Two Stroke Vs. Four Stroke – My Initial Impressions

I have noticed over the past few years that two stroke dirt bikes are becoming very popular for trail riding.  I suspect that the KTM 300 is one of the most popular dirt bikes being sold today.

I rode a small two stroke bike as a kid, but as an adult, I have only owned four strokes.  I didn’t want to mess with mixing oil in the gas, I didn’t like the smoke of the two strokes, and I didn’t like the noise.

But I am getting really tired of dealing with all of the maintenance required on the newer high-performance four stroke bikes.  In particular, I am tired to dealing with valve issues and expenses.  I am also struggling, as I get older, with the weight of my bike whenever I have to pick it up.

So, I thought it would be nice to try one of the KTM 300 bikes and see what all the fuss was about.  I finally got the chance to try one out on a recent trip to the San Rafael Swell.  I got to ride it for about 45 minutes, as did my son.  I also got to observe the bike in action on a variety of trail types, including some fairly technical rocky hill climbs.  We were able to do some comparisons of a 2013 KTM 300 XC-W two stroke with my 2010 Husaberg FE450.  We also did a little comparing with my son’s 2004 Honda CRF250X.

KTM 300 XC-W, Honda CRF250X, and Husaberg FE450

Keep in mind that I am no expert, and your needs may be very different than mine.  Nevertheless, I thought I would share my impressions in case it is of help to anyone else.

So, between the 450 4T and the 300 2T, which is the better bike?  That is easy to answer – they both are.  In fact, so is the 250.  But it all depends on how you want to use the bike.

Let’s evaluate some of the basic characteristics of each bike…

Weight

My 450 is probably only about 20 lbs heavier than the 250, but that 20 lbs makes a huge difference.  The Husaberg actually feels very light while riding it, but when I have to pick it up or load it in the trailer, the weight is about at my limit on strength.  It is especially problematic when I get tired.

The 300 is even lighter in weight than the 250.  So the 300 clearly wins out in terms of light weight.

Nimbleness

The light weight of the 300 also makes it the most nimble of the three bikes.  It is very easy to throw the bike around and dodge rocks or obstacles.  In my limited test, however, I was surprised that the 250 felt almost as nimble.  The 450 wasn’t far behind either, but from what I have read, the 70 degree Husaberg motor design is supposed to offer a more nimble ride than most 450s.

The nimbleness of the 300 is a huge plus when riding tough technical trails or just playing around on the bike.

Power

The 450 wins in the power department, but I was surprised at how close the 300 performed.  It doesn’t have the same kind of power band as a 4T, but I was surprised at how much low-end torque the bike had.  You do have to shift more frequently than on a big 4T, but it did fairly well grunting up hills.

I have read numerous forum posts about people feeling that the 300 was too powerful and too difficult to handle, so they step down to the 250 or 200.  I did not find this to be the case at all.  Maybe that is because I never ride in the higher rpm range, so I never really got the 300 “on the pipe”.  But for my type of trail riding, the power band was very manageable.

The 250 really lacks in power compared to the other bikes in our informal test.  After letting my son ride the 450 and the 300, he is no longer satisfied with the power output of the 250.

Gearing

I think the 300 XC-W has the same transmission as my Husaberg.  Both are wide ratio six-speed transmissions.  But the overall gearing of the 300 is noticeably lower than my 450.  I would have to shift up to third gear on trails where second would have worked fine on the 450.  That surprised me.  It also means that your top speed on the 300 is somewhat limited – although that isn’t a concern for me.

Ease of Use

I am basically a lazy rider.  With the 450 four stroke, I can often get away without shifting down for a hill, or I can use engine braking to slow me down.  I can let the motor do a lot of the work for me.  The 450 seems to promote laziness.

On the other hand, with the two stroke, you really need to use your controls.  You need to use your brakes and you need to frequently shift gears.  You have to be a better rider on a two stroke.

Sound

A two stroke puts out a higher pitched sound than a four stroke.  They can sound a little ‘whinny’.  But if properly tuned up, it is probably quieter than a 450 four stroke.  When close by, the higher pitch is a little more irritating, in my opinion, but it isn’t overly loud.  I was surprised that while riding the bike it didn’t seem loud at all.

Vibration

The two stroke definitely has a lot more vibration than a four stroke.  It is immediately felt when you first start to ride – especially in your feet.  But to my surprise, I got used to it within a few minutes.  It didn’t seem to bother me at all.

Conclusion

So, what is the best bike for you?  It depends on what type of rider you are, and what type of rider you want to become.  I found that in many ways the 250 felt a lot like the 300 – you had to shift more often and it has softer engine braking.  It didn’t have nearly the power of the 300, but the riding style was similar.

Here is my summary of criteria that may help you decide which bike is your best selection.

300 Two Stroke:

The 300 two stroke is the bike of choice if:

  • You want a light and nimble bike that is just plain fun to ride.
  • You want to become a better skilled rider and really learn to use the controls.
  • You don’t mind dealing with mixing oil in the fuel.
  • You want to avoid the time consuming and expensive maintenance of four strokes.

The 300 2T is right at home in the rocky stuff

450 Four Stroke:

The 450 four stroke is the bike of choice if:

  • You like to cruise along and let the bike do the work for you.
  • You don’t mind doing regular maintenance.
  • You, like me, are basically a ‘lazy’ rider.
  • You don’t want to deal with two stroke fuel, smoke, or sound.
  • You want a dual-sport bike.

The 450 is great for cruising

250 Four Stroke:

The 250 4T class bike is the bike of choice if:

  • You want a four stroke, but you don’t need the power of a 450.
  • You are a casual rider or you lack experience.
  • You are light in weight (unlike me).

Jumping off ledges on the 250.

Update:

During August I got a second chance to ride the KTM 300 out at Knolls.  This helped me resolve a few questions I have been wrestling with.  My son really needs a bigger bike, so I lowered the 250X so my daughter could move up from her crf230.  My son doesn’t want a 450, so it comes down to either a 300 2T or a 350 4T.  In fact, a KTM 350 XCF-W is the bike I wanted to buy, but it didn’t come out soon enough so I bought the Husaberg.

After my second ride on the 300 I concluded the ONLY thing I like about the 300 is the light weight.  For my riding style, the 4T is just a better choice.  If I were more in to technical single track riding, I would go for the 300.  But most of my rides are family oriented scenic type rides.  Plus, we are now getting in to dual-sport riding.

According to the specs, the 350 XCF-W is the same weight as our 250X, and I could handle that weight okay.  So now I want to start saving my pennies to buy a 350.  Or maybe two – one for me and one for my son.

Update #2:

I decided to buy a 2014 KTM 350 XCF-W, so I thought I would throw that into the mix.  Last week I swapped bikes with my friend’s KTM 300, so we could each compare.  My friend did not like my 450 – he said it was a “tractor”.  But he really liked the 350.  He likes his 300 better, but he thought he could ride the 350 longer before getting tired.  He felt it was a more relaxed ride.

I could tell the 300 was lighter than the 350, but not by a lot.  The 300 is a bike that makes you want to play around as you ride.  The 350 is more nimble than my 450, but not as nimble as the 300.

For my riding style, the 350 is the perfect bike.  He has enough power for my needs and it feels much lighter than the 450.  I can ride it comfortably all day long.  I find that I stand much more on the 350 than the 450 even though I tried to set them up exactly the same.

I think the 350 makes the 4T vs 2T decision harder.  They are both super fun bikes.  They have different power bands, sound, and maintenance requirements.  So it really comes down to which of those characteristics matter to you the most.

Advertisements

About gardinerfamilyadventures

A really great family!
This entry was posted in Dirt biking, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Two Stroke Vs. Four Stroke – My Initial Impressions

  1. Richard says:

    Excellent I have been driving my self crazy on which one to get for all the same reasons so 350 it is many thanks from the UK

  2. Don Watkins says:

    WOW what a great family I am envious. I am just about to pull the trigger on a new KTM 2014 250 XCF-W. You really do not discuss the KTM 250F. I am hearing about maybe not enough power so now I am wondering about a 350F which is 4lbs heaver. I have a 2012 WR450 and feel like the bike has control of me on trails. Hence the 250. I will not race and 60 years old and don’t like picking them up either at the end of the day. Trailer loading or truck is hard for me on the 450. So is the 350f best because it is only 4 lbs heaver? It will have the inertia of a bigger engine spinning and will that make it feel heaver. I am ready to buy. Oh there is that 1,000 dollars more issue too.
    Love your family and live the website.

    Don

  3. Be sure to read my review of the 350. In my opinion, the very best “pure” trail bike is the KTM 300 two stroke and the very best small dual-sport/adventure bike is the KTM 500 four stroke. But since I can’t afford both, the 350 is the best “do it all” bike. I am in the process of getting my plated so I can do some dual-sport rides with it.
    My daughter has recently moved from a Honda CRF230 to a Honda CRF250X. I lowered the 250 for her so she could reach the ground a little better, but she is still nervous on it. When she first rode my new 350 she instantly fell in love with it. She said she felt safer on it than she did the 250x, even though it is taller. It felt lighter and the handling was more precise. She said it went where she wanted it to go.
    I know someone that switched from a 250x to a KTM 250 and said it is much better and easier to pick up. But for me, the 350 is the better choice. It would be better than a 250 on the pavement if you want to dual sport, and the extra power would be nice unless you are very light weight. If you install the map switch and set it to “mild” I figure it would be similar to a 250 on “wild” (approximately).

  4. Pingback: Choosing a Dual-Sport Bike – 2014 | Gardiner Family Adventures

  5. Josh says:

    Great post! Like a lot of riders trying to pick the right bike, I’ve grappled with this choice for months. For me the choice was between the KTM xcf500 and the Husaberg TE 300.
    I pulled the trigger on the Husaberg because for my current riding, I wanted the nimbleness of a playful, yet powerful bike that I can experiment with in light trials stuff, gnar through tight, rough single track and still keep up on the open two-track.
    My CRF250R 4t has been a fun ride but is really happiest on a MX track . Constant clutch work and feathering in the woods and underpowered in the open range, it was a good starter for more serious off-road from pushing my big GS to the limit.
    My big GS will fill most of my dual sport needs and beyond. If I want to play rough and get a few thrills, I’m hoping the TE300 won’t disappoint.

  6. What a great site you have here. I love that your whole family enjoys these adventures together. I hope my son (3) and daughter (5) will be able to do the same some day. They love all things internal combustion like their dad. I’m looking at a used 2010 Husaberg FE390 for now that I can set up for some light dual sporting but mostly trails. I was originally looking for a DRZ, but the used prices are just crazy on these. I tried to get back into 2 wheels about a year ago and purchased a used 2005 GasGas EC250. It was at that time I realized I didn’t like 2 strokes anymore…like I did when I was a kid.

    • I also rode a two stroke as a kid, but now prefer the four stroke. I got back in to riding when my oldest son was 14. I wanted an activity that he would do with the family as a teenager. Dirt biking works for that! When my youngest daughter was 9, she got to ride an xr70. She had a grin from ear to ear. I knew we had to get one of those. My youngest son used to ride behind me. When he turned 8 and earned his Utah safety certificate, he waved it in my face and said; “now I don’t have to ride with you any more”. He didn’t like me tipping over with him on the back. All of my kids have loved the sport.

  7. Martin Green says:

    Hi, I publish a club magazine in the UK for two-stroke enthusiasts. I like your impartial assessment of two and four stroke bikes. Can I please publish your “Two Stroke Vs. Four Stroke – My Initial Impressions” for our members to read? Please state any acknowledgement you require. Many thanks for your consideration.

  8. Marcus Mather says:

    I like your review, but unlike everyone else it think it pushed me more to the ktm 300. I thought I wanted the ktm 350 for the road sections and refueling reasons. But at the end of the day I’m still riding off road. Here in Ohio our dual sport rides are 20% to 40% on pavement . So I’m going to go with the bike the dose better in the woods. The other part of my decision is price and maintenance . The 350 is over $1000.00 more then the 300, and the 300 will be a lot easier to maintain then the 350. That doesn’t make the 350 a bad bike. I have rode them both and like them both. Just think the 300 will suit my needs better. Thanks again

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s