Two-strokes “pop” into view

My parents bought their first home in 1968 and moved from Brooklyn to southern New Jersey. They had a yard. That meant they had to have a lawnmower. They bought one. Actually, they bought several. One of them was a bile-green Lawn Boy that became my personal responsibility. Before cutting the grass, it was necessary to fill the little fuel tank with (leaded) gasoline, only the Lawn Boy had a two-stroke engine, which meant that you had to manually mix a little bit of 30-weight oil – I honestly don’t remember how much – in with the gas. Then you yanked it into life and made passes through the grass in a haze of blue exhaust. Two-stroke engines were light, cheap and simple, lacking both a conventional valvetrain and lubrication system. That’s why a lot of them ended up in motorcycle frames, at least until emissions laws essentially banned them in the 1970s. Tweedy enthusiasts who rode obscure little bikes did the same fuel-mixing ritual I did. The ones who are still around will undoubtedly love the fact that this quirky little engines, and the quirkier bikes they powered, are about to enjoy a major star turn.

The pandemic-rescheduled 26th edition of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance will indeed include a class for vintage motorcycles, as is common practice. But this year, the stars of the show field at the Ritz-Carlton in Florida’s northeast corner will be the oft-ignored world of two-stroke bikes. A lot of surviving two-strokes are hoary crocks, many from Merrie Olde’s gloried past, but this Ryan Hunt image from Amelia Island depicts just how nutso this two-stroke stuff can get. This is a Devlin 428 sidecar racer, built in 2018 to pre-1978 international specifications for sidecar motorcycle racing. Riding on a space frame welded from 4130 chrome moly tubing, the Devlin has a two-stroke Yamaha RD400 engine that produces 67 horsepower from just 399 cubic centimeters. The fairings and bodywork are hand-hammered aluminum. It’s almost sacrilegious to admit, but this makes me think involuntarily of screening Mystery Science Theater 3000 when its lampooned film was The Sidehackers, a 1969 horror that cinematically degraded a unique form of motorsport thanks to its stars, a pre-Get Christie Love! Michael Pataki and a post-SurfSide 6 Diane McBain.

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