WHAT CAUSED THE FOUR STROKE FIASCO: PART 5
WHO WAS THE REAL CULPRIT?
By By Rick Sieman
WHY ARE TWO STROKES BEING PUSHED OUT? – PART 5
THERE’S MORE TO IT THAN YOU MIGHT THINK
BY RICK SIEMAN
I recently placed a phone call to Steve Stasiefski, the owner of Maico Meister, in search of some Maico parts for my 490. While talking, he related the following to me:
He took a 1981 490 Maico off to ride. It was a good Maico with a 1983 reed cage on it, which was considered factory stuff back in 81. Brad Lackey took the bike for a rather long ride and came back flabbergasted! He noted that the bike was faster, turned better, handled better had a better suspension than his 2010 Suzuki 450 stroke. The only thing the four stroke had better was superior brakes. Considering the fact that the 490 had more horsepower and was about 20 pounds lighter than his Suzuki, it's no surprise to us hard-core two stroke bike enthusiasts.
Is this old bike faster than the new four strokes?
Which brings us to this rather brutal argument we've been having: two strokes versus four strokes. And importantly, what caused the demise of the two strokes and who actually made the decisions. There had to be a prime force behind what has happened. Four strokes didn’t become what they are today by accident.
We called Scottie Wallenberg, publisher of RACER X magazine, and he said there is absolutely no doubt in his mind that the beginning of the end was caused by the emissions people in California, naming specifically the CARB (Calif. Air Resources Board) group.
He said that CARB exerted so much pressure on the major manufacturers that they got the message and that they decided to go completely four stroke, no matter what cost might be. The big push from the manufacturers came from Honda, who was determined to see the end of the two-stroke motorcycle.
I got some feedback from people who work at Honda and they said that right now there are two-stroke engineers and they're being laughed at and mocked by the managers, because Honda has a four stroke agenda. They (allegedly) leaned on the AMA and the rest of the O.E.M. (manufactures) to get the two strokes banned. This, even though there is an air injection two-stroke out there that meets or beats any of any the emissions regulations that exist. CARB and California (combined with Honda) had enough clout to actually affect the other OEMs.
It’s a disenchantment that’s echoed outside of racing. Dave Blundell of Lotus: “There are lots of very pro-two-stroke engineers at Honda, and they’ve done incredible work in the field, but within the firm it’s become regarded as disloyal to support two-strokes. Their influence is so massive it’s distorted the truth about the engineering.” The truth which even Honda knows says Aprilia’s Mike Ambler: “That two-strokes can be at least as clean, and more fuel efficient thank a four-stroke – their own benchmark tests with ADI-equipped two-strokes against their best four-strokes proved it.” Orbital’s Ahern: “10 years ago from an emissions point of view two-stroke and four-stroke engines were chalk and cheese. Honda’s marketing department went into overdrive and stayed there.”
DUST ON THE FLOOR
I recently picked up a copy of Arizona Republic, a local newspaper, and in there they had 2009 450 Honda four strokes for sale, brand-new, and they were going for $4709. That bike retails for around $8000 normally.
Many manufacturers have a great deal of 2009 model 450 four-strokes still sitting on dealer floors and gathering dust in warehouses. So they are running deep discounts to move the bikes, and at least in Yamaha’s case, they are running ads for 0 down, 0 interest and 0 payments for 12 months on the bikes that are not moving.
Dealers simply won't put a used four stroke on the floor anymore. If a customer buys a used four stroke and it blows up after a few hours use, they get pissed off at the dealer, especially when the rebuild cost is equal to the purchase price. It’s simplistic to blame the bad economy, when in reality people can't afford a $3000 plus rebuild bill three or four times a year. Have you noticed that on the 2010 450 Yamaha, that after ten hours of operation, you have to take the barrel off and install new small end Teflon wrist pin keepers? This is on a $9000 bike.
New 450 Yamaha: every ten hours you have to take it apart.
The typical two strokes were very reliable and new cost-effective. I'm just wondering if indeed it was a move by the manufacturers to get us to spend more money on rebuilds. They've gone too far. For example, a typical 250 four stroke turns 13,500 RPMs and that’s right near the limit of metallurgy. Any higher on a four stroke single and you start to melt metal.
NO 250 TWO-STROKES IN THE AMA 250 F PRO CLASS FOR 2010 The story is that the AMA was put in its place in their place at a pivotal meeting, in that they effectively said no two-strokes, period. Last fall, there was a meeting of all the major players in Pro SX/MX. It was a gathering of the OEM’s, AMA, Promoters and others to discuss new ideas for the 2010 racing season.
The OEM’s, AMA and the others big argument against the two-stroke competing with equal displacement was met by the quote, “250 vs. 250 isn’t fair.”
Davey Coombs from RACER X, let people know about the decision on DMXS Radio and answered e-mails from people who wrote. On one message board, DC was called nasty names and blamed for bowing down to the manufacturers and others.
He responded: “Guys, sorry, I am just the messenger in this case. Not one of the five OEMs, including KTM and Yamaha, want to head this way right now. Nor does Supercross or apparently the GPs, just some of you and me — but I will accept the blame for not getting this through. I didn’t make four-strokes, and I can’t save two-strokes, I just hold races that almost all of the race teams and top riders find worthwhile to participate in and support.
Do you want the teams and the top riders to leave now? I don’t. So we are working on homologation rules and requirements for a few other options, but I now realize that it’s not wise to bring those things up in a public forum until they either happen or don’t.”
I placed a call to Davey Coombs, the boss at RACER X magazine, and a man who runs his own series of races. He also attended the meeting regarding the two-stroke vs four stroke controversy. The consensus was that the OEMs didn't want to have two strokes anymore anyway.
At this meeting, Don Maeda, the editor of Transworld Motocross Magazine, brought out some amazing statistics based on testing that they did. They took a standard 250 two stroke in the hands of expert rider Jay Lawrence, and put laps on a track. The normal lap times on this track in the hands of a good professional expert were about one minute 40 seconds. His lap times were two to three seconds faster on the 250 two-stroke than several other pros on 250 four strokes. It should be noted that these four strokes 250 had a series of modifications to them to make the bikes faster than stock. In the real world of racing, a stock 250 stroke is too slow to be competitive.
When all the people present at this meeting heard this, among all the other things that were said, they voted to disallow two strokes being on even terms with four strokes. A suggestion was made to include a special class for two strokes only, but that was voted down. Apparently, the OEMs don't want to even make a two-stroke anymore of any size of any type.
Adding more fuel to the fire is this dyno chart prepared by Orbital comparing big inch two strokes versus four strokes.
Future two-strokes will have capacities on a par with four-strokes, allowing a milder state of tune than that which earned them their peaky reputation. The result trounces the four-stroke for power, torque, flexibility and even service intervals says Orbital – whose experimental (and under-developed) 450cc single-cylinder two-stroke produced these curves against a rival 450cc four-stroke. The stroker also proved smaller and lighter, cheaper to build, less thirsty and with identical emissions.
The rules as they are now, virtually kill off the two-stroke entirely. At least in Pro Racing.
DO PEOPLE STILL WANT TWO STROKES?
KTM has announced record sales of two-stroke bikes and says it sees no end to the high-performance two-stroke. R&D departments in Europe, Asia and North America are arriving at the same conclusion: everything you know about two-strokes is wrong, and their revenge against the four-stroke is imminent.
“The complexity of a high-performance four-stroke engine is frightening” says Steven Ahern of Australian engineering R&D firm Orbital, owner of key direct injection patents. “To get power out of a four-stroke you’ve got to go for high rpm, very fancy materials, and you’ve got to sacrifice the torque at low and mid rpm. The customer is the one who has to foot the bill and it’s becoming prohibitive – and they’re getting engines with the same vices two strokes used to be damned with.”
Dave Blundell of Lotus Engineering notes: “Any two-stroke can be made clean enough to pass current emissions standards thanks to Orbital’s air-assisted injection. But manufacturers have invested unimagined billions in four-strokes and they’re very happy for people’s prejudices about ‘dirty, peaky’ two-strokes to remain.”
Who those partners are Orbital won’t say, though an ADI-equipped EXC300 from KTM is strongly rumoured. But what it will say is telling: “Everyone, except Honda, is harbouring significant two-stroke thoughts” says Ahern.
It may even happen, as Bartol becomes more and more disenchanted with racing’s four-stroke pogrom: “The technical reasons for the change is nonsense. They are all excuses for a business plan which is coming from Honda.”
KTM CEO Stefan Pierer noted: “We have never let up on the development – the potential is by far not exhausted.” Spokesman Thomas Kuttruf expands: “We cannot see an end to two-stroke developments, and we intend to develop the 2-stroke advantages further. In terms of efficiency, weight and complexity you have to consider the 2-strokes in general for future sports projects, on and off-road. We have people in R&D who believe they can make them cleaner than four-strokes”. We’re expecting an Orbital air-assisted direct injection, torque-laden EXC soon. Oddly, KTM sold 35,000 strokes last year, so there’s a market that’s still being serviced.
The rest of the world is doing more and more development with two strokes. For example, China’s state-owned giant Jialing Motorcycles has contracted New Zealand engine R&D firm Savice to develop a suite of new direct-injection sub-250cc two-strokes designed to leave Europe and Japan’s rivals in the dust.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?
"It now has become painfully obvious that the four stroke fiasco was pushed on us by Honda. Yes, those fine folks who gave us the Elsinore, the CR500 and the Red Rocket, also gave us a boatload of crap MX bikes designed to fill the shops with horribly expensive repair jobs, from mechanics who could care less."
Big Red brought us the big four stroke fiasco.
Let's face it, the two stroke motorcycles and ATVs were dead nuts reliable throughout the years. People would do a top end job mostly because they felt guilty. You could do a minor rebuild on your two-stroke in your garage on a Saturday afternoon and still go riding on Sunday with time to spare. No more. Now you have a bike that demands that you go to a shop to get almost anything done.
When is the last time you heard about a rider taking his new four stroke in the garage on a Saturday afternoon and doing a top end job? It just doesn't exist any more. In this day and age of bikes that we don't want and bikes that can’t be worked on, it seems that the bikes that we do want to be built, won’t be. Especially by Honda. A few other major factories are still making a small number of two-strokes, but in reduced numbers until the demand diminishes. KTM, as we pointed out, still sells a large number of two strokes.
What can we do about it? Not a whole hell of a lot, except to get into vintage racing. And that can only go on for so long. Bikes get older, harder to get, and the riders get older and die. Much like our sport.
Congratulations Honda, you have spearheaded the death of the sport as we know it. Big Red, indeed.
American Honda Motor Co.
1919 Torrance Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90501-2746
American Suzuki Motor Corp.
P.O. Box 1100
Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA
9950 Jeronimo Road
Irvine, CA 92618-2016
KTM North America, Inc.
1119 Milan Ave.
Amherst, OH 44001
Yamaha Motor Corp.
6555 Katella Ave.
Cypress, CA 90630
American Motorcyclist Association
13515 Yarmouth Dr.
Pickerington, Ohio 43147