This was the 2014 Bike of the Year for two big reasons. First, it represents the rebirth of a legendary name in motorcycling. Second, it’s awesome! The Husky 501 has smooth, controllable power and a lot of it. The motor isn’t that far removed from the one that Ken Roczen used to capture the 2014 450 National MX championship. In enduro form, it’s sweet, reliable and formidable.
We confess that the Husky 501 got the nod for Bike of the Year partially because of the name on the tank. Here are two other bikes that could have been chosen. The KTM 500 is very similar to the Husky 501, but has the more traditional PDS no-link suspension. The bike is also offered as a 450. All have incredible power and are loaded with high-end features.
Beta is a smallish Italian company that continues to blow us away with its quality and performance. All of the four-stroke motors in the line got a makeover for 2015. The old 498 became a 480 and the 450 became a 430. The bikes have different personalities, but have the same quality components and smooth power as the 2014 models, with Sachs suspension and Keihin carburetors.
GAS GAS EC450F
Gas Gas is undergoing big changes. The company now operates its own distributor in the U.S. and is making a big investment in our market. The four-stroke line is expanding. The EC450 will come to the U.S. with a Yamaha WR450 motor and a new chassis. We expect to see more four-strokes before the year is out, including a 310 and a dual-sport, and they will probably have red heads.
Honda knows this bike is dear to American off-road riders—and with good reason. It’s based on the 2008 motocross bike, which still is regarded as one of the best ever. It’s still in the midst of a long winning streak in the Baja 1000. It hasn’t changed for years and remains an ultra-reliable, electric-start trail bike with an old-fashioned Keihin carb and EPA certification for all 50 states.
This is the bike that most of KTM’s off-road team chooses for racing, from GNCC champion Kailub Russell to WORCS star Gary Sutherlin. These riders could choose from a half-dozen KTM models, but the 450XC is a purebred racer, much like the 450SX-F motocross bike, but with more range, off-road gear ratios and softer suspension.
Sherco started off as a Spanish trails-bike-maker, but has morphed into a French builder of off-road motorcycles. We’re not sure how that happens, but we’re impressed with the motorcycles. The 450SEF is a DOHC four-stroke with Synerject fuel injection. The gearbox has six speeds, and the suspension is by WP. Brembo brakes, electric start—we can’t wait!
Yamaha brought the WR450F into the fuel-injected age a few years back, and it has carved a place for itself among trail riders. It’s not the racer that everyone assumed, but it’s easy to ride, respectably powerful and has excellent suspension. Yamaha offers a number of competition parts that can up its game to the next level for very little investment.
Those guys at Beta love making completely different motorcycles by changing only a few parts. The most significant difference between the 390 and the 350 is that the 350 is Beta’s first fuel-injected motorcycle, while the 390 keeps its carb. Both have new motors for 2015. The new injection is clean and sweet, but the 390 already has its own fans—it replaces the ’14 400RR.
In the brief history of Austrian-made Husqvarnas, this model has made the most impact and generated the most “gotta haves.” The 350cc four-stroke off-road bike has its own personality, different from anything in the KTM line. It uses linkage suspension with dedicated off-road settings. The clutch has the diaphragm spring, and it has electric start.
KTM prepared a limited number of bikes specifically for the 2014 ISDE in Argentina, and there will be some coming to U.S. dealers. The two models to get the ISDE treatment are the 350 four-stroke and the 300 two-stroke. They get special fork settings, machined orange triple clamps, a solid rear disc, a floating front rotor, a skid plate, a radiator fan (on the 350) and much more.
KTM’s XC line of off-road bikes in the KTM line is dedicated to racing cross-country events. The 350XC-F splits the difference between the SX motocrosser and the XCF-W trail bike. It has the motocrosser’s shock linkage, but with softer suspension settings front and rear. The fuel capacity also is between the other two 350s. The coil-spring clutch is from the motocrosser.
For the dedicated off-road guy who might or might not race, the 350XCF-W is more trail-oriented. It has the no-linkage PDS rear suspension and softer settings than the other 350s. It has a six-speed gearbox and a DDS clutch. It is also fully compliant with off-road requirements in all states, meaning it’s eligible for a green sticker in California.
We shouldn’t have been surprised that the Beta two-stroke off-road bikes are so good. The small Italian company has been making two-stroke trials bikes for a very long time. This line is now in its third year, and both bikes are light, powerful and capable of handling obscenely difficult trails. The case-reed motors have electric-start, FMF exhaust systems and use Sachs suspension.
GAS GAS EC300/EC250
With a new U.S. importer, Gas Gas is set to make a comeback . The bread and butter of the Spanish company’s line is the two-stroke, which has steadily evolved over the past 20 years. Electric start is available on both the 250 and 300. The bikes feature FMF exhausts, Marzocchi forks, Nissin brakes, perimeter frames and a newly designed quick-change air filter.
These bikes are our staff’s favorites in the new Husqvarna line. The 250cc and 300cc electric-start two-strokes are the bikes that most closely match the company’s original mission statement. Specifically, they are bikes made for the most demanding situations. The motors can pull themselves out of ugly messes with ease. Both bikes feature linkage rear suspension with trail settings.
KTM does not offer the 300 two-stroke in a motocross configuration because it would be somewhat redundant. The 300XC is already a very race-oriented machine, and an MX version would be virtually the same thing without the electric starter. The XC two-strokes are still incredible as pure off-road bikes. The 250 has a little more bark, and the 300 has crazy-smooth torque.
For old-school, eastern-trail specialists, the two-stroke XC-Ws are heaven on knobs. They have the no-link PDS suspension, which excels in tough stuff because there’s nothing hanging down to catch on rocks, logs or roots. The overall weight is slightly less than the XC versions. For 2015, the head and reed valve are new.
These bikes have been making us drool from afar for over a year. The two-stroke Shercos have been slow to arrive in the U.S., but 2015 should be the year that they have a real impact. The bikes feature electric starters that are integrated in the engine cases. The power valve is electronic, the clutch is hydraulic, and the suspension is a combo of WP and Sachs.
Sherco will continue to offer the 300 and 250 four-strokes that we saw in small quantities on the East Coast in 2014. They use Synerject fuel injection, and the DOHC motor has new valves and a different cam for 2015. The fork is a WP and the shock is a Sachs. The U.S. importer, Clay Stuckey, is based in Tennessee, but plans on having demo rides throughout the country.
The Freeride is a new concept for KTM, but it’s been seen before from a number of manufacturers going back to Bultaco. It’s a true trail bike, made for conquering slow-speed obstacles with low-end torque and cushy suspension. There are trials-bike qualities to the machine, but it has normal-sized ergos and a full seat. The Freeride will be imported with a new two-stroke motor.
TM motorcycles are handmade works of art. The new U.S. importer is concentrating on the two-stroke line in 2015, and the company is said to have an all-new motor. It has an electronic power valve and looks to have an airbox that is moved upward and forward, with the fuel tank down and back. The 300 and 250 are similar aside from displacement.
Honda’s off-road 250 thumpette is the direct descendant of the legendary XR250. It actually shares nothing mechanically with the iconic XR, but it has the same mission: it’s a general-purpose trail bike with a universally likeable personality. Unlike the old XR, it has a modern aluminum frame and electric starting, but it still has a carburetor.
Husqvarna’s off-road line wouldn’t be complete without a 250cc four-stroke off road bike; in the Italian years, Husqvarna was one of the very first in this category. The FE250 is a cross between two KTM models, the XC and the XC-W. It has the linkage suspension like the more race-oriented XC, but is fully trail-legal and EPA-compliant.
This is KTM’s hardcore off-road trail bike. It has the PDS rear suspension without linkage, a diaphragm spring clutch, trail suspension and full EPA and CARB compliance. The motor itself is very similar to the 250XC-F trail racer and the 250SX-F motocrosser, with an electric starter and Keihin EFI, but the W has a backup kick-starter just in case.
There’s very little difference between this bike and the full-race 250SX-F motocrosser. They have the same motor, but the off-road version has different gear ratios, an 18-inch rear wheel, softer suspension settings, a half-gallon more fuel capacity and various other off-road amenities like handguards and a kickstand. Unlike the W, the XC-F is electric-start only.
This is a company that might be new to us here in the U.S., but it’s been around for a very long time in its home country of Portugal. The AJP PR5 is a 250cc off-road bike with fuel injection, a DOHC liquid-cooled motor and Sachs suspension. It’s a perfectly modern dirt bike in every way except one: the price is from the 1980s.
There are cults of robe-wearing worshipers who continue to idolize this machine. The KTM 200XC-W goes back almost 20 years to a time when two-strokes ruled the world. It still rules certain places where the trails are tight and the riding is hard. It’s light and pulls surprisingly well from the bottom. It received electric starting a few years ago.
America has never been big on 125 off-road bikes, but Europe has long known that this is a great way to introduce young riders to off-road. For that matter, old guys love lightweight, good-handling trail bikes too. The Husky TE125 is based on the KTM 125SX motocrosser but has full off-road accouterments, like an 18-inch rear wheel, handguards and a kickstand.
This is Yamaha’s late-breaking news for 2015. The new WR250F is the off-road version of the YZ250F motocross bike with the reverse, reward-tilting head. In its off-road form, it gets electric start, wide ratios, softer suspension and is EPA compliant. The surprising news is its brother, the competition-only YZ250FX. This is a closed-course bike, just like the YZ, but set up for off-road racing and complete with an electric starter. o