Here at BikeBound, it’s no secret that we’re big fans of two-strokes — the sound, the smell, and the sometimes scary power bands of these two-wheeled smokers just move our blood. 2021 was a particularly strong year for two-strokes on BikeBound, so we decided to follow up our Best Customs of 2021 with a two-strokes-only list. Without further ado, here’s our list of the Top 10 Two-Strokes of 2020, in alphabetical order by builder:
Vinny Borbone (@vintage.kawasaki) has been riding and racing motorcycles for 35 years. Ever since his first bike, a $10 Kawasaki KE100, he’s had a soft spot for Kawasaki smokers: “I’ve always admired and enjoyed riding two-strokes for all the obvious reasons of light weight, simplicity, and power delivery. But added to that list recently is a sense of nostalgia from the sounds and smells, which brings back so many fond memories.” He bought the ’72 H2 you see here back in 1993, but for the last several years, the bike had been sitting engine-less in his basement, as he’d pulled the motor for use in his Kawasaki H2 race bike. After seven years, and with his wife’s approval, Vinny decided to raise the H2 from the basement and put it back on the road. “Not a restoration in any way, but just a bad-ass street H2 build.” And what a badass two-stroke street machine it is. Vinny says this resto-modded H2 handles great, given the modern suspension and light weight, but the engine demands serious respect: “The bike wants to wheelie constantly even under partial throttle. This is not a casual Sunday cruiser, it demands your attention when riding it and has no mercy for mistakes.”
Emrah Gonulkirmaz (@windfaces / @timemachine_co), who collaborated with Motobrix on the BMW R75/5 we featured last year, set out to track down a rare Husqvarna desert racer. Emrah has traveled all across Canada and beyond on two wheels — adventures that fueled his desire to fix, modify, and customize his bikes: “When you are in the middle of nowhere and having a problem, you are the only person to solve it. To be able to get rid of that fear and travel more relaxed and confident, I learned to work on / fix my own motorcycles.” Appropriately enough, he found this 1980 390 OR in the deserts of Nevada, then brought it back to LA, where he’s currently living and working as a creative director / designer: “I was actually preparing and customizing this machine slowly for the Baja 1000 Vintage Class.” Though Emrah is quick to point out that he wouldn’t call his Husky a “build,” considering there’s little fabrication involved, it’s one neat two-stroke enduro that he’s customized to his needs with a Lectron carb, rechargeable LED lighting system, spark arrestor, and gotten registered for street use!
Ralf Kraemer of Triples Klinik GL has been mad about Kawasaki triple-cylinder smokers since he was in his early twenties, and he has a whole stable of the machines to prove it — several of which we’ve previously featured. As is so often the case, the idea for this project arrived on the back of a few cold beverages: “It was a bet with a friend after we had some beers. I had the 250cc engine and the KV frame. He said to me: You can’t swap the motor into the KV frame.” The engine they had in mind, of course, was the 28-hp two-stroke triple from the KH250 — an engine that puts out nearly seven times the horsepower of the KV75’s stock unit! Ralf managed to shoehorn the 249cc three-cylinder engine into the KV frame, outfitting it with 28mm Mikuni flat-slide carbs, custom intake manifolds, and a bespoke exhaust from his buddy Andre of Wunschauspuff. He also outfitted the now-monstrous mini with the forks, swingarm, and wheels from a Honda Monkey. All in all, the bike only weighs 102.5 kg — 225.5 pounds!
Ralf Kraemer of Triples Klinik GL had a Kawasaki KH500 when he was 22 — in fact, this is the actual bike that Ralf owned! More than 30 years after he first purchased the bike, Ralf wondered what, in an alternative universe, the 750cc version would have been like: “If Kawasaki had built a 750 Kawasaki in 1977, what would a KH750 have looked like?” The bike is now running an 800cc H2 engine with Jim Lomas pipes and 34mm Mikuni carbs that makes a reported 120 horsepower. What’s more, the bike has been lowered four centimeters front and rear, outfitted with modern rubber, and it’s sporting Dunstall rear sets for a more aggressive riding position. One of the best parts of this 55-year-old Triple is that it’s a sleeper — a vintage machine capable of surprising the latest two-wheeled weaponry. Says Ralf: “It’s fun to leave some modern bikes at the traffic lights.”
The Denco CR90 is one of the most mythic specimens of the infamous H2, a factory-backed homologation special built by one of the most famous names in Kawasaki two-stroke lore, Tony Nicosia. Reportedly, only five of the original CR90 machines were built. Ralf Kraemer of Triples Klinik GL decided to build a modernized tribute to this fabled drag-strip monster. This Denco CR90-inspired restomod boasts ZXR400 forks and wheels, a Suzuki GSX-R swingarm, an original Denco exhaust, 34mm Mikuni carbs, and cylinders and heads from the Swedish triple tuning company Ebos High Performance. Says Ralf of the riding experience: “Due to the long wheelbase, it has very good straight-line stability. With over 100 hp, it sprints like a rocket. But you can still get around the corners quite easily.”
One man who knows the Yamaha RD series inside and out is our friend Dusty Miller, a retired UK firefighter who’s loved these bikes since his boyhood: “Ever since I had my first 50cc bike, I’ve enjoyed modifying them, with varying results! I bought an RD400E in 1986 — a bike I had always wanted when growing up — and I kept that 400 for 13 years.” Now, 35 years after he bought his first 400E, Dusty has completed another 400cc stroker — and what a giant-killer it is! Dusty started with a bare RD250 frame: “I wanted to build a twin-shock 400, and I wanted it to look like a standardish 400, with some changes. It would have a standard paint scheme — white/red speedblocks like the TZ-style schemes Yamaha are known for, standard instruments, standard tank and seat — all the parts that identify it as an RD400E, basically.” But it would be no basic RD400E. It would have RGV front/rear wheels and forks, modern tires, better brakes, improved suspension, and enough trick details to keep the most avid RD guru poking around the bike for hours.
Dusty Miller is a 54-year-old retired UK firefighter who’s been riding and wrenching on bikes since he was a teenager: “I’ve always modified my bikes and like to pull them apart, ‘improve’ them, and put back together again!” In recent years, his focus has been on building Yamaha two-stroke hybrids based on the YPVS, LC, and air-cooled RD platforms. The build you see here has been a dream of his for some three decades — a TZ-style cafe racer that would incorporate modern technology around the aluminum tank and tail of the legendary TZ race bikes. The frame is from a ’77 RD250D, to which Dusty added a YPVS 350 engine — an engine swap which required some 11 hours of engineering work. He completely rebuilt the engine with several upgrades, fitted a set of RGV250 forks and powder-coated wheels, GMX radiator, Alonze pipes, digital Powerdynamo/Vape system, Motogadget “M” unit, NOS LC switchgear, and much more. The result is not quite a hybrid, and not quite a bitza — a bike built of bits from other bikes: “It’s meant to be unique, and a bit different to what you may have seen before. Not quite a hybrid, or a bitza, more a ‘Hybritza’!”
Alan Phillips of Two Stroke Heaven is a dyed-in-the-wool two-stroke fanatic whose love affair with street smokers began early. In fact, at the age of just 19, he owned a 450cc LC — an utter weapon capable of embarrassing much larger machines. Years later, enlisting the help of tuning legend Mark Dent (Performance Fabrications Ltd), Alan set out to build a giant-killer for the ages: “I wanted to build the most powerful LC, which would top 100 rwhp…. The highest specification known to man.” We’ve seen some two-stroke hot rods in our day, but the build sheet on this LC tops anything we’ve seen on the RD platform. Braced frame, BST carbon wheels, full Öhlins suspension, Brembo brakes, bespoke wiring room with internal routing, and much more. Then here’s the 465cc tuned engine, sporting Athena barrels, a 10mm stroker crank, lightened flywheel, Performance Fabrications pipes, and more — good for a dyno-proven 103.7 bhp! As you can imagine, the riding experience is nothing short of crazy: “I would describe this as the equivalent to riding a box of dynamite. This bike pulls your arms off in every gear all the way up to 135mph.”
Alan Phillips of Two Stroke Heaven has two bikes on this year’s list! This RD400 Special was developed in conjunction with Lester Harris of Harris Performance and Mark Dent of Performance Fabrications — both of them world famous for their work in chassis development and tuning, respectively. Alan had a clear vision for the machine: “With this 400 I wanted it to be the ultimate expression of that bike, while still being obviously an RD400.” The bike is now sporting 43mm non-USD Öhlins forks, bespoke yokes, superbike-spec Brembos, and a Harris swingarm able to accommodate the BST carbon wheels. As for the engine, twin 35mm Keihins feed an engine that now puts out 80 bhp — twice that of the stock machine! In the old days, an 80-hp middleweight two-stroke would be one vicious beast, sporting a paper-thin powerband riding the ragged edge of meltdown. However, modern tuning has worked wonders, and Alan says the RD400 has a very linear powerband and plenty of torque. A test rider from Practical Sportsbikes agreed: “It’s weird. The motor builds revs with the urgency of a powerful stroker, yet there’s no wait for the power to chime in, it’s already there. No steps, no surprises, just relentless all the way through.”
The bike you see here is a Yamaha RD350LC hybrid from Andy Underhill of the UK, who’s owned the bike since ’99! “This was bought as a cheap work hack but evolved into an obsession which 20 years later, you see here… Concept behind the design was to build my vision of a modern up-to-date LC, whilst keeping the retro style of the original 80’s icon.” Working out of a small 12×10 wooden shed, Andy has created one of the most baddest, most stunning two-stroke street machines we’ve ever seen. It’s a standard RD350LC frame, braced and powder-coated, with a built YPVS engine that boasts Wiseco pistons, a stroker crank, Pro Design Coolheads, Zeeltronic ignition, aluminum radiator, GP-style exhaust, and much more. Suspension, brakes, and wheels were also given the treatment. The bike is now running a set of RGV250 forks and brakes, Metmachex custom swingarm, MT-09 rear shock, wire wheels, and more. Then there’s the paint — a double-sided “zipper” scheme that’s different on each side, making Andy’s RD like two bikes in one. It’s a bike you could drool over all day, but it begs to be ridden hard: “The bike is an absolute hoot to ride. Second and third gear wheelies are no problem. Always have a grin when riding her.”