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The 5 Best Two-Stroke Motorcycles Ever (Off-Road Edition)

Last month’s little ditty on the road two-strokes was just the beginning. And while we love asphalt action, there’s no doubt that two-strokes are as tough off-road as they are on-road. These manufacturers’ persistence in making their dirt-bound ring-a-ding-dingers long after they’ve abandoned their on-road models should tell us that there’s something quite magical about this heady mix of burnt oil and of dirt. And that’s because there really is is.

And while picking the best of the bunch might be similar to picking favorites from your own brood, it’s a task we set ourselves without flinching. We are really good like that. And with competitors from distant countries like Japan, Germany and Spain, it’s also going to be a world tour. What’s not to like? So don your off-road riding gear and get out your containers of premix. Here we are.

5. ’74Yamaha YZ360

Timeless look. Picture via Motocross Action Magazine

Probably the best of the Japanese off-road two-stroke crop, Yamaha really took off with the YZ360. So much so that its famous “YZ” initials are still whispered to this day – in fact, Yamaha is bringing back the YZ for 2023. The “YZ360A” (to give it its full nomenclature), was one of those bikes rare that were virtually identical to the ones the factory was racing at the same time in world MX competitions.

Having exactly nothing in common with other Yamaha motorcycles of the time, those lucky enough to have discovered an open report that not only were they clearly hand-assembled, but that all of the internal components of the motorcycle were custom built, balanced and tuned racing parts. within an inch of their life. And believe it or not, Yamaha advised customers to replace the piston rings after every fucking race because the cylinder couldn’t be bored out. That’s crazy talk…

A '74 Yamaha YZ360 motocross bike
Note the very cool tank strap. Picture via Vital-MX

We’re pretty confident to say they got stinky too. And with the exorbitant price (at the time), there probably would have been riots at the Yamaha dealerships if they hadn’t. With a powerband just a few micrometers wide, the bike’s real edge over the competition was its featherweight, er, weight.

With a weight of 212 lb (96 kg) and 30 lb/ft of torque (horsepower figures are oddly absent from Yamaha brochures and advertisements of the time), you can easily imagine the pace of the YZ. Soon the MX world would be infatuated with long-travel rear suspension setups, so in many ways the YZ was also the end of an era.

If you’re ever lucky enough to own one, you’d be sure not to grab it. Steve McQueen did. It will cost you around US$8,500.

4. ’73 Honda CR125M ‘Elsinore’

“Elsinore”. The name that started a million dust baths, and another Steve McQueen favorite too. Of all the bikes here, it was probably the Elsie that most affected the global MX scene we know today.

Named after the Lake Elsinore race in California, it was a huge backflip from a company run by a card-carrying two-stroke hater by the name of Soichiro Honda. And although we won’t go into the reasons why, they managed to remove the world’s best two-stroke from their proverbs, even though it was quickly overtaken by their Northeast Asian competitors within a few years. .

Not quite at the forefront of the global dirt bike boom of the time, part of the bike’s success had to do with the fact that Honda made so many of them. As someone said, “The Honda Elisinore won it all just because there were so many competing.”

a '73 Honda CR125M 'Elsinore' motocross bike
And it was never so clean again. Pictures via: Mountain Bike Magazine

“Elsinore”. The name that started a million dust baths, and another Steve McQueen favorite too. Of all the bikes here, it was probably the Elsie that most affected the global MX scene we know today.

Named after the Lake Elsinore race in California, it was a huge backflip from a company run by a card-carrying two-stroke hater by the name of Soichiro Honda. And although we won’t go into the reasons why, they managed to remove the world’s best two-stroke from their proverbs, even though it was quickly overtaken by their Northeast Asian competitors within a few years. .

Not quite at the forefront of the global dirt bike boom of the time, part of the bike’s success had to do with the fact that Honda made so many of them. As someone said, “The Honda Elisinore won it all just because there were so many competing.”

a '73 Honda CR125M 'Elsinore' motocross bike
Looks like you could lift it with one hand. Pictures via: Mecum.com

But do not get me wrong; it was a great bike. With a paltry 82 kg (179 lb) curb weight and just over 20 horsepower, it wasn’t far behind the YZ in power-to-weight ratio. And with Honda’s legendary engineering, there’s no doubt you could drive it to the moon and back before it kindly asks you to service it. Or not.

Much like the Yammie, the Elsi would also die a quick and tragic death after engineers at Suzuki and Maico realized around this time that monoshocks and more rear-end travel on dirt bikes were a game-changer. Good examples these days will set you back around US$6,000.

3. ’74 Bultaco Thoroughbred

a Bultaco Pursang '74 motocross bike
Mmmmm. ‘Tacos. Pictures via: Motocross Action Magazine

Everyone loves tacos, right? Well, in this case, it’s the same for the bike as it is for the Mexican tortilla masterpiece. And unlike Honda, the Spanish manufacturer Bultaco was there from the start of the meal.

As America embraced the dirt bike world, Bultaco was handing out some pretty tasty snacks, but in ’74 the penny dropped when good old Joe and Jolene Dirtbike realized that the showroom models ” Pursang” (“pure-blooded” in Spanish) were as close as you look on the bike Jim Pomeroy rode when he won the 1973 250 Spanish GP on a Factory’ Taco. Not known for their reliability, the bikes still look like a million pesos – and with a low seat and comfortably set fork angle, things would slide for days on a track.

a Bultaco Pursang '74 motocross bike
To have to. Not. Tear. At the top. Lawn. Pictures via: Facebook

The factory claimed 39 ponies, but that’s probably more accurate for Jim’s race bike than the shop ones. And while that didn’t make them go any faster, there was something about the overall finish of the bike and the factory’s attention to detail in terms of metal, paint and plastic finish that did. just rendered those poor helpless cyclists who wandered around their local Bultaco dealerships getting weak from their already sore knees.

And not to sound like a broken record here, but the days of the Thoroughbred were also numbered. This time it was more of a corporate hijinx than the beaten bike on the track. You can pick up a mint Pursang these days for around $6,000, but it’ll still break down (and parts aren’t exactly in abundance these days).

2. ’81 Maico Mega 2

an '81 Maico Mega 2 motocross bike
Boo! Picture via Mecum.com

What a difference a few years can make! And look at the rear travel! Looking much more like a modern MX bike than our previous three winners, the German-made Maico Mega 2 was an absolute kick in the pant eggs for the rest of the world’s MX builders. Here is a more powerful and better handling bike than almost any other bike of the time.

Riders talk about the power delivery that felt like the motorcycle gods themselves were pushing you forward, and while it didn’t feel too different from the Maico, you better believe those German rogues were a notch or two above the Spaniards when it came to reliability. Sure, the fact that it got 490cc to boot probably has a lot to do with it, but for a brief shining moment the Mega 2 was a world champion.

an '81 Maico Mega 2 motocross bike
Scramble of dust. Pictures via: Ultimate motorcycling

Of course, after that Deutsch salvo through the arcs of world MX, people quickly started to realize that a half-liter two-stroke engine was a BIG handful, even for pros. And that classic “Win ​​Sunday, sell Monday” mentality of manufacturers has started to look a little more dangerous than it did a measly decade ago. The big buggers were getting heavier too.

Although light by today’s BMW GS standards, the Mega here weighed around 106 kg, and its power output on a new or well-tuned racing model was 53 hp. That’s two Elisnores and a little, mate. Ouch. You’ll need around US$13,000 to get one these days.

1. ’83 Honda CR480R

a 1983 Honda CR480R motocross bike
Would you believe that this bike was designed nearly 40 years ago? Picture via Honda

Still existing in that twilight zone that was the open-class two-stroke MX world of the early ’80s, it’s clear that Honda was still using their “more is more” bike design philosophy. Know that within three years, this bike’s little prodigy, namely the ’86 CR250R, would be dominating the roost. But for now, ability was king. And doesn’t the thing look amazing, too?

With the possible exception of the Maico above, it’s clear that bikes like this have led the way with their designs. Sleeker and less boxy than the aforementioned German, the Honda wasn’t the best MXer of the early ’80s, but if you were winning awards for dropping jaws and hanging on the walls as a teenager, the CR would be world champion for eternity, then some .

a brochure for an '83 Honda CR480R
Roger De Coster was an MX World Champion on the 480R and helped develop the ’83 model. Picture via Honda

The key to the CR’s success was that Honda managed to make it look more like a 250 than the half-liter bad boy it really was; largely it was up to Honda to make sure the thing was as slim as hell. This was also helped by the fact that it only weighed around 102 kg (226 lb) wet and still produced an impressive 50 hp.

Look closely and you will see an obvious lack of front brakes; the drums Honda bolted to the CR were barely enough to stop the thing, but you don’t win races by going slow, do you? MX magazines of the time were impressed with the bike, most often mentioning that it was a real scalpel in the corners and that it also jumped like a pegasus. You should be able to pick up a good one these days for around $8,000.

Roger De Coster drives a Honda CR480R in the early 1980s
De Coster in action. Picture via MX Large

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