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There’s nothing on two wheels that delivers quite the same visceral thrills as a two-stroke engine.
With a hit of power available every two strokes of the piston, they produce a much bigger bang for your buck than a four-stroke engine of the same displacement.
It’s what made the 250cc two-strokes such formidable racing machines, and led to a plethora of racing replicas for the road in the 1980s and early ‘90s.
And it’s what gets the adrenaline pumping for Paul Shorthouse, who owns no fewer than five two-stroke engine bikes, mostly from the early 1990s.
A pair of Suzuki RGV250s is joined by a Yamaha TZR250 3XV, a Kawasaki KR-1S C3, and a Honda NSR250 SE – plus a four-stroke Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 he won in a competition in 1990.
Visitors to the Bikesure stand at Motorcycle Live at the NEC in Birmingham, between November 16 and 24 will be able to see the Yamaha and Kawasaki KR-1S close up.
Paul, who lives in Nottinghamshire, describes himself as “a biker through and through”, with a specific passion for the two-strokes he lusted after in his formative years.
There was no history of motorbikes in the family but, like many teenagers in the late 1980s, Paul and his friends got heavily into riding 125s on provisional licences, and the passion for bikes remains today.
Now 49, he says: “The two-stroke 250s were the bikes that I wanted when I was a kid but I could not afford anything like that at the time.
“I’m older now and have got more money, so I decided to buy the bikes and also started restoring them myself.”
So what’s so special about these little lightweight road racers?
“I’m a big two-stroke engine fan – they’re more fun than the four strokes,” says Paul, an electrician by trade who has taught himself motorcycle mechanics. “They’ve got a power band, you’ve got to keep them on boil all the time. You’re always up and down the gears.
“It’s also the noise and the smell, and because they’re lighter they corner a bit quicker than the bigger bikes.
“They’re great fun, but they’re probably a bit more dangerous than the newer bikes because they don’t have the modern technology.
“You have to keep your hand on the clutch in case they blow up!”
When it was launched in 1990, the Kawasaki KR-1S was hailed as the quickest mass-produced, 250cc two-stroke on the market, with a raw, zingy engine that revved freely up to 12,000rpm.
Performance Bikes Magazine achieved a staggering top speed of 139mph, and the bike, a parallel twin throughout its two-year production, was announced the world’s fastest at Bonneville Speedway.
Low production numbers of less than 10,000 make it highly collectible today.
Paul bought his example, a 1992 C3 model, about four years ago as an original bike in good condition, with only 10,000 miles on the clock.
The Yamaha TZR, on the other hand, was in a “really, really bad state” when he bought the Japanese import, on Japanese plates, about two years ago.
“I fully stripped it down and rebuilt it,” he says. “Restoring them is half the fun, I really love that part of it.”
Paul’s TZR is the V-twin 3XV model, which replaced the parallel twins in 1991 and remained in production until the model’s demise in 1995.
Loosely based on the Yamaha TZ250 racing bike, the TZR250 was the perfect mix of race technology and practical useability.
Lightning fast steering geometry made it the perfect bike to throw around twisty country roads, while it was also startlingly quick off the mark, but nowhere near as quick as the Kawasaki at the top end, maxing out at 114mph.
Paul says he rides all his bikes, although one of the RGV250s is currently in bits awaiting a rebuild.
“They’re all taxed and insured, I just go out on one, come back and go out on another,” he says, often drawing admiration from fellow bikers.
“Everybody loves them – people crowd around them because they are the bikes everybody used to have. People will say ‘I had one of them, I wish I had kept it’.”
Far from scaling back on his collection, Paul is more likely to add to it in the coming years.
“I’m more likely to buy more, to be honest,” he adds. “I’d like an Aprilia RS250, which has a similar engine to the RGV.”
Few men are more committed to this glorious era of two-stroke mayhem.
Why not come and see his bikes at Motorcycle Live, where Bikesure is celebrating the 1990s, a wild and wonderful decade for bikers.