TWMX All Access: Two Brothers Racing

Two Brothers Racing might be most familiar to riders who have spent time around road racing or street bikes. Two Brothers owner Craig Erion and his brother started out in 1985 as a race-oriented business, running a factory Honda road race team from ’89 ’til ’93. Along the way they won endurance championships, as well as being a top-five competitor in 600cc Supersport competition. In 1993, Craig left the racing to his brother (and the team was renamed Erion Racing), and he restructured Two Brothers to concentrate on the retail side of the business, making exhaust systems for street bikes.

Okay, so what does all that matter to the readers of TransWorldMX.com? That’s easy. Over the years Two Brothers dabbled in a few different projects (everything from jeans with Kevlar knees for street riders to accessories for the cruiser market). But their latest venture is hot-rodding Honda XR50s, as a big importer of Takegawa hop-up parts from Japan.

Anyone who’s in California, Texas, or Arizona (which seem to be the hot pockets of activity) know that 50cc racing has blown up in a big way. It’s pretty amazing, actually, considering the humble origins of the powerplant used in the Honda XR50. Craig Erion explained, “This engine, with very few changes, has been used in everything from the Honda Cub to the first ATCs. One of Honda’s design goals was for the engine to be indestructible. This was relayed to me from a guy that works for Honda, before we even started carrying Takegawa parts. He was telling me they were so proud of the Honda 50 engine, because of the effort that Honda put into designing it. As simple as the engine looks, they wanted the engine to be a “third world country” engine: tolerant of low oil, filthy oil, dirty conditions, and really heavy abuse. Our racing engines, we spin ’em up a little above 12,000rpm, which is pretty amazing for an air-cooled two-valve engine with simple valve springs. That’s a lot of RPMs. Jeff (Whitten, COO at Two Brothers) did some calculations: the piston speed on these things, at those RPMs, is almost the same as a CRF450, and isn’t far off current Formula One technology. That’s amazing!”

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We first noticed the Takegawa-modified bike in the hands of Sano Racing’s Ken Johnson at Anaheim Stadium earlier this year. Following one of the Friday practices, the track was opened to a select group of riders, mechanics and race staff from the various teams for a fun race. The bike that Ken was on had been turned into full-on race machine, putting out an amazing amount of power.

When we stopped by the Two Brothers offices recently, they showed us a project bike that was outfitted with all the high-end goodies available in their impressive 28-page catalog. The resulting bike was amazingly cool-looking, with just a few parts (rear brake pedal, engine cases, and rear hub) to remind us of its origins. The frame was from BBR, and it was equipped with a set of Sano Racing’s forks, and a Paioli shock. A front disk brake replaced the stock drum, and the mild-mannered stock 50cc engine had been transformed into a dual overhead cam fire-breathing powerplant was that a full 124cc. Once kicked over (especially in the cavernous Two Brothers photo studio), it sounded (and revved) more like a 250F than the playbike that it had originated from.

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The wildest thing, though, had to be the price tag, which topped $12,000! Yeowch!

What The…?

Obviously not everyone’s in the market for a $12,000 playbike. But when we quizzed Jeff about why anyone would spend that much on a bike that was intended as a learn-to-ride vehicle, his explanation was simple enough. “Because it’s fun! It’s like a $5,000 mountain bike ¿and how many guys have $5,000 mountain bikes? I do. You do it because you can.”

The good news is,hey also have a variety of other kits available, and not all of them are as pricey as the 124cc kit. But we were curious about how they’d branched off into the 50s market, especially considering their extensive pavement background. Jeff’s answer? “It’s fun for us. We’re not doing it to jump on the XR bandwagon. We’ve been playing with these things since ’93 or so. I had an ’85 Z50 that I bought a bunch of parts from Japan and built a bike¿not at the level we’re doing now¿ just racin’ in the backyard with my friends.”

Back in the early days of 50cc racing, it wasn’t nearly as easy to perform hop-ups as it is now. Jeff explained, “We were actually the first ones to do a complete package kit. Takegawa used to sell his stuff piece-by-piece. Cylinders, pistons, cams, and carbs; you’d have to kinda figure out what worked. For our market here, people don’t wanna have to figure it out. They want to get something in a box, and put it on the bike. So we made a kit with the cylinder, a camshaft, piston, a carburetor, air filter, everything. It’s pre-jetted, so when you bolt it on, it’s ready to go.”

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“After Takegawa saw how many of these pieces we were buying from him, he actually made a complete kit. Now you get everything in one box. And the dealers like it, ’cause it’s a see-through package, and you can see all the parts in there. They start from 81cc (about $400) all the way up to a 124cc with a dual overhead cam and the five-speed transmission, a real clutch, and oil cooler. (About $5,500!)”

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“Now, three hours after a customer gets an 81cc kit in a box from his UPS man, he’s goin’ up and down his block with twice his previous horsepower. It’s a total no-brainer.”

Who is Takegawa?

Once again, Jeff was the man with the info. “Takegawa has been specializing in these engines since 1974. He probably has 60 employees over there, 19 CNC machines, and something like seven full-time engineers. He’s got all the CAD stuff, all the modeling machines; he makes nearly everything in-house. The only thing he doesn’t make is engine cases. He’s not a foundry ¿ he doesn’t do any of the castings in-house ¿ but all the crankshafts, all the camshafts, everything’s built there. He uses ART pistons, which is the same as what Honda uses, built to his specs, and really super-high-quality stuff. We had an HRC mechanic working for us for a while, and he had built an engine for us out of Takegawa parts. He said it was Honda quality, including the transmission parts. Takegawa really takes a lot of pride in the quality of his parts. They’re more expensive than any other aftermarket 50 parts, but you know, you get what you pay for.”

“We’ve had no problems with quality, no problems with anything on any of the stuff we sell, and we test everything that we sell. That way, when the customer calls, and he wants to know how to install it, well, we know how to install it, and we know how it works. If it doesn’t work we don’t sell it, or we don’t recommend it. We wanna make sure that the guy, when we see him out at the track, is not upset ’cause his parts don’t work as good as they should. Or he can’t figure out how to install it.”

“If you look on our Web site, pretty much every part we sell, we have complete, detailed photo instructions on how to install it, whether it’s a set of fork springs, or transmission kit. From basic to complicated, we have it. So anybody can do it. That’s what we’re trying to do, so anybody can put these parts on their bike. You don’t have to be a mechanic. Like you go to Wal-Mart and you buy yourself a model of an F-16, it’s got instructions on how to do it. It’s the same thing with our stuff: you can build your XR50 engine on your kitchen table with the instructions we provide.”

“We’re trying to make it fun. I would say 50% of the fun is building the bike. The other 50% is actually using it. And I’ve talked to a lot of guys at the races; they’ve bought all this stuff from us, and they’ve built this totally cool, $6,000 XR50 ¿ but they’re not racing it. Their fun was building it, to ride up and down the block. It just depends on who it is, you know. It’s fun to build it. And then when you’re done, you’re done; you can go race it, or you can just have fun with that, or talk to your buddies about it.”

So what does Jeff think has caused the explosion in popularity of mini four-stroke racing? “I think it’s ’cause it’s so much fun¿the racing and the fun of building the bike. They wanna enjoy the fun of building it and telling their buddies that they did this and added this and got this much horsepower and this is the jetting they used and, `Look how fast my bike is.'”

“On an XR50 you wanna get as much out of it as you can, so you try everything. Most people can’t ride a CRF450 at its maximum potential, while you can take an XR50 when it’s new, ride it to its potential, put a bigger kit on it, an 81cc, ride it to its potential, and go `OK, I’m ready for a bigger motor.'”

“I think that’s why the engine parts are #1 sellers: because everybody wants more power. And whether it’s a car, a motorcycle ¿ a moped ¿ everybody wants power. That’s where it’s at. We just say to customer, ‘What do you want?’ and we’ll make recommendations on what we think works best and build it to their specifications. Whatever they want. Or, they’ll buy all the parts from us and do it themselves. Most guys want to do it themselves. It’s not as gratifying as just picking the bike up all done and goin’ out and racing it; it’s more gratifying to say, “I got this in a box, and I put it all together and now I have a whole motorcycle and I’m gonna race it.”

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The 50cc four-stroke market has been a steadily-growing part of the business for Two Brothers. “Yeah, since well we really started taking it seriously in January 2002. And since then every month is like, doubled on itself. We’ve added product, gone to lots of races, been out there talking to other people; and for me, I’m an enthusiast just as much as our customers are. I’m into what works best just as much as those guys are, you know; I wanna know what’s cool, what everybody’s buying, what everybody likes ¿ I think I’m more into it than a lot of our customers are. I like it. I think it’s fun.”

Before we packed up and headed back for the TWMX offices, we asked Craig what he thought about the explosion of aftermarket sales for the XR50s, and he told us, “We were just talking last night. As long as Jeff and I’ve worked together, we’ve tried a bunch of different ventures that’ve been a departure from our traditional market. They’ve all been fun and we’ve all worked hard at them, and at the end of the day if we broke even on it, we were lucky. And this one, we worked hard at ¿ Jeff worked particularly hard ¿ and it’s satisfying to see a payback instead of just an exercise in marketing.”

“I told him how happy I was for him personally, because he’s worked really hard puttin’ this whole thing together. Out there, taking all the Takegawa parts, taking the Takegawa catalog and getting our in-house guru Miki, who’s a Japanese national, to translate all the Takegawa instructions and pages and then we’ll do our own instructions based on our own experience. Every single Takegawa part that we have in our catalog, we’ve personally installed on a bike, tested it, put it on the dyno, and Jeff’s taken step-by-step pictures of each one, and we’ve made our own, probably ¿ God, 50 to 75 different instruction sheets, allide.”

“We’re trying to make it fun. I would say 50% of the fun is building the bike. The other 50% is actually using it. And I’ve talked to a lot of guys at the races; they’ve bought all this stuff from us, and they’ve built this totally cool, $6,000 XR50 ¿ but they’re not racing it. Their fun was building it, to ride up and down the block. It just depends on who it is, you know. It’s fun to build it. And then when you’re done, you’re done; you can go race it, or you can just have fun with that, or talk to your buddies about it.”

So what does Jeff think has caused the explosion in popularity of mini four-stroke racing? “I think it’s ’cause it’s so much fun¿the racing and the fun of building the bike. They wanna enjoy the fun of building it and telling their buddies that they did this and added this and got this much horsepower and this is the jetting they used and, `Look how fast my bike is.'”

“On an XR50 you wanna get as much out of it as you can, so you try everything. Most people can’t ride a CRF450 at its maximum potential, while you can take an XR50 when it’s new, ride it to its potential, put a bigger kit on it, an 81cc, ride it to its potential, and go `OK, I’m ready for a bigger motor.'”

“I think that’s why the engine parts are #1 sellers: because everybody wants more power. And whether it’s a car, a motorcycle ¿ a moped ¿ everybody wants power. That’s where it’s at. We just say to customer, ‘What do you want?’ and we’ll make recommendations on what we think works best and build it to their specifications. Whatever they want. Or, they’ll buy all the parts from us and do it themselves. Most guys want to do it themselves. It’s not as gratifying as just picking the bike up all done and goin’ out and racing it; it’s more gratifying to say, “I got this in a box, and I put it all together and now I have a whole motorcycle and I’m gonna race it.”

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The 50cc four-stroke market has been a steadily-growing part of the business for Two Brothers. “Yeah, since well we really started taking it seriously in January 2002. And since then every month is like, doubled on itself. We’ve added product, gone to lots of races, been out there talking to other people; and for me, I’m an enthusiast just as much as our customers are. I’m into what works best just as much as those guys are, you know; I wanna know what’s cool, what everybody’s buying, what everybody likes ¿ I think I’m more into it than a lot of our customers are. I like it. I think it’s fun.”

Before we packed up and headed back for the TWMX offices, we asked Craig what he thought about the explosion of aftermarket sales for the XR50s, and he told us, “We were just talking last night. As long as Jeff and I’ve worked together, we’ve tried a bunch of different ventures that’ve been a departure from our traditional market. They’ve all been fun and we’ve all worked hard at them, and at the end of the day if we broke even on it, we were lucky. And this one, we worked hard at ¿ Jeff worked particularly hard ¿ and it’s satisfying to see a payback instead of just an exercise in marketing.”

“I told him how happy I was for him personally, because he’s worked really hard puttin’ this whole thing together. Out there, taking all the Takegawa parts, taking the Takegawa catalog and getting our in-house guru Miki, who’s a Japanese national, to translate all the Takegawa instructions and pages and then we’ll do our own instructions based on our own experience. Every single Takegawa part that we have in our catalog, we’ve personally installed on a bike, tested it, put it on the dyno, and Jeff’s taken step-by-step pictures of each one, and we’ve made our own, probably ¿ God, 50 to 75 different instruction sheets, all in English.”

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“It’s kind of how we structure everything, to make it really easy, from the time he picks up the phone ¿ we have it in stock, we can ship it today, and it comes with everything you need. Gaskets, screws, Loc Tite, zip ties, whatever. He doesn’t even have to make a trip to Home Depot to get some extra little things to finish it off.

“It’s a competitive market. There’s dozens of companies specializing in just mini parts. I think what gives us our ¿ significant advantage is that we work hard on keeping the parts in stock, and basically our goal is to have everything that’s in our catalog on our shelves, ready to ship. And that’s what separates us from our competition. And it’s what pays off for us at the end of the day.”

CONTACT:

Two Brothers Racing
401 S. Grand Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(714) 550-9661

www.twobros.com

all in English.”

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“It’s kind of how we structure everything, to make it really easy, from the time he picks up the phone ¿ we have it in stock, we can ship it today, and it comes with everything you need. Gaskets, screws, Loc Tite, zip ties, whatever. He doesn’t even have to make a trip to Home Depot to get some extra little things to finish it off.

“It’s a competitive market. There’s dozens of companies specializing in just mini parts. I think what gives us our ¿ significant advantage is that we work hard on keeping the parts in stock, and basically our goal is to have everything that’s in our catalog on our shelves, ready to ship. And that’s what separates us from our competition. And it’s what pays off for us at the end of the day.”

CONTACT:

Two Brothers Racing
401 S. Grand Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92705
(714) 550-9661

www.twobros.com