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The 2-Stroke Motorcycle Experience: Part III - Add to Bucket List: Ride an Early 70s 2-Stroke

T500 Tacometer at redline
To begin with, there’s the sound--a low, poppity-poppity-pop-pop burble at idle, a deceivingly reserved, almost civilized going-to-the-pub buzz below 4,000 RPM and a hell-bent-for-leather mmmwwaaaahhhh above that.

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It takes a while to stop grinning after being on any stink wheels.

To begin with, there’s the sound. My T500, emits a low, poppity-poppity-pop-pop burble at idle, a deceivingly reserved, almost civilized going-to-the-pub buzz below 4,000 RPM and a hell-bent-for-leather mmmwwaaaahhhh above that.

Jekyll & Hyde

4,000 RPM. Heh-heh. The ride when the tach points north of 4 grand is an exhilarating experience. Proceed beyond this point at your own risk. And hold on because there’s no power band—the motor instantly changes from Jekyll to Hyde, transforming from motorcycle to missile quicker than a similar-capacity four-stroke (twice as many power strokes).

Eyes water. The world blurs. Hands tingle—partly from adrenaline; partly because you’re riding a 500cc blender and the handlebars are vibrating madly. Feet struggle to remain on the foot pegs, which are vibrating just as madly. Time seems to slow as you hurtle through space until you back off the throttle to slow down.

Eyes water. The world blurs. Hands tingle—partly from adrenaline; partly because you’re riding a 500cc blender.

Slow down?

Slow down. Heh-heh-heh. You don’t just decide to slow down a 2-Stroke. Rather, you plan ahead because you don’t get the engine braking effect a 4-stroke delivers. Backing off the throttle on a 2-Stroke does, well, not much really. You just keep going. Surprise!

So… brakes, then right? Sure, on later examples equipped with disc brakes; not so on older ones (like the early T500s) with weedy drum brakes: On these, you squeeze the lever back and wait. And wait. And, as you approach the upcoming turn or intersection, you hope they wake up in time, all the while resisting the urge to drop your feet to the ground—as if a Flintstone stop will slow you down.

1974 T500 Motorcycle
Front brakes on the 1974 T500 invite Flintstone stops

Tune in, turn on

Once you’ve tuned into the idiosyncrasies of a 2-Stroke, though, you quickly turn on: To corner, you pick your line, back off the throttle, downshift, grab a handful of brake, drop‎ into the corner, then back on the throttle to slingshot out the other side taking care not to put the front end into orbit.

The 2-Stroke experience improves further with upgrades. A brake disc (or two) on the front wheel makes all the difference when scrubbing off speed. Modern tires and frame upgrades also help in corners—I replaced my T500’s original swing arm bushings with bronze ones (the originals were made of soft plastic) and installed tapered roller bearings in the steering head for smoother turning.

No doubt, we are living in a time of political correctness. An era in which speed and noise is frowned upon. If you own a 2-stroke motorcycle, I know you will be grinning the next time you crack the throttle. If you don’t, find one. Take a step over the line and go for a spin; you won’t regret it.

Do you own a 2-stroke? Did you own one in the past? Tell us about it–we  love to hear from other riders!

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