Walker shows us how to make the most of winter
If all these icy roads are getting you down, just start thinking differently about your riding. Off-road is fun whatever the weather and you can get a taste of it for not a lot of dosh.
We took a used selection costing between £1300 and £1900 and let WSB star Chris Walker loose on them. If they can cope with him, they can cope with anything.
And don’t worry about crashing them, dropping them or riding them through a thousand scratchy bushes. None of this will devalue them – they’ve already seen it a hundred times before.
The cheapest bike here is the Yamaha Serrow. It’s the friendliest too, and throughout the day it proved to be Walker’s weapon of choice. It’s got the smallest, least powerful engine in the test. It’s 225cc of gentle thudding four-stroke, and before you groan out loud and scan through to the next bike, let’s get one thing straight about dirt bikes – smaller is better.
” It’s the easiest mistake to make, ” explains Walker, ” It’s hard to get your head around at first, but the big 500 two-strokes and 600cc four-strokes are really evil and hard to ride. ” And that’s from the man who rides 170bhp GP and WSB machines.
Alistair Mackenzie, the MD of the shop we raided to get all these machines, is quick to agree: ” We get so many people in our shop who’ve just started. They assume that because they need a big bike on the road, they’ll need a big machine on the dirt as well. A 250 is more than you’ll ever need when you hit the dirt. Anything bigger just gets real dangerous, real quick. ”
The Serow seems impossibly slim. The levers, as on all the bikes, are short and stubby. Turn the key however, and the machine’s biggest asset becomes apparent. Unlike the other three bikes, the tiny Serow comes with a battery and a starter motor. A quick stab of the button, and the machine coughs into life.
” It’s an absolute mountain goat, this one, ” says Walker, ” There’s nowhere you can’t go on it. My only criticisms are the suspension and the brakes. But if you don’t ride it quite so hard, the suspension wouldn’t be a problem. And the later models have got discs at the front and back, rather than a disc and a drum like this. ”
And he didn’t mind demonstrating the tiny bike’s prowess – and his own – by climbing or descending any slope he could find, and plenty that we hadn’t even noticed.
The other four-stroke on test is a completely different kettle of fish. The Kawasaki KLX250 feels far more purposeful. The suspension is harsher, demanding more input from you, and the engine responds much better to those with a heavy throttle hand and less mechanical sympathy.
If you let it rev, the KLX will happily keep up with the more powerful two-strokes. It feels a lot more like a real motorbike compared to the Yamaha, with a more substantial seat and a bit more weight behind it.
” It’s one of the few bikes at this price range that you could take out and compete with, ” reckoned Mackenzie, ” It’s well capable of a clubman enduro or two, as well as anything else you fancy doing off-road. ”
The liquid-cooled 250 four-stroke is much more capable than the Serow’s 225cc air-cooled lump, but the lack of electric start quickly made itself known.
The KLX gets harder to start the hotter it is. After taking the bike off Mackenzie or Walker, who both thrash the machines far harder than I ever could, it’s almost impossible to start. Funnily enough, after putt-putting around for ten-minutes under my wobbly control, the bike’s much easier to spark into life.
The other Kawasaki on test was different again. The biggest change being the two-stroke power plant. The KDX200R had the smallest capacity of the four, but arguably produced the most power. Although lacking an electric starter button, the KDX was almost as simple to start as the little Serow. The kickstart was light and the miniature engine could be set zinging with only a half-hearted prod of the lever.
A tall riding position and solid suspension helped the two-stroke Kawasaki handle ruts bumps and jumps with the minimum of fuss.
Where the KLX would push you forward whatever the revs, the KDX requires a lot more attention to gears and speed. You find yourself whipping the tiny clutch lever in stamping down the gears to find the power band. And there’s no mistaking it when you’ve found it, the front end goes light and the engine changes note completely.
Walker loved it: ” It’s got a mean turn of speed when you want, I got it up to nearly a ton on the Tarmac, and it goes like the clappers on the rough stuff as well. Just a shame it’s pink really – I could never spend money on a pink bike! ”
The Honda CRM250 was far less peaky in comparison, but still not as torquey as even the undersized Serow. The smoother power delivery robs some of the peaky buzz that the KDX gives, but ultimately it’s easier to ride because of it. Like the other three machines it features discs all round, although brakes are far less important off road than other factors like suspension and tyres.
Walker said: ” There’s absolutely no way on earth that anybody, and I mean anybody, could be disappointed after buying any one of these bikes. You can have just as much of a good time in winter on one of these as you can in summer on a superbike. ”
For more on this see MCN, published on January 9, 2002.
Bikes we tested came from The Offroad Centre, Mansfield, 01623-428777