Two Strokes and a Scandal



Anyone who has had the nerve-jangling, adrenalin inducing pleasure of twisting a fiery two stroke-driven bike through the power band will attest to the fact that the noble and threatened form is far superior to the relatively plodding four stroke.

Motorcyle writer Mat Oxley’s recent book is in part homage to the beauty of the two stroke engine and in part the story of German engineer Walter Kaaden – the man Oxley reckons is responsible for the true performance two-stroke.

According to the author, Kaaden, one of the principle engineers behind Hitler’s on V1 rockets during the war, was invited to join the space programme in the states – but chose to stay in East Germany and work for slightly less glamorous motorcycle manufacturer MZ.

Kaaden’s two-stroke technology ruled GP racing through the sixties through his incredible ability to squeeze lots of power from small displacements. The 1961 MZ 125 was the first normally aspirated engine to make 200 horsepower per litre. The 1964 evolution of this (pictured below) was a beautiful little pocket rocket.


But just as he was on the verge of world title glory Kaaden’s favourite rider Ernst Degner defected to the West and sold Kaaden’s secrets to Suzuki – while Degner’s wife and kids were smuggled through the newly built Berlin Wall.

Oxley goes on to tell how Degner and Suzuki copied Kaaden’s know-how to win the world championship the very next year. The company went on to conquer the world while Degner suffered appalling injuries in a racing accident and died a morphine addict. Difficult not to read this as a cautionary tale of reaping what you sow.

It’s a fascinating story and a beautifully illustrated book: perfect for the petrolhead with an eye for intrigue. Check it out.

Degner (in second place) on the limit