Kevin Cameron is a friend and colleague, so this rant will begin with a total agreement: Honda’s air-cooled Singles are the best class of motorcycle in history.
This is firsthand fact. My shed houses a 1975 XR75, a 1989 XR250 and a 1999 XR100, owned for 15, 22 and 10 years, respectively, and I’ve never had to lay a wrench on any of them, not once. Like a Chevy V-Eight, the only reason an air-cooled Honda Single stops is because it’s out of gas.
But the story, Kevin’s view that two-stroke good, four-stroke bad, doesn’t begin there.
It begins back when off-road bikes came from Europe, when rides began with enduro jackets stuffed with sparkplugs, jets, cables and master links, when we all knew how to file a washer into a woodruff key because the flywheel magneto was spinning free on the crankshaft, when Bultacos ran backward if they idled too slowly, when you didn’t put on your jacket and helmet until you knew your “Hasty-varna” was gonna fire.
More recently, my son John and I raced vintage Aermacchis. We had a base-gasket swap down to a matter of minutes, knew not to crack the throttle if the two-stroke went eight-stroke, knew to pull the plug and borrow a roller-starter if the needle valve hung open, spent dollars and months rebuilding stuck lower ends…two-strokes, cheap and easy? Pause, as they say, to FDL.
Next step, late 1960s now, was the off-road boom. The Big Four got into what was called trailbikes or enduro bikes, and one day we realized we were coming home with our jackets still stuffed with sparkplugs and cables. The new machines were easy to buy, easy to service, two-stroke or four-stroke. Every kid in the U.S. learned to ride a dirtbike—in the woods, on mountain trails, across vacant lots—and motocross became a national hobby.
Then, the off-road repression. The all-powerful, all-seeing State, aka Leviathan, dedicated to learning what we are doing and making us stop, put up the signs: “This is Your Land…Get the Hell Out.”
Some kids went the skateboard route, others discovered the video arcade. Either way, the off-road boom was done and the racing was intensified.
Here’s where we are now: Anyone think Honda quit making the XR400, best-ever adult playbike, because they ran out of cooling fins? Not so. They stopped making the full range of air-cooled playbikes because they didn’t sell enough to make it worthwhile.
The issue isn’t two-stroke or four-stroke; the issue is, if you want to win races, you now need a racebike, and a racing engine will be small and stressed and demanding of care and constant maintenance.
As for the present, my secondhand impression is that the aftermarket offers plenty of reasonably priced parts, and there’s a good supply of used machines, cheap.
Why secondhand impression?
Because I’m beginning my fourth season with my CRF450R-powered framer, and I’ve changed the oil and lube and kept an eye on the cooling system and, again, I’ve never laid a wrench on it, gossip or not.
Here’s the personal part: This sermon is being composed on an IBM Selectric, yes, a typewriter, putting real inked letters on genuine paper, never mind that I not only own a PC, I’m not afraid to use it.
It’s that I just don’t like it, don’t like the feel or the sound or the look or the ill-revised keyboard, and anyway, I’m used to the typewriter.
Why tell you this? Because it’s my personal, maybe biased, opinion that the two-stroke advocates are simply pining for the days of their youth; how often do we welcome change?
In sum, when my water-cooled, four-stroke 450 fires on the first kick, cold, and I remember when the Bultaco ran backward and launched me down the hill I proposed to climb, I know which way I cast my vote.