A funny thing happened on my trip to Tennessee to go dirt biking. I fell back in love with the Gas Gas.
Testing motorcycles is an interesting and challenging proposition. It really is work. Things like photos and technical details often eat up more of the time than the riding does. These are the mundane things that make for a good story, not having lots of fun riding. Truth be told, there is often less riding done than anyone would like to admit to. The business end of magazines and websites gets in the way of that part.
One of the real challenges is to just let yourself go, both mentally and physically, to see where the riding takes you. There are so many variables to testing motorcycles. In one sense it requires routine to help develop a consistent base line for comparisons. On the other hand it sometimes requires completely stepping out of the normal to follow wherever the path leads. It is a lot more work than it appears and a constant learning process.
So let’s take the Gas Gas as an example. I have tested three over the last 4 years. I raced one at the Idaho City qualifier, one at the Tecate Hare Scrambles and the 2012 at our local open terrain enduro. I found plenty to like about each of those bikes as well as few things to complain about too. But stepping back for a broader look, it has been over a decade since I raced a Gasser in a National Enduro. I mean true old school, nasty, “when will this ever end” enduro. But I do remember thinking that my GG XC250 was a true friend back in those days.
So it is about time I really step out of my west of the Rockies comfort zone and go do some testing in the East. In the East, where I always feel slow and untalented. For this trip, it was off to Tenn. to ride Sherco and Gas Gas. Both share the same roots, Sherco was founded by a group of GG defectors about 15 years ago. Other than some common trials heritage, each have gone different directions to build their vision of the best enduro bikes.
In Tennessee I was greeted by a couple of inches of fresh snow and cool temperatures. With the daytime hovering just above freezing, the snow was melting on the southern faces and turning to mud. In other spots the ground remained frozen and icy. The riding was extremely challenging as it was a constant battle against the slick surfaces of mud, ice, rocks and leaves. Add in plenty of downed logs and deep water crossings and it was near sensory overload for me.
Climbing on the EC300 delivered an instant rush of all things Gas Gas. No matter how many years have passed, the EC still has that very distinctive muted Spanish exhaust note. The chassis feels long and low. This was the first version that I have tested with the bulky looking electric start. The switch gear on the bars is new and a bit clumsy. The new odometer display is nice and has an ignition key (of all things) mounted right next to it.
The bars are an interesting choice, they are oversized with a crossbar, a Twinwall copy. The AJP clutch pull is ultra light, even lighter than the KTM DDS system, something I would really appreciate over a couple of days riding. The seat is only slightly softer than a 2×6. I really take back the complaints I have voiced about other brands seats. The GG is in a class of its own.
Down the trail we start and I am hoping for the best. It always takes me a full day of riding in the sloppy stuff to get a bit of the feel back. It is like having to learn everything over again. Consequently, I am looking for as much help from the bike as possible. In the desert I feel at ease enough with the terrain to compensate for most difficulties with the bike. I can simply adjust my riding. But in the mud I don’t have that sense of ease to change up my riding style. I am stuck with whatever the bike gives me.
Fortunately the Gas Gas was working for me, not against. The raked out front end makes the bars feel very light. It takes little effort to steer. The long stance lets the bike track very smooth through the ruts. It tends to stay on line even when the terrain wants to buck it around. All around the bike felt very neutral under me. That was a boost for confidence.
Adding to the confidence is the ultra smooth motor. In the past much of my testing has been more about pure power in open terrain and at times the EC has not quite been up to par with the competition. For this day of riding it quickly demonstrates where it was the king. On the slick trails, the power delivery is so seamless that it would be easy to assume it was auto clutch equipped.
For that matter, using the clutch lever is almost optional. Riding mostly in third gear, the 300 asked for nothing but a steady throttle hand. Shifting and clutch use were seldom needed. The 300 is happy at anything from 3 mph to 45 in one gear. There is never any unwanted wheel spin, just smooth power to the ground.
When I ride, I often think about exactly how I can explain ride characteristics of any bike. When we hit the first big hill climb I knew I had stumbled upon the way to tell the story, the perfect demonstration. It didn’t look like much of a hill. But with a few ruts, snow, oak leaves and no approach, I could see it would be interesting.
I was the first of our group up the hill. As it turned out, it didn’t really feel like much of a challenge. But reaching the top I realized no one else made it up. Sensing an opportunity to make myself look good, I flipped on my GoPro, rode back to the bottom and climbed the hill again as the other riders pushed their way up. I know how to capitalize on an advantage!
But that isn’t really the story. We went back to the truck, swapped bikes and headed back to the hill climb. My next attempt was on the Sherco 300 2t. Two tries later I realized I just wasn’t going to get back up that hill. Next I tried a Husaberg TE250, again no dice. Now it’s starting to look like it wasn’t really me that was looking so good, rather the Gas Gas.
The following day we did a longer ride with more people in the group. Time after time the Gas Gas chugged up hills that others struggled on. Needless to say I kept the bike for myself, I wasn’t going to let go of the GG when it made me look so good. Besides, I was just having a great time riding it. There are very few days when I feel so completely in tune with one bike. The nastier the trail, the more it shined.
As for the fantastic traction, I tried to identify the source. We were running the OEM Metzeler FIM tires at 12 lbs and there was really nothing else that was out of the ordinary. It just seemed to be the combination of motor, chassis and suspension all working in unison. In a way that itself says something; at times in the past Gassers have felt more like collections of parts than a complete package.
Personally I think we just found the type of terrain where the Gas Gas really displays all of its strengths. The uglier the trail, the better the performance. If I was headed back to Romaniacs again, the EC300 would be at the top of my wish list. For climbing and the super tricky stuff, it seems easily on par with the Husaberg TE300 I rode last year. I would have missed this riding experience if I were testing somewhere around home or in the desert.
I guess it is time for some disclaimers. In two days of testing I probably never got out of 4th gear or went over 30 mph. For what we did, the suspension worked fine. The shock was very smooth, even though it was under sprung for my weight. Overall the forks felt good too. They had a few harsh spots, but traction and feel were always good. But we really never got to terrain where I could challenge the suspension with speed or big hits. To a certain extent the same can be said for the motor and new frame. It was amazing for what we did. Yet I don’t think I ever got it on to the main jet either.
For one day, actually two days, the Gas Gas EC300 was king. If I lived in that kind of terrain, it would play king far more often. It is a real hero maker. Smooth, easy to ride and pure joy when the going gets tough, that is the calling card of the Spanish marque.
|EC Racing 300 $8,499 / EC Racing 300E $8,599|
|Engine||2-stroke Single-cylinder, liquid-cooled|
|Bore x stroke||72,0 x 72,0 mm|
|Starter||Kick (Electric optional)|
|Gearbox||6 speed gearbox with foot control|
|Clutch||Multidisc in oil bath|
|Carburettor||Keihin PKWS 38 mm|
|Intake system||Direct reed valve VForce 4|
|Handlebar||GasGas Double Force|
|Frame||Perimeter frame in chrome-molybdenum|
|Subframe||Tubular aluminum alloy|
|Swingarm||Aluminium, progressive system with tie rods|
|Front fork||Marzocchi shiver inverted ø48 mm, closed cartridge|
|Suspensión travel||305 mm|
|Adjustability||Spring preload, rebound and compression|
|Shock absorber||Reiger Mono shock, Special settings|
|Adjustability||Spring preload, rebound and compression high/low speed|
|Suspension travel||298 mm|
|Rim type||Excel Aluminium spoke rim|
|Rim – tyre||Front: 1.6 x 21 – Metzeler Six Days Extreme 90/90 – 21|
|Rim – tyre||Rear: 2.15 x 18 – Metzeler Six Days Extreme 140/80 – 18|
|Front brake||260 mm Galfer wave disc, 2-piston Nissin caliper|
|Rear brake||220 mm Galfer wave disc, 1-piston Nissin caliper|
|Fuel||9,5 l (2-stroke-oil/fuel mixed 1:50)|
|Claimed Dry weight||106 kg / 109 kg (240 lbs)|
|Dimensions||Length x width x height: 2.200 x 830 x 1.260 mm|