King of the two strokes

By Paul Charman


Yamaha's AG 100 has helped farmers since 1973


Which bike will be remembered as king of the two-strokes? Is it the giant-killing Yamaha RD350LC, made from 1980 to 1986; or perhaps the GT750 Suzuki water-cooled triple, a touring bike made from 1971 to 1977.

Some still heap praises on the audacious and exciting Kawasaki H2 Mach IV 750, sold from 1972 through 1975. Stock standard, this rice burner did sub 12-second runs in the quarter mile.

But in New Zealand there's another contender, a bike probably few people will even be aware of. The Yamaha AG 100 farm bike has been imported largely unchanged since 1973 (when Norman Kirk was prime minister).

Not flashy like the others, it was designed for just one thing: hard work on New Zealand farms.

And no other - large or small - has been continuously imported as long. The AG 100 is still very much alive and still respected for its light weight, simplicity, strength and low cost. The one pictured, belonging to Yamaha Motor New Zealand, even has a name. "Old Mate" is a 1988 'Old Mate' has done a genuine 195,000km.

AG 100 which has done a genuine 194,500km. The late Bob Gyton racked up this enormous mileage. In the quieter times of the farming year, Bob would take off on motorbike jaunts from his property, north of Wellington, to the deep reaches of the South Island.

Today the machine gets used for display purposes only, and the Yamaha people barely let it out of their sight.

The day the music died

The year was 1973. Armed with brand new motorcycle licences,  three Spotswood College fifth formers rode their two-strokes down to the New Plymouth waterfront.

David Cooper had a 50cc FS1 Yamaha, I had my old Suzuki A 100cc and Raymond Leong rode a new Suzuki T 90, actually a twin-cylinder 90cc. This bike came with a handbook with a photo of the Hamamatsu  plant, and a foreword thanking Ray for his choice.

We were impressed. And, in what must rate as one of the happiest afternoons of my life, we raced and scrambled till it was time to go home for tea. Ah, those were the days.

Two-stroke road and trail bikes may be largely extinct, but they're affectionately remembered.

They provided the wheels for first dates, first jobs, first everything ... my generation grew up with those cheap,  instant-power-delivering, low-maintenance two-cycle engines

that ran on the smell of an oily rag.

Today, aside from a couple of farm bikes and a few motocross models, the Japanese

manufacturers have abandoned them.

Vespa, once famous for its two-stroke engines,  now produces only one such engine. The PX 150, fitted with a catalytic converter enabling it to meet European emission standards, is still made, but how much longer is anyone's guess.

KTM and some other companies make two-stroke off-roaders and  Taiwan makes two-stroke scooters for export (Taiwan bans their use in its own country). Boutique models persist, of course, and Peugeot a four-stroke scooter manufacturer sensibly retains powerful two-stroke 50cc scooters.

It's nothing compared to the days when two-strokes from 50cc to 750cc ruled  road and race track.

Once any kid with an after-school job could easily afford a two-stroke. They blew a little blue smoke, went ''ding, ding, ding'' when you throttled off and lacked any significant engine braking. But with only three moving parts inside the engine (crankshaft, connecting rod and piston), there was little to go wrong.

If they wanted to, the boffins could deliver us a new-age version of, say, the old RD 350 LC, a bike still matching the performance of almost anything else on the road and yet with vastly fewer engine components to make  outperforming the rest for sustainability.  But with electric and hybrid technologies just around the corner,  manufacturers seem to have bigger fish to fry.

 

- Hamilton News

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