WEAPONS IN THE WOODS
2018 SHERCO SE-RS AND SEF-RS
“What you have to remember is that we are only 19 years old,” explained Thomas Teissier, general manager of Sherco Motorcycles and son of owner and CEO Marc Teissier. “You look at Beta; they have been around for three generations, and we are competing with them and more.” The young, sharp Frenchman makes his point as we share tapas in a stunning chateau outside of Nimes, France. We are surrounded by Sherco importers from around the world. To my right is the importer for South Africa, to my left, Dominican Republic, and peppered in the mix are all the French employees looking at the bikes staged around the luxurious courtyard. This is nice— just what I expected from a bike intro in Europe. But before you roll your eyes and deride me for being a spoiled magazine brat, let’s back up a few days.
It’s not here. I’ve been staring at the baggage claim as everyone else has grabbed their bags and left. Willing my bag into existence doesn’t seem to be working, so I resign myself to going without. That means no
gear, no clothes, no Gopro, and, most importantly because of the unusual heat wave in the south of France, no deodorant. The bike intro is the following day, so I have the pleasure of spending my few hours before the press presentation visiting a French motorcycle shop, where I got invited to a local dirt bike club party (the Sherco sales guy I was with was shaking his head “no” with big eyes behind the invitee, knowing something I didn’t) and then buying some underwear, shorts, and a shirt at a sporting goods store by the hotel (still hadn’t found deodorant).
The presentation laid out Sherco’s model lineup for 2018, and the biggest news, according to them, was the introduction of the all-new 125 SE-R. The biggest news to me was the announcement that all the enduro models will be accompanied by cross-country models, specifically designed for the US, South American, and Australian markets, called the SC-RS and SCF-RS. This means no lights, stiffer, Mx-style WP fork and shock, full FMF (two-stroke) and Akrapovic (four-stroke) exhausts, and MX tires. The SC and SCF-RS were not available to ride but should be hitting the US this August.
With factory Sherco jersey, pant, and gloves, and newly purchased everything else, it was time to ride these six bikes: the 125 SE-R, 250 SE-R, 300 SE-R, 250 SEF-R, 300 SEF-R, and 450 SEF-R. I’ve never ridden in Europe, and it was illuminating to say the least. The 16(ish)-minute testing loop was at a motorsport park north of Nimes. There was a road course for streetbikes and cars and “trails” that webbed through the adjacent thickly forested hilly area. It was a logistical feat to get such a long trail section into such a small area, and to do so the loop had to be tight. Like, the tightest trail I’ve ever ridden.
The serpentine single-track nearly weaved back on itself every 20 feet. The terrain was almost like a castle that was violently destroyed then old-growth forest was allowed to reclaim the ruins. Loose, square, softball-size rocks mixed with tree roots and stumps, with a few ledges to climb and descend made up the majority of the technical, but not really that hard, trail. Also, keep in mind as you read this test that it was one day (half, really) in one location so these are my first, limited impressions.
This style of riding suited the bikes perfectly, and I understood why the Sherco engineers seem to put such a premium on agility and nimbleness. The first bike I rode was the 250 SEF-R four-stroke, and for just getting to know the loop, this was a good bike to start on. That being said, it was my least favorite out of the bunch. The engine is tuned for maximum traction and usability, but there is very little excitement anywhere in the rpm range. The bottom is
2018 SHERCO SE-RS AND SEF-RS
mellow and smoothly transitions to the mid, where it makes most of its power. Throttle response is good but not amazing, and in the two somewhat open sections of trail, I wasn’t that impressed with the top-end or over-rev. The top-end is adequate for a 250 but not a strength.
The handling, as with all the bikes, is where this bike shines. Because of the slim feel between the knees and ankles combined with a light, nimble feel, I had no problem putting the 250 where I wanted it to go.
Hopping on the 300 SEF-R four-stoke immediately after had me thinking the motors have nothing in common. In retrospect, I can say this 300 was my favorite of the six. The motor had plenty of torque, and where the 250 had me searching for the meat of the power coming out of corners, the 300 let me stay a gear high and just use the throttle without worrying about my left hand. The 300’s motor is livelier, more exciting than the 250’s, and felt like it had even a little quicker throttle response; I’d easily put it against any 350. The middle four-stoke had just as lively and quick-turning of a character as the 250 but with more power.
Next I grabbed the 450 SEF-R and pinned it into the trees. My confidence in doing the loop a couple of times was negated by trying to control this full-size machine. Overall, it has a smooth and controllable power delivery, but it is still a 450, and trying to blip over and up ledges without blowing the next corner 10 feet away was a challenge. I didn’t really have a chance to wring it out, but it reminded me of a KTM 450 XC-F where it revved pretty quickly and liked to be higher in the rpm to make the most power. When I compare this bike’s handling to other 450 off-road bikes, it’s right up there with quick turning agility. Yet when comparing it to the other Sherco models it is a little sluggish in the handling department. For one, more weight and reciprocating mass has that effect on motorcycles, and for two, it has a slightly longer frame and wheelbase than the other models. Thomas informed me this is because a rider who is buying a 450 probably wants more stability because they are going to be riding faster.
At the end of the third loop I wasn’t riding faster. I don’t know if it was the 90-plus temps, humidity, or jetlag, but without taking a pause between three bikes I got my heart rate up to 192. We journalists shared liter water bottles like pirates passing around bottles of rum—then it was back at it. Time for the all-new 125 SE-R, which was a welcome reprieve after the 450.
This bike is ridiculously easy to ride, and straight off the bat, it has enough power to get even big dudes through the trails. I’ve ridden some off-road-specific 125s in the past and they have been frustratingly tame. The Sherco actually feels like it has some torque to it (as far as 125s go). The SE-R’S power starts relatively low and builds smoothly through the rpm.
As fun as the motor was, the real magic of this French machine is how incredibly easy it is to turn. It was like the bike knew where to go and how far to lean before I did. Its shorter wheelbase and featherweight feel made it a joy to slice through the trees, to laugh at their attempt to catch a bar end, and to pick absolutely any line you want. This bike is the only one of the bunch to get the WP Xplor fork. I’ve been impressed with this fork and have a lot of time on it riding the 2017 KTM 250 EXC-F. I think it’s a great choice for comfort and adjustability (one click makes a big difference).
My last two loops were on the 250 and 300 SE-RS, and these are probably the most alike of the different models. Both have that Sherco nimbleness and quick cornering feel, and both feel more agile (and a little less planted) than the four-strokes. I first rode the 300 and I thought I would like it best out of the two, but I was wrong. Its barky yet smooth bottom- to midrange was impressive and made short work of any vertical obstacle and what little straightaways we had to work with. Yet after riding the 250 I was much fonder of its exciting, snappy, less luggy character that was simultaneously easier to ride and more fun. The power made it feel like it would be very versatile and only gives up some bottom-end torque to the 300.
I would put the 250 SE-R a very close second behind the 300 SEF-R just because I’m more of a four-stroke fan overall.
I learned a lot on this trip. Not just about six different Sherco models but about the European philosophy of bike building and riding, and what they view as necessary to go fast. I also learned that a relatively young motorcycle manufacturer with a lot of passion can make some fun and exciting dirt bikes. I also learned that I can fly to Europe with nothing but the clothes on my back and fare pretty well. My bag did finally show up… about 12 hours before my flight home. WANT MORE?
We talked with Thomas Teissier a lot more than what we could fit here. Check out the full interview: dirtrider.me/s4wfwv.