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.