This story was originally featured at MotorcycleUSA.
So you say you would like something different? Well in the off-road world different this is just becoming harder and harder to come by. Why just a few years ago buying a KTM might have been the answer, yet today showing up with an orange bike at an enduro is about like taking the minivan to the mall, nothing wrong with it but it sure isn’t considered unique. Well have we got something for you! Chances are you have probably never even seen a 2009 GasGas. Certainly everywhere we went it drew a crowd. More than once I was asked how I got a red KTM and while the tail section might show some resemblance, I think the primary reason for the interest is that the Spanish designed EC300 is one very good looking motorcycle. The compact design and narrow profile contribute to a very aggressive and purposeful look. If you want to draw some attention at the local riding area, just show up with one of these.
Our test bike actually arrived in the crate and I assembled it from the ground up. Doing so gave me a pretty good chance to really look over all of the construction and component parts before it ever hit the dirt. The Gasser features a substantial list of nice features, this is a bike designed by people who ride. The wheels feature D.I.D. Dirt Star rims with Michelin FIM tires and heavy duty tubes. While the rear tire is somewhat limited by the knob height, the front is an aggressive pattern that we used for the entire test and it performed very well. The standard 1 1/8” oversize bars are a nice neutral bend and come with a sturdy molded bar pad and a set of Polysport MX style hand guards. The four position handlebar mounts have a 1” range forward and aft. The lower section of the approximately 2.5 gallon gas tank is clear and has marked graduations in liters. It is nice to have an easy visual for checking the fuel level. Plastic frame protectors are also standard. The aluminum kickstand tucks in nicely and works well. Like all US legal two strokes, the EC does not come with any lighting but the wiring is all there for an easy plug and play addition. The headlight is wired for a standard H4 style bulb and the charging output is a healthy 80 watts. On the scales the EC300 comes in right at 235lbs. This is about 10 pounds heavier than the 2009 KTM 300xc-w with electric start that we measured at the same time.
One of my favorite GG features is the hydraulic clutch that has a really nice light feel. In assembling the bike I was a little perplexed to find a short lever mounted on top of the clutch master cylinder. It looks like a hot start or decompression lever, both of which I could not imagine the 300 two stroke as needing. Upon tracing the cable back to the carburetor, I discovered it to be the choke lever. What a great idea, simply pull the lever to engage the choke and it automatically shuts off when released. Speaking of the carb, I am almost dismayed to think of how novel it seems to be able to access both the slide and the jets without having to remove the gas tank. Jetting changes are a breeze on the GasGas, unlike most contemporary bikes. The only thing I found annoying was the fact that the slide cover is held in place by two plain Phillips head screws, unlike the two captive allen head screws of the similar Keihin carb found on the KTM, so keep a close watch when removing those fasteners.
Fuel mixture is now funneled into the motor via a V Force reed block. The 300 also features a short spacer block between the reed block and cases to increase crankcase volume to provide better torque characteristics. Removing this block will make the motor more aggressive, but at the expense of some bottom end power. Out the other end of the motor the FMF Gnarly pipe is mated to an FMF PowerCore II spark arrestor silencer as standard equipment. On older GG models it was always a challenge to get the pipe and silencer to mount correctly, but these lined up to the frame and subframe nicely. The only issue is that the pipe seems to touch the Schrader valve on the bottom of the shock body and is the source of some vibration. Overall the power delivery of the Gnarly pipe is well suited to the 300 motor. I know from experience that is pipe will take tons of abuse without showing substantial damage.
For the initial break in and set up I headed off to the local vet moto track to log some seat time. The very first impression was sort of a surprise; the stock suspension settings are very stiff. I had set all the clickers to the standard settings per the owners’ manual and from here I found myself making adjustments to soften everything, even on the moto track. This brings me to the one true problem with the GasGas; the new for 2009 48mm Sachs fork is pretty rough as it is delivered. This is compounded by the long break in time needed to get it working smoothly. It took nearly 10 hours of riding time until I felt it was broke in properly. The spring rate is relatively stiff and it has way too much valving. Ultimately, by backing the compression almost all the way out, the low speed characteristics came around fairly good, but the high speed reactions continued to be pretty harsh. The air bleed screw is insanely small requiring a 2mm allen key to remove. Fortunately the forks do not seem to build up much air pressure.
The secondary riding impressions are much more pleasant. This GG is a pretty amazing bike in the corners. It rides as if on a rail. The front tire is very planted and the whole bike follows the arc carved by the front. This is a very precise feeling bike and the overall handling is quite impressive. It is a very compact feeling package that does not have to be muscled though corners. This bike brings back some of the strong arguments for two strokes. High corner speeds are effortless, it just requires some rethinking of line choice, compared to most four strokes, to keep the speed up and not rely on shear grunt to pull out of corners.
The motor is very much a true enduro package. The large EC model flywheel makes the motor hook up very smooth, seldom spinning the tire. It is a little flat in the mid range and then strong again on the top. For a 300 this bike revs pretty fast. On the track the close ratio tranny means that the bike never spends much time in the middle of the power band. This motor package is good, although not stellar, on the track. Where it really feels in at home is on the trail. For someone looking for more aggressive power there are a number of very easy mods, such as removing the reed spacer, to accomplish that goal . GasGas also offers this bike in the more competition oriented “Racing” version that comes standard with a smaller charging system and lighter flywheel. A two position mapping switch for the ignition is also standard. The difference between the wild and mild position of the map is not very drastic, one position pulls a little cleaner off the bottom and the other position revs a little farther.
I always feel it is important to put each test bike in the environment that is was designed for and the GasGas is pretty specific in that sense. It is really designed for pure enduro use, sort of what we would call an “east coast” bike. JC and I decided a trip north to Idaho to find some technical riding would be just the thing. 2009 marks the 25th anniversary of the Idaho City ISDE qualifier hosted by the Boise Ridge Riders and this is always a great event as well as a challenge for both man and machine. To prepare for the qualifier I added a set of Fastway hand guards and a more suitable rear tire to replace the FIM spec Michelin, but other than that the bike was all stock and after 220 miles of race time I think I have a pretty good idea of what the GG is all about.
Anyone who has ever visited this part of Idaho has come to realize one very important fact; there is no flat ground, only uphill, downhill and side hills. I once overheard a competitor comment “I have been to races where you could fall down, but never one where you could fall OFF”, as in fall off the side of the mountain. It is so important here to have a bike that is easy to ride. In the long slow hill climbs the EC300 really shines. It will bog down to almost a dead stop without any hesitation or hint of stalling. Very little clutch use is required and thanks to the overflow catch tank it never lost a drop of coolant. The six speed transmission means that there is always a correct gear. The 300 would probably pull a wider ratio okay, the close ratio tranny feature is probably more suited to the 250 and 200 versions of the GG. At 235lbs. it is not the lightest bike in the class, but it never seems to feel heavy. The chassis is very compact and shows very good mass centralization.
In the qualifier format the real racing takes place in the special tests. The Idaho grass track featured a number of up/down hill off camber turns and the carving ability of the chassis really came into play there. It holds a line very nicely and you actually steer the bike a little more with the bars versus always using the rear tire to steer. The 300 pulls well out of turns but never with the grunt of a four stroke. Riding a higher gear did not work all that well either, as the clutch seemed to chatter very quickly when abused. I found the better solution was to just hold it wide open in a low gear and keep the motor singing along. The brakes were strong and consistent. I never had any loss of feel or braking power due to heat. The rear master cylinder reservoir is slightly oversized, that additional fluid volume helps keep things cool.
In the enduro tests where the terrain was less predicable the action of the fork became a limiting factor. At full race speed the fork became less predictable when hitting rocks or logs at odd angles. It is a shame, because for most people this would completely spoil the initial impression of the GasGas, the bike overall is a pretty good package aside from this blemish. As for the Sachs shock it seems much better. It features both high and low speed compression adjustment. Like the fork, the stock 5.2kg spring rate is plenty stiff and I ended up with all the clicker settings lighter than stock even for my 200lb weight. Increasing the sag seemed to take a little of the bias off of the front and improved the fork action. Overall it will be difficult to give a completely accurate evaluation of the shock until the fork is performing better. Our suspension guru Javier Gonzales of Trail Tricks has been doing some testing for the GoFasters race team. He tells us that due to the unique 7mm shaft size, he has had to order shims from Europe specifically for this model. We plan to leave this bike with him and hope to be able to report back with some improvements in the Sachs components.
As racing brings out the best and the worst, here are a few other observations. The air filter is a nice design, a spring loaded rod holds it in place and it is easy to change. The airbox itself is easy to access and clean. The filter is the same as a Honda CR250 so they will be easy to find. The whole bike is very slim. The seat is flat and easy to move around on. Its feel isn’t too bad in the middle but the back half is hard as a board. The brake pedal seems to always be in the way, as does the shift lever, most GG racers are using foot pegs that mount lower to get more room. Like the carburetor, the spark plug is very easy to reach.
In the end, my race went very well; second overall in the E5 class with a gold medal. In difficult terrain this bike is super easy to ride. The smooth motor and sharp handling chassis provide a very rewarding ride and require a minimum of energy. With some suspension work I would have been more comfortable and it probably would have allowed me go slightly faster, but this issue would be the same with just about any new bike. Everything else on the bike worked perfectly and I would not hesitate to race this bike again. I think the approach to the GasGas is sort of like looking at the proverbial water glass; is it half full or half empty? For someone who is put off simply because things are different this may not be the best choice. Yet for someone who can judge things based upon performance, there are some nice features on the GasGas. Yes, there are still a few quirky things but maybe that is all just part of the character, the allure of something that dares to not be completely main stream.
2009 GasGas EC300 Specifications
Bore & Stroke 72mmX72mm
Transmission 6 speed
Clutch Hydraulic actuation
Chassis Semi perimeter “D” shape Cromoly
Fork Sachs 48mm, 295mm travel
Shock Sachs featuring high and low speed adjustment, 310mm travel
Seat Height 36.6”
Weight (no fuel) 235lbs
Fuel Capacity 2.5gl
Retail Price $7749 EC300