A while ago, I told you all about go-kart gears. I briefly mentioned shifter karts, and everyone has been asking me about shifter karts ever since. What are they, are they fast, are they expensive?
Well, shifter karts are the pinnacle of kart racing. Most F1 drivers go through the shifter kart category, and every professional karting racer dreams of becoming a shifter kart champion.
But that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what shifter karts truly are. So, I’ll do my best to explain what shifter karts are, how they’re different from direct-drive karts, and how fast they really are.
What Is a Shifter Kart?
Many wonder what a shifter kart really is. Anyone who’s ever rented a kart knows that karts don’t have gears, right? Well, that’s not quite right. Karts have at least one gear, but they’re usually automatic.
Shifter karts are go-karts that have gears and a manual gearbox. There aren’t many types of shifter karts, with the two actual ones used being 125cc engine and 250cc engine shifter karts. There are also 80cc shifter karts, but these are very rare nowadays, and they’re very similar to regular TaG 125cc go-karts in terms of speed.
Speaking of which, 125cc shifter karts and 125cc regular go-karts are not as similar as expected. While both karts use 125cc engines, shifter karts come with a gearbox, which adds extra weight to the kart. Shifter karts also have front brakes, while 125cc go-karts have rear brakes and hand-operated front brakes.
But, the engines’ power output is also different. Regular 125cc go-karts produce around 40 hp, while 125cc shifter karts produce between 45-50 hp, depending on their class. And, yes, there are different 125cc shifter kart classes.
The two main 125cc shifter kart classes are KZ1 and KZ2. The KZ2 series is a feeder series to KZ1 (just like Formula 2 is to Formula 1), so the karts are slightly different. The main differences are the weight limit, with KZ2 having an extra 5kg (11 lbs) minimum weight, and the power output, with KZ1 having 1-5 additional horsepower.
Then, there are 250cc shifter karts. You’ve probably heard of these as superkarts, and they’re an entirely different beast to manage. Superkart series is the most competitive and challenging in karting, so you’ll need to be the best of the best to partake in them.
As their engine sizes suggest, superkarts have nearly double the horsepower of a 125cc shifter engine, with some having around 100 hp. Most superkarts have around 90 hp. But, they come with some added weight, with their minimum weight being around 190kg (419 lbs).
That’s all well, but how fast do these machines actually go?
How Fast Is a Shifter Kart?
Shifter karts are pretty fast. While I’ll talk about their top speeds below, it’s essential to mention their acceleration and power-to-weight ratio. This way, you’ll understand how fast these karts actually are.
Let’s start off by saying how fast a 4-stroke rental kart is. Many 270cc rental karts use the Honda GX270, which has a 0.16 hp/lbs power/weight ratio. That’s the ratio for the engine alone. Once you include the whole kart, this ratio is much lower.
A race-ready IAME X30 kart, which is widely used by professional racers, has a power/weight ratio of 0.10 hp/lbs. These are much faster than any other regular 2-stroke engine go-karts. But they don’t stand a chance against shifter karts.
A 125cc shifter kart has a power/weight ratio of 0.11-0.13 hp/lbs. This might not sound like a lot, but a shifter kart with a 0.13 hp/lbs is at least 30% faster than an X30 kart, which has a top speed of around 80 mph (129 km/h).
And then there are superkarts. 250cc shifter karts have a power/weight ratio of 0.22 hp/lbs. While this is more than double the ratio of an X30, the difference in speed is a bit less than double.
Taking a closer look at the acceleration of shifter karts, the differences aren’t as vast. Most 125cc shifter karts can go from 0-100 km/h (0-60 mph) in around 3.5 seconds. This is still pretty significant when you consider that they have a minimum weight of 175 kg (386 lbs).
250cc shifter karts have better acceleration, despite being relatively heavier. They can usually do 0-100 km/h (0-60 mph) in less than 3 seconds. I’ve personally not been able to do such a thing with my car on an open road, so I can only imagine how sore you’ll be after racing these beasts.
With that said, let’s look at the main differences between the two types of 2-stroke shifter karts.
Differences Between 125cc and 250cc Shifter Karts
The apparent distinction between the two types of shifter karts is their size. Superkart engines are double the size of 125cc shifter engines, like the Vortex RoK Shifter. So, it would be safe to assume that superkarts are miles ahead of regular shifter karts, right? Well, not exactly.
When it comes to shifters, the kart’s performance depends entirely on the driver. If you put me inside a superkart, I can assure you that I wouldn’t finish a lap without crashing. Those things are just too fast for me.
So, once we’ve taken the driver’s skill out of the equation, the differences between the two engines are pretty straightforward.
Most 125cc shifter karts have a top speed of 80-105mph (129-169 km/h), with some reaching speeds of 115mph (185 km/h). The last ones are usually raced only in specific sprint circuits, which allow for high top speeds.
Superkarts are much faster than 125cc shifter karts. While some have reached 150mph (241 km/h!) in optimal conditions, the most common top speed for 250cc shifter karts is between 130-140mph (209-225 km/h). This is faster than some road cars!
That said, the actual top speed of a go-kart depends on the modifications that the driver has made to the kart. So, these numbers aren’t always true if we put a 125cc and a 250cc shifter kart side-by-side. But, in optimal conditions, a superkart can reach much higher top speeds than a 125cc go-kart.
There’s no doubt that a 250cc shifter engine is heavier than a 125cc shifter engine. But, there’s no point in directly comparing the weights of the engines since shifter karts and superkarts have very different chassis.
So, with that in mind, most 125cc shifter karts, along with the driver, have a weight of 389-441 lbs (176-200 kg). As expected, of all the other categories, 125cc shifter karts are the heaviest by a big difference.
But superkarts are much heavier than 125cc shifter karts. The minimum weight limit for a 250cc shifter kart is between 419-474 lbs (190-215 kg). The issue with superkarts is that parts of their chassis can be added/removed, which alters their aerodynamics and top speed.
With that said, most 250cc shifter kart engines have around 100hp, which is more than two times what some 125cc shifters have.
The cost of both types can vary. I know many drivers who own used karts that they got at a bargain. And, by restoring them, they run optimally. But, I did find a price range for both 125cc and 250cc shifter karts.
125cc shifter karts can set you back $7,500-$10,000. This includes the engine and the chassis. That said, I’ve seen some 3-year-old used shifters for less than $5,000 on the internet, so you should definitely look into the used market.
Superkarts can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000, with most costing between $15,000-$20,000.
With that, I think that while 250cc shifter karts are a winner in terms of performance, they’re also double the price of 125cc shifter karts. And, according to the numbers, they don’t offer double the performance.
But, you could get a brand new single-speed 125cc kart for the price of a used shifter. So, is the transition to shifter karts worth it?
Should You Drive Single-Speed or Shifter Karts?
Transitioning to shifter karts is pretty risky. You need to have many years of experience to be competitive. And, believe me, the shifter kart categories are very competitive.
So, if you’ve not driven go-karts professionally for many years, you should stay at single-speed karts. Once you’ve gained more experience, you could try out shifter karts and find out if they are for you.
Also, I’ve had several of you message me saying that you’ve been driving manual cars for decades, so you want to start out from shifter karts immediately. My advice to you would be not to do that.
Many drivers who start their karting career with shifters never learn the basics correctly. For example, they’re using the engine brake (by shifting down) instead of learning the braking point. Or, they’re shifting up when the kart starts drifting, thus losing a lot of speed.
In such cases, I would always suggest you start with single-speed karts. 125cc single-speed ones are still pretty fast, and they can be a fantastic way to learn all the basics while having an adrenaline rush all the time.
Shifter karts are a totally different machine to handle compared to direct-drive karts. I can’t imagine how difficult it’ll be for someone who races with rental karts to race with superkarts. Or even 125cc shifter karts!
But, shifter karts are at the top of the karting pyramid. So, if you want to become the best karting driver, you’ll have to rise through the ranks and reach these series.
Stay tuned for more articles just like this one!
FAQs for Shifter Karts
Do Shifter Karts Have a Clutch?
Yes, shifter karts have a clutch. Unlike cars, you won’t have to use the clutch when you’re changing gears. But, you must utilize the clutch when you come to a stop or when you start the engine.
How Much HP Do Shifter Karts Have?
Shifter karts have between 45-100 hp, depending on the series they are part of. 125cc engines have between 45-50 hp, with KZ2 ones having 45 hp and KZ1s having 46-50 hp. 250cc engines have between 90-100 hp, with most having around 90 hp.
What Engines Do Shifter Karts Use?
Shifter karts use 80cc (very rare), 125cc, and 250cc engines. The most used shifter kart engines are 125cc since they’re more affordable. But, 250cc engines are also used in special karts named superkarts.
Are 125cc Shifter Karts Better Than 250cc Superkarts?
No, 250cc superkarts are better than 125cc shifter karts in terms of performance. But, they also cost twice as much, and as I mentioned above, superkart leagues are very competitive.
How Expensive Are Shifter Karts?
Used shifter karts cost between $2,500 to $5,000. A brand-new one costs double that. A superkart will set you back at least $15,000.