RIP Friedhelm Zabel – Tribute

28/10/2020

The International Sidecar Motocross fraternity is this week collectively mourning the loss of one of its most influential people.

It is possible to count on one hand the individuals who through their own dedication over decades, have enabled this unique sport to survive and indeed thrive. Friedhelm Zabel was one such man who devoted his life to the development and evolution of the big single cylinder two-stroke engine used extensively in the sport.

At a time in the mid-eighties, when large, heavy and expensive four-strokes ruled, it became clear that another option was available.  Many major manufacturers had big-bore 500cc two-strokes, which were tried with varying degrees of success in sidecar outfits, but one manufacturer stood out. The German Maico concern, already winners of solo crowns, had a large, robust air-cooled two-stroke with a strong clutch and gearbox.

It was to this engine that Zabel turned his focus. His initial efforts were confined to big-bore conversions for Maico solo machines, but these engines quickly found their way into the sidecar motocross world. He knew the demands and requirements needed to make this engine a winner with two men on board and three-wheels to carry along. Years of development and improvements including water-cooling and ever-larger cylinder capacity, resulted in a complete Zabel engine being produced. The latest version of this engine is in 700cc form and features hydraulic clutch and many other refinements.

No fewer than fifteen world titles have been won on Zabel machinery, with Kristers Sergis and Artis Rasmanis lifting the first in 1998. In two-stroke terms, Zabel is THE engine to have and Mr. Zabel leaves an incredible legacy. In a year which has already seen all sport disrupted beyond our imagination, this news is a hammer-blow which many will struggle to come to terms with. The finest tribute we at WSC can pay him is to hold the Zabel brand on high and look forward to many more world Championships to come.