BRINGING BACK WHAT WORKS
INTERVIEW WITH PROJECT TWO 50
By Matt Cuddy
Editor’s note: We had a chance to talk with the guys at Project Two 50 this morning, and in the course of the interview, we found out some very interesting facts and statistics that you the reader probably haven’t seen in the main stream dirt bike media. That one-sided view that extols the new breed of four stroke MX bike as the best thing since sliced bread. If things turn out the way Project Two 50 hopes, it will send the four stroke engine design back to the street, where it came from.
John Nicholas, team manager
We got to chat with John Nicholas, team manager, Mike Leavitt, rider, and Todd Leavitt, the team mechanic, about the bike, why they chose to campaign a two-stoke, and what secret technology will help them defeat the thundering hoards of 450cc four strokes. It was great shooting the bull with team Two 50, and all we needed was a bench and a six pack to make it complete.
Mike Leavitt, rider
Turns out Mike holds the number one plate in district 34 competition, and the costs of running a YZ450F was driving him into the poor house. So he decided to do the un-thinkable: Campaign a 250cc two stroke, a Yamaha YZ250. About ten horsepower down from the 450cc four strokes.
Todd Leavitt, mechanic
So here are the highlights of an hour long conversation with team Two 50. We hope they make it big, and bring the sport back to sanity for all the regular folk.
Me: Let’s turn this recorder on, it’s working, amazing! Can you guys hear me (we were on a two-way speaker phone call)?
John: Yeah, we can hear you; I have Mike Leavitt and Todd Leavitt with me. How are things going?
Me: Fine John, just fine. Thanks for giving us this opportunity to get the word out about your project; we love to see people going against the status quo on this four stroke mess. What motivated you into doing this?
John: I’m going to let our rider Mike answer that one.
Mike: Well it started at the beginning of this year, when I needed to buy a practice bike. So I was talking with my Dad and Brother and decided I needed a bike I could ride all the time, and not cost a bunch of money to fix. So my Dad, my Brother and Me decided to get a YZ250 two stroke, a bike we could ride the hell out of, and nothing would happen to it. So we started riding it, and we had some issues, nothing big, and we noticed that we were turning lap times four seconds faster with the two stroke. So we entered in the two stroke invitational nationals, and my brother (Todd the mechanic) was worried that we didn’t do anything to it (after riding it for a year) and we won all the motos we were in. And after that, we just kept racing it.
Hurry up and wait, Mike & Todd on the line
Me: Wow. That’s fantastic. You know the AMA changed all the tracks to be four-stroke friendly,
Mike: Yeah, they moved the jumps ten feet farther out of the corners, so they could jump ‘em. Made the berms smoother, big sweepers.
Me: And how’s that affecting you hanging with the four strokes on the track? Is it no big thing?
Mike: You can actually find a lot more better lines, because they drift so bad (four strokes) going into the corners.
Me: Hah, that’s amazing.
(Note: now we got into some secret modifications to the YZ I promised not to print, so let’s skip forward a few minutes.)
Me: You know I rode an ‘87 CR500 for the past twenty years, it was ported, FMF pipe, jetted spot on, and all my riding buddies went over to the dark side and bought KTM four strokes. Against an EXC525 it was no contest, it was like they were standing still. And the CR never broke, hell, I’d put a piston in it every five years or so just out of guilt. What’s a good running YZ250 putting out now, thirty eight, forty horsepower?
John: No, they’re putting out around 45 horsepower. And with the modifications we’re doing to the YZ (porting, pipe, secret stuff) we expect to be pulling fifty five, fifty eight horsepower out of it, with no problem. The science of port design has changed a great deal in the last few years, it used to be a dark science, only a few people knew what they were doing, Mitch Payton being one, a few people in Wisconsin who ported snowmobiles, but now you have software that you can run simulations on how modifications affect the power band, what angle to shape the transfer ports, exhaust ports with a step, or bridge, everything you can think of.
Me: Jeez, that’s amazing. A fifty eight horsepower 250. That should kill the four strokes. I went to a few introductions of new bikes, the KX450F being one, and the test rider said the suspension sucked, it shifted bad, popped and backfired off table tops, and to top that off you have to rebuild the top end every ten to fifteen hours. That’s ludicrous, it’s ruining the sport.
John: Yes, we agree, Mike has something to say about that. Mike?
Mike: Since my 250 is apart now, I teach kids how to ride. So I got my 450 out, and took it to the track behind my house. No big deal, I went into the first corner like I would on my two stroke, and promptly went over the berm and into the trees. It wouldn’t turn, wouldn’t hold any lines the two stroke would, and I looked like a complete retard in front of these kids I was trying to teach.
Me: Ha, a laugh riot…
Mike: If you look at the cornering speed of a two stroke, versus a four stroke, the two stroke holds a lot more speed, while the four stroke has to stop, and pivot through the turn. It has to square the turn off, versus railing the berm, like a two stroke. And it has changed the way tracks are designed.
Me: Along with track re-design, the unbelievable costs associated with riding one of these time bombs on a pro level is pushing new blood out of MX at an alarming rate. How can some 17 year old kid who works at Pizza Hut afford to run in the 250 class?
Todd: And it’s making the privateer go broke. How can someone who’s on a tight budget spend over two grand every few months on a top end? And what happens after two top end jobs when the crankshaft and rod is shot? You stop racing, that’s what.
Mike: Yeah, we have two parts bikes now in the shop, all apart, wasn’t worth throwing three grand into the motor, when you’ll just have to do it all over again in a few months of hard riding. And that’s with maintenance that is over the top, above and beyond anything the shop manual says.
Todd: And the parts aren’t cheap, either. How about two hundred bucks for a Honda piston? And that’s when the parts man is nice to you.
Mike: I rode a CRF450 Honda for a year, and went broke. Pistons, valves, heads, all shot.
Blowed up real good...
Me: Have you had the chance to run the two fifty against the big four strokes at sanctioned national race yet?
Mike: No, Texas will be our first race. But we have a lot of privateers around here that are in the top twenty, and when the see me on the line with the 250, they get kind of nervous. Then I get the hole-shot and run away from ‘em all, and win.
Me: I use to race a DT2 Yamaha Enduro in vintage MX races, and when I was on the line with CZs, Bultacos, Maicos, Huskys, I’d almost get laughed out of the race. Then the banner would drop, and I’d end up getting third place or something, really enjoyed doing more with less, that was my whole reason for racing, beep the horn when I’d pass ‘em in the whoops..Ha ha.
Mike: Yeah we run a TM125 against 250 four strokes, and it’s so quiet we were thinking of a squeeze horn for when we pass 250’s. I weigh 190, so I don’t get that good of a start most of the time, but we end up winning every time in the 250 class.
Me: Ah, the stories I could tell…this sounds to me like a revolt against the unbelievable high costs running a four stroke involves, right?
John: Yeah, it is. We don’t have anything against four strokes, or four stroke riders, but it costs triple the amount to run a four stroke, a good one you can depend on in the nationals, versus a two stroke. And working on one (a two stroke) is so much easier. We just don’t have the money to do it.
Very trick YZ250
We are running a very trick bike, the Kayaba fork and shock has been tricked out, we have a few cylinders that have extensive work done to them, different angles on the transfers, squish bands, they even add more material then they take out now, re-shaping the exhaust port, making ports smaller to get the velocity up. A completely different way of looking at porting on a two stroke, because of software you can run that gives you the intended results before you even do it. Then we have the trick ceramic bearings in the lower end. With this technology, people are running 125 kart motors that are putting out forty plus horsepower, no sweat. Our sponsors have been great; they want to see us beat the four strikers as bad as we do.
Trick ceramic bearings
Todd: And because of this new technology, we will be running the cleanest bike out there, the greenest. Even our pits are going to be the greenest, all run by power cells, no generators. We might have to start up the generator twice in a 24 hour period. 10 hours of power with one hour of re-charge from the generator.
Me: Wow that should open some eyes. This could be a thumb in the eye of the big Jap factories who are cramming the rotten technology down our throats, at the cost of injuries and running beginners and privateers out of the game. I mean, it’s unbelievable that you have superior technology with a two stroke that makes the four stroke MX bike…err…bad. Obsolete.
John: Right on that.
(After about twenty minutes of classic bench racing, we got back on the subject)
Me: So it’s impossible to run a four stroke for a season and not sink big bucks in it?
John: Yes, the AMA in their infinite wisdom changed the rule that’s been in the books for 72 years and allows a four stroke to be twice as big as a two stroke, the only way they can be competitive, and they tilted the formula just a little bit to the four stroke’s advantage power wise. We want to show people that the two stroke is a viable alternative to these bikes with too many valves, and prove that the two stroke platform in the hands of a privateer can still do well and win.
Mike: Also the weight issue, there’s another factor. The four strokes weight 240-250 lbs dry, running one ply tires. And because of it, they handle like a heavy open class bike, weight is an issue on the track, a lighter more nimble bike can out perform a heaver bike with more horsepower, because it’s easier to ride, can change directions easier, less tiring. We’re really looking forward to Southwick (MA) with the sand, and the weight issue. We’ll be skipping on top of the sand, while those four strokes will be digging in. We’ll be fifteen to twenty pounds lighter than the lightest factory bike. And the factories spend big bucks to with special parts to get the bikes that light, we’ll be forty pounds lighter than the privateer four strokes.
Me: Jeez, those things must be pigs. Nothing worse than a heavy four stroke on a sandy track, I know, I use to ride an XL600 in the desert, and it would spit me off regularly, and land on me. I still have the scars.
Mike: Next year we plan to have three more riders under our banner, and really make some waves, hopefully get the sport back to where it’s available to the beginner and privateer again. Show the SX crowd we can compete. The outdoor tracks too.
(We again slipped back into the bench racing mode, and discussed more secret porting stuff for the next fifteen to twenty minutes or so…)
Mike: You know our race team is grass-roots, John is a good friend, Todd is my brother, and we want to do this because we have friends who can’t race anymore, because their bikes blew up. They’re trying to sell their four strokes to buy three-four year old two strokes to race, and have fun again, because the sport has gotten so serious, every one is so concerned about their bike getting broke, it puts an edge on it, it isn’t fun anymore. And that’s what it’s all about when you get down to it.
Me: That is the truth. Rick and I want you guys to know you have a lot of support out there in the dirt bike world, and you’ve got anything you want from us, we’ll be following you on the circuit, and promoting your goal to get the two stroke back in the game again.
John: We hope to give a lot of riders the jitters when we show up on the line with a YZ250. We always do.
Me: Guys, thanks a lot for the interview, and like we said, you’ve got a lot of regular folks behind you, who want to see you succeed.
John, Mike & Todd: You’re welcome, and please run a list of our sponsors so we can give them some props, they’ve all been so good to our team with parts and stuff. Great people.
Me: Can do guys. Good luck and we’ll be watching!
And with that the interview concluded. What impressed me most was the attitude of the Two 50 Race Team, no stuck up delusions of grandeur, just regular dirt bikers going to fix a broken system, so their friends can race again. No dreams of piles of money, or factory sponsorship. Damn nice in this day and age. We hope they kick some ass on the factories, and show them the two stroke isn't dead, it was just napping.
2010 AMA 450 Outdoor Nationals
June 5 – Freestone Raceway Wortham, Texas
June 19 – Budds Creek Motocross Mechanicsville, MD
July 3 – Red Bud Buchanan, Michigan
August 14 – Unadilla Valley Sports Center New Berlin, NY
August 28 – Moto-X 338 Southwick, Mass
September 4 – Steel City Raceway Delmont, PA
October 3 – KROC Englishtown, NJ
Here’s a list of Project Two 50’s sponsors. I’m sure the factory folks hate to see shops like this supporting a revolution of sorts against the four stroke:
Revanche 2 Strokes
Fireball Heat Treating
Get Real Racing