Friday Feature: The Four-Stroke Revolution—You In Or Out?

Sponsored by:

Since the release of Yamaha’s groundbreaking YZ400 back in 1998, consumers, industry insiders and pro racers alike have heard that four-strokes will soon take over the sport of motocross. There has been great debate over the last six years as to which breed of MXer offered the greatest benefit on the track. In addition, we’ve seen many of our sport’s top professional heroes make the switch back and forth between the two, adding to the argument that there’s no clear favorite. And while there’s no denying the fact that both two and four-stroke bikes hold strong arguments toward securing their places in the future of motocross, we also can’t overlook the fact that every year post YZ400, the four-stroke MXer has grown immensely in popularity. From the 2002 TransWorld Motocross Reader’s Poll to the present, the percentage of readers who own four-strokes has jumped from 22% to 32%. In the same time period, the percentage of readers who plan to buy a four-stroke as their next bike jumped from 34% to 47%. That’s a big leap!

With the 2004 model bikes now upon us, the consumer has even more options to choose from at their local dealer thanks to the slew of new 250cc four-stroke machines available. With Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki all throwing their hats into the ring with new tiddler class four-strokers, our 2004 Bike Buyer’s Guide features nine four-stroke models out of 21 total bikes. For those that don’t want to do the math, that means that 43% of the motocross bikes this year are four-strokes. So what is it about thumpers that have every manufacturer competing to build them and just about every motocross connoisseur in line to buy them…?

To help us get to the bottom of the four-stroke craze, we spoke with some of the top industry representatives to get the real scoop and their opinions about the four-stroke revolution. Here’s what they had to say…

Mel Moore, Kawasaki
The four-stroke revolution has been made possible due to the fact that manufacturers can now produce four-stroke motocross bikes that are lightweight, powerful, and rider friendly. Yamaha did this initially to which they deserve the credit, but I think all of the manufacturers have in part learned from what they’ve done and expanded on the technology. This technology has made the four-strokes acceptable competitors.

I think a big part of the appeal of a four-stroke is that they’re extremely durable. The four-stroke motor can perform at a high level for much longer than a two-stroke can. The performance is high and very consistent. And not only that, they’re generally easier to maintain, including the fact that you don’t even need to mix oil with the gas. Two-strokes certainly have their advantages as well, but they’ve no doubt been dealt a severe hand with the success of the four-strokes. And if their demand continues to go down, we could certainly see them become obsolete in the future.

Donnie Emler Jr., FMF Racing
Well, at this point I am a bit biased because I too ride a four-stroke. I think the main appeal is simply the ease of riding. Anyone can jump right on one and go. The powerbands tend to be a bit smoother and more forgiving. The oth major benefit is that they’re easier to maintain. Four-strokes tend to run stronger for a longer time period than two-strokes. I always recommend a four-stroke to friends who don’t have a great mechanical knowledge. As far as our business is concerned, we’ve definitely seen a major shift toward the four-stroke breed this past two years. We hope that the two-strokes don’t die out because they’ve been a major part of our business since day one, but it’s not out of the question to see them become obsolete in the coming years.

Terry Beal, Yamaha
I think the biggest appeal to the four-stroke bikes is that they’re still so new. It’s a totally different experience for riders of all levels and that peaks interest. Some of the functional advantages of these bikes are that they tend to deliver power in a manner that allows a lot of people to ride faster with more ease. The four-stroke also tends to be more maintenance free as far as general maintenance is concerned. You can just clean the air filter and replace the oil filter when needed, and the bike will run strong all year. Two-strokes have plenty of advantages as well, though. They’re lighter, generally pack more of an explosive hit, and when maintenance is necessary, more people have experience working on them.

As far as our sales are concerned, we’ve definitely seen some shifts. Two-strokes have decreased by 5% and our four-stroke sales have increased 21%. Total competition sales (all manufacturers) have seen four-strokes go up 16% and two-strokes drop by 1%. Total off-road bike sales, however, have continued to climb by 15%, which is great news. Our sport is strong, and as long as there are closed course motocross bikes I really feel that there will be a demand for both breeds.

Mike Young, Big Gun Exhaust
The industry is certainly evolving toward four-strokes. They are sort of like “America’s Bike.” They’re very versatile and do a lot of things well. You can race them on the track and take them for a trail ride in the same day, getting great performance for each. The maintenance issue is also important to a lot of people. There’s no doubt that if you take care of the general maintenance, four-stroke motors will perform better for a longer time period. The other thing to consider when looking into the future is the fact that the EPA is pushing for four-strokes because they tend to burn cleaner. There are organizations like C.A.R.B. (California Air Recourse Board) here locally that produce pollution estimations that may also contribute to the push for four-stroke motorcycles. These estimations may not be totally valid in my opinion, but they’re nevertheless making an impact. There’s also rumor of some AMA fuel regulations in the coming year. When I raced in Europe the FIM had similar regulations and the four-stroke motorcycles definitely had the advantage when having to utilize pump gas. The next few years will certainly be interesting, but luckily for us, we’ve been on top of four-stroke performance for a long time now and definitely feel that we have a lot of knowledge to offer the industry.”

Duke Finch, AMA
Four-strokes have definitely made an impact. In fact, I’ve got a big four-stroke sitting in my garage right now. They’re fun, easy bikes to ride. They generally don’t have the same big hit that two-strokes have. Some people prefer it and some don’t, so it really just comes down to personal preference.

As far as the issues associated with two-strokes being outlawed, I think it will be a very long time before we see them banned from closed course racing. The problem lies in the fact that two-strokes will progressively get more and more difficult to sell off as used bikes. A large percentage of used bike purchasers do a lot of their riding outside of closed course facilities. These riding places are becoming few and far between and more regulations are being implemented in the ones that still exist. Four-strokes may gain the upper hand in this situation.

The unleaded fuel regulation that will be implemented in the coming season is not something that the AMA chose to enforce on its own. It actually came from the direction of the board as a part of the agreement made to rectify things between the AMA and Clear Channel. By contract with the FIM, we’re obligated to implement their unleaded fuel regulation. We received a one-year reprieve for the 2003 season, but it will be implemented next year. Originally the rule was designed specifically for 250cc Supercross, but for greater ease it’s going to be implement across the board. A lot of people have gotten themselves stirred up about the regulation, but I think you’ll see that it really won’t make much of a difference as far as performance is concerned. The fuel rule will be exactly the same as before only it has to be unleaded now. The teams will have to do their homework, but there’s no minimum octane rating for the fuel and with the oil additive in two-strokes, this really isn’t going to be a huge deal.

Simply put, four-stroke development has come a long way. It’s getting to the point that factories can produce a four-stroke race bike that is the same weight as the two-stroke but has even more power. In capable hands the four-strokes can give fast guys even more of an advantage. Eventually I would think that everybody would need to make the switch.

After speaking with the industry experts there’s certainly one thing that’s very clear to us, and that is the simple fact that the sport of motocross is healthier than ever and continually progressing. Whether you love or hate the fact that four-strokes have made themselves a secure place in our sport, there’s no arguing the fact that they’re making it more exciting. With all of the testing that our staff does each year on the new model bikes, it comes as no surprise to us that the four-stroke is held with such high regard amongst industry insiders. We are fortunate enough to ride all of the bikes available to the consumer and we can certainly agree that the new age four-stroke MXers offer all of the benefits that have been pointed out and more. With that said, however, we also still love the classic ride and benefits of the two-stroke machine as well. So no matter what your individual preference, we’re sure that you’ll have no problem finding a bike that suits your style. You now have more options than ever when choosing a new steed, so enjoy and choose the bike that best suits you!

Sponsored by:
hasers do a lot of their riding outside of closed course facilities. These riding places are becoming few and far between and more regulations are being implemented in the ones that still exist. Four-strokes may gain the upper hand in this situation.

The unleaded fuel regulation that will be implemented in the coming season is not something that the AMA chose to enforce on its own. It actually came from the direction of the board as a part of the agreement made to rectify things between the AMA and Clear Channel. By contract with the FIM, we’re obligated to implement their unleaded fuel regulation. We received a one-year reprieve for the 2003 season, but it will be implemented next year. Originally the rule was designed specifically for 250cc Supercross, but for greater ease it’s going to be implement across the board. A lot of people have gotten themselves stirred up about the regulation, but I think you’ll see that it really won’t make much of a difference as far as performance is concerned. The fuel rule will be exactly the same as before only it has to be unleaded now. The teams will have to do their homework, but there’s no minimum octane rating for the fuel and with the oil additive in two-strokes, this really isn’t going to be a huge deal.

Simply put, four-stroke development has come a long way. It’s getting to the point that factories can produce a four-stroke race bike that is the same weight as the two-stroke but has even more power. In capable hands the four-strokes can give fast guys even more of an advantage. Eventually I would think that everybody would need to make the switch.

After speaking with the industry experts there’s certainly one thing that’s very clear to us, and that is the simple fact that the sport of motocross is healthier than ever and continually progressing. Whether you love or hate the fact that four-strokes have made themselves a secure place in our sport, there’s no arguing the fact that they’re making it more exciting. With all of the testing that our staff does each year on the new model bikes, it comes as no surprise to us that the four-stroke is held with such high regard amongst industry insiders. We are fortunate enough to ride all of the bikes available to the consumer and we can certainly agree that the new age four-stroke MXers offer all of the benefits that have been pointed out and more. With that said, however, we also still love the classic ride and benefits of the two-stroke machine as well. So no matter what your individual preference, we’re sure that you’ll have no problem finding a bike that suits your style. You now have more options than ever when choosing a new steed, so enjoy and choose the bike that best suits you!

Sponsored by: