2023 Langen Two Stroke 250 Road Test
Back to the Future!
It’s pretty gratifying to discover a youthful British entrepreneur’s madcap gamble that he could find sufficient customers ready to stump up the steep price for his self-conceived, self-developed, self-manufactured and self-promoted series production motorcycle that’s unique in today’s marketplace, has paid off. Bingo!
That’s the expression which Wigan, Lancashire-based Langen Motorcycles’ founder/CEO Chris Ratcliffe admits he uttered when he banked the deposit for his breakeven bike, no. 30 of the 100 examples of the nowadays unique limited edition Langen Two Stroke streetbike he’d brought to the marketplace. This came after it broke cover in September 2020 at the prestigious Salon Privé motoring garden party held in the grounds of Britain’s largest stately home, Blenheim Palace. Langen’s 250cc V-Twin debut model unveiled there defied convention by reviving the performance two-stroke engine for street use.
It’s been almost two full decades since the much-loved road-legal ring-ding race replicas like the Suzuki RGV250 and Aprilia RS250 two-stroke twins disappeared from European dealer showrooms in 2004, victims of ever-tightening emissions and noise environmental edicts. But now, thanks to a downright improbable tie-up between a group of current and former Ferrari engineers in Italy, and the British designer who invented the hard-nosed hooligan bikes now sold so successfully by England’s historic offroad brand, CCM, the wait for the strokers’ resurgence is finally over as deliveries of the Langen Two Stroke start to ramp up.
The new bike is the brainchild of Langen’s Chris Ratcliffe, previously Chief Design Engineer for ten years at CCM Motorcycles in nearby Bolton. There, he established his credentials for thinking outside the box by creating the mental Spitfire and Stealth 600cc single-cylinder four-stroke hotrods headlining today’s CCM range. “Our aim at Langen is to push boundaries by building bikes that are out of the ordinary and heaps of fun to ride, which we hope will please people interested in something completely different,” says Chris. “This is the first of several unusual but exciting such models we plan to deliver in coming years.” Sounds like the Langen motto of ‘We Do Things Differently Here’ is justified.
Indeed so, for as it says on the label, Langen’s debut model is powered by a 90° V-Twin 249cc crankcase reed-valve two-stroke engine with twin counter-rotating cranks, that’s being produced for the British company by its Italian engine supplier Vins Motors. Located in Maranello, just a stone’s throw from the Ferrari factory and its Formula 1 race team’s HQ, Vins was founded in 2017 by a group of five Ferrari R&D engineers past and present, headed by Vins CEO Vincenzo Mattia. Over the last six years they’ve worked on developing the liquid-cooled 250cc two-stroke motor fitted in their own leading edge Duecinquanta model, whose structural carbon fiber monocoque chassis incorporates Fior-type carbon wishbone front suspension, as fitted to Brough Superior’s current range of models, and especially the Aston Martin AMB 001 also made by them. Vins has joined forces with Langen to supply a dedicated street legal version of its track-targeted engine to the British company, and has taken care of dyno-tuning the motor to customer ready compliance.
In its street application the Langen’s liquid-cooled Vins V-Twin motor measuring 54 x 54.5 mm produces peak power of 76 bhp at 11,700 rpm at the gearbox, and 33 ft-lb of torque at the same revs – but with a redline of 14,500 rpm. It comes with fully CNC-machined crankcases, and a cassette-type six-speed gearbox, with two-way quickshifter. A combination of Vins-patented direct EFI with two flatslide throttle bodies made in-house with elliptical chokes measuring a 40mm equivalence, twin carbon fiber reed-valve blocks, servo-actuated electronic exhaust valves, and separate oil injection direct to the crank’s main bearings controlled by Langen’s Performance Electronics PE3 ECU Vins based its development on, enable the engine to produce those impressive dyno figures while being environmentally-friendlier, highly tractable, completely robust and 100% road legal in the UK, according to Ratcliffe, who will willingly produce the hard-earned British MSVA homologation certificate to show to any doubters!
Power-to-weight ratio is the key to the Langen Two Stroke’s blistering performance, thanks to Ratcliffe’s design philosophy which follows the famous mantra of legendary Formula 1 design guru Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus Cars, that a vehicle designer should “Simplify, then add lightness.” The Two Stroke is claimed to scale just 262 lbs with oil, water and full street equipment but no fuel, split 53/47%, thus delivering an impressive power-to-weight ratio of 655bhp/ton, better than most of today’s one-liter Superbikes.
The Langen Two Stroke’s modular ceramic-coated spaceframe chassis is hand-built from specially-made laser-cut TiG-welded large-diameter (1.5mm dia./3.2mm wall) 7020 T6 aluminum tubing, with a self-supporting carbon-fiber seat unit. The frame’s attached to swingarm pivot plates CNC-machined from aluminum billet, via bonded and machined connection points. The work of art represented by the 600mm-long needle-roller swingarm is made from the same material as the chassis. Fully-adjustable suspension comes via a 43mm TIN-coated Öhlins RWU upside-down fork pivoting in sealed taper-roller bearings and set at a 23° rake with 97mm of trail, and twin direct-action K-Tech Razor cantilever rear shocks with progressive-rate springs, with 120mm of wheel travel at either end. This results in a downright rangy 57.1-inch/1450mm wheelbase in 250GP race rep terms. “But this is ultimately a roadbike, not an outright GP racer,” says Chris Ratcliffe. “We have to make space for people taller than Marc Márquez to sit on the bike! But it’s also mainly all about ensuring high-speed stability when combined with those GP steering geometry stats.”
Twin 320mm Brembo front discs are gripped by UK-made HEL radial four-piston calipers (with a 240mm rear disc and two-piston caliper) CNC-machined in Exeter, Devon from solid billets of 6082-T6 aluminum, while the Langen’s exquisitely-welded 1990’s GP racer-style TiG-welded twin expansion chamber exhausts emit sufficient of the signature smoky sights, sounds and smells to be a nowadays all too rare reminder of the iconic two-stroke racebikes of yesterday. “They’re a dedicated Langen exhaust design for the Vins motor, because we’ve got a different rear suspension layout compared to Vins’ own bike - they don’t have as much rear wheel travel as we do, so the exhaust is packaged differently because of that,” says Ratcliffe. “Packaging the exhausts was one of the biggest challenges in building the bike, because each section has to be identical on both the upper half and the lower half, but you’ve got to avoid the chassis, the rear wheel on its entire travel, and the swingarm on its full pump, so it’s quite a challenge to do that. Right now, the exhausts are manufactured in Italy for us in stainless steel, with a clear ceramic coating, but we’re looking at making titanium ones here in the UK.”
Such bodywork as there is on this minimalist motorcycle is created from hand-laid carbon fiber made using a special resin, and then in the case of both the 3.7-gallon fuel tank and the separate 0.26-gallon oil tank in its forward section, a special lining, too. “Vins actually developed that for us, because part of their business is doing carbon fiber work for Ferrari,” says Chris. “They’ve got a huge autoclave in their Maranello HQ, so they’ve made much larger F1 carbon fuel tanks in the past. This meant that after we developed what the design should look like, they then advised on materials, and built them.”
Each Langen Two Stroke is a handbuilt, bespoke creation which is essentially made to measure for the person ordering it. The price of the high-spec standard model starts at $37,500 tax free, each of them constructed to specific order direct with the factory, with a deposit payable via Langenmotorcycles.co.uk But each bike can be personally tailored to the owner's wishes via a plentiful range of options, ranging from a wide choice of different paint colors, chassis finish and suspension type to wheels, with wire-wheels with anodised alloy rims the default choice, but with Dymag forged magnesium or BST carbon fiber wheels available as an option. The controls layout and ergonomics are tailored to each individual customer, including handlebar type and positioning, seat height, footrest location and rear suspension tuning. It’s very much a bespoke bike built to suit Sir – or Madam, for this is a motorcycle whose light weight and contained 32.3-inch seat height will suit female riders.
The Langen Two Stroke’s acclaimed 2020 debut, and the global publicity that spun out of it, was however frustratingly followed by a standstill caused by Britain’s second, much longer Covid-inspired lockdown. But a successful test program in both Italy and England meant that Langen Motorcycles was finally able to kickstart Two Stroke production at the end of 2022, with the first customer bike delivered to its owner in the Northeast of England on Christmas Eve, in a whole new take on the Jingle Bells tale – as in, ring-ding, Rudolph! Since then, another eleven handbuilt bikes have been delivered, after orders began flowing in fast now that potential buyers could see this project was for real. “Our breakeven point was 30 bikes,” says Chris Ratcliffe, “and we’ve now more than doubled that with 71 bikes under deposit at present [as of July 27]. We’ve sold six of those to Japan, three to the USA and one each to New Zealand, Hong Kong and Australia. While they’re street legal here in the UK, we leave it up to the customers to register it themselves locally – if they wish. However, I know at least two of the overseas owners intend just to use them as track day bikes.”
But if getting orders was one thing, actually building the bikes to satisfy them was another, owing to a shortage of engines coming from Italy. “I think the commercial success of the Two Stroke took Vins a little by surprise,” says Chris Ratcliffe diplomatically. “Initially they couldn’t keep up with our demand for engines, because originally they’d planned to do everything in house, including all the machining, carbon fiber layups, fabrications and assembly - everything. But now they’ve now outsourced most of the machining and component supply to local companies around Maranello who were already used to supplying Ferrari, so can work with small volumes, but to a high quality level. Vins is now exclusively focused on assembly, and on dyno testing each motor before shipping it to us. So we’re starting to receive them in much bigger quantities, and are working hard to catch up with where we should be with deliveries.” Ratcliffe says he’ll cap production strictly at the 100 individually numbered Two Strokes he promised from the start, before moving on to the next Langen model that’s already under development, but which he remains tight-lipped about – beyond saying that, in keeping with his mantra it’s something completely different, and a four-stroke, at that!
My only previous ride on the pre-production prototype Langen Two Stroke had come in 2021 on the damp, slippery roads of the British winter, in a brief window between Covid lockdowns – so a taster, not a test. Which made the chance to ride the finished version on dry surfaces in something approaching anger at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, and to wind the throttle wide open up the Duke of Richmond’s driveway, all the more enticing – especially as in doing so I encountered what felt like quite a different motorcycle than two years ago.
This was confirmed by a much longer day’s ride a week later through the Lancashire countryside behind Chris Ratcliffe on his EBR 1200 Superbike [see photos] – like I said, he does things differently! This sense of dissimilarity came about partly thanks to the intensive work Vins has undertaken in the meantime to refine the power delivery and part-throttle pickup of a motor that began life as a 250GP race engine delivering 95 bhp in typically brusque all-or-nothing manner. This came about via repeated remapping of the ECU to get a more drivable, more tractable response at low revs, so coming off zero throttle is now much better, making the Langen more practical as a real world ride in traffic – but without sacrificing any of the blistering performance up high, as I found riding the bike at Goodwood. Some mechanical changes to the throttle body assembly, including different coatings on the throttle slides themselves, have produced more precise throttle control particularly at low revs, making the Two Stroke a genuinely practical real world ride.
But another key improvement is the quite different riding position Ratcliffe has dialed in via a change to the default handlebar fitted to the bike. The prototype’s adjustable clip-ons clamped to the Öhlins fork under the upper triple clamp have been replaced by a taller flat one-piece Renthal 828 ‘bar mounted in 40mm risers incorporated in the machined-from-solid aluminum fork yoke. This gives a more aggressive but also much more comfortable straight-backed riding stance that’s pure streetfighter, and likely to find favor with most Langen customers in the kind of everyday use that however improbable this ring-ding racebike now invites.
So when I slid my way onto the Langen’s seat at the start of my ride it felt immediately more spacious than I was expecting, although crouching forward over the flat bar also lets you load up the front Dunlop Sportsmart TT tire with your body weight for extra grip in turns, as well as instantaneously correct any momentary loss of grip via the extra leverage that bar delivers. Indeed, this allows you to position the Langen very precisely into a turn, too, and that leverage also lets you strangle at birth any desire for the bike to sit up under hard trailbraking into the corner and head for the hedges on you. It holds a line well on the angle, and despite its light weight it’s very stable both on the brakes and around long, fast sweepers with bumps in them.
So the Langen chassis has undoubted flickability, inviting you to waltz the Two Stroke through a series of third-gear turns with precision and panache. Nice. Plus, the riding stance is that much more upright than on an outright racer, meaning that although there’s a certain amount of weight on your shoulders, it’s not unduly tiring. The beautifully made, albeit thinly padded, leather seat narrows just where it meets the fuel tank giving you a sense of being at one with the bike, while also making it easier for shorter riders to put both feet on the ground at stop lights. It’s a sporty but sane riding stance that's likely to appeal to Langen’s target customer aged 35-plus.
“We find that several of the bikers who walk through the door interested in buying a Langen have a limp or an injury of some sort, and we often discover this came about when they rode two-strokes back when they were 17 or 18 years old!” says Chris Ratcliffe.”For that reason one guy wanted a riding position that was a bit more comfortable on his neck and shoulders, so we developed this clamp riser system which lets us offer three different types of bars with altered sweeps, meaning there’s something for everyone – plus, we can supply the clip-ons as well, in case they want to do a track day with the bike. Renthal are just down the road in Greater Manchester, so they can even make a custom handlebar if necessary.”
Hop aboard the Langen and after activating the keyless ignition via the fob tucked in your jacket, flick on the upper red switch on the right handlebar pod, thumb the button to start the motor and get ready to revel in the unmistakable crackle from those twin exhausts as it instantly catches alight and settles to a 1,500 rpm idle, with trademark wisps of smoke exiting from the silencers. The Vins motor sounds deeper and more butch than you might expect, being ‘just’ a half-size quarter-liter motor versus the last direct-injection two-stroke I’d ridden, the troubled 500cc Bimota Vdue back in 1996 - but that was probably due to the intake roar from the Vins motor’s forward facing throttle bodies. But then I thought back to the last time 15 years ago that I’d been honored to ride a bike with an engine like this which had sounded pretty similar – except it wouldn’t idle! Excuse the name-dropping, but this was Marco Simoncelli’s 2008 World champion 250GP Gilera, and after a career of track-testing 250GP racers I freely admit that these are my own personal Ultimate Rides – fast enough to be thrilling, but not so fast the bike’s in charge, instead of you. In producing 76 bhp against the 107 bhp of SuperSic’s bike while fully street-legal, and weighing 262 lbs half-dry with full street equipment versus the Gilera’s 220 lbs, the Langen Two Stroke is very definitely The Real Thing, a relatively accessible way to enjoy this unique riding experience for yourself, and kudos to Chris Ratcliffe for having produced it.
So snick the one-up race-pattern gear-shifter (easily altered for road mode) into first gear via the light-action clutch lever, which thanks to the sweet-action two-way clutchless quickshifter you need never touch again before coming to rest, and you’re ready to rock, with the needle of the analog tacho with digital speedo and info panel set into the carbon headlamp shroud hovering around the five-grand mark as you feed out the clutch. It needs quite a lot of that to get the eager-revving Langen off the mark, though not as much as a genuine GP racer like the Gilera – inevitably accompanied by clouds of smoke as you do so, which shows the direct oil injection to the crank is working! But the Vins engine pulls like a turbine from low down – it’ll drive away from as low as 2,000 revs without slipping the clutch, though 3,000 rpm is the initial power threshold of what is a triple-layered power band. From there to around 6,500 rpm is the happy zone for coping with traffic, which the Langen is improbably adept at doing. It’s quite content to bumble along at 40 mph in fourth gear in a way the Bimota Vdue absolutely would not – but then, when you spot a space in the oncoming traffic, kick it down two gears and wind on the gas, and there’s an immediate response, with no need to clutch it into the powerband. Midrange pickup is vivid, but controllable – I could definitely appreciate the work Vins has done on smoothing the engine’s transition into the powerband - but between 6,500-7,000 rpm there’s a brief stutter as those beautifully made exhausts clear their throats, before driving much stronger than before to around 9,000 revs – and that’s when things get really exciting!
For above that mark the Vins engine comes on ultra-strong, presumably when the computer-controlled exhaust valves are wide open, and the power delivery hardens with a huge amount of still controllable extra punch that propels the tacho needle into the green-is-good zone. The Langen will rocket down the road as you flick through the gears to keep it on the boil, and winding it up to 13,000 revs in third gear past Goodwood House was an undeniable thrill with the digital speedo telling me I was doing 92 mph past the Duke of Richmond’s front door - and doing the same thing in fourth gear on the long run up the hill to the Finishing Paddock was just as addictive. Wow! Two-strokes rule, OK?? This bike is a street legal reminder of the Way It Was years ago before Dorna murdered the 250cc two-stroke twins in favor of an illegitimate pretender to a World Championship title based on Honda CBR600 streetbike motors that were less powerful than its own World Supersport engines.
Riding the Langen Two Stroke anywhere remotely fast is super thrilling, no other word for it. Everything about the bike is track ready, yet it’s perfectly street friendly, too, especially the meaty HEL calipers gripping the large 320mm Brembo discs. I’ll admit to having initially looked askance at these as maybe too much brake for such a light motorcycle, especially in the absence of the ABS that SuperSic’s Gilera rather improbably had. But in fact it’s a super controllable brake package, with lots of feel, and the ability to modulate the braking response from the front pair of calipers especially. Just ease the brake lever towards you to cram off a little extra speed in a turn, and the Langen just – slows. And the HEL calipers aren’t snatchy – whatever pad compound Chris has fitted worked really well in delivering a soft initial response followed by total stopping power. This is the first bike I’ve ridden with these brakes fitted, and I was impressed. The large 240mm rear stopper is quite strong, and all important not only in helping you slow fast from high speed, but also in the way it assists you in obtaining good balance and stability trailbraking into a bend – just use the rear brake first before the front pair, and you’ve pulled down the rear end for a more balanced stance to the bike as a whole.
While not exactly plush, the twin K-Tech shocks delivered unexpectedly good ride quality for such a light bike, and I could feel the rear suspension rising and falling over bumps in the road surface, so the neo-classic twin-shock rear end was unexpectedly compliant. Coupled with the predictable but exciting power delivery, the excellent power to weight ratio, and the benchmark handling of its sweet-steering chassis, Langen Motorcycles’ debut model has hit the bullseye by providing a literally unique riding experience in today’s context.
The fact that the bike’s a commercial success is just reward for Chris Ratcliffe’s bravery in giving up a well-paid creative job at CCM in favor of striking off on his own. And as he’s at pains to underline, the Two Stroke is just the first new model out of left field that Langen Motorcycles will be delivering to the marketplace in future.
Back to the Future, indeed……it’s Yesterday Once more!
More by Alan Cathcart