Kicking butt, that is!

If you’ve ever heard the ring-ding-ding of a two-stroke engine, you’d know that the mechanical clank at idle escalates to an ear-ringing brap in seconds. While the motorcycle industry largely moved on from the technology decades ago, non-road vehicles still employed the simplistic engines for years. For this reason, the distinct exhaust note has become synonymous with go-karts, snowmobiles, and lawnmowers, but two-strokes still hold a place in the hearts of many motorcyclists.

By the ‘80s, emissions standards increased and choked out two-stroke engine applications in on-road motorcycles by 1984. However, motocross models would still utilize the technology for its weight savings and favorable power-to-weight ratios. 

Starting in the late ‘90s, the AMA introduced rules that favored four-stroke configurations and put two-strokes at a significant disadvantage. With the last two-stroke AMA Motocross victory occurring in 2004, a limited number of manufacturers continue to produce the engines. Despite the waning support, parts development, and availability, fanatics of two-strokes have found their niche in racing circles.

Kawasaki’s two-stroke triples of the ‘70s were fast for their time and offered the perfect platform for vintage drag racing. With the H2 Mach IV 750 gaining success in the Pro Stock racing, Doug James of Pennsylvania partnered with Paul Gast to build a Mach III H1 500. The team set out to attain the first quarter-mile runtimes under ten seconds with a 500cc machine. 

Built from 1968-1976, Kawasaki equipped the H1 500’s triple-cylinder engine with 60 horsepower. While the stock bike could accomplish runs of thirteen seconds, Gast and James wanted to push the limits of the medium-displacement Kawi. In 1983, Doug James achieved the team’s goal with a 9.83-second run in Gulfport, Mississippi. 

After 13 years of sitting dormant, the new owner, Jeff Anzeldua of Michigan, revived the historic H1 and ran a 10.56-second at the Super Eliminator 2-Stroke race in Martin, Michigan. Jeff also reported a time of 9.86 in Englishtown, New Jersey with his little 500. In the face of Euro 4 and Euro 5 emissions standards, it’s good to see that two-stroke engines still have a place in the motorcycling world.