I finally got to ride a TM! I guess it is probably well overdue. I feel even more so after my ride day last week. It was a pleasantly surprising day of riding.
I have ridden a TM before, but I had to dig way back just to remember when that was. If I recall, it was a 2001 Cycle World magazine enduro shootout. They had one of each displacement bike in the test, 200 KTM, 300 Gas Gas, 450 Yamaha and so forth. It was a 125 TM that I rode in that test. To be honest, I could barely get it around the super technical test loop, it was so pipey that I could hardly keep it going. But it was certainly fast when the trail opened up.
Any discussion of TM seems to have two inevitable key points. The first is that they are notoriously fast and perhaps slightly hard to ride. Second, it seems no TM discussion is complete without a reference to Gas Gas. As the two smallest enduro companies in the US market for many years, they sort of go hand in hand. Frankly, tiny might be a better description of TM sales numbers. But you never have to worry about everyone else having the same bike as you either.
While many have forgotten, the first Gas Gas bikes from the early ‘90s used TM motors. Paul Edmonson won a world championship on a TM powered Gas Gas 125. Today the comparison between the two could hardly be further apart.
The GG is sleek and sexy, where the TM is rather raw and brutish looking. But there is a definite beauty in that raw form too. It reeks of strength. Everything on the TM seems just a tad over built. It isn’t that it lacks visual refinement, more it seems that function is job one and form simply follows along. A study of the motor reminds me of a 90’s KTM with its sand cast finishes and socket head bolts.
There is nothing particularly cutting edge here, just good common sense two stroke architecture; a twin spar aluminum frame, linkage shock, Keihin carb and V-force reed. Our test bike has already seen a few miles and races and came equipped with a few additional goodies. Most notable were the TM accessory 2.75 gallon aluminum fuel tank and the Scalvini pipe and silencer. The cone pipe is a pure factory look if I ever saw one.
The rest of the components are standard European flair. The brakes are Nissin, with the exception of the Brembo front caliper mated to Nissin hydraulics. The clutch is a Brembo unit. The Excel wheels run Braking scalloped rotors. Overall many of the parts look vaguely like the KTM or GG pieces, but none are exactly the same.
One of the biggest challenges for all euro makers, except perhaps KTM, is where to source suspension parts from. It is a continuing weak point for many bikes. The original equipment grade parts from Sachs and Marzocchi are always questionable. TM chooses to build their own shock and run the KYB speed sensitive fork, quality stuff.
Our testing was limited to one day of riding at The Ranch mx track. The good news is that this is a location I use regularly to test, so I have a good feel for how different bikes perform there. The natural terrain track mimics rolling GP style course. As the day progresses, the surface develops square edges and holes to challenge the suspension.
As first impressions go, the TM makes a good one on me. The frame is just a bit larger than the current KTM and GG styles which suits me well. I have become accustomed to the newer compact frame designs, but I never completely lose that sensation of contorting myself to the bike. The TM is very natural feeling for my six foot height.
All the levers and controls are correctly positioned and feel natural. In fact, I never put a wrench to the bike the entire day, not even to the suspension clickers. The clutch pull is a bit stiff. Most clutches were like this a few years ago, but the KTM DDS clutch and the GG units have changed all that.
As I mentioned, TM has always had the reputation of being fast. The EN250 no exception, it feels fast. There is far less flywheel weight than anything we have tested for some time. This is no four stroke, and every corner is going to require clutch work. But it only takes a quick fan at the lever to get the motor singing and then it pulls very strong. The feel is more motocross than true enduro.
The EN250 ran great. The jetting seemed very crisp and the pipe and moto silencer were happy accomplices. Light flywheel, good jetting and rev pipe equal a ripping good ride. It might sound busy, but I found the TM very easy to ride.
The motor is very consistent as the power comes on. Unlike some of the 300’s that rev slow and then come on too hard, this is all about control. It never gets out of hand or feels like too much. Once I had the routine and shift points down, it all came as second nature to me.
The suspension felt firm and race ready. I never got to a point that I felt I was using all the potential. The faster I went, the better it all worked. The chassis felt much the same. The 250 was easy to turn. With a little practice, I was able to start sliding the rear around in the corners with nice control.
Recently, racer Tuffy Pearson took his 300 TM to a third place overall position at the So Cal National Hare & Hound in Lucerne Valley. I spoke with Tuffy briefly after the race and asked him what the TM was like to ride. His reply, “exactly like a YZ250”, clearly implying that it was easy to ride and required very little change in riding style for him.
Overall, my impression felt much the same. It only took a couple of laps to get a feel for the TM. At no point was I able to make it do anything bad. It was just a fun and easy ride. The motor felt aggressive, but I did not find that a challenge, I actually found it easy to use and make go fast. After so much time riding 300’s over the last year, it was nice to remember why a 250 can be such a good choice. The quick motor response needs some encouragement from the clutch, but the power delivery is very precise feeling.
I have two real regrets. The first is that I don’t have the TM here to put through a wider range of testing. I think it would be ready for a desert race just the way it is. I would love to ride some really technical terrain for comparison too.
The second is that I cannot make any good comparisons. I have not ridden a KTM 250xc for 3 years and that was a PDS model. I don’t feel that a comparison to any of the 300 models we have ridden lately is very relevant either. They are different animals.
It does remind me of my hot-rodded 1992 KTM 250exc just a little. Now keep in mind the ’92 has an SX flywheel, contemporary ignition, reed and carb, so it runs much like a new bike. The TM motor feels similar, just broader and more powerful all around. I guess that tells me we need to ride more 250 two strokes. This is a good reminder that they are alive and well and have a character of their own.
As for the TM, it was an all-around pleasant surprise. It is different, but more so in name than in action. This is a bike that I felt at ease on very quickly and want to spend more time riding. It has a strong motor, great suspension components and a neutral chassis feel. There isn’t any real ground breaking technology just tried and true parts that all seem to work well together. If your tastes lean towards aggressive bikes, something moto like, the TM might be just the ticket.