From the June 2010 issue of Dirt Rider Magazine
Photography by Drew Ruiz and Karel Kramer
Of all the things that one remembers from growing up, the list of favorite “firsts” seems to only get sweeter with age. Thinking back to your first race win will surely make the kid in you beam with pride. Recalling a first double jump can still summon an army of stomach butterflies that rivals those that come out on race day. And remembering that first time you laid eyes on your first 85cc MX bike is a memory that most riders would rank right up there with first girlfriend, first kiss and first time that your folks let you borrow the family station wagon to go to the drive-in movies (incidentally, this was also probably the last time they let you do this!). The point is, finally gaining possession of a two-stroke mini is a defining checkpoint in any young man or woman’s life, and the occasion should not be taken lightly.
But which bike is right for Junior? As you know, the motorcycles available to kids are as varied as the rug rats that ride them, and you want to find something that is fast but also reliable, durable and cooler than anything else in the neighborhood (this is way important to the average preteen or teen). With this in mind, we conducted the following three-bike shootout to help you learn the ins and outs of each motorcycle. Whether you’re a supportive parent ready to take your little one to the next level or a hungry kid who’s ready for more speed and bigger trophies, the following shootout will provide all the insight you need into the gateway category for the rest of the sport.
How We Tested
Let’s just get this right out on the table: If you said that the only updates to these bikes since our last mini shootout were the graphics and the MSRPs, you wouldn’t be half wrong. The manufacturers that haven’t yet discontinued their 85cc machines don’t seem to pay much attention to the little bikes by way of revisions aside from bold, new graphics and bold, new prices. In truth, it would have been less work for us to simply reprint an old Mini Rider shootout and save ourselves the hassle of having to herd a pack of 10-year-olds as they splash through puddles and bump into each other. Ninety percent of readers wouldn’t have noticed a difference, but that’s just not the way Dirt Rider does things. So with several trucks packed with Lunchables, mixed gas and hyper test riders, we devoted an entire day to setup with each of the 85s and their respective manufacturer’s technicians, just like we do with our big bike tests. Then, we cut our test kiddos loose on Racetown 395′s stadium track to jump, scoot, blast and wobble as they saw fit, all the while compiling opinions, photos and notes on the three machines. To finish things off, we ran each of the small bikes through our gamut of radar tests to see how they looked on paper. While the end results of our 2010 shootout were right on par with the way these bikes stacked up in previous years-proof that the stock 85cc class hasn’t changed radically since our last shootout-this most recent comparison verified that our testing was current and, most importantly, consistent.
Where’d The Orange And Red Bikes Go?
If you find yourself wondering where the KTM and Honda are in this pack, don’t sweat it-both manufacturers are still pumping out minis, albeit in different capacities. KTM still makes an 85 SX (not included in this test for logistical reasons) as well as a 105 SX, which we’re currently testing for an upcoming big-wheel mini comparison with the Kawasaki KX100 and the Honda CRF150R. So if the smaller machines aren’t your cup of chocolate milk, simply stay tuned in the coming months for the big-wheel test.
Ability: First-time two-stroke rider
Claim to Fame: BBR development rider and Mini Rider/MiniRider.com contributor
Of every 10 pro racers you see lined up on an AMA supercross starting gate, seven of them most likely got their start riding for the Team Green amateur program. A major supporter of up-and-coming riders, Kawasaki has long been one of the most respected brands in the mini ranks, and the KX85 remains one of the most popular bikes among amateur racers for exactly that reason. A six-speed transmission, 36mm fork and Kawasaki’s Integrated Powervalve System (KIPS) all work together to make this machine a reliable reflection of the brand’s bigger bikes. Also available in a Monster Energy Edition (which includes Monster Energy graphics, a black frame, wheels and bodywork as well as green hubs), the KX85 will make any young rider feel like a little Ryan Villopoto.
Once again, our shootout riders commented that the Kawasaki has incredible midrange but that it can be difficult to keep the little bike in the power. To go fast, kids must learn to adapt to the Kawi’s delivery and to ride in an rpm range where the engine is most productive.
To our first-time two-stroke rider, the KX85′s most usable chunk of power was too high in the powerband, which came off as intimidating to a kid who is used to rolling on the throttle.
Although the bike likes to be ridden in the midrange, the Kawasaki has decent bottom-end tug that can easily be encouraged by a tap of the clutch. Unless it’s being buried in a sand berm or turned on a tricky off-camber, the Kawi shouldn’t have any bogging issues.
Stock, the jetting on this bike is solid. It starts easily (but then again, what 85cc doesn’t?) and has a crisp feel throughout.
The Kawasaki is one of the easiest-shifting bikes in this pack. From the racer who jams through gears to the newbie who forgets to use the clutch, the six-speed tranny is incredibly smooth.
The only one of these bikes with a perimeter-type frame, the Kawasaki is not a scary bike to corner. Settled and stable, this machine instills confidence in riders who may still be scared to tip over in turns. Faster kids will take advantage of this function by way of more momentum and increased corner speed.
Overall, the KX85 seems to fit smaller riders well. A short peg-to-seat distance lends itself to an easy-to-reach ergonomic feel, though bigger riders will undoubtedly feel a bit cramped.
Our test riders raved that the Kawasaki has a very comfortable and dished-in-the-front seat. This makes dabbing extra easy for inseam-challenged pilots.
Smooth shrouds on both sides of the tank (but just one radiator) provide a nice, easy place for budding riders to grab the bike with their legs.
The brakes on the KX85 are quite usable. Both ends have a good feel without being too grabby.
If we were to use one word to describe the KX85′s handling, it would probably be balance. The bike can hold its own in chop and carries itself extremely well while cornering.
Compared with the rest of the 85cc pack, the KX has plush stock suspension settings. Faster test riders squawked about this, yet the soft suspension makes for an inviting ride to apprehensive beginners and those just coming off of 65cc bikes.
Despite the overall plush feel, the Uni-Trak rear suspension on the KX85 seems particularly adept at absorbing large bumps. Though some riders perceived this as a tall feeling in the rear end, faster/larger kids felt that they could really charge into bumps without fear of the rear end just blowing through.
Depending on the weight of the racer, the KX85′s fork may need some tuning before really being pushed at race speeds. Headshake isn’t entirely uncommon at high speeds with a bigger rider on board.
Why The Kawasaki KX85 Should Win
Comfortable and stable, the KX85 allows new riders to feel safe and fast riders to go even faster.
Once you figure out how to stay in the explosive midrange, you’ll never want to leave!
We know from experience that this is one durable machine.
Seriously, how cool does this bike look?
Why It Shouldn’t Win
Bigger riders will feel cramped on this setup.
Even with a powervalve, the stock powerband just isn’t quite broad enough for most pint-sized pilots.
The fork (and to a lesser extent, the shock) can only be ridden so hard in stock form.
Should I Take A Deal On A Used One?
These bikes can take a pounding. Don’t be scared if you find one for a good price that’s been through more than one rider, so long as it’s been well maintained.
There are endless modifications available for the KX85, and some of them work really well. Keep your eyes open for a Kawi that’s been wisely hopped-up.
As a hand-me-down, the KX makes a great introductory bike to the 85cc ranks.
2010 Kawasaki KX85 Specs
|Dry weight:||156 lb||Peg height:||14.9 in.||Wheelbase:||49.4 in.|
|Seat height:||32.4 in.||Peg-to-seat distance:||17.5 in.||Fuel capacity:||1.5 gal.|
From Travis Pastrana to Eli Tomac, Suzuki’s RM85 has been the bike of choice for a significant number of amateur racers. Though relatively unchanged for a number of years, the RM has always ranked high against its two-stroke peers as far as sheer potential and downright performance, and our mini testers were practically tripping over each other to ride this little machine. With a Keihin carburetor, high-capacity radiator and Showa suspension, the Suzuki means business.
Our test riders love this motor. With crisp, quick-revving delivery and great overall power, the RM is a favorite in the engine department.
When rolling the throttle on, the Suzuki manages to produce torque where other machines just fall flat. Beginners like this because the bike resists stalling, while quicker racers can appreciate the usability of the power. That said, the down-low hit can come off as being too much if there is a lack of traction underneath the rear tire.
From the mid to the top, the RM85 gradually accelerates through a long, responsive pull. We had a 10-year-old describe this as “smooth,” which is not a common label thrown at race-oriented two-strokes.
Also equipped with a six-speed transmission, the Suzuki bangs through the gears with ease. About the only tranny-related complaint we received was that the clutch lever felt too far out from the bar for our smallest rider.
All things considered, the RM85 is a very nimble bike. From the bar to the shroud the bike feels narrow, and this helps give the machine an easy-to-lean feel that works for a wide variety of rider heights.
The seat on the RM85 is fairly flat, which makes the cockpit of the motorcycle seem roomier. Smaller riders dug this setup as much as the taller kids.
As mentioned, the Suzuki has a semi-dated design, and its frame is the most outmoded in this class. Without the option of a removable subframe, one wrong crash can have disastrous effects on a supporting parent’s bank account.
While we’re certainly confident in the Suzuki’s long-term capabilities, we know from experience that these bikes require more attention than the other brands.
Both little and big testers alike praised the RM85′s suspension as “good” and “comfortable.” Simply put, it complements the rest of the bike well and provides a stable ride at a variety of speeds.
The fork and shock are a tad stiff for lightweight riders, off-road applications and low-speed sections. The upside to this is good bottoming resistance.
The RM85′s shock has good rebound control, so kid-sized riders need not be afraid of any unwanted kicking. Similarly, our riders stated that the bike tracks well, particularly in the rough stuff.
Why The Suzuki RM85 Should Win
In stock trim, this motor works exceptionally well.
A lightweight character enhances the nimble feel.
Solid suspension with good bottoming resistance is very “big bike-like.”
Why It Shouldn’t Win
The dated frame design really needs a removable subframe and larger tubing.
Lighter riders may find the bike too stiff.
Pure beginners could be scared off by the engine’s potential.
Should I Take A Deal On A Used One?
There are plenty of used RM85s out there. Look for one that hasn’t been cartwheeled too much.
Beware of modified monsters that have departed from the stock bike’s all-around good power in search for more overall ponies.
As a stock race bike, the RM85 is a strong choice.
2010 Suzuki RM85
|Dry weight:||155 lb||Peg height:||14.3 in.||Wheelbase:||48.8 in.|
|Seat height:||33.0 in.||Peg-to-seat distance:||18.7 in.||Fuel capacity:||1.3 gal.|
If your childhood heroes are James Stewart, Josh Hill or (much to your parents’ chagrin) Jason Lawrence, odds are the YZ85 is your mini of choice. An aggressive little machine styled after the bigger bikes in Yamaha’s lineup, the YZ85 has a reputation for being one radical little mini. One thing that elevates this bike’s status is the fact that Yamaha is still producing 125cc and 250cc two-strokes, so you know the company has a bit more than the others invested into the mixed-gas market.
Down low, the Yamaha doesn’t turn too many heads as far as overall output is concerned. Getting the power to pick up often requires skillful clutching, shifting and finesse, or simply whacking the throttle and waiting for the bike to pick up. But then again, it is a two-stroke!
In contrast to the relatively light bottom-end, the YZ85′s top-end wails like a banshee (the spirit from Gaelic folklore, not the four-wheeler). Most of the bike’s power is situated high in the rpm range, making the bike feel “super fast” up top.
The gearing on this bike stands out as working well with the engine’s personality. Once at speed, our experienced test riders had little problem getting the Yamaha around the track. Even when ridden by adult testers (yes, we rode them too), the YZ can be clutched and shifted into staying in the power.
Our least experienced two-stroke tester pegged the Yamaha as a “pro-level” bike, based in part on the fact that the engine’s hit is on the aggressive side when it does enter the powerband.
When cornering, our testers reported that the Yamaha is responsive and really does what the rider wants. This falls in line with the brand’s bigger models, which have a record of successful tracking and ease of use in ruts.
Although spacious enough in a standing position, the YZ85′s cockpit can seem tight to riders who sit down a lot. The pegs simply feel close to the seat, though the bar seems tall in relation to the seat.
Some riders commented that the front brake on this motorcycle was a bit too sharp for them. Care must be taken when slowing the bike down, particularly if the pilot is inexperienced aboard 85cc machines.
Even when paired with the black-rimmed Kawasaki, our test kids were drooling over the YZ85′s looks. For whatever reason, young riders just dig the way this bike sits.
At the faster speeds that the engine is capable of motivating, the YZ85′s suspension works pretty well. So long as the rider isn’t too heavy and the track isn’t too fast, the stock settings are well suited for the average kid. Even at race pace, both ends of the bike work well together to provide a smooth ride.
Depending on the size of the rider and how they ride the bike, the Yamaha can feel either too soft or slightly stiff. Generally, our testers wouldn’t have minded a tad more bottoming, but one rider repeatedly asserted that the bike was just not plush enough for his style.
Due to the fact that the engine must be wound out to make the best power, some riders have an issue with high-speed instability (both tracking and headshake) when getting on the power hard. This is likely a function of inexperience or nervousness at speed, but kids didn’t feel quite as comfortable going super fast aboard the blue machine as they did on the other bikes.
Why The Yamaha YZ85 Should Win
This Yamaha has an OK pull down low but simply takes off in the upper rpm. The top-end on this machine is excellent.
For most weekend racers, the stock settings should be more than sufficient to bring home a couple of trophies.
At the track, your son will check out the YZ85 more than you check out the 30-second-board girl. That’s saying a lot.
Why It Shouldn’t Win
Riders without experience in keeping a bike in the revs will be craving more down low out of the Yamaha.
The suspension isn’t one-size-fits-all, and depending on the rider’s size, style and ability it could take some work to get the bike to where it needs to be.
More low-end grunt would help this bike.
Should I Take A Deal On A Used One?
There’s no reason why you can’t find a great deal on a used YZ with a little looking.
Seeing as Yamaha still offers two other two-stroke models, your local dealer probably still carries key parts for this bike.
Resale value on Yamahas is typically pretty solid. If you buy one used and take care of it, you’ll likely still be able to get something for it later on.
2010 Yamaha YZ85 Specs
|Dry weight:||159 lb||Peg height:||14.2 in.||Wheelbase:||49.5 in.|
|Seat height:||32.0 in.||Peg-to-seat distance:||17.8 in.||Fuel capacity:||1.3 gal.|
When all is said and done, our test riders agreed that if they had to break open the piggy bank to help pay for one of these bikes, it would be the Suzuki. The potent motor, nimble feel and good suspension were just too much to pass up, and the kids in our crew simply had a blast on the yellow bike. Beyond that, the Kawasaki and the Yamaha were practically tied for most of the test. Kids loved the Kawi’s comfortable chassis and strong midrange, while the Yamaha is always a contender in the cool category, as well as among the revvers out there. In the end, though, the final vote showed that our kids would pick the Kawasaki over the YZ85 if they could ink one of the two machines on Santa’s list. But between all three of these motorcycles, there’s not a bike in the bunch that any of our test riders wouldn’t be happy to have taken home from the shootout.