Stealing Speed, by Mat Oxley

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All truly dedicated speed freaks know full well there’s only one real motorcycle engine: the two-stroke. Twice as many bangs for your buck, the two-stroke kicks the ass of any four-stroke. MotoGP, biking’s biggest championship, is only ruled by four-strokes because a few years ago they gave four-strokes a 98 per cent capacity advantage over the 500cc two-strokes. Is that cheating, or what?
But where did the modern two-stroke – the engine that won pretty
much every GP world title from the early 1960s until the MotoGP rules
were rigged in 2002 – come from? The man behind the high-performance
two-stroke was German genius Walter Kaaden, who worked on Hitler’s
rocket programme during World War Two. Along with Soichiro Honda,
Kaaden was the most significant motorcycle engineer of the 20th century.

After the war Kaaden was invited to join the US Space programme.
Along with Werner Von Braun he might have helped create the USA’s
Saturn and Apollo rockets but he preferred to stay home in Communist
East Germany tuning race bikes for skint Commie factory MZ and applying
technology from Hitler’s notorious V-1 ‘flying bomb’ to make the
two-stroke fly like never before.

By the early 1960s Kaaden’s V1-boosted two-stroke technology was
set to rule GP racing – his 1961 MZ 125 was the first normally
aspirated engine to make 200 horsepower per litre. But just as he was
on the verge of world title glory his favourite rider, Ernst Degner,
defected to the West and sold Kaaden’s secrets to Suzuki while Degner’s
wife and kids were drugged and smuggled through the newly built Berlin
Wall. Degner and Suzuki copied Kaaden’s know-how to win world
championship glory the very next year. But while Suzuki and Japan’s
other two-stroke manufacturers went on to conquer the world, Degner’s
life took a major turn for the worse. He suffered appalling injuries in
a fiery racing accident and died the lonely death of a morphine addict.

– Mat Oxley

The dizzying tale of the Kaaden/Degner affair has now been brought
together for the first time in UK author Mat Oxley’s latest book,
Stealing Speed, which covers the whole tale all the way from Kaaden’s
groundbreaking work in World War Two to Degner’s James Bond-style
defection and the enormous impact it had on the world of motorcycling.

Stealing Speed is available on Amazon

  • mototom

    Fabulous stuff, better than a weekend of drinking ‘shine and shooting groundhogs at the Roberts’ ranch in Lodi.

    Got mine ordered today.

  • the_doctor

    Once upon a time, I had a NSR 250. My dad found 2 at our local Harley/Honda/Yamaha shop. Apparently, some flyboy from the base had these imported, but for some reason or another gave them up. This was New Mexico in the late ’90s, so they could give a shit less about emissions. That NSR was like a rocket. Like a V2 rocket! The power band was like /. My dad took his RC51 to Laguna that year, and I took the NSR. Everyone and their mother had a 51, so that little NSR got all the attention on Fisherman’s Wharf. Then I laid it down outside of Salinas, and I let my dad have it. He did an amazing job fixing it up. He had it painted in Repsol livery colors, and it looked like an authentic 250 race bike. Then he decided he wanted something else, and sold it to some dude in Michigan. We packed it up in a freight box, made sure to package it tight. It arrived to the guy crushed. That was so goddamn sad.

    Thanks for posting this story Wes. Sorry I got off on a tangent!

  • Cru Jones

    I remember looking for that book a few months ago, but it was out of print at the time. Good to see it’s available again. 2Ts FTW!

  • fetherston

    Maybe one day some of that yummy clean two-stroke technology will make its way from snowmobiles back to bikes. Until then I have my ’73 RD350 for occasional near-death experiences.

    • Viceroy_Fizzlebottom

      Until they get rid of the stupid law of flat out banning 2 strokes above 50cc it’ll never happen.

      What’s so hard about allowing 2 strokes in the U.S. that can comply with our emissions standards?

  • General Apathy

    Sry to nitpick, but there was no “Apollo Rocket”. There was the Apollo Spacecraft and the Apollo program, but those were all propelled by Saturn rockets..

  • Sasha Pave

    It’s too bad the beloved 2-stroke had such a notorious history.

    I should have never sold my 1985 RZ500. Nothing sounded better, even stock.

  • Eric Warburton

    Where can I get a copy of the book? Amazon aren’t ab le to deliver as of May 2010, any more than Chapters could.