2 Strokes VS 4 Strokes is a continuing battle today. For years the 2 stroke vs 4 stroke battle has raged on. In the early days of dirt bike performance, the 2 stroke motor was the only real choice for racing and performance.
PER CC a 2 Stroke produces more Horsepower
In the early 2000s, the modern 4 stroke motor came to life and all the big dirt bike manufacturers started switching all their race teams of the 2 stroke platform and onto the 4 stroke platform.
450F cc + 250F cc 4 stroke motors
This was the beginning of what many of us dirt bikers thought would be the death of the 2 stroke motor, especially in the racing world.
In fact, most of the manufactures dropped 2 strokes from their lineups. No more 250cc or 125cc 2 strokes. Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki all stopped making 2 strokes all together. This was around 2005-2007.
The professional racing programs started to allow 450F cc 4 strokes to race against 250cc 2 strokes. Same story in the 125cc 2 stroke class. 250F cc 4 strokes were competing against the 125 cc 2 strokes.
All the professional Factory backed race teams where using 450F cc and 250F cc to race motocross and supercross. This left a few of the privateers still trying to ride a 250 cc 2 stroke.
Dirt Bike Industry Switches to 4 Stroke Dirt Bikes
Once the big 4 manufacturers started to really push the modern 4 strokes we started to see an entire shift in the dirt bike industry over to 4 strokes. Lots of the offroad, motocross, supercross, and trail riders ditched 2 stroke bikes for a 4 stroke.
This started an industry shift that I wasn’t sure that the 2 strokes could recover from. Yamaha was the only big dirt bike manufacture that was keeping a YZ250 cc 2 strokes in their lineup. While Yamaha did not really put in any R+D in the 2006 YZ250 they at least kept it around unlike the others.
During the 2000s a company called KTM started to make a really big push here in the USA. Well known in Europe KTM hadn’t yet established itself as a mainstream dirt bike manufacturer here in the USA. Especially in the Motocross and Supercross racing world.
KTM was known as an offroad and enduro dirt bike manufacture. At the time KTM was the only dirt bike manufacturer that was still investing R&D efforts into the modern 2 strokes.
How did the 2 Stroke Dirt Bike Survive?
With all the dirt bike factory teams forcing their riders to ride the modern four-stroke motor what did this mean for the two-strokes?
How could they survive?
Was the 2 stroke really not worth keeping around?
We could go on and on with questions surrounding the survival of the 2 stroke dirt bike. Like I mentioned earlier in the early 2000s we all thought they would be put to death by the manufactures and race teams.
Luckily this did not happen.
KTM started making a big push here in the USA and they brought with them a 300 two-stroke motor that has become legendary.
Luckily for the most part here in the USA the consumer controls the products. What does that mean….If you have nobody buying your dirt bikes you need to figure out what they want to buy.
While a large part of the dirt bike riders were switching from 2 strokes to 4 strokes there was a small crew of people that kept going with 2 strokes.
Interestingly enough here in the western United States, there are lots of single track and offroad riding. In the 2000s 4 stroke offroad and trail dirt bikes were heavy and harder to ride that an offroad 2 stroke dirt bike.
We started to see the hardcore offroad riders and racers trying to convert a motocross 4 stroke to an offroad enduro 4 strokes.
So what changed…..
I feel like it was around 2008 when the housing bubble crashed and KTM added E-Start to their 300XCW and 250XCW 2 stroke dirt bikes.
While people enjoyed riding their 4 strokes they realized that a 450F was just too much and too heavy to ride offroad. This would wear you out MUCH faster causing you to make mistakes and worse….wreck.
Also with the recession, there was less money to go around and while people didn’t want to stop riding they didn’t want to have to pay tons of money to keep their ole dirt bike running. With a 2 stroke, you can replace your own top end for around $200 bucks. There are no values that need to be adjusted and you really just change the air filter, gear oil, and that’s it.
With a 4 stroke motor, an engine top end would be around $2000. Most weekend warriors don’t want to tackle that kind of work and will pay someone whereas a 2 stroke is simple enough for a weekend warrior to put in a top-end.
Also with a 4 stroke, you need to make sure that your valves are adjusted correctly or you will kick your bike until you puke (Thanks Titanium Valves).
Depending on the 4 strokes sometimes you would have the gear and engine oil in one sump but others would keep the gear and engine oil separate. With a 4 stroke, you would want to change the engine oil often whereas the gear oil maybe every 30 hours. You also need to keep a fresh air filter in your 4 strokes.
The cost of owning and maintaining a modern 4 stroke is flat out more money than a 2 stroke.
- 4 Stroke Engine Rebuilt $2000-$4000
- 2 Stroke Engine Rebuilt $250 – $2000
The days where people thought that a 2 stroke wasn’t as reliable is just flat out not true.
A modern two-stroke is just as reliable as a modern four-stroke.
If the offroad world and the weekend warrior we started to see the 2 stroke revolution. This led to more and more people actually switching back to or trying a 2 stroke for the very first time. In my world which consists of mostly offroad and single track riding I see a healthy mix of 2 strokes and 4 strokes.
2 Stroke vs 4 Stroke – Which is Better?
Just like anything, there is no such thing as the perfect dirt bike for every person or type of riding. There are some solid pros and cons to the 2 strokes and the 4 strokes. You will need to decide which dirt bike design is best for you and your type of riding. I am going to come out and say it…..NEITHER IS BETTER.
They are just different.
2 Stroke Pros
- Make Tons of HP per CC
- Easy to work on
- Less expensive to maintain
- Smile Factor
2 Stroke Cons
- More wheel Spin
- Mixing Gas
- Vibration (on some models)
4 Stroke Pros
- No mixing Gas
- Linear Power
- Did I say Power…
4 Stroke Cons
- More Expensive to Fix
- More complicated
- Flameout easier
2 stroke vs 4 Stroke Power
Per cubic centimeters (CC) a 2 stroke engine will produce more power than a 4 stroke motor. While modern 250F 4 strokes have really closed the gap lately when it comes to producing the most horsepower per cc the 2 stroke still gets the nod.
A 450F four-stroke motor does produce more horsepower and torque than a 250 cc two-stroke motor. But a 450F motor is almost twice as big as a 250 two-stroke motor.
This is where it starts to get a bit hazy……which makes the better usable power?
Four-Strokes dirt bikes usually come with nice linear power curves that put the grip to the ground and do not have near as much wheel spin as a two-stroke dirt bike. With the advancement in fuel injection, this really has made the four-strokes have a really nice usable powerband.
It’s about grip, not power.
You can have a really high horsepower racing machine but if you cannot get any grip and just spinning the rear tire you will have a hard time riding your dirt bike fast.
Most people think the higher the horsepower that faster you will be…that’s only partly true. You need to put that power to good use and there isn’t all that much tire surface area down on the rear tire.
Early on 4 stroke dirt bikes mastered the better grip which became an edge in supercross racing and could get the grip when the needed it with more consistency. Also, with the modern ECU and Fuel Injection, the race teams could adjust the power curves on the 4 strokes for whatever conditions or riding styles.
It also reports that lots of the 450F pro riders would actually tune down their 450 four-strokes in order to make them get better traction and be easier to ride.
Twisting the throttle on a 2 Stroke
For years the 2 strokes had the very best power to weight ratio and were the go-to race motor. The older two-stroke dirt bikes felt like fire breathing dragons. The power would come on and the rear wheel would light up and start searching for traction. These were the days of some pretty hardcore and tough dudes that could really hold onto a well-tuned carburated 2 stroke.
This made a two-stroke scary and harder to ride than a four-stroke motor.
Fast forward to today….
Modern 2 strokes are much easier to ride and in fact, hard enduro slow technically riding a two-stroke is preferred as they do not have near the flameout issues that come from 4 stroke motors.
Modern two-strokes are EASIER TO RIDE SLOWER than a modern four-stroke
With all the advancements in the fuel injection, ECUs, and counterbalancing 2 strokes really have turned a corner when it comes to having quality but linear power.
Yes, you heard it right….You can now get a fuel-injected 2 stroke.
While a 450F still probably has the edge on a race track when it comes to fast and consistent lap times the 2 strokes really has gained more “traction” then the 2 strokes of old.
2 Stroke VS 4 Stroke Dirt Bike Motocross
All the major factory teams are using 4 strokes for their motocross and supercross, the reason for this in racing the 4 strokes ability to deliver consistent quality traction is hard to beat.
2 Stroke VS 4 Stroke Dirt Bike Enduro
2 strokes are the preferred weapon of choice. With the rise in the hard enduro racing scene, it really has opened up the offroad dirt bike world to some really quality 2 strokes. Modern 2 strokes with no vibration, fuel injection, lightweight, quality suspension, and electric start. If you haven’t ridden a modern 2 stroke I would NOT RECOMMEND it unless you are prepared to buy one.
2 Stroke VS 4 Stroke Trail Offroad Dirt Bike
While there are more and more quality cross country 4 strokes that are being produced for trail riding and desert riding. I would still give the nod to the 2 strokes as the best do it all bike for these types of riding. The 2020 offroad trail and cross-country 4 strokes are light and powerful. They also are becoming more nimble and do not have the “old” heavy feeling of the older 4 strokes.
The modern trail and cross country dirt bikes just like their enduro brothers have exceptional ”luggablilty”. If fact they are better down low then a 4 stroke. These 2 strokes also have electric start, some have fuel injection, and counterbalanced motors.
4 Stroke or 2 Stroke?
If you plan on racing motocross or supercross and want to make a career out of it starting a 2 stroke will help you be faster when you switch to racing 4 strokes. If you plan on riding trails to enduro really a 2 stroke is better suited but you still cannot go wrong with a 4 stroke.
Count yourself lucky as any of the modern dirt bikes you can get in 2020 are going to be fun. 4 strokes and 2 strokes are just different so to me it really only matters which one puts the biggest smile on your face.