On Sunday 25 September I spent a terrific day among kindred enthusiasts of classic and vintage 2-stroke motorbikes. The 14th Annual Two Stroke Extravaganza, held at Orange County’s motorcycle mecca Cooks Corner in Trabuco Canyon, brought together fans of oily, smoky and obnoxiously loud motorcycles from across the nation. Hundreds of aficionado’s mingled, sharing tales of workshop glory, snapping pictures and revelling in the fine collection of strokers on display. Every era was represented from days long since past to the final throes of the 2-stroke.
Organised by the 2-Stroke Hooligans, a loose band of two-wheel fanatics who are spread about Southern California, spend almost the entire year organising this event. They vote on the best bike in a number of categories (Best Yamaha, Best Kawasaki, and so on) and handed out some very sharp looking trophies to the winners. As I arrived early Sunday morning, unloading my video equipment from my car, I met Ferrell one of the lead organisers of the show. He kindly allowed me to shoot interviews all day long and gathered the other members responsible for bringing the show to life so I could shoot a group interview with them.
There were so many interesting bikes and bike owners I was hard pressed to meet everyone. 4 time Road Race Grand Prix World Champion Eddie Lawson sent down a couple of his pristine Yamaha bikes, in the safe care of Randy Taylor who I spoke with at length. He was baby-sitting Lawson’s rare Japanese import RD500R with less than 2000 miles on the clock, and the absolute cleanest restored RD400 Daytona I have ever seen. The Daytona was easily the most popular bike on display at the show, 14 of this model alone not including the many other variety of RD400 in attendance. Yamaha’s classic air-cooled twin really was a machine that captured the hearts of bike fans that has stood the test of time.
Only one example of Suzuki’s beloved water-cooled GT750, affectionately known as either the ‘Water Buffalo’ or the ‘Kettle’, was on hand at the Extravaganza. However, if this rare beauty was outnumbered by Yamaha’s RD400, it certainly made up for it in quality of the restoration. Dressed in a gorgeous hue of blue-green pearl, this buffalo was more beauty than beast. Not a dirty bolt was to be found on its engine casings, which were polished to a gleaming finish. And it featured the most wicked crackle from it’s expansion chambers, loud and gloriously brittle, better than anything else I heard that day. This GT was no showroom poseur either, it was am everyday rider. Fabulous. It stole my heart.
Not surprisingly, many a Kenny Roberts signature RD350 were there, both LC and YPVS models, resplendent in Yamaha America yellow and black popularised by King Kenny’s race livery. Roberts and Yamaha are legendary among US race fans, and the era the Northern Californian represents is steeped in 2-Stroke mythology.
Many a grand prix race replica was there for all to behold. These spoke to me in my language, as I grew up around this era and genre of bike. Late 80’s early 90’s fiercely powerful track-bred machines were the models myself and my bike-mad friends grew up lusting after. And to see so many lovingly restored racers presented here took me back to my formative years. A Rothmans Honda NS250R, a couple of Suzuki RG500s, several Yamaha RD500’s, a glorious Suzuki RGV250 in Revvin’ Kevin Schwantz Lucky Strike paint. And a completely custom TZ/RD500 in Gauloises colours that could have been ridden by Christian Sarron it looked so good.
The show stopper, however, for me had to be the jaw-dropping Spondon-framed, ultra-trick RG500R. Featuring custom components and race parts like a dry clutch, Ohlins suspension, Brembo brakes and the obligatory Kevin Schwantz Lucky Strike #34 livery this bike was flawless in every way. The build quality of the English chassis, the authentic look of the assembly, the custom welded titanium expansion chambers under the solo tail unit. Everything had the appearance this had just come off the track, and with big fat slick tyres on it sure looked like it had. Yet this monster was registered for the street and saw frequent highway action. Amazing. I’m not ashamed to say I drooled with envy.
Ferrell expressed to me, as the event drew to a close, that Southern California is a hotbed for 2-stroke fans and owners. Stemming from the Southland’s long heritage as the home of the hot-rodder, the same mentality and attitude to building, restoring and customising prevails in the bikes shown off at the Extravaganza. Even despite California’s aggressively anti-stroker environmental laws that long outlawed these bikes from being imported. Thanks heavens the lawmakers were unable to stifle the smokers on two wheels for ever.
Those environmental lawmakers would have had coronaries at noon this particular Sunday. This is the time scheduled for the ‘Smoke Out’, where every bike in attendance is fired up and the air is filled with the blue haze and smell of burnt pre-mix 2-strokes are known for. It was quite something to behold, as the ring-a-ding-ding echoed off the hillsides.
Coming away from the event I was overwhelmed by how beloved these bikes were, by their owners who cared for them like children and by fans who longed for their own. I count myself in the latter group, totally desiring a 2-stroke project bike. One day, it is my goal to have a bike on display at the Extravaganza.
The video I shot will be edited shortly, so stay tuned, I’ll be uploading that in short segments. Please check out the slideshow of some of the photo’s from the event, and if you like them, the full photoset can be found on Flickr.