Motorcycle technology has come a long way since the invention of a motorized two-wheeler. One area of substantial progress is the motorcycle engine—however the very common four-stroke motorcycle engine we know today wasn't always a mainstream engine design. Before the rise of four-stroke engines, there were two-stroke machines: loud buzzing engines that produced a significant amount of power for the engine size and plumes of smoke with it. Two-stroke engines were widely used many decades ago due to the simplicity of the engine design, ease of maintenance, low cost to produce, and significant power gain for the size. Since the turn of the century, however, two-stroke engines have slowly been fading away from our roads—and arguably for a good reason. If you're curious to know more about this beloved engine design and if you can legally ride a two-stroke engine in the Philippines, we've got you covered.
What is a two-stroke motorcycle?
All combustion engines work in very similar ways: air and fuel are sucked into the engine and are then compressed and ignited. The explosion inside the engine produces energy and pushes the piston down to power your wheels. While this high-level view of engines applies to most if not all combustion engines out there, there are some fundamental differences between four-stroke and two-stroke engines. Four-stroke engines require four movements of the piston moving down, then up, then down, and up again. These four strokes complete one combustion cycle for the piston, and the cycle repeats all over again to produce more power for your motorcycle. As you may have guessed, two-stroke engines only require two movements of the piston to produce power, which means that your crankshaft will have to spin less to produce the same amount of power, hence the simplification that at the same RPM, two-stroke engines will produce more or less double the amount of power over a four-stroke engine.
We get it, more power is better. Your 125cc two-stroke engine will produce almost as much power as a 250cc four-stroke engine. However power isn’t everything, and if you’ve ever gotten annoyed at or felt dizzy due to smokey motorcycle exhausts, then you might already know why two-stroke motorcycles aren’t so popular anymore. The fact of the matter is that two-stroke engines produce emissions that are far worse for the environment than four-stroke motorcycles.
Because of the inherent design of a two-stroke engine oil will need to be fed into the combustion chamber in order to lubricate the piston as it moves up and down. Combined with the fact that the combustion process of a two-stroke engine is less efficient than a four-stroke, emissions and pollutants from these engines are significantly more harmful than that of four-stroke engines. Emissions from two-stroke engines produce 800% of the number of toxic Hydrocarbons when compared to four-stroke engines and contribute significantly to greenhouse gas buildup and climate change. On top of this, the smoke produced by the tailpipe is an added annoyance to average motorists, having to take in the exhaust smell and dizziness that may come with it. As such, global climate protection movements and policies over the past decade or so have sought to ban two-stroke engines from day-to-day use, and the Philippines is no exception.
In 2003, the Philippine Land Transport Organization (LTO) released a statement that two-stroke motorcycles will no longer be eligible for registration due to it being a large source of air pollution. On top of this, the Philippines has also banned the importation of two-stroke motorcycles for public use. There are still brand new two-stroke dirt bikes you can purchase from dealerships, however, these motorcycles cannot be registered with the LTO and can only be used for recreation such as on motocross parks or on private trails. So why are there still two-stroke motorcycles around? While policies may be in place to prevent the sale of brand new two-stroke motorcycles and the registration of two-stroke motorcycles, two-stroke motorcycle owners have still claimed that as long as emissions are passed, then the motorcycle will be registered.
So to put this quite simply, two-stroke motorcycles cannot be purchased brand new for public use and cannot technically be registered with the LTO. That being said, two-stroke motorcycles are not totally inaccessible to the average enthusiast. There are still many older two-stroke motorcycles for sale in the second-hand market or brand new ones from KTM and Beta available today. The majority of these two-stroke motorcycles are built to tackle dirt—either as a trail bike, enduro bike, or motocross bike. These platforms make for great off-road machines due to the zippy and powerful engine and the lightweight that comes with the simplicity of a two-stroke motorcycle. However, if you were to purchase any of these motorcycles, do note that they will be disallowed for use on public roads.