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How Two-Strokes became the dominant performance engine in motor racing

How Suzuki stole communist technology to make their motorcycles faster

Ahh, two-stroke engine. Many people associate the sound (and smell) of a two-stroke engine with off-road gear, but for motorcycle aficionados, it signifies something entirely different – performance. See, before the strict emission regulations are now, two-stroke motorcycles dominated not only on the terrain but also on the road and more importantly on the track. But how did that happen?

The two-stroke success story involves Nazi rockets, betrayal, industrial espionage, and more conspiracies than you can shake a bottle of castor oil, and it’s very well presented. beautiful in this 20 minute movie of YouTuber bart.

The first two-stroke engines were created in Scotland in 1881, but it was not until 1908 that they were used in motorcycles and scooters. These engines are used because they are simple and cheap to manufacture, but there is a notable limit to their performance, which causes most manufacturers of performance and racing motorcycles to use the engine. four-stroke engine.

This changed when a German rocket scientist, Walter Kaaden (The video claims he worked on the V1 rocket, but this is not true. He worked on the anti-marine missile. remote control Hs 293, responsible for sinking dozens of Allied ships in the path) started tinkering with a 125cc DKW motorcycle after the war. He eventually entered this cycling race that caught the attention of the IFA racing team (with which DKW was involved in the post-war era), which hired him to run its racing efforts.

Kaaden’s greatest contribution to two-stroke engine design was the completion of the exhaust gas expansion chamber, this will allow the engine to breathe more efficiently and increase power by about 20% compared to an engine with a normal exhaust. This technology is still used with modern two-stroke engines today.

Eventually, Kaaden was brought on to work for East German motorcycle manufacturer MZ where he continued to innovate and boost two-stroke power outputs. In 1961, Kaaden’s MZ 125cc racing engine became the first naturally aspirated engine to produce 200 horsepower per liter of displacement (that’s 25 hp for you non-mathletes out there), a figure that’s still insanely impressive today.

Of course, nothing gold can stay, and eventually, MZ’s top rider, Ernst Degner, inked a secret deal at the Isle of Man TT with then-struggling bike manufacturer Suzuki to give them Kaaden’s technology in exchange for 10,000 GBP (that’s around $183,143.57 in today’s money) and a full factory ride for the 1962 season. Degner defected from the East German Republic and MZ motorcycles at the Swedish Grand Prix in 1961. He made his escape in the trunk of a car.

Two-stroke bikes remained the dominant force in major motorcycle racing until 2002. Then the rules were restructured around the 990cc 4-stroke engine design. It’s now rare to hear the classic “ring-a-ding-ding” exhaust of a two-stroke motorcycle anywhere but dirt because of the exhaust, and even those are becoming less common. than. They’re still important, though, and damn, they’re pretty cool.

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