Back to the Future : 100CC Air Cooled Engines

While karting arguably was at its peak in the late 90’s- early 2000’s. It appears we are seeing a bit of a renaissance for karting and motorsports in general. Why it’s happening ? well there are many running theories: maybe it’t the growth in indoor karting, the Netflix effect or the pandemic that inspired many to find a new hobby. Either way it seems karting is trending in a similar direction.

20 years ago the main engine platforms were highly tuned 100cc air cooled engines that provided a handful to drive and a scream that drivers of yore dream of to this day. While that same scream will not return, the 100cc platform has and could offer karting the perfect solution for entry level racers.

There is no surprise that people enjoy the excitement of 2 stroke karts, they come off the corner like a rocket ship, they fly down the straightaways and are everything that racers want to drive. However in the past the cost has been the achilles of 2 stroke. Now with the new formulas such as the ROK VLR we are seeing these motors limited to 16,000 RPM (yes, that’s limited) and with a simple wiring and clutch system they are user friendly for anyone who wants to drive. With the air cooling there is no need for costly cooling systems which add weight and more parts to fail. The limited engines will run for a long time before any service is necessary and being air cooled there are less parts to be changed out during a major services.


So here’s some data we collected over years of doing our intro to karting track days.

We ran programs for first timers where they could try a proper race kart on a full size track to see if karting is the sport for them. In year one we used 2 stroke water cooled ROK engines which for many were a bit too much power and temperamental for that particular type of use. However for those who were really looking for the thrill of karting it was something they couldn’t walk away from. Some would call me 3-4 years later saying they couldn’t stop thinking about their track day and wanted to buy a kart and get out there on a steady basis. The other thing that really stood out was in that particular year we saw an 8% conversion rate of drivers who came and then purchased a kart and many of which are still to this day members of our local karting scene.

For year 2 we expanded our fleet, added more karts, and more everything to improve the experience. One of the changes we made was we mounted all new Briggs LO206 engines for a more reliable and manageable experience. We were greeted by many who were excited and not one person went home unhappy or unsatisfied with their track experience, however there was a somewhat noticeable change in their tones. What it had become was a high performance “rental kart” day and that was it for them, been there done that type of vibe. That year we saw a 1.5% conversion rate. The Briggs just wasn’t getting into peoples blood stream like the ROK had done the year before.

Since having run those programs I came to the realization that there needs to be something that bridges the gap between the “fun rental day” and an authentic racing kart experience in order to get peoples interest in order to commit to the sport.

Now with these engines available on the market it appears we have the perfect entry point for karting and while Briggs continues to stumble with production and supply issues could we see this be where the hobby racer goes. We all love watching the packs of LO206 racers going wheel to wheel but I don’t think anything would be more fun to watch than if those same racers had on of these 100cc power plants strapped on to their karts in a grid 30 drivers deep. Much like Briggs they have a much more drivable power band for those allowing for close tight racing, they are less physical than that of their 125cc counterparts so physically they are a bit more forgiving making them the perfect successor to a 4 stroke problem that could likely stumble in the next few years if it continues at the current pace.


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