There’s nothing commonplace about the 2009 Gas Gas EC300, but the performance can rival industry norms.
So you say you would like something different? Well, in the off-road world “different” is getting harder and harder to come by. Just a few years ago, buying a KTM dirt bike might have been the answer, yet today, showing up with an orange bike at an enduro is like taking the minivan to the mall – nothing wrong with it but, it’s certainly not unique. Well have we got something for you! Chances are you’ve probably never even seen a 2009 Gas Gas EC300, or any of the Spanish models. Everywhere we went it drew a crowd and more than once I was asked how I got a red KTM. While the tail section might show some resemblance, I think the primary reason for such interest is that the EC300 is one very attractive 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 Polisport MX-style handguards. The four-position handlebar mounts have a one-inch range forward and aft.
We picked up our bike in a crate which allowed special consideration for the build quality and craftsmanship.
The lower section of the approximately 2.5-gallon gas tank is clear and has marked graduations in liters. It’s 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 2-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 235 pounds. This is about 10 pounds heavier than the 2009 KTM 300 XC-W with electric start that we measured at the same time.
One of my favorite GG features is the hydraulic clutch which 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 2-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 now 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 Gas Gas, 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.
The EC300’s mill is a willing race motor. Access to the carburetor and spark plug remind us of the 2-stroke benefits.
Fuel mixture is now funneled into the motor via a VForce reed block. The 300 also features a short spacer block between the reed block and cases to increase crankcase volume and 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 past experience that this 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 owner’s 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 Gas Gas; 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 well, 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 don’t build up much air pressure.
The secondary riding impressions were much more pleasant. This GG is a pretty amazing bike in the corners. It rides as if on a rail with the front tire very planted and the whole bike follows the arc carved by the front. This is a very precise bike and the overall handling is quite impressive. It’s a very compact package that doesn’t have to be muscled though corners. This bike brings back some of the strong arguments for 2-strokes. High corner speeds are effortless, it just requires some rethinking of line choice compared to most 4-strokes to keep the speed up and not rely on sheer 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 midrange 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. Understandably, this motor package is good, although not stellar, on the track. Where it really feels 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 . Gas Gas 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.
It’s important to put each test bike in the environment that is was designed for, and the Gas Gas is pretty specific in that sense. It is really designed for pure enduro use, sort of what we would call an “East Coast” bike. MotoUSA Off-Road Editor, JC Hilderbrand, and I decided a trip north to Idaho to find some technical riding would be just the thing. This year 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 handguards, re-jetted for the altitude and found a more suitable rear tire to replace the FIM spec Michelin, but other than that the bike was all stock. 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 sidehills. 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 off the side of the mountain. Here it is vital to have a bike that is easy to ride. In the long, slow hillclimbs 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 and the close ratio tranny is probably better suited to the 250 and 200 versions of the GG. At 235 lbs it isn’t the lightest bike in the class, but it never feels 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. The 300 pulls well out of turns but never with the grunt of a 4-stroke. Riding a higher gear did not work all that well as the clutch chatters 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, and 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’s a shame because for most people this would completely spoil the initial impression, but the Gas Gas is a good overall package aside from this blemish. As for the Sachs shock, it performs 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 200-lb 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 our 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 and 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 and 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 footpegs 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 worked at race-winning levels and I would not hesitate to compete on this bike again.
The approach to the Gas Gas 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 and can appreciate breaking the mold, there are some nice features on the Gas Gas. Yes, there are still a few quirky things, but maybe that’s all just part of the character, the allure of something that dares to not be completely mainstream.