Background - Tech
We were skeptical about the quality of a mini carrying the Made in China label, but held our judgement on the GPX Pitster Pro until after we thrashed it around out at the mini track for a while.
I spent a good five minutes looking the bike over front to back and top to bottom. It had to be there but I was getting frustrated. I started wondering if they'd put it on the inside of a case cover or something. You know what I'm talking about: that small, oval gold sticker that comes on all "Made In China" toys. I figured the GPX Pitster Pro was required by law to carry such a designation, but as my futile search continued I started paying closer attention to the quality of the bike and wondering if the sticker wasn't there for a reason. Was this mini really built in China?
In the current atmosphere of the World Trade Organization and climbing trade deficits, products made in China are quickly taking up the majority of shelf space at your local Wal-Mart. The "China Price" typically means cheap, cheaper and cheapest and strikes fear in manufacturing companies across this nation. Traditionally Chinese manufacturing focused on commodities that could be easily designed, built and distributed. That's starting to change. Chinese manufacturers are becoming more technologically advanced and teaming with American designers and entrepreneurs to produce increasingly sophisticated equipment.
Gary Goodwin of GPX Motorsports is based out of Lindon, Utah but it's obvious the majority of his business gets done in the Orient. The Pitster Pro 125X
is Goodwin's latest creation, and though the bike's country of origin is overseas, there is plenty of Yankee ingenuity under those red plastic shrouds. The Pitster Pro was designed and tested in the U.S. by Goodwin and the GPX team. Production in China was closely monitored by GPX including continual evaluation of prototype parts and steering their Chinese counterparts in the right direction. The production version of the Pitster Pro 125X that we rode leads one to believe that the trans-Pacific relationship is doing just fine.
Of the components, you'll quickly notice the Pitster Pro's banana-shaped swingarm that has the chain making the return trip to the drive sprocket directly through the aluminum.
GPX makes two versions of the Pitster Pro, the 125X and its little brother the 70X. The only differences being displacement, transmission and front wheel size. The 70cc motor gets a centrifugal clutch and a 10-inch front wheel while the 125cc motor utilizes a manual clutch and a 12-inch front wheel. Naturally you'll save a few bucks picking the 70X, but both bikes are a bargain. Try just $2,095 for the 125X and $1,795 for the 70X.
Before looking closely at the Pitster Pro, the low price and country of origin might lead you to believe that you're getting a less than well-crafted motorcycle (read: cheap). We had the same thoughts until we unloaded the bike and started the meticulous Motorcycle USA pre-test inspection. Normally that means checking that there's air in the tires and oil on the dipstick but this time we spent additional time oohing and aahing over the fit, finish and overall appearance.
Keep in mind that some other "value" minis have arrived in less than finished condition and left in even worse shape. The Pitster Pro impressed us with the attention to detail down to matching the black graphics and plastic with complementing the dark lower fork legs, frame and engine covers. Anodized aluminum can be tricky too. Many times red looks more like pink, and flaking and fading is not uncommon. The red on the Pitster not only looks red but all the parts have the same hue and match the color on the sturdy 3M graphics A nice addition to the Pitster is the black gripper seat that rises subtly up to the gas cap.
Many of our test riders' comments centered on the surprisingly trick components on the Pitster Pro. The red anodized aluminum and graphics against the black plastic and frame make a stunning first impression. It's how the little things come together that often make the difference in whether a test crew judges the bike as sweet or lame. GPX pointed the Pitster towards the cotton-candy end of the scale by focusing on nice welds, decent fasteners, and components with a quality feel. This bike looks more like a custom-built mini than an affordable pre-assembled import package.
The real feature of the Pitster Pro that sets it apart from the rest is its $2,095 asking price. A good bargain for what you get.
Of the components, you'll quickly notice the Pitster Pro's banana-shaped swingarm that has the chain making the return trip to the drive sprocket directly through the aluminum. Goodwin claims the odd-shaped swingarm gives slightly more suspension travel and the 420 roller chain a straighter shot between sprockets. But the chain uses a spring-loaded roller-type tensioner and we had frequent problems with the chain jumping off the roller and flopping wildly. It was easy to put the chain back on, but it seemed like an oversight that should be rectified. The remote-reservoir shock looks similar to an iShock and provides spring preload adjustment and rebound damping. The rebound damping adjustment knob is buried beneath the seat which has to be removed to fiddle with the settings. Spring tension is changed via a plastic ring that is easily spun by hand.
The front suspension gets tackled by an oversized conventional fork attached to a 12-inch wheel spinning a Kenda Millville knobby. The interesting part of the front end is the moveable handlebar clamp directly above the fork. The bar clamp and top triple-clamp are bolted together using a tongue-and-groove adjustment system that allows the bars to shift forward and back. Goodwin included it to help fit riders of varying size and different arm lengths.
The round-tube chromoly frame is similar to a stock Honda XR50, coming over the top of the motor and connecting to the rear of the engine cases at two points. The subframe is a four-spar unit welded to the main frame tube. It's probably too much to ask but a removable subframe would be a welcome addition to the Pitster Pro and any other mini for that matter.
We tested GPX's claim of "the most powerful dirt bike in its class" on a killer little mini track near our offices here in Southern Oregon.
The motor looks eerily similar to Honda XR-50 with a massive overbore kit. There's nothing earth shattering about the GPX mill: It's a simple 124cc air-cooled four-stroke, with a two-valve single overhead cam design. Pitster says the 22mm Mikuni-fed motor makes 10.5 horsepower. The Pitster steps away from the Honda blueprint when it comes to the manual clutch and gearbox. Gear changes happen courtesy of a four-speed transmission in a 1-down, 3-up configuration. The problem with the four-speed is that first gear is so short that it becomes effectively useless, basically making it a three-speed with a granny gear.
Stopping the Pitster is a braking system you certainly wouldn't expect on a bargain bike. Try wave-rotor disc brakes front (200mm) and rear (160mm) with steel braided brake lines. The wave rotors set off the wheels, giving a much tougher look than the drum brakes usually found on mini moto bikes. Our previous experience with disc brakes on mini motos revealed they can be overkill on the smaller bikes. Results have ranged from lack of feel to constantly killing the engine at the slightest touch of the rear brake. GPX got the disc brake performance just right for a bike this size, as the front or rear brakes have plenty of power but they work smoothly and consistently. We had confidence in overall stopping power without the worry of overly touchy brake hassles.
Some parts of the Pitster do reflect the cost cutting that must be necessary to get a mini moto into this price range. Because of our past experience bending and breaking footpegs and footpeg mounts, we immediately zeroed in on the rather flimsy looking boot platforms. The oversized chrome footpegs have a waffle design and provide decent boot traction. We didn't think the chrome finish fit with the GPX theme of red, black and aluminum, making it look like a Hot Wheels motor dip job. The footpeg mounting bar bolts to the bottom of the engine at four points but seems awfully small in diameter for the kind of abuse motocross riders can dish out. Goodwin acknowledged the footpeg deficiency and indicated that a new design was in the works. Owners also have the option to replace the stock unit with an aftermarket Honda peg/mount combo.
Although some of the components seemed a little large and awkward the overall feel of the Pitster Pro was right.
Raising the eyebrows during the studio photo shoot and impressing the test crew at the track are two different things. Plenty of "value" contenders have turned into "cheap" pretenders once those mini wheels turn the dirt in anger. Testing the GPX's Chinese mettle would happen at the local Peterson mini track with riders of various skill levels blasting berms and taking notes.
Swing a leg over the Pitster Pro and you'll quickly notice that this bike "feels" right. GPX has done a good job keeping the relative distances between the controls similar to what you'd expect. One thing that can kill a mini right off the bat is a seat that's too high, pegs too low or bars too narrow. While the banana swingarm does give the visual impression of way too much rear suspension travel, ride height is equal front to back and the Pitster feels like the big mini it is.
Starting the Pitster Pro requires one step more than necessary, i.e. turning the ignition key. What is it with the Chinese that they feel it's necessary to put a key on every dirt bike they make? Maybe they think New York crime statistics apply to every American backyard. Kicking over the Pitster proved easy for a 125cc motor and lacked the leg-breaking kickback that often accompanies the monster-mini four-strokes. Luckily the bike can be started in gear because finding neutral between first and second takes some delicate toe feel. Once the bike fires up, it idles nicely and actually sounds reasonably quiet enough to run while your neighbors are sitting in their dining room.
Grab the oversized clutch lever and nudge the Pitster up into second gear to get things underway. You can always use first gear if you are pulling stumps or competing in a mini trials event but unless you change overall gearing it's pretty much a waste of time. Riders did note that the Pitster levers and pedals were large and slightly strange in shape. We noted that the handlebar levers were thick and tough to get fingers around and the brake pedal seemed awfully tall and weird looking.
B.C. proves that just because it's a mini it doesn't mean it can't get up in the air a little.
Daddy Peterson did his best to keep the track in good shape by dragging the dirt and using the water truck to wet down the dust. But no matter the effort, hot summer weather tends to turn the dirt to dust and loam to silt. Conditions meant we would be putting the Pitster through its paces in ultra-soft conditions which would test GPX's claim of "the most powerful dirt bike in its class".
What class GPX is talking about is debatable, but we'd group it with the pre-assembled Chinese duo of Xtreme Cooper Replica 125cc and SDG Speed Mini 107cc. We rode the Xtreme most recently and the Pitster Pro feels comparable through the rev range with a bit more hit in the mid-range. Test riders commented that the power delivery was smooth and tractable but that there was plenty of steam to keep things moving forward. We'd even go as far to say that this bike feels almost electric in how it puts power to the ground. And while some guys like the arm-pulling-out-of-the-socket feel, we'll choose usable, manageable power any day of the week.
We brought our BBR perimeter-framed Loganbuilt 107cc Honda mini along for comparison, and while the GPX makes good power, it has a tough time keeping up with the Logan race motor. Granted it's a poor comparison because that particular motor cost almost $1,000 more than the entire
Pitster Pro motorcycle!
Judging handling characteristics is a touchy subject in the world of mini moto. These bikes are all a little sketchy, which is what ultimately makes them so much fun. When the bike is the limiting factor it makes riders of various abilities able to compete with one another on the track. Think of the crazy handling tendencies of these bikes as the great equalizer.
Like all minis the Pitster's handling was a little sketchy, with our testers noting that it was quick turning but at the expense of stability.
That being said, adding a 12-inch front wheel to a 50-based machine is often the biggest single improvement that you can make. GPX did it for you on the Pitster but this bike is still slightly twitchy. Our riders commented that the Pitster is a quick-turning machine but stability is the price that gets paid. Test monkey and photo model Brian Chamberlain commented, "I did find the steering to be a little too quick, making the bike a bit unstable, especially at the loamy Peterson track."
When steering a mini proves unpredictable, it helps to have suspension in place that will make up for a rider's lack of perfect line choice. GPX's combination of an oversized conventional fork and iShock-style shock has the duty of keeping things in order through the whoops and over jumps. BC thought that the strange looking swingarm and odd pivot point could make for weird suspension action but he discovered otherwise. "Rear suspension seemed as good as most other minis with more traditional geometry," he noted.
While the shock was a pleasant surprise, the 36mm fork didn't make the same kind of impression. Suspension action up front was stiff and without much damping, making it overly springy. GPX literature states there is rebound damping adjustability on the fork, but we couldn't find the adjustment knob.
Ripping around on the Pitster proved to be much more fun than you'd expect from a two-thousand-dollar mini. Apart from the chain jumping off the spring-loaded roller, nothing ever broke on the bike. We did have a few bolts come loose and disappear into the dust piles, but it was nothing a trip to ACE Hardware and a little Loctite wouldn't fix. Yeah, some of the various bits of the bike could use an upgrade, but until stuff starts breaking, it's hard to fault functional parts.
Test rider Dustin Kuykendahl (The Backflip Kid) liked the bike and is doing his best to buy our test unit from GPX
Did the test riders like the bike? Well, Dustin Kuykendahl (aka The Backflip Kid but soon to be the Car Sales Kid) is doing his best to buy our test unit from GPX. And even the guys who didn't get a chance to ride the bike start drooling over it in the palatial Motorcycle USA garage. Once the rain damps the ground around here, you can bet that the little Pitster's kickstand won't often be resting on the concrete.
The Pitster Pro is a significant step up for Chinese-built motorcycles and gives mini moto buyers a starting platform that blows away a bone-stock CRF50 for not a whole lot more money. The $800 you'd save by buying a stock Honda wouldn't go very far towards buying the upgrades to compete with an out-of-the-box Pitster Pro. And you don't have to do any work building the darn thing, just fire it up and hit the track.
So we really like the Pitster Pro, not just as an inexpensive mini but as a mini moto period. You can't put it in the same league as a custom-built BBR Honda but it's certainly better than most bikes in the sub-$2,500 category and a great first cut by GPX. And that's something to note because Goodwin has all kinds of plans for Pitster Pro upgrades including black and blue versions, a titanium limited-edition model and a 110 killer with a 14" front wheel and 12" rear wheel. And with the low price of the current Pitster, I'm thinking that even us cheapo journalists could afford to buy instead of beg...
25 North 1400 West, Unit A
Lindon, UT 84042
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