New breed of cross­over mud­bloods? By Richard New­land, Tim Thomp­son & Michael Guy Con­tin­ued over

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Features -

It’s a fan­tas­tic moment that never seems to lose its ap­peal – the post-mounted green rec­tan­gle with white let­ter­ing that reads ‘By­way’ creeps into view, one end point­ing ca­su­ally to the turn­ing where your front wheel crosses that ragged tran­si­tion from tar­mac to green lane. It feels like free­dom. Like you’ve man­aged to ini­ti­ate your­self into a clan­des­tine club whose mem­bers are al­lowed to go where oth­ers may not tread. And all you had to do was buy a bike ca­pa­ble of tak­ing you there. But what should you buy?

It’s tra­di­tion­ally been a rel­a­tively clear-cut de­ci­sion process. On one hand you had en­duro bikes, evolved from mo­tocross, and full of bark and bite that tear at the air and ground with barely tamed ag­gres­sion. On the other you had tri­als bikes. Min­i­mal­ist, de­void of road-go­ing pleas­antries or any­where to park your arse – you stand for the du­ra­tion, and in re­turn they’ll get you into and out of al­most any­thing. Nei­ther op­tion had ever heard the word ‘com­pro­mise’, and they cer­tainly couldn’t spell it.

Then some­thing odd started to hap­pen. KTM re­leased their Freeride, which looked like a slightly toned­down en­duro bike, and which the Aus­tri­ans claimed would dis­patch tough ter­rain with softer man­ners. We all stroked our chins and thought that sounded like a good idea. Then Sherco re­leased the X-ride, a cross­over that looked like the tri­als and en­duro parts bins has got mixed up on the pro­duc­tion line. And just a few weeks ago Mon­tesa (it’s a Honda re­ally) rolled out the 4RIDE, a mildly re­worked ver­sion of their 4RT tri­als bike, now with lights, in­dic­tors, mir­rors, and some­where to rest your glutes. So how do they com­pare? Over 100 miles of tar­mac, green lanes, and a dis­used quarry, three var­i­ously tal­ented rid­ers should be able to split them.

For the ride

But it takes less than a quar­ter of a mile be­fore the Mon­tesa re­veals a sig­nif­i­cant hole in its tal­ents. Taglined ‘where on-road-meets off-road’ the 4RIDE prom­ises a fair dose of both worlds, but it’s im­me­di­ately tor­tur­ous on tar­mac. Shift­ing fast through the short tri­al­s­like ’box re­veals a top gear that will al­low a mere 80kmh (50mph). And it feels bru­tal hold­ing it there. Trade 50 for 40, and a lit­tle more seren­ity re­turns, swiftly re­placed by te­dium. Off-road fresh­man Tim agrees: “The Mon­tesa rules it­self out the moment it sets its Dun­lop D803 on tar­mac. It’s gut­less, barely able to main­tain mo­men­tum in the face of long hills, and is barely cred­i­ble as a road bike.”

Ex­pec­ta­tions shat­tered, we plough on with pedes­trian bore­dom, eyes scan­ning the van­ish­ing point for those green signs of hope. It doesn’t take long, and as those D803s fill their tread blocks with sump­tu­ous mud it sucks it up like a camel that’s been ail­ing for wa­ter. That lack lus­tre power de­liv­ery sud­denly feels pli­ant and us­able, the squirm­ing un­cer­tainty of tri­als pat­tern tyres on tar­mac giv­ing way to logic-de­fy­ing lev­els of trac­tion. But the in­vig­o­ra­tion is short-lived. Ev­ery bank and tree stump looks more in­ter­est­ing than plod­ding along through ruts and pud­dles. Tri­als novice Tim is hav­ing an epiphany any­way: “Its agility is a rev­e­la­tion to any­one who’s never rid­den a tri­als bike. Stand­ing on the pegs, the strangely an­gled bars, ex­ag­ger­ated lock and feath­erlight steer­ing make com­plete sense; there’s a nat­u­ral bal­ance that makes you won­der if it even needs a side­stand.”

As we pass through the quarry gates, and the 4RIDE’S nose starts to sniff out harder ter­rain, it feels most at home, and it’s the only en­vi­ron­ment where it comes close to re­ward­ing you.

The X fac­tor

The one-di­men­sion­al­ity of the 4RIDE is marginally broad­ened by Sherco’s X-ride. Faster on the road, it’ll buzz and hum along at a bet­ter lick, its taller fifth gear sep­a­rated by a chasm from fourth, but there’s no great plea­sure in it. “It’s te­dious and de­mor­al­is­ing on road,” echoes Tim, who is more used to the Freeride’s en­duro-ap­ing poke.

Light and lithe, the X feels al­most toy-like, the 272cc two-stroke goad­ing you into child­ish an­tics with­out feel­ing

‘There’s a nat­u­ral bal­ance that makes you won­der if it even needs a side­stand’

like it might bite if poked re­peat­edly. De­spite three months of ini­ti­a­tion on his Freeride, Tim looked in­stantly more re­laxed on the Sherco, and could­nõt fail to no­tice it him­self: Òits tri­als DNA and softer sus­pen­sion help a novice like me waft it over mi­nor ob­sta­cles, plug through boggy ruts and chug to the top of a daunt­ing climb Ð all with more pre­ci­sion and con­fi­dence than the gung-ho KTM. I loved the X-ride for this.ó

That in­stant friend­li­ness was en­dear­ing, but itõs cheap­est of the three, and it looks and feels like it, too. While Sher­coõs tri­als and en­duro bikes are beau­ti­fully re­solved works of art, the X-ride is more redo­lent of a Chi­nese en­duro copy. It feels un­der-specõd and flimsy. The sus­pen­sion is pli­ant, but lacks fi­nesse; the styling is nei­ther del­i­cate nor brutish; the chas­sis and cy­cle parts fall short of pleas­ing, and the over­all ef­fect un­der­whelms. Itõs fun, com­pli­ant and un­threat­en­ing, but while com­pro­mise may be the name of this game, it means the X does­nõt feel in­her­ently like a spe­cial­ist any­where.

Free­dom rider

The vis­ceral shock of the Freerideõs fast throt­tle, ar­che­typal en­duro braap, and mo­tocross stance set it firmly apart from the other two. In­stantly lively, sharper, and in­sis­tent about want­ing more throt­tle, and another gear kicked home, the Freeride is at the other end of the spec­trum to the 4RIDE, the Sherco form­ing a bridge be­tween them. In most en­vi­ron­ments it was the bike that topped all our pref­er­ence lists, only fall­ing short when the go­ing got more tri­als shaped.

When the green lanes spat us out onto the tar­mac the Freeride was the most adept, with enough guts to pre­vent you in­fu­ri­at­ing fol­low­ing traf­fic, and a rid­ing po­si­tion that feels more mo­tor­bike than moun­tain bike. Nose it back into the dirt and it in­spires the most con­fi­dence on faster lanes and in deep ruts, but the sweet-smelling two-stroke feels fo­cused like a mo­tocrosser, not a friendly cross­over leisure bike. Thereõs also a four-stroke 350 Freeride avail­able and could well of­fer a more bal­anced op­tion. But the 250 stro­ker is still Timõs favourite: Òfor me itõs the clos­est any of these hy­brids come to do­ing it all Ð IÕD hap­pily ride it 40 miles to an off-road venue. Rich and Michael donõt have much time for it Ð they won­der why you would­nõt go straight to a proper en­duro KTM. For me, though, its ex­tra light­ness and low seat are price­less. It canõt match the Sher­coõs ef­fort­less agility on wa­ter­logged trails or the Mon­te­saõs tri­als abil­ity, but itõs fun ev­ery­where. I thought this sort of mud-based ca­per was for other peo­ple, but the Freeride has ush­ered me into a world I thought I would never un­der­stand.ó

So which one’s best?

All of them. And none of them. By their very na­ture, theyõre all com­pro­mises, never ex­celling in any one area. If you live in the Peak Dis­trict and need to knit pock­ets of gnarly tri­als sec­tions to­gether with short sec­tions of pub­lic road, then the 4RIDE comes clos­est. But weõd still choose a (much cheaper) pure tri­als bike and road reg­is­ter it. If youõre all about faster trails and more mud, then the Freeride is your friend. But weõd take the 350 EXC-F in­stead, be­cause it does all that and more with dra­mat­i­cally more punch. If you want a leisurely green-laner that can deal with heavy trails, light tri­als, and longer link­ing roads, itõs the X-ride. Does that make the Sherco the win­ner? Prob­a­bly, but the UK just does­nõt boast the ter­rain in which any of these mud­bloods truly ex­cel.

Who needs stand-up wheel­ies when you can do stand-up stand­ing up? The 4RIDE makes he­roes out of novices Last one in the mud’s buy­ing the drinks…

Bum ba­sic speedo is barely rel­e­vant 272cc stro­ker strug­gles on the tar­mac Min­i­mal­ist dash for the stylish Freeride Clear cover so you can in­spect air fil­ter View from the cock­pit on the 4RIDE Mon­tesa’s prac­ti­cal un­der-seat stor­age Cre­at­ing a splash on the

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