Very rarely does a bike manufacturer change a bike as much as Gas Gas changed their enduro bikes for 2018. And we don’t think it would be any surprise or too rude of an observation to say that it was dearly needed. Gas Gas’s past models have been plagued with lack luster power, funky suspension, and a serious weight problem, especially for two-strokes. But the bikes that we just rode had very little in common with their past models and we can definitively say that the new Gas Gas EC and XC models are legit off-road offerings. The XC model is more of the cross country racer while the EC is more of the all-around trail bike. But, there really isn’t that much different between the two. The EC comes with a few extra items that the XC doesn’t have since the XC is aimed at the more serious racer who would most likely take off certain items anyway. This includes a headlight, taillight and enduro computer. The EC also has a “stock” pipe with an FMF muffler while the XC has both FMF pipe and muffler. The last difference is the XC has Renthal Twinwall bars. Everything else is the same from the motor to the suspension settings.
What’s new? Well, it’s easier to say what’s not. Pretty much the transmission is the same and everything else has changed. Starting with the motor, it has a new cylinder, cylinder head, and crankshaft. The clutch has better lubrication and new external and internal coatings on the clutch covers. There is a new intake system moving air into a Keihin PWK 38 carburetor then through a Moto Tassinari VForce4 reed cage. As we said earlier, the spent gases head out a full FMF system on the XC models and a stock pipe and FMF muffler on the EC version
The chassis is completely new with a chromoly steel central-backbone frame, changed from the steel double cradle of last year’s bikes, which is 20 percent lighter according to Gas Gas. Also shaving off the poundage is the new aluminum subframe which allows for toolless air filter access and changes. The air box is also larger and the footpegs and kickstand are redesigned as well. The swing arm is all new saving weight also. Of course with a new frame, the tank (2.64 gallons including reserve) and plastics are all new. The seat now has softer foam and a grippier cover.
The last big news for the 2018 Gas Gas models is the suspension. In the past the bikes have had a mix of different, smaller brands but now these Spanish machines have KYB front and rear. The fork is a KYB AOS (air-oil-separate) 48mm twin-spring system and the shock is a KYB unit with the standard high and low speed compression and rebound adjustment.
ON THE TRAIL
With all these changes, it was pretty much like riding an entirely new motorcycle compared to last year’s model. The one characteristic that did carry over was the way the motor makes power. We would say that both the EC and XC 300s have more snap and more breadth to their power than previous models, but there is something familiar and distinctly Gas Gas about the engine. That Gas Gas-ness is a torquey, chuggability that lets you crawl up, over, and through things without out fear of stalling or that the power is going to let you down. Especially with the EC, there is a smoothness and tractability that is very impressive for a two-stroke.
The only difference between the EC and XC’s motor is the pipe (mufflers are the same). Think of the EC as the ‘stock’ version since the head pipe isn’t branded, and it feels the closest to last year’s EC 300 but it is more responsive and stronger feeling overall. We honestly think that this is mainly the weight savings allowing the motor to not work as hard to get the bike moving. The EC’s power comes on almost immediately, but there is very little hit or jolt – it is extremely smooth, torquey, and usable. It builds in a linear fashion to a strong upper end of the bottom power/mid-range. As with most 300 engines, the “powerband” is shifted lower in the rpms compared to 250 two-strokes. Once you get past the mid-range power, there is no reason to wring it out as it doesn’t make that much more power on top. But to be fair, the one-day intro was held in a very tight trail system (first and second gear primarily) and it was very dry and dusty. We look forward to getting one of these machines to test in more open and traction-filled conditions.
The XC’s power was noticeably different. Right off idle it was as smooth, if not a little mellower than the EC, but there is a definite hit of power that comes on pretty low in the rpm and it pulls harder than the ECs midrange, or at least to our butt dynos. You can categorize these two power characteristics as, one for the mellow, smooth, chugging type rider (EC) and one for the aggressive racer that puts a priority on being able to snap the font end up without hesitation or needs instant power to hammer through an endurocross-like section of trail.
With all due respect, we weren’t a fan of the Marzocchi fork and Reiger shock combo on the 2017 EC 250 and 300 mainly because it had a soft and inconsistent feel. For 2018 the Spanish company went Japanese for its suspension and bolted on KYB front and rear. The fork is a 48mm AOS (air-oil-separate) unit. From what Gas Gas could tell us, the AOS is basically just denoting a closed-cartridge fork. This is not the KYB SSS fork because, again according to Gas Gas, the bottoming function of the SSS and AOS are different. But, we do know that there are two coil springs and compression adjustment on top and rebound adjustment on bottom of both fork legs.
How does it work? Great actually. Again, we only had one day in pretty tight trails so we couldn’t really hammer on it, but the KYB, both front and rear, had us smiling under our helmets. Overall the fork has good balance of performance and comfort. It isn’t as soft or blow through as easily as WP’s new Xplor fork or Sachs fork on Beta’s off-road machines. But it isn’t as stiff as a moto set up. Both testers went two clicks softer on compression – for one tester it’s because he is only 130 pounds but a faster guy, the other is 215 pounder but a mellower rider so their styles evened out. There is a plushness to the beginning of the stroke that handles little to medium sharp hits surprisingly well while the mid-stroke and bottoming resistance was plenty firm to hold up the front end. The shock also worked well and had a little bit of a “dead” feeling – not reacting or bouncing too much when popping over rocks or ledges. This was great for our riding confidence and for traction. When we were setting the sag, it was nice to see how much adjustment there is in the preload. In the middle of the adjustment area, the sag was pretty close for our big dude, and with five turns out, we had it at 105mm for our light guy and the collar wasn’t yet near the top of the threads. This leads us to believe that with unless you are really heavy (250 plus maybe) or really light (100 lbs.), you won’t need to re-spring these machines.
With the new frame and body work, the 2018 EC and XC 300s do feel slimmer and definitely lighter than the 2017-and-older bikes. Yet, while we didn’t have an orange bike to compare head-to-head we would say that KTM is still the current king of light and slim chassis feel. Not that the Gas Gas felt big, just that it now feels normal, like, how an off-road bike should feel, rather than being bulky feeling. This translates to a more agile, nimble feeling on the trail and makes it easier to flick from one side to the other. Quick direction changes are effortless. With two clicks softer on the compression, the front wheel had great traction in turns and, again, gave riders confidence to carve a tight line. We wouldn’t say that the Gas Gas’s have a front or rear end steering bias, it seems more neutral which is good for most riders. Also, the bike didn’t lose its stable, planted feeling as some bikes do when they go on a diet. Again, we are very eager to get the bike to our usual testing spots to check the high-speed handling characteristics.
Not to get too cheesy, but Gas Gas named the making of the EX and XC models the “Phoenix Project” and it is safe to say that wasn’t an understatement. And to be fair, with Gas Gas’s past ownership issues, we weren’t surprised to see so many years without change. But now that they have changed pretty much everything, they’ve put themselves legitimately on the off-road/enduro bike stage. The bikes that we tested were the first to come into the US so it will be a little while until they are available for you to snag for yourself. And if 300s aren’t your deal, they will also have an XC 250 and XC 200, as well as an EC 200 (no EC 250) all of which are two-strokes.
XC 300: $8999
XC 250: $8899
XC 200: $8599
EC 300: $9299
EC 200: $8899