike that weighed 30 pounds more, was 20 percent more expensive, had lots of extra moving parts, couldn’t be repaired without an ohmmeter and made less power per cubic centimeter? Interested in that bike? The line forms to the left. It is that easy to debunk the myth that the four-stroke is a superior racing machine. Here are four other myths about four-strokes.
(1) The EPA myth: The EPA did not put the two-stroke motocross bikes out of business (if it did how do you account for the 2013 Yamaha YZ125, YZ250, KTM 125SX, KTM 150SX, KTM 250SX, KTM 300XC, Husqvarna TC150, TX250, TX300, TM 144MX, TM 250MX and TM 300MX?).
(2) Four-stroke power: Four-strokes are not more powerful than two-strokes. Their horsepower and torque come from a common parlor trick called “cubic centimeters.” Four-stroke are only competitive with two-strokes because they are larger. Under AMA rules, four-stroke engines are allowed to be as much as 100 percent larger than two-strokes.
(3) Manufacturer's scheme: The motorcycle manufacturers did not manipulate the market into buying four-strokes, but they embraced it because the promise of selling more bikes was hard to resist. The essence of marketing is newness...which is why people get new cell phones every six months...even though the old one still makes phone calls. It should come as no surprise that corporate monoliths the size of Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki don’t truly care what they sell as long as they are selling something (garden tractors, oil tankers, automobiles, pianos, airplane wings).
(4) Four-strokes are cheaper to produce: Four-strokes are not cheaper to produce than two-strokes. Just the opposite. It costs more to produce a four-stroke engine than a two-stroke engine—a lot more (and eventually they have to charge some rube for the extra parts). The reason that they didn’t run the prices up the flag pole earlier on in the "four-stroke era" was because the new four-strokes had to compete dollar-for-dollar against two-strokes. Price parity between the two engine types was required to entice you to buy a four-stroke. Now, with the two-stroke on the ropes, the greater production costs must be passed on to the consumer. That’s you...again. Now, a 2013 KTM 250SX two-strokes costs $6995 and the 2012 KTM 450SXF four-stroke costs $8795. That almost $2000 price difference could finance your whole racing season.
Only a two-stroke can you pitch a bike into a corner until the footpeg drags and still power out with the rear wheel spinning. This is Saddleback Park, a 1977 Montesa 250VB and a much younger Jody.
I RACE FOR FUN. I WOULD LIKE TO WIN, BUT AS MOTORCYCLE TEST RIDER FOR 40 YEARS I CAN TELL YOU THAT I’VE NEVER RIDDEN A BIKE THAT WOULD INSTANTLY TURN ME INTO A WINNER. LOGIC AND A LONG STRING OF DEFEATS HAS CONVINCED ME OF THAT.
For a small handful of the millions of American dirt bike riders motocross is a business—and winning is the mantra. But that hardly applies to you and I, but perhaps I should speak for myself and hope that you are bright enough to see that I’m really talking about you.
I race for fun. I would like to win, but as motorcycle test rider for over 44 years I can tell you that I’ve never ridden a bike that would instantly turn me into a winner. Logic and a long string of defeats has convinced me that racing motorcycles is cool enough and to want more out of it is greedy. Motocross is fun. And, racing a two-stroke is twice as much fun as racing a four-stroke.
Maybe it’s just me, but a four-stroke feels like you are piloting a Cadillac Coupe DeVille down the track. It’s heavy and it feels heavier. It is the motocross version of a front-wheel-drive car. You steer it. There is no romance in steering an ocean liner into a harbor nor a 450cc thumper around a race track.
On the other hand, two-strokes are “rear-wheel handling” machines. They initiate direction changes from the rear wheel, which means they can be thrown into corners, whipped off jumps and controlled with body English. The greatest two-stroke riders are free flowing, hard charging, go-get-’em-style riders (or perhaps racing a two-strokes turns staid, dull and listless riders in go-getters).
To me (it pains me that I can’t speak for you on this) racing a two-stroke is a blast. It is like a completely different sport. The bike wheelies, slides, spins and goes brapppp. There is no comparison between racing a two-stroke and racing a four-stroke. One is pure fun, the other is very NASCAR-ish.
The most reliable two-stroke of the 1970s was the venerable CZ. It was bulletproof, Czechoslovakian and attractive in an agricultural way. Two-stroke engines were cheap to engineer and allowed a wide variety of brands to prosper, including bikes from Czecho, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Hungary, France, England, Spain, Austria, Japan, Mexico and the USA. The costs of four-stroke race engine development makes it difficult for the boutique brands to compete.
THERE IS ALWAYS THE QUESTION IN THE BACK MY MIND AS TO WHETHER I’M FASTER ON A TWO-STROKE OR A FOUR-STROKE. I DON’T KNOW BECAUSE I’VE NEVER RACED AGAINST MYSELF.
There is always the question in the back my mind as to whether I’m faster on a two-stroke or a four-stroke. I don’t know because I’ve never raced against myself...but on most tracks I’m pretty sure that I can go faster on a 450cc four-stroke than on a 250cc two-stroke. But, when I’m dueling it out for eighth place with some other duffer, I don’t think that a gaudy chunk of gold-plated plastic is really worth giving up the fun factor.
Four-strokes cost more to own. Yeah, I’ve heard all of the arguments about how they are cheaper in the long run—but since they cost more to begin with (and the parts are more expensive and the failures more severe) that can’t be true. Simple math says that if a four-stroke or two-stroke never blow up—the four-stroke will still cost more...because you paid more for it.
I’m a believer in the ticking time bomb theory of four-stroke ownership—because I’ve had more than a few go off under me. Guess what? A two-stroke is also a ticking time bomb...it just packs less explosives and does less damage when it detonates. Motocross engines are all ticking time bombs. Race engines have a finite life span—two-stroke and four-stroke. If they don’t blow...you are lucky. But, if you are unlucky, when the little hand hits the big hand, a four-stroke explosion costs more. On a two-stroke you throw in a new piston and get back into action for less that $300 (counting labor). Not so with a four-stroke. If it blows up at the end of its service cycle, which is approximately three years, it will ding your wallet to the tune of $1000 to $3000.
Jody's last task for Hodaka was building a prototype Hodaka 250 Thunderdog motocross bike (note the Kayaba forks, aluminum swingarm, Fox Air Shox, cone pipe, Suzuki front wheel, Honda rear wheel and revised plastic. When he finished building and testing the bike, he sent it back to Oregon, just in time for Hodaka to go out of business and the bike to disappear.
I’M GETTING TIRED OF NUMBERING ALL THE POINTS OF MY “MANIFESTO OF AN UNREPENTANT TWO-STROKE AFICIONADO” (I’M SURE KARL MARX GOT HAND CRAMPS ALSO WHEN HE WROTE THAT PILE OF JUNK OF HIS), SO I DECIDED TO THROW ALL THE OTHER POINTS OF MY TREATISE TOGETHER AND JUST WING IT.
I’m getting tired of numbering all the points of my "Manifesto of an Unrepentant Two-Stroke Aficionado" (I’m sure Karl Marx also got hand cramps when he wrote that pile of junk of his), so I decided to throw all the other points of my treatise together and just wing it.
(1) Four-strokes are loud. It isn’t just the decibels, it is how far the nasty little sound waves carry. A two-stroke is raspy, but it’s off as much as its on and it sound waves peter out in a hundred yards.
(2) Two-strokes make jumping easy. Lots of riders who used to be considered jumpers have been tamed by the mechanical requirements of getting a four-stroke into the air without having it rotate. A two-stroke doesn’t rotate. It flies like a bird. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that you and your four-stroke are awesome jumpers...but guys who make their living jumping...and just jumping...jump two-strokes.
(3) Do you know all the four-stroke rules? Always park on a hill. Never touch the throttle when starting. Always use the hot start button. Always park on a hill. Don’t shut it off on the starting line (it might not restart). Replace the oil every three races. Insulate your gas tank so the fuel doesn’t boil. Always park on a hill. Strain your fuel or risk clogging your injector. Don’t let water get on your TPS. Always bring your four-stroke up on top dead center when not in use. Stay away from the clutch. Always park on a hill. Check the crankcase for gas in the oil. Always park on a hill.
(4) The only two-stroke rule is to enjoy yourself.
(5) I don’t expect the AMA (or whatever alphabet organization they are aligned with today) to voluntarily change the displacement rules so that two-strokes and four-strokes operate on a level playing field. The alphabet organizations aren’t about level-playing fields. They are about favoritism and cronyism (they always have been and they always will be). They might say that they would like to see two-stroke and four-stroke displacement rules equalized in Pro racing, but then they always say that someone else is against it, so it can't be done. In truth, it could be done tomorrow if everybody quit playing good cop/bad cop with the rule book. Guess what? The powers-that-be know who pays their bills...and it isn’t the manufacturers of two-strokes (and it isn't new motorcycle buyers...because at the moment there aren't any of those around). So, to expect the AMA glad-handers to allow 250cc two-strokes in the AMA 250 Nationals would require visionary thinking on their part...cripes, I shot that idea down already.
This is the 100 Pro class at Saddleback Park in 1978. Chris Parker (514) and Randy Skinner (back) are on sleeved-down CR125's, while Mark Lawrence (11D) is on a YZ100 and Jody (with his number plate flapping by his throttle hand) is on an RM100. The 100cc class was popular until 1980—then it died.
(6) I don’t really care what you race (two-stroke, four-stroke, Wankel, diesel or push bike)...that is the way that all true believers function. We live in our own world, one in which we call everyone who doesn’t believe what we believe "stupid." That is wrong and petty on my part. I apologize. I completely understand that a guy who invested $9500 out-the-door on a new four-stroke doesn’t want anyone to tell him that he made the wrong decision (or call him stupid for doing so)...because, in truth, he didn’t do anything wrong. He chose to buy a four-stroke. He can afford it... and if he can’t we’ll soon find out.
(7) What’s fair? How about a 250cc class that is open to
250cc machinery regardless of its engine type. The four-stroke only got
where it is today because someone wrote a rule in 1997 that allowed to
be bigger. That same someone could could write a new rule in 2013 that would
make the advantage go away.
The 1981 Maico 490 was the greatest two-stroke Open class bike ever made. Imagine if today's AMA rules allowed 450cc two-strokes to race against 450cc four-strokes.
(8) What the AMA Pros race, and what the rule book allows them to race, is important in the big picture. The AMA Pro riders are the marketing arm of the factories. They are who young and old riders aspire to be like. They set the trends...and until they are allowed to race two-strokes on an equal basis with the four-strokes—this sport will get more expensive every day.
Jody flies his 1984 Honda CR250 at Saddleback with Suicide Mountain in the background. The 1984 had a disc brake on the front and a full floating drum brake in the rear.
(9) To quote Karl Marx (perhaps a first in the annuals of American motocross), “The
oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular
representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress
them.” That is how I feel about the AMA and its cronies.
(11) That's all folks. Four-stroke or two-stroke, we are all part of the same sport. Although the people at the AMA, DMG, Feld, MX Sports and the factory teams don't want to believe it, our sport has room for both types of engines. What it doesn't have room for is leaders who want to preside over a sport that gets more expensive...and thus smaller...every day. That's all. Go about your lives folks. Nothing to see here. Move on.
Who would have thunk it! Lars Larsson (32) on a KTM 250SX two-stroke chases Jody (192) on a Yamaha YZ250 at Glen Helen in 2012. If you had ask them when they were in their 20s if they would still be racing each other 40 years later, they would have laughed at you. They also would have laughed if you had told them back then that the AMA would effectively ban two-strokes.