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Turning it to 11 --The Two-Stroke Experience: Part 2-Add To Bucket List: Ride An Early 70s Two-Stroke

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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

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

Jekyll and Hyde

4 grand. Heh-heh. The ride when the tach points North of 4,000 rpm is an, um, 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). The world blurs; and I am never sure whether this is because my eyes are watering—the result of having been pushed back into their sockets--or because I’m viewing it while riding a 500cc blender. Hands tingle—partly from adrenaline; partly because the handlebars are also vibrating like a paint shakergone berserk.... Feet struggle to remain on the foot pegs, which are vibrating just as madly. Everything’s just shaking and vibrating and time seems to slow as you hurtle through space until you back off the throttle to slow down.

Slow down. Heh-heh-heh. You don’t just decide to slow down a two-stroke. Rather, you plan ahead because you don’t get the engine braking effect a four-stroke typically delivers. Backing off the throttle on a two-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 drums: 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 involuntarily dropping your feet to the ground—partly out of instinct to prepare for a Flintstone stop (yeah, like that’s going to help); partly because they’ve vibrated off the pegs again.

Of course, the two-stroke experience improves with upgrades. A disc or two on, at least, the front wheel makes all the difference when it comes to scrubbing off speed. Then, modern rubber and frame upgrades help in corners—I replaced my T500’s original swing arm bushings with bronze ones (the originals were made of Polyethylene!) and installed tapered roller bearings in the steering head.

Upgrades or not, once you’ve tuned into the idiosyncrasies of a two-stroke, you quickly turn on: 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 taking care not to put the front end into orbit.

Next time: Why don’t we see more two strokes on the road today?

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