After navigating L.A.’s infamous 405 Flee-Way, then merging onto the 118 East, and finally taking the non-Ozzy Osborne Exit off the 210 Pasadena Freeway, I noticed a semi-mushroom cloud of smoke rising over the Hansen Dam park grounds. I thought the bike event’s barbecue had launched without me. But it wasn’t burger’s squealing on the grill, it was a massive herd of banshee shrieking, ringy-dingies of all sizes and vintages doing the “parade lap” thing around the staging area for the annual 2-Stroke Extravaganza. Then a little voice in the back of my Shoei helmet whispered, “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.”
I think that was the same voice I had heard many years ago when test riding a minty 1975 Kawasaki 750 H2 Mach IV Triple that I was contemplating buying. I was no stranger to two-strokes, having experienced my first wheelie, though unintentional, on a Yamaha RD350; then riding my buddy’s Kawi 500 Triple after arriving in L.A. back in the previous century. Later on I rather enjoyed a Suzuki GT500, and later still a Yamaha RZ500 V-4 two-stroke rocketship that had snuck across the Canadian border. But after just a few blocks aboard that Kawi H2 Triple, I listened to that inner voice and took the bike back to its owner. Okay, I admit, I wussed out, but only because I thought the frame was badly tweaked, which it wasn’t – it was just part of the bike’s “character.” There was a reason the mags called it “scarily fast” especially when trying to go around corners.
This would be the 19th Two-Stroke Extravaganza, the event’s history finding it staged at various locations, including several at the famous SoCal bike gathering point at Cook’s Corner. But now the rally has found its home at Hansen Dam under the most able leadership of Paul Kralick, now in his fourth year as the show’s wrangler along with fellow two-stroke aficionado Mike Martinez, the guys even hand-crafting the show trophies.
A SoCal bike event isn’t complete without Jay Leno rolling in, and this time he rolled in appropriately enough on a two-stroke Brit-made classic, a Scott Flying Squirrel. Like they say, different (two) strokes for different folks, and since I didn’t get Jay’s choices for best bikes at the event, I went ahead and made my own selection.
Best Harley at the Event
Now don’t start sending in ferocious complaints about misidentification. “Harley” happens to be the name of the gracious young lady that handed out the show trophies. The bike, of course, is the near mythic Kawi H2 750 Triple like the one that scared the earplugs out of me.
Best Guess the Translation Bike
A tech takes the Roland Sands custom for a spin. Built for the Born Free rally, instead of doing the chopper route Roland went to the iconic Yamaha RD for two-stroke inspiration. Starting with a 1974 RD 400 powerplant nudged into a legendary TZ250 chassis, he produced an RDTZ. The Japanese kanji graphics translate to “Two-Stroke Attack.”
Best Fan of the RZ350
Roger Rompal rode down from Santa Clarita on his California-legal 1985 Kenny Roberts Edition Yamaha RZ350 with mods that included Stage II porting, a milled head, 30mm carbs and aftermarket expansion chambers. He’s got another Kenny Roberts RZ at home. Says Roger, “I have twin boys now 10, and when they’re old enough and responsible enough, they each get one.”
Best Now Hard to Find Decal
The RZ350 sold in California in 1985 was the first Yamaha street bike with a catalytic converter. In ’84 there were two Kenny Roberts “signature” models, one in yellow and the other in red and white, but Kenny’s name didn’t appear on the fairing until ’85. Yamaha suspended sales of the righteous RZ after ’86.
Best Suzuki GT550 Almost Like I had
Okay, mine was a 500, blue and not so shiny. This red one, a 1976, was restored by Jose Tieras. Suzuki had brought out the 380cc and 550cc three-cylinder two-strokes in 1972, with production ending in ’77. Many consider the Suzukis the best of the “smokers.”
Jay Leno’s Scott Flying Squirrel
The very advanced liquid-cooled two-stroke British built Super Squirrel was launched in 1925, followed in 1926 by the Flying Squirrel. Yes, people do go nuts over these unique machines.
Best Three-Days-Fresh Build
Former pro yacht pilot Capt. Jim Ronis brought his custom ’73 H2 Mach III Kawi to the show, seen also in the article’s lead image. The two-year build was completed just three days prior to the event. “Yes, the green wheels are traditional Kawasaki green, but the swingarm is off a (Yamaha) YZF dirtbike, the forks from a Suzuki GSX-R. The motor’s got Arctic Cat reed valves, and the pipes I gas-welded together from four pieces.”
Best Shop ’til you RD Drop
Trio of Yamaha RDs in various stages of café transformation were offered at bargain prices. RDs had a huge showing/following at the event.
Best Sharpest Toothed T-Shirt/Project Bike Combo
Robotics designer Lindsay Lawlor from ElectricGiraffe.com brought his radical work-in-progress project, a bike named Barracuda. Based on a 1984 RZ500 with its V-4 motor heavily breathed on by MP Racing, it features a Jolly Moto exhaust, Yamaha R1 fork and brake calipers, and an R6 swingarm. Bodywork combines an R1 upper fairing with Ducati 999 tank and Desmosedici tailsection. “It’s like four chainsaws strapped to a bicycle,” says Lawlor about his bike. His t-shirt depicts a hyena, an animal with the same compact powerhouse look and temperament as his bike.
Best Violation of Maximum GVWR
Master mechanic John French brought his Honda MotoCampo, the mini-scooter originally sold in Japan along with ’81-83 Honda metro cars. Foldable, it was stowed in the auto’s trunk. The car would be parked on the outskirts of congested Tokyo, and the commuter/rider would unfold the bars, pegs and seat before putting off to work. Would still come in handy when your Tesla runs out of juice.
Best Kickin’ Up a Ruckus
After Carlos Perez bought a modfied Honda Ruckus, he dropped another chunk of change by swapping the two-stroke engine with a 150cc four-stroke motor and a Yoshimura pipe, plus a new front end. Says Carlos, “People easily throw $10k into these bikes… it’s a money pit.” He’s claims hitting 69 mph on what he calls “The Battle Ruck.”
Best of Best of Show Bike Show Winner
Gary Bjorling’s rare 1996 Honda Repsol NSR250SP took home the BoS gearful trophy. The liquid-cooled two-stroke made 40 hp at 9000 rpm and weighed about 300 lbs. dry. The SP was last sold in 1996, and the bike painted in Repsol colors to celebrate Mick Doohan’s second-consecutive win in the GP500 class on the factory racer NSR500.
Best I’ll Take You in the Next Corner Moment
Shonn from San Diego on his munchkin sidehack goes mini-wheel to mag wheel with Stacy Porter, winner of the “Stage 13 Porting Award” for his highly tuned RD400 in period Yamaha racing colors.
Best I Shrunk the Race Bike
Sean Wika crunches into a 1998 Honda Factory Road Racer RS125. Sold to licensed AMA competitors in all white, owners then added their own paint scheme and sponsor decals, etc. The RS now qualifies for AHRMA vintage racing events.
Best First Place Kawasaki Winner
Nick Cook (who happens to live next door to the famous Cook’s Corner motorcycle gathering point) scored the gold for his meticulously restored 1973 Kawi 750 H2 Triple.
Best I’ve Never Seen it Before
Except for the pipe, it’s a stock Yamaha production bike, just not one we got in the U.S. The liquid-cooled 200cc 2-stroke was produced in 1986-87 only for the Japanese market and featured 34 hp in a 253-lb. trellis-framed package.
Best Rat Bike but Please Don’t Call it a Rat Bike
While the show judges classified it as a rat, owner Sam Hoffman sees Spanish built Bultacos as works of art, including his daily rider 1976 Alpina. Designed as trail and trials model, it was converted to street legality for the U.S. market.
Best Hope that High-Pipe-Heat-Shield-Works Bike
Seemingly fresh off the Suzuki showroom floor is a Suzuki TS250 Savage, perhaps a 1969 model, being taken for a spin by a couple obviously enjoying the ride.
Best Don’t Tread on Me Bike
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s a Rokon, the all-terrain two-stroke first appearing in 1954 and made in the USA, with various models called the Trail-Breaker, Ranger, Scout and Moto-Tractor. The wheels could carry 2.5 gallons of water or gasoline. The company went bust in 1978 but was reborn and still in production the last time I looked. The tank-tough Rokons maintain a fervent fan base.
Best Not-a-Two-Stroke but has a Beer Rack
EMT specialist Angelo Ghiglieri rode in on his ’89 BMW GS 100R. Its engine is now a big valver fed by 40mm Bing carbs; muffler is Yoshimura titanium carbon fiber originally designed for a Hayabusa. A BMW K-bike front end rolls an 18-inch wheel. “I shortened the frame but left the GS rear rack, so it’s the only café racer with a beer rack.”
Best Tall Man in the Saddle Bike
Sean Wika did not require a ladder to climb aboard the 1991 Honda CR500. Designed for off-road use, it’s rare to see one “certified” street legal, in this case thanks to a ‘90s Baja Designs kit (and, presumably, a blind DMV clerk… –Ed.)
Best Interspecies Friendship
Maybe it was me or the end of the Two-Stroke Rally day pleasantly ringing in my head, but I thought that woodie sidecar’s grill was smiling at my BMW. What’s not to like.
19th Two-Stroke Extravaganza Show Winners
- Best Kawasaki – 1973 H2 750 Nick Cook
- Best Honda – 1996 NSR250 Gary Bjorling
- Best Exotic – Pete Phillips 1966 Bultaco Metralla 250
- Best Yamaha – Dan Patterson 1976 RD400
- Best Daily Rider – Mitch Feingerseth 1972 Kawasaki H2 750
- Best Suzuki – Jose Tejeras 1976 GT550
- Best Restoration – Rodney Peacock 1972 Kawasaki H2 750
- Best Scooter/Moped – George Yamanaka 1971 Suzuki Trailhopper 50
- Best Off Road/Enduro – A Pro’s Touch 1974 Suzuki TM125
- Stage 13 Porting Award – Stacy Porter 1977 Yamaha RD400
- Best Modified – Bill O’Hanlon 1975 Yamaha RD350
- Best Rat Bike – Sam Hoffman 1976 Bultaco Alpina 250
- Best Of Show – Gary Bjorling 1996 Honda NSR250