2023 300 models shootout - We have tested the KTM, Husqvarna, Gas Gas, Reiju and Sherco 2 stroke dirtbikes back to back in a real world scenario
EURO HEAD TO HEAD CLASH
2023 300 models shootout
Three Austrians, a Frenchman, a Spaniard and an Italian walk into a bar..
Considering so many things have changed in this class (and the last 300 shootout was in 2019), ADB decided it was well and truly time to round up all of the brands 2023 bikes and head into the mountains near Taralga. This rain soaked shootout was undertaken late last year, and this is a pared down summary of the shootout that appeared in the December 2022 issue of ADB magazine.
In previous year’s the 300cc shootout has been conducted on enduro tracks, but considering the current swing in numbers towards hard enduro with these bikes, our focus was to test them in hard enduro conditions.
To give you an idea how the scorecard works, it is divided into three sections that we score the bikes on. First is suspension and steering/chassis, as this is the most important part for any bike to work, the scores from this section count for 50%. Motor is the next category and also very important, so it counts for 40%. Last is the ergonomics, as it is quite easy to change a set of handlebars to a different height and the same goes for foot pegs or seat, so this only counts for 10% of the overall score.
- Name: Mitch Lees Height: 188cm Weight: 98kg Skill Level: Fast trailrider
- Name: Josh Evans Height: 188cm Weight: 95kg Skill Level: Intermediate trailrider
- Name: Jeff Briggs Height: 180cm Weight: 95kg Skill Level: A-grade racer
- Name: Mat Boyd Height: 184cm Weight: 90kg Skill Level: A-grade racer
- Name: Bernie DH Height: 187cm Weight: 115kg Skill Level: competent trail rider
- Name: Ben Grabham Height: 178 cm Weight: 80kg Skill Level: pro racer
Visit husqvarna-motorcycles.com for more information on Husky.
Out of all the tracks we rode, the hard enduro track best suited the TE300. On the spec sheet the TE300 sits middle of the pack with its seat height of 950mm but it actually felt the lowest to me. This resulted in getting my feet on the ground for those nasty off-cambers. Considering the seat has rounded edges and plush forgiving seat foam, it makes sense that this bike does have a low feel.
The TE300 switched over to the Braktec hydraulic clutch a year ago. This was a good move as the Braktec system works great as you’re not required to move the clutch lever much to be able to engage/disengage it. I found that map one, the mellow option, was best on this hilly track. Even though the power delivery was not quite as strong as two of the carburetted engines, it had more than enough grunt to keep me moving forward no matter what lay ahead.
My only concern was its tendency to flame out on steep down hills as the idle was slightly too low. Every time I jumped on this bike I enjoyed it because of how balanced and easy it was to ride in all conditions. I like being able to adjust various settings dependent on conditions and considering this bike comes with an array of adjustability, it suits my needs.
The top tier product in terms of price, and yet rode very similar to the KTM and GASGAS. The stock Michelin tyres are excellent and a point of distinction. The motor is very linear and I love the two modes on the map switch, although they are not as distinct as the Sherco.I felt very at home on this bike and it’s extremely capable. Brakes were good and it was very predictable and sure footed. The white plastics look great when new, but they scuff and get dirty very quickly.
For the trail and hard enduro stuff, this was the best of the Austrian lot. It felt a little high in the handlebar bend and low in the rear-end. The power was incredibly predictable and linear with no abrupt peaks or troughs. It lacked the same bottom-end torque that the Sherco and Beta possessed which is why it didn’t win for me. It would make a great all-round bike as the forgiving suspension could be ridden all day.
I love the look. I can’t say I enjoyed riding it in the steep tight stuff. The power felt vague compared to the Sherco and Beta, although silky smooth.I had trouble with confidence in the front end. These were the steepest hills I’ve ridden with a creek or ditch at the bottom and in the rain and slippery mud, confidence is everything. In the creeks and uphill it was great, apart from the lack of bottom end, but I preferred the KTM. All the TPI bikes required more clutch work.
I didn’t quite like the ergos as much on the Husky due to the higher bar bend, an easy fix. The Magura brakes worked well and the clutch felt good. The suspension was a good all-round package and worked well on both the grasstrack and in the slower technical riding.The motor felt very similar to the KTM, very linear in power delivery and a touch more aggressive than the GASGAS but had great power when you wanted it. The map switch was an added bonus over the KTM and GASGAS and helped with traction on the slippery up hills
I liked the Husky, especially in the tight technical stuff. The suspension is on the softer side so it soaks everything up well at low speeds, and makes bouncing the front end over any obstacles easy. Getting out onto the grass tracks I noticed I was shifting gears non-stop to keep it low in the rev range. If I was to let the engine rev up then the power would just drop off and the bike would stop pulling.The front end would also dive a lot under brakes and make steering into corners difficult. The map switch on the Husky is a great addition but it actually made very little difference compared to the other models that also come with a map switch.
KTM 300 EXC
Visit www.ktm.com for more information on KTM.
Yet again the PDS rear end continued to shine on the hard enduro track thanks to its forgiving action and link-less clearance. I find that a PDS rear- end recovers back up to its full ride height a lot faster than the linkage bikes. Because of this, the turning of the KTM stays super and responsive on the hairpin corners.
At first it felt like the engine was lacking torque as it was tricky on the steep hill climbs but this did change, as soon as we adjusted the rear tyre pressure to 11psi from the 16psi that was in it. Once the pressure was lower and more traction available, I could not fault the torque or low end power of this EFI engine. Unlike the other two Austrians, the KTM comes with a Brembo hydraulic clutch which is one of the lightest in this group and was faultless no matter how much I abused it.
The KTM does not come with a skid plate it did making me a little nervous in the rocky creek beds. Overall the KTM’s performance and feel on this track is one where I would say it does nothing bad, nor amazing but everything acceptable.
You immediately feel at home with respects to ergos and braking. The motor is essentially the same for all three Austrians with the TPI fed mill proving very linear and smooth. Compared to the carbie motors it does not have the hit or overrev, which can be a good thing in technical situations. Brakes were good and the PDS has really evolved to work well. The XPLOR forks on all three were soft and exhibited good initial response, but fell through the stroke quickly at faster pace.
The KTM felt almost as racey as the Sherco. The handlebar felt lower and flatter than the Husky and GASGAS and the PDS rear-end felt more balanced than any other. The power was incredibly linear and smooth but it felt a little more powerful than the Husky and GASGAS for some reason. The ergos on this bike felt the best of the lot and the most neutral. The map switch was handy but not obvious in difference and I kept forgetting if right was soft or left. A simple sun or rain icon would help.
I immediately rode into a difficult creek section and felt right at home like it was set up for me. The only thing that threw me was the throttle response and bottom end. I felt the throttle was sometimes responsive and other times spongey and slow. The bottom end was the main issue. Compared to the Sherco and Beta, it wasn’t there. The mid-range and top end were glorious, and when the tracks opened up, I wanted to unleash the orange beast, and I’m a cruiser. The KTM was the pick of the Austrians for me.
Good modern ergos with a comfort KTM have come to deliver consistently. The Brembo brakes and clutch feel like models past and the suspension felt that similar but with a slightly improved setting in my opinion. I found the motor a little more aggressive then the GASGAS but still very linear. The PDS shock is great over logs and rocks as the linkage isn’t there and it gets the wheel to the ground great over choppy rutty bumps.
The KTM is a nice bike to ride. The forks are better than previous years. I didn’t find too much to complain about until I started riding some of the others. I quickly realised there is no meat to the power curve of the KTM and the power runs out very quickly as the RPM climbs.The suspension is plush and soaks up everything at low speeds and the brakes are strong. The clutch has a great feel to it and is very responsive and the whole package is balanced well. I feel some better engine mapping would solve a lot of issues for the KTM.
GASGAS EC 300
Visit www.gasgas.com for more information on Gas Gas.
At first on the hard enduro loop everyone was struggling with the GASGAS on the hill climbs. It turned out to be that the rear tyre was roughly 7psi too high. Once we let it down the GASGAS turned into a weapon. The suspension tracked perfectly over the slippery creek bed rocks and the engine had more than enough torque and bottom end power to climb what was asked of it.
I am a big fan of the Braketec clutch on this bike, it was super precise and the lever had a really nice profile. It was not until I did a fast lap that I uncovered a few limitations. First one was the lack of hand guards, an easy fix. Second the lack of adjustment on the WP XPLOR fork, there is no preload adjuster on this model.
The engine has no protection, a concern when navigating technical sections. It is not all doom and gloom, the GASGAS comes in close to $800 cheaper then the KTM and $1300 cheaper than the Husqvarna. You can use the extra to customise it into the perfect set up for your requirements.
The Gasser is essentially the same as the other two in terms of rider feel and motor performance. It did feel a bit stronger, but the lack of a map switch was missed. The seat was a bit slipperier than the others on test, and brakes were spongey, most likely due to the front having some air in the line. Gearing was good, and it looks fantastic in the red livery. The GASGAS had the shortest handlebar height of the Austrians. A compelling bike, given its bang for bucks.
I love the GASGAS but this test unit was slightly off on the day we rode it. The front brake was really weak. Grabbo tried to back-bleed it on the hard enduro section which helped and the front end also felt a little soft. Performance is about 20% softer than the KTM and Husky which is great for trailriding. I believe this bike is one of the best value for money trailbikes on the market.
I’ve ridden GASGAS 300’s a fair bit but I never noticed them feel like a soaking wet sponge before. In this company, anything lacking gets highlighted. The GASGAS has a few things which can be a plus or minus. It felt spongy, which is nice for a relaxing ride, and had flat narrow bars. With the lack of bottom end you’d think it was terrible but I managed to hop the fat uphill log without issue and with full confidence. The brakes weren’t great, which made this track very interesting!
The GASGAS had a familiar feel to me as I ride the 350 usually. I liked the lower bar bend and all the ergos. The brake had minimal stopping power compared to the others and the soft fork felt a little unstable on the grasstrack. At slow speeds it worked quite well over rocks and logs in the hard enduro stuff. The motor is very linear and being EFI, there’s no lack of power but the way it’s made took me some time to get used to.
The GASGAS is visually the best looking bike of the group but riding it you can tell it is the no frills version. The suspension is the softest of the three Austrians which for a smaller/lighter rider is fantastic. The handlebar bend is very uncomfortable and cheap feeling in my opinion.The power curve on the GASGAS is the same as the KTM and Husky, responsive off the bottom but quickly hits a wall as the engine revs up. The brakes were very soft and spongey which actually made the steep down hills a rather scary time.
Visit betamotor.com.au for more information on Beta.
Heading over to the hard enduro loop it was hard to have anything but high expectations for the Beta after how well it handled the other two. Suspension-wise I could not fault either end. For the sake of it I had a play around with the ZF fork as it comes with tool less preload adjusters. This worked effectively when I chose to add preload and raise the front end, this had no advantage on the hilly terrain, so I adjusted it back to the standard setting.
Engine wise, I didn’t think it could have impressed me more than it already did. I found truck loads of torque that made the steepest of hills effortless and got me looking for harder sections. Beta uses a Brembo clutch and the way it works with this engine is second to none. The pull is quite light for a clutch that feels so precise and strong.
The Beta continued to impress me with its versatile race horse of an engine and comfortable do it all suspension. It comes with enough protection with a skid plate and hand guards. To top it all off it comes with the smallest price tag, a win, win!
For me this was an extremely stable and well-balanced bike but the firm square seat could use some extra padding. It’s easy to tip into turns, throw around and wheelie.The motor was a gem and probably the most potent of the bunch. The bottom end has to be felt to be believed. Unfortunately, it felt let down by very soft suspension to what is otherwise an excellent package of braking, power delivery, handling and ergonomics. My pick for hard enduro loops.
Wow, what a difference this Beta is to the last one we tested in the 2019 300cc Enduro Shootout! Three years later and Beta have improved the motor out of sight. It has the strongest and slowest bottom-end, perfect for hill climbs, and it is the most powerful through the entire rev range. The fork was a little soft on the grasstrack but on the hard enduro loop it was fine. The rain and sun mode on this bike made the most difference. It was the motor that won it for me but please Beta, give us a softer seat!
I thought the bottom end was great until I hopped on the Sherco. Still, it was hard to fault when crawling at super slow speeds and low revs up steep hills. Second best bottom end. I LOVE the rain mode on this bike. We crossed along the side of some ultra-steep mountains where a rear wheel would be hell to deal with. I was in rain mode for these sections which often made the difference between hooking up or sliding out. I like the cheaper ZF suspension, as I don’t ride as hard as the other blokes.
I quite liked the ergos over the others. The cockpit has a great feel to me with a flatter seat and good feel to the bars. It feels a little wider at first but that quickly disappears as you ride off. I found the motor the strongest on the day from bottom end through to top and it felt like it never really signed off. The brakes were also great and the only let down for me was the fork at higher speeds, it felt a little harsh in the mid stroke. The ZF shock was a surprise and worked quite well.
The Beta engine absolutely blew me away. I did not expect the motor to be so strong right through the rev range like it is. The bottom end is responsive and torquey but still manages to pull right through the rev range. No matter whether the revs are at 2,000 or 10,000 the engine still produces strong responsive power with loads of torque. I found it one of the easiest bikes to ride in the technical stuff and the easiest to climb steep slippery hills on. This engine would excel in hard enduro or on a wide open motocross track. The chassis was comfortable and the brakes worked well. The suspension was tuned to work in the slow technical trails but still performed on the faster sections of the grass track. Beta has done a great job at managing to setup and tune a bike to work well in multiple different scenarios.
SHERCO 300 SE FACTORY
Visit www.sherco.com.au for more information on Sherco.
After riding the Sherco on the hard enduro loop it was clear if I was entering a hill climb competition the Sherco was my choice. I could lug along at close to zero revs up the steepest hill with no sign that it would ever stop moving forward.
The Brembo clutch action has a slightly heavier pull to everything else, however the connection between the clutch and rear wheel traction on this bike is as good as it gets. The fuel tank is the largest of this group at 10.4 litres and that can come in handy during long rides or races. Overall the Sherco’s package was very close to being my favourite and only missed out because the suspension setup was more suited to a heavier rider and the handlebar ergonomics were not my favourite. Both are easy to change, however my decisions have to be based on the bikes in the spec we rode them.
The Sherco simply dominated everything we threw at it. From hill climbs, logs to fast grasstrack sections, this motor is hugely versatile and fast. Top notch equipment abounds from Brembo brakes, KYB suspension to FMF pipe. An undeniably capable bike in the right hands, the firm suspension suits the racers and the carb fed motor did everything right.
The Sherco has an absolute tractor of a motor. It seems the carby motors have a stronger bottom-end than the injected motors, a massive benefit in these testing conditions. The bottom-end torque was about 10 per cent off the Beta but the midrange and top-end had way more. The map switch also made a huge difference. The KYB suspension was better for my weight than anything else here but if I had to ride it all day trailriding it may beat me up a bit. The ‘bar, ‘peg and seat relation felt a little cramped.
The power off idle makes it a pivot-turn beast. It felt smaller and way easier to manage with a foot on the ground and a wheel in the air, the ultra-textured seat really helped too. The suspension was great, but I prefer things a bit softer for my pace when riding for longer periods. The rain mode was a bit ordinary compared to the Beta.
This bike has a strong motor with no shortage of power right through the range and suspension capable of handling any terrain, from grasstrack to the slower hard enduro type stuff. There’s a nice feel in the cockpit with the electronic power valve making an enormous difference especially in slippery conditions. The brakes had great stopping power and good feel and the motor and chassis worked well together. Everything worked together with this bike to make it my pick of the day.
I gelled with the Sherco immediately. The KYB suspension is on the firmer side and most likely going to be hard for your lighter riders but at 90kg it felt very comfortable. The bike was always predictable and never threw me off track unexpectedly. The Sherco gives me race bike vibes when I ride it but still performs well at trail speed.I found the clutch was the heaviest of the bunch. The engine is very strong and much like the Beta produces loads of torquey power right from the bottom all the way through to the rev ceiling. It has a very grunty bottom-end that makes getting traction in slippery situations much easier than it should be. The Sherco was the bike I felt most comfortable on in the hard enduro section, the grass track and the endurocross course.
RIEJU MR PRO 300
Visit rieju.com.au for more information on Rieju.
The Rieju was the first bike that I decided to have a go at some alternative harder lines on. It was up to the task as I completed each section on at least the second attempt. During this lap of stepping up the difficulty, I did start to understand how the Rieju differs from the others.
First gear on the Rieju felt more like second gear on everything else, it lacks bottom end power and torque. A small percentage of this feeling can be contributed to the taller gearing. The clutch action on this bike is super light however this is the only clutch I got a bit of fade from when giving it a hard time.
Even though the suspension was too firm for my liking, the stability of this bike was unreal, it kept straight as an arrow when I was hitting hidden nasties at speed in long grass. Although this overall package kept the Rieju at the back of the pack with my scorecard, it is only some minor engine work and a suspension re-valve away from running at the front. Considering it has a price tag of $15,990 you could do these mods and still have paid less overall than some of the opposition.
This bike has an old school feel and geometry that appealed to me, as it felt very neutral in corners. Also the best brakes on test in my opinion. The rear was very progressive and gentle versus grabby and the front had real teeth. Suspension and componentry is next level compared to the others on test, and presents great value for money. Coated closed cartridge forks and XTRIG clamps, the motor was very strong but had the old school vibration. The bike needs lower gearing from the stock supplied then it would really perform relative to the others.
The anodised XTRIG triple clamps and hubs look awesome. The KYB suspension was good but the balance was a touch off for me, the front-end felt stiffer than the rear-end. The ergos are incredibly dated and I couldn’t get used to the start button on the left hand side. The motor felt a little more like a 250cc two-stroke than a grunty 300, a little more racey and old school in the power department. It could still tractor but not like the rest and preferred to be ridden with more clutch and throttle.
Pushing it around, it felt heavy and unrefined. Sitting on it felt pretty good, but I struggled at first to get used to the engine and the light switch power band kick. Initially, I felt like there wasn’t much bottom end but ended up thinking it was OK.It sounds throaty, which is unusual these days, very different to the others. It handled great. I slid nose first, heart in mouth for 20 metres down a steep greasy hill into a ditch, and despite getting ready to chuck it away multiple times, it got me to the bottom upright.
I was looking forward to this bike the most as it looks great and has some really good parts on it out of the box. The ergos were good, ride position felt nice and the brakes worked well. I just couldn’t get used to the motor on this bike.A 2000 YZ250 motor would be the best description placed into a modern chassis that didn’t tend to compliment each other. This bike felt like it had the most potential for improvement especially with the KYB suspension but the motor made the chassis feel like an older model bike for me.
The Rieju was the bike I was most excited to ride. It comes with a tonne of fruit fitted from standard and looks like a factory setup race bike ready to go. The chassis and suspension setup was the most rigid and hardest of the bunch which was great when pushing the bike to its limits but rather uncomfortable cruising along single trail. The engine was very revy with strong power but it felt much more tuned for motocross than hard enduro. The engine could use some more weight in the crankshaft or flywheel to increase bottom end torque. To attack obstacles on the Rieju I found it easier to get the revs up and keep them there rather than relying on the torque.
After all the six test riders score cards were tallied up I was not surprised one bit, that the Beta took top honors and won this years 2023 300 models shootout. Before you even throw a leg over it the fact it is the most affordable bike in the group at $14,395 makes it very attractive. Beta have stuck with the ZF suspension on this model even after some years of negative comments and it has paid off as they have transformed it into one smooth ride that has enough range to keep the majority of or test riders smiling.
Chassis, ergonomics and engine wise, this is the first time that this generation model has seen a head to head shootout for ADB and it shows. Beta has gone in a good neutral direction that works for a wide variety of riders.
Easily my favorite part of this bike is the engine. The performance has me worried that we will never experience this kind of 300cc two-stroke enduro power again if all the brands get forced down the EFI route because of emission laws. No doubt the ride-ability and overall high performance of the Beta did a lot to land it on top, it is good to see it has just about all the gadgets standard that you could want, to keep enjoying your riding experience in the best possible way.
In a very close second place was the Sherco, it and the Beta were the ones I classed as the magic engines, as in perfect performance for the tracks we used. The Sherco gave the Beta a good run in every category and really only lost crucial points in the ergonomic department with its unique feel that did not quite suit everyone.
The final step on the podium was taken by the Husqvarna, the overall feel and performance is seamless it just lacks that punch and outright engine performance that the Beta and Sherco are capable of. As far as I know at least one of these carburetor bikes that finished ahead of the Husqvarna are moving to electronic fuel injection for 2024. It will be interesting to see if they can maintain that same level of performance and it will also show us how far Husqvarna has come with their six years of two-stroke electronic fuel injection experience.
Words Ben Grabham
Photos Josh Evans
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