The sweet sound of the 2-stroke was muffled in the late 90s when the 4-stroke was introduced and 20 years later the debate continues over which engine reigns supreme. In laymen's terms, you have one bike that operates like a light switch (2-stroke) while the other performs more like a dimmer switch (4-stroke).
Today, 4-strokes rule pro-level tracks and in order to win a premier class Supercross or Motocross title you need a 4-stroke dirt bike. However, the resurgence of late in 2-strokes has added fuel to the age-old argument that maybe, just maybe, manufacturers erred so many years ago when they decided to put all their eggs in the 4-stroke basket.
The hotly contested debate has ruined friendships, taken emotions off the track and into the pits, and probably resulted in Thanksgiving dinner tables flipped over somewhere.
So, now MotoSport dares enter the fray. We got two brave Gearheads to take sides on the 2-stroke vs. 4-stroke debate and though it didn't get ugly, we think they offer some cognitive content for those who still can't decide.
2002 Yamaha YZ250
2-Strokes by Cody Hockema
- MotoSport employee for three months
- Rider for 20 Years
- Rides 2004 YZ125 and 2017 KTM350SX-F
At the ripe old age of 28, I can remember when 4-strokes were a rare sight around a Motocross track. Enter the 1998 Yamaha YZ400F. The great Doug Henry began winning Supercross and Motocross races on both the initial YZM400 prototype (pre AMA production rules) and the following production YZ400F. Soon after, a number of brave souls attempted to ride them around my local tracks. I say attempted because blitzing a whoop section on one of those monsters had a comparable risk factor to crossing an active Syrian battlefield. Yamaha didn't give up on their misbehaved baby boy, refining the bike in coming years with the YZ426F and the YZ400F's grandson, the YZ250F. Seemingly overnight, other manufacturers followed suit and 2-strokes became yesterday's news.
Fifteen years later, only three major manufacturers even make 2-strokes anymore and any pro Supercross/Motocross rider that races on a 2-stroke is considered a side show act.
So 2-strokes are all but dead, right?
Punks not dead and apparently neither are 2-strokes. The resurgence of the smokers in the past five years has been the best comeback since James Stewart at Budds Creek in 2003 (on a 2-stroke). KTM, Husky and Yamaha continue to pump out some premix-burning, fire breathers. Two-stroke only classes at local races have full gates. Specialty 2-stroke races like the 125 Dream Race break attendance records year after year. Let's break down why this eternal flame of 2-stroke love in the hearts of riders everywhere just won't burn out.
The emotional tie runs deep. Even these scrub-happy, Lil' Pump bumping millennials started on 2-stroke mini bikes. Not even the flatulent sounds of a few CRF150s can drown out those screaming 85s. After years of riding only 4-strokes throwing a leg over a YZ125 had me falling in love all over again like I'd just run into my high school sweet heart. Hearing that 2-stroke sound and smelling the premix is nostalgic. It takes you back to a simpler time when racing was life and your parents bought you dirt bikes.
Speaking of Mommy and Daddy's gravy train coming to a halt, let's talk money. Four-strokes have become so advanced the price of a new bike these days is upwards of $10,000. They've even driven up the price of most 2-strokes which haven't seen much development for years. Remember when a full size bike hovered around five grand? I realize this is partially due to inflation, but advancing 4-strokes aren't helping the cause. If you can afford a 4-stroke, the cost of parts will leave you spending more time at work than at the track. You really want to pay over a thousand dollars for an exhaust? You can outfit a 2-stroke with the same mod for under $400. Increasing the cost of riding is not conducive to growing the sport.
Two strokes are also safer. Being a lighter bike with less mind of its own, riders remain more in control. When I haven't ridden for a couple months, my 125 is the first bike I choose. A little swap or headshake? I don't think so. Even with my arms pumped up more than my tires, I can control that bike with my pinky finger. Get on a two stroke, learn some technique and then roll the throttle.
2017 Yamaha YZ450F
4-Strokes by John Bamford
- MotoSport employee for six years
- Rider for 23 years
- Rides KDX200 (2 stroke)
The biggest debate to still go on in the racing scene for the past 20 years revolves around 2-stroke or 4-stroke - which is better? While I may be a huge 2-stroke fan and rider, I grew up racing and ripping on 4-strokes. Personally, I think both have their spots in the powersports realm but for about 99 percent of the riders out there 4-strokes are better.
Some will claim a 2-stroke is lighter, has less parts, and is easier to work on. While some of those claims are true the modern 4-stroke has come a long way to squash many of these arguments.
1997 was a big year for dirt bikes. The first aluminum CR250 came out on the market, McGrath shocked the world by moving from Honda to Suzuki, and Yamaha debuted the YZM400F at the Las Vegas Supercross... and won! From that day forward the battle for dirt bike supremacy was on and 22 years later we see every major race team on 4-strokes. The 2-stroke is now a novelty meant for straight rhythms, dream races, and vintage rides on the weekends. The 4-stroke has come a long way from its air cooled clunky trail beginnings and has taken the industry by storm.
The benefits of the modern 4 stroke include:
- No mixing gas. Pop the top, fill at the pump, oil is for the engine case.
- Easier to ride: Power is much more manageable because the combustions happens every other piston stroke.
- More fuel efficiency and less pollution.
- More torque (who doesn't like more torque?).
- Longer durability: 2-strokes might be easier to do a top-end rebuild but you don't have to change a top-end on a 4 stroke nearly as often.
- Consumes less oil and doesn't foul plugs to even as close as much as a 2-stroke.
While I love my old school 2-stroke and the riding skills needed behind it, my opinion is the masses need fuel injected 4-strokes. If you are on the fence and want something with manageable power that you can fill up at any gas station and go hit the trails for a few hours than a 4-stroke is for you.
While being more complex in design they are simple in functionality: change the oil, air, and oil filter, add gas, and go have fun. No need to break out the science beakers to make sure you have the proper fuel to oil ratio.
All in all, I love both types of motors, they both have their pros and cons, it all comes down to personal preference and deciding which bike fits your style.