The dirt has remained the last bastion of the 2-stroke, but even that sanctuary is seeing its decline, with the KX450F representing the full embrace of the big-bore thumpers by the Japanese Big Four.
Alert readers are already well aware of the following announcement: Kawasaki will join the 250cc motocross class with a 450cc four-stroke in 2006 in the form of the eagerly anticipated KX450F. (Check out our First Ride of the KX here.) This is significant for two primary reasons. First, this represents the final member of the Japanese Big Four to join the Thumper revolution with a competition-devoted four-stroke production model. And, secondly, the KX450F’s official release coincided (nearly to the minute) to my parting with of the final remaining two-stroke of my own collection: My trusty 1998 Yamaha YZ125. Never one for doom and gloom reporting, these events certainly don’t contribute much in the way of hope for two-stroke devotees.
A brief history lesson is in order. I purchased the bike slightly used in 1999 after having parted with my KX250 minutes prior. My intention was to focus on the 125 class in the upcoming season, just as the hype for Yamaha’s breakthrough YZ400F was consuming the 250 class. (I often find myself on the wrong side of popular trends, but more on that later).
Despite predictions of tougher emission and noise standards, my riding buddies and I were fully content reaping the brutally potent powerband of the pre-mix variety. In what can only be labeled “wishful ignorance,” we ignored the naysayers, the heretics, and the politicians, thoroughly convinced that the two-stroke motor would always have a home in the closed-circuit conditions of the motocross track. Never mind the reality that ATV, Enduro, and Superbike Racing had already witnessed the transition to the more environmentally sound four-stroke engine development, this was motocross, for crying out loud.
Heading to the Niagara Falls branch of the Arenacross series each year to watch the pros battle it out simply wouldn’t have been complete without a haze of choking blue smoke in the air by the 250 Main, resulting in eyes as bloodshot as Snoop Dogg’s at 6 in the morning when his momma ain’t home. The two-stroke not only had a place on the track, it was special to our hearts, and as such, no four-stroke could replace the sound, the wheel-spin, the controlled catastrophe that was the competition two-stroke mill regardless of how the press praised the 400F. The whole competition four-stroke was merely a phase, a publicity stunt of sorts. Once it’s time for the first complete engine rebuild, riders would be reconverting to the two-stroke in droves. Just wait and see.
People are always pitting the two-stroke and the four-stroke against eachother and we’re no different. One of our oldest bike tests involve the 2002 YZ125 vs. 2002 YZ250F.
Okay, so in the proceeding years we witnessed the development of the wildly successful 250cc four-stroke models to compete in the 125 class by all of the manufacturers. The results posted by long-time two-stroke devotees when switching over to the Fours (i.e. Ricky Carmichael) and a 1998 YZ125 collecting more dust than your average Hoover, I am forced to rely upon my journalism instincts when I say the following regarding the future development of the two-stroke engine: “Uh oh!”
There comes a time where even those who attempt to resist change as much as humanly possible (without pointing too fine a finger at myself) realize that sometimes change is good. I mean, realistically, my own assortment of machines has managed to awe me on many occasions, including the ability of the 600cc in-line Four of my Yamaha R6 to act as an anti-tanning booth by turning passengers pale in the twisties. The reality is that the manufacturers really do shine in extracting incredible performance out of modern four-stroke engines, and such race-bred technology will only raise the bar as it integrates into the motocross circuit.
As far as my buddies and I go, indeed we are men enough to admit it when we’re wrong. And as my YZ125 was hauled away on the back of a green Ford F250 just the other day, I had decided that there are aspects of the two-stroke that I will not miss, namely purchasing premix oil, having to worry about plug fouling, and looking over my shoulder for environmentally obsessed politicians.
As soon as I can put together the scratch, I look forward to tackling my practice track from the soothing rumble of a finely tuned thumper. In the meantime, I’m going to have to find a place to store all this Visine.
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