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Changing Face of SX

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The Changing Face of Supercross

6/20/2006

By Chris Webb

Photos by Ken Faught and Chris Webb

MotoUSA contributor, Chris Webb takes a look back at the Supercross season after a couple months of reflection. The topic has been raised before, but a strong showing in the 2005 SX series gave 2-stroke fanatics a resurgence of hope. Now, with another season in the history books, the faint ray of light has been snuffed out, and 2-strokes have disappeared in a wisp of premix smoke. - Ed.

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The Changing Face of Supercross:

4-Strokes Make a Break For It.

Something has gone quietly in the night, maybe not so unnoticed but without much fanfare for sure. The high pitched, buzzing resonation of a 2-stroke bringgg-ding-dinging out of the AMA Supercross gates has been completely overshadowed and out-barked by the deep, throaty roar of the 4-strokes.

Who-da-thunk-it that a full nine years after Doug Henry's first-ever 4-stroke Supercross win, 95% of the field for the 250cc main were Thumpers. It can safely be said that most of us knew it was coming, however, few would've bet as soon as the 2006 season.

Call it the end of an era, the beginning of a new. The downfall of the wasp and the rise of the bear (if you're the melodramatic type). Call it whatever you want, 4-strokes have already claimed the Outdoor series, and now for the coup de grace, they've taken over Supercross, and done so in commanding fashion. Only two 2-strokes were zinging around in Anaheim 1's premiere class, compared to the overwhelming number last year. Of 17 factory and satellite Honda riders not a single one rode a 2-stroke for the entire season.

The major differences from a spectator's standpoint is the noticeably different assault on the senses. The sounds of the 4-stroke compared to the 2-stroke are like baritone and soprano. The ring-a-ding-ding of the venerable 2-stroke is now completely dwarfed by the thunderous roar of throaty 4-strokes. You now leave a Supercross race with the tell-tale ringing in yours ears usually attributed to a mullet-inspiring Guns 'n' Roses concert.

Another dissimilarity is the smell. Some love it, some don't. To me the smell of high-octane race gas is sweeter than roses. There's something emancipating about knowing your bike runs on fuel so pungent it burns the eyes, throats and nostrils of thousands of people watching you.

From a rider's perspective there are some striking differences as well. Stalling becomes a frightful and very real possibility. These steeds are wound up so tight that killing one in the middle of a moto might mean do-or-die time in the last chance qualifier; even worse is a mid-final stall. Not only does it cost you those precious points, it might cost you the season if you're in the hunt. Picture James Stewart stalling in one of the Anaheims and being unable to restart his machine, ouch indeed. Chad Reed said it best at the opener press conference when he said that "you can't win this championship in one race, but you can lose it in one."

Also, as a 2-stroke rider you might have a distinct advantage or disadvantage because the lines developed by 4-stroke riders are inherently different. Thumper pilots will use their massive amounts of torque to use shorter take-off lines and cut inside turns. This could potentially be a positive for the 2-strokes if degradation of the track becomes an issue. However, more likely than not, it will just be a hindrance.

It's not exactly a surprise; everyone knew eventually the Thumpers would supplant 2-strokes. The question was always when and who would lead the change. Having Ricky Carmichael, Stewart and Reed on their respective 450s during Supercross season was pretty much the death toll for the 250cc 2-stroke.

Carmichael said it best when at the Anaheim 1 press release he stated that "if you're riding a 2-stroke, you're going backwards." Stewart also gave it his seal of approval when he said "the 4-stroke is the way to go. it's more consistent and it feels like you don't have to take as many chances on it." That's a hearty two thumbs up from two of the fastest riders on the planet. RC also went on to say that everyone seems to focus on the bad aspects of a 4-stroke, but never the good.

Don't get me wrong, supporters of the 2-stroke will be around for quite some time. It will also live on in amateur racing, for a while. But this is the true and visible beginning to an end. Let's face it, when the top guys in the sport are riding 4-strokes, the rest of the pack will follow.

There might still be a few situations that a 2-stroke is better suited, Jeremy McGrath's astonishing 4th-place finish at the Phoenix Supercross was a promising indicator, but those situations are fleeting, and MC eventually switched to the CRF450R. Today's 4-strokes are allowing riders to go father, higher, and with less take-off space.

The tractable power delivery that these 450s offer just can't be matched in the wide-open outdoors, even more so in Supercross now because of the weight savings and power improvements. The amount of extensive research and development the manufacturers have been pouring into their 4-stroke efforts is nothing short of amazing, and is also a sizable indicator of where the manufacturers are putting their cards.

Dual exhaust, aluminum frames, titanium pipes, valves, bolts and nuts, magnesium clutch covers, exotic fork materials and complex computers for ignition mapping. These things sound like something out of an F1 press release, but instead they are terms you undoubtedly hear at your local Thumper dealer.

All these exotic materials and designs have driven up the price of your next bike to be but have consequently raised the bar in terms of performance, reliability and competitiveness. All the better for you the customer, as well as the spectator. As we can tell from this past season, the future of Supercross is going to take place without 2-strokes.

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I can understand and accept that 4 strokes are the bike of choice. They sure are a lot easier to ride and less taxing on the rider, in my opinion. But, I must say there is nothing like hearing a 2 stroke at a supercross taking the parade lap and just going brraap over a triple. It's so clean and crisp. I will always remember that sound.

I still love the sound of being behind a 2 stroke when on my 450. They just sound, and smell, so awesome.

Oh well, things always have to change at some point, right?

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