The concept of two-wheel drive motorcycles has been around since as early as post-WWII. Ural was the first one building it into a sidecar, and years later, in the '60s, Rokon's started to manufacture their 2x2 version, the Trail Breaker, which is still in production to this day.
Many motorcycle manufacturers have been building their models throughout the years, such as Suzuki, with their first 2WD idea dating way back to the 1980s. KTM also worked for a while on new technology in the 1990s and concluded that the added 6 kg outweighed the possible benefits of it, and in the '90s, the Australian motorcycle designer Ian Drysdale launched the Drysdale 2x2x2 designed for the Australian army. And not to forget that during the early 2000s, Yamaha produced a limited number of WR450F 2-Trac production models and even raced some prototypes at the Dakar Rally, applying the same principle on the YZF-R1 superbike. But none of those motorcycles were produced on a large scale, unfortunately.
Those earlier concepts fuelled the imagination and gave a taste of what could be achieved with a 2WD. Christini's faced the challenge and came up with their own mechanical as an add-on kit for select Honda and KTM off-road models. Later on, they also started to sell their own AWD motorcycles.
Swiss mechanical engineer Guido Koch also accepted the challenge and started designing his dream AWD bike more than 10 years ago, by almost building an entire brand new motorcycle himself. The only parts that remain from the original KTM bike are the engine, brakes, rear swingarm, and rear wheel; everything else was designed and manufactured by Guido.
With fewer advantages and many disadvantages, too, the 2WD is a market with a lot of room for exploring and developing. A few manufacturers are working on their electric versions with newer technologies that will keep bringing more of those fantastic bikes and, hopefully, a large-scale produced version to popularise the 2WD experience.
Below you can learn more about the bikes mentioned, and a few others:
Within 200cc, the two-stroke XFS had a drive system to the front wheel incorporating a telescopic drive shaft running down in front of the left-hand fork leg, driven by a chain system that took power from the engine to a transfer gearbox near the headstock, only adding a 7.8kg to the bike's weight.
Rokon got around the problem of combining 2WD with front suspension by removing it altogether in their first models and relying on balloon tires. But front suspension has been added to some models afterward.
Ian Drysdale is best known for his V8 motorcycles, but the 2x2x2 was a previous project, featuring a one-off, hand-made two-stroke engine that he designed specifically for the bike; it uses hydraulics to drive everything. Both wheels are hydraulically powered, and there's steering at both ends, too – also controlled hydraulically. It makes the ride a very interesting experience.
KTM 2WD prototype
Back in 2004, KTM took the hydraulic route to a two-wheel drive, creating a prototype machine that added a hydraulic pump driven by a short chain from the front sprocket and a hydraulic motor to the front hub. That meant there were only flexible hoses taking drive to the front wheel, allowing conventional suspension to be used and eliminating the need for additional gearboxes or long drive chains. Kurt Nicoll rode it at the time and reported it to be impressive, particularly during acceleration on dirt. Later, KTM also patented a hybrid 2WD bike with an electric motor powering the front hub and a conventional engine driving the rear wheel.
Wunderlich Hybrid BMW R1200GS
BMW tuner Wunderlich applied a similar concept as KTM's earlier hybrid electric 2WD patent and applied it to a BMW R1200GS. This electric 2WD version brings a modern generation of batteries, generators, and hub-mounted electric motors and will surely be the future of two-wheel drive.
With electric motors powering both the front and rear wheels, mapping the power delivery, so both work in harmony to be straightforward, and the electric front motor can double as a brake to generate electricity as you slow down.
The two-wheel-drive Yamaha used a hydraulic Ohlins-developed system to power the front wheel, very similar to the one KTM tried on its prototype 2wd machine. Yamaha also experimented with the same 2WD setup on a range of other bikes, up to and including the R1. As always, with two-wheel drive, riders questioned the system but were full of praise for its performance and the extra security it offered, particularly in wet and slippery conditions.
Probably the most famous Suzuki concept ever made, using swingarms both front and rear. These meant the firm could adopt shaft drive to both ends, with the shafts coming straight from the gearbox – one going backward, as on a conventional shaft-drive bike, the other spurring forwards to power the front wheel.
Christini has been offering 2WD conversions for years. Its system is rather similar to the one on the Suzuki XF5, with a second chain driving a transfer box above the engine, then a shaft to another transfer at the headstock that takes the drive to a pair of telescopic shafts running alongside the front forks. A fairly light setup that can be applied to several bikes.