We recently had the pleasure of having a new GASGAS EC 350F in our possession to take part in the annual Port Rickaby trail ride that runs from Port Pirie in South Australia, running down the spencer Gulf; taking in a massive variety of terrain before finishing up at Port Rickaby, some 200km from our starting point. Then the next day, we did it all again in reverse.
To read all about that adventure, CLICK HERE.
In total, the ride covered bang on 400km, giving us an excellent opportunity to get to know just one of the bikes from a brand that has had a major revamp since being taken over by the KTM group, and with another single day spent playing on a little single trail and cutting a few laps on a local motocross track, we were able to get a good feel for what the GASGAS EC 350F offers to the average rider looking for a bike that stands out both on the trail or track.
Read below as we dissect this 2021 GASGAS 350F and give our thoughts on the new offering in the Australian trail bike segment.
Obviously, the GASGAS EC 350F, like the entire new range of GASGAS Enduro and MX dirt bikes, looks quite familiar due to them being revised editions of the KTM groups, KTM, and Husqvarna motorcycles. Still, while they do look quite familiar, there is no doubt the Red livery and frame certainly stand out from the crowd.
The all-red fame, matched with red plastics, with a white rear guard and bold white GASGAS logos down the side of the bike, gives it a clean, sharp look. I am not sure what it is, but Red bikes look great, and the GASGAS is no exception.
Sitting on the bike for the first time, the most noticeable thing, especially for someone like myself who has spent most of my riding life on an MX bike, is the digital odometer.
It is quite a basic set up, but more than useful, giving you the simple function of a digital speedo, more than handy any time when on public roads, and also had two trip settings, one showing your overall KM's traveled, and a re-settable trip function so you can track your current ride.
While we did not have the indicators fitted for this ride, the switch block was mounted, allowing access to switch the compact and sleek-looking headlight from standard to hi-beam. The switch block itself is a small tidy unit that takes up very little space on the handlebars.
The bars themselves are a set of Neken bars, fitted with again ODI lock-on grips. It is the first time I have ridden with Neken handlebars; the bend was for myself at 178cm tall was quite good, and I only need to adjust them once early in the ride to get them into a comfortable position.
The ODI grips are more than satisfactory as a stock grip. I have been running ODI grips on the majority of my bikes since they first hit the market; I have always found the lock-on system to be easy to use, and not needing to glue on grips is something that brings a smile to my face.
The forged triple clamps come with an adjustable bar-mount clamp, giving you great flexibility in getting yourself set up. For this ride, I left the bar mounts in the rear position, closer to the seat, which, as mentioned above, was quite comfortable. Still, for a taller rider, the option to move the bar mounts to the forward position would open up the cockpit allowing more room to move.
And maybe the most important button on the handlebars, the magic grey button that stated the bike all weekend long without hesitation.
The GASGAS range of enduro bikes come with WP 48mm XPLOR USD fork and the WP XACT rear shock that offers 300mm of travel that hooks up to a linkage rear end system.
This was my first time riding with both this type of fork and shock, and, to be honest, I didn't realize the GASGAS range came with a spring front fork until after the bike arrived.
The first time I jumped on the bike was in the car park at my day job after putting the bike together out of the crate; I went fork a quick squirt through the car park, and under braking, the front end dived quite a bit, I thought to myself no biggie, Ill pop some more air in the fork, only to jump off and realize the bike came with the XPLOR spring fork.
The units are a split fork design, with both fork legs having springs, the left fork taking control of all compression adjustments, and the right fork leg looking after the rebound.
Being 114kg at the time of the ride, both the fork and shock were always going to be a little on the soft side for me, but with both the compression and rebound settings easily adjusted with a tool-free adjustment system on top of each fork, I was able to dial on the compression to near max before finally settling to having it set just six clicks out from the maximum compression adjustment for the majority of the 400km ride.
For 90% of the ride, the stock suspension package was near spot on, even at my weight. I had spent quite a bit of time away from riding, so my pace was on the slower side, but both the front and the rear soaked up every little bump and square edge in every situation, whether I was flying down a fire trail, a public dirt road, riding across the beachfront.
The front end was more than predictable, and the rear end would squat down out of every corner and put the power to the ground with ease, and I quickly gained confidence riding the GASGAS EC 350F.
The only time I would have to back things down was when we hit any section of big sand whoops; a combination of my lack of ride time and the suspension being on the soft side for myself had me bouncing through the whoops if I tried to hit them at speed. If it was a short burst of three or four whoops, I was generally ok as I was in and out before things started to get a little bouncy, but anything longer and things would get uncomfortable pretty quickly.
Two weeks later, out at the Murray Bridge motocross track, the feeling was the same; with Grant from Bike Tune at the track, we set the sag the best we could with the stock shock spring, giving me 120mm of sag, the bike cornered great and felt great on 95% of the track, soaking up every braking and acceleration bumps.
Again the only time things got hairy was running into the set of rollers out the back of the track; coming in at any speed would see my blow straight through the stroke and bottom the fork out.
Overall a great suspension package which I would love to ride with spring rates front and rear to suit my weight; it is something I am very keen to try sometime in the near future.
While the suspension package on the GASGAS EC 350F is very good, the 350cc DOHC engine is outstanding.
The last time I owned a 350F was back in 2013 when I spent a year riding a KTM 350SXF; back then, I enjoyed the 350F power plant, and some eight years later, after spending a total of 420km on this bike, I am once again convinced the 350 is the perfect size motor for a veteran rider like myself, be it on the track or trail.
Matched to a six-speed, smooth shifting gearbox, the 350F produces a smooth power delivery that keeps on pulling and has the versatility to ride some of the tightest single trails in first gear or pull well over 140kph on a long straight stretch of track in 6th gear.
The gearbox is matched to a Dampened Diaphragm Steel (DDC) clutch that is operated with a Braktec hydraulic clutch that held a consistent light pull at all times.
The stock exhaust system that keeps the bike sounding very, very quiet in order to meet FIM noise regulations, something you notice both while onboard riding, and from the comments I got from fellow riders, it is also very quiet to those you are riding with.
Despite the lack of noise, the bike produces instantaneous power from the moment you wind on the throttle, evoked more than enough power to keep me smiling from ear to ear.
I don't know if I can put into exact words just how much I enjoyed the motor in this bike; I have bounced between 250F and 450F motocross bikes over the past few years; I am probably a little too heavy for a 250F, but I don't ride enough these days to feel comfortable jumping on a 450F, the 350F has more than enough to pull my 114kg frame comfortably, but at the same time was mellow enough to quickly gain that confidence even after a good 4-month break from riding.
Tying everything together on the GASGAS EC 350F is the tried and trusted chromium-molybdenum steel chassis, which is lightweight and worked great in all situations. The bike with its 8.5L fuel tank was still more than agile through any tight section, be it some harder pack surface or between the bushes in the sand.
At high speed again, whether it was on a dirt road, loose beach sand, or anything in between, the bike was stable. It usually takes me a couple of weeks of riding fasters sections of track to get comfortable at hitting speeds over 100-100kph. Most years, I spend a few weeks before Hattah getting the confidence up to hold a bike at speed; it just not something I do a lot of.
By the midpoint of the first day on this bike, I was more than comfortable clicking through to sixth gear on some wide-open spaces and held it on; for sure, I was not holding it as wide as many other riders, but the bike once again gave me confidence a sure feel underneath me to ride at speed.
For a bike that was very nimble in the tighter situations, it was also super stable at speed, never once giving me any unwanted head shake as we ran down any of the many beach fronts on offer.
Keeping the bike hooked up to the earth underneath me was a set of MAXXIS Maxx Enduro tires in a medium compound. It has been a few years since I have run Maxxis tires, and the road-legal tire that comes standard on the EC 350F, I was not sure if it would be up for the job at hand. I was pleasantly surprised, despite a vast variety of surfaces and terrain, both the front and back end of the bike hooked up great all weekend long, giving a good feel.
If I were planning on riding all off-road, I would probably look towards another tire, but for a trail ride where there were a few road sections, plenty of dirt trails, all the way through to deep soft sand, these tires handled every situation without issue.
OTHER BITS AND PIECES
The bike comes stock with Braktec brake front and rear, and I didn't really didn't take much notice of how they performed while out on the two-day trail ride; both the front and rear worked well enough to not really pay any attention to them. The front had a good feel, and I never locked it up once, while the rear had enough sensitivity that you could brake heavily without locking it up, but with a little extra pressure, you could lock the rear and slide the back end around if needed.
Now I know this bike is not aimed for a motocross track; however, riding an MX track did offer me a better chance to test the feel of the braking system; and while there was no change in the way the rear performed, I found myself on quite a few occasions coming into corners looking for some more stopping power from the 260mm front disc brake.
It was the first time using a Braktec braking system, so ill give it the benefit of the doubt; as I said, it felt fine on the trail ride, but I was certainly left giving the front brake lever more than a squeeze than I am used to out on track.
The GASGAS, like its KTM and Husqvarna cousins, come with tool-less airbox access, making switching out an air filter anywhere, from the shed to the trail a breeze, with the side access cover clipping in and out of place effortlessly.
The 8.5 Litre fuel tank is transparent, allowing you to visually keep an eye on exactly how much fuel you have left at any given time, and there is also a low fuel light that comes on, which I managed to get to light up once.
The front headlight is held in place by a dual rubber strap mounting system, which sees a rubber strap hook connected to the side of the headlight, wrap around the fork leg on each side and clip back onto the headlight via a rubber mounting clip.
It was a pretty cool setup and made life easier when putting the bike together and pulling it down to re-crate and send home to GASGAS headquarters.
Price-wise the GASGAS EC 350F retails for $13,750
Overall the GASGAS EC 350F was a great bike all around; I could not ask more out of motor on any bike; it was a sweet as they come. The overall feel of the bike, from the size, the way it felt in the majority of situations, its relatively lightweight feel, and a great suspension package.
For myself, there is very little I would need to do in order to get this bike 100% to my liking. Like all bikes, I would need to set up the suspension for my weight, even under sprung for myself; It was a very good setup, so a simple spring rate increase front and rear, and I should be fine.
The front brake potentially would need a little attention but again, ill hold out until I ride another GASGAS with a Braktech front brake before forming an opinion one way or another.
A set of handguards would be handy, especially for a bike aimed at the trails, and I would look at swapping out the tires front and rear for something a little more dirt only orientated, though if I were planning on just trail riding and not racing, the stock Maxxis would be fine.
The positives of this bike far outweigh a couple of personal changes I would need to make. After spending two and a half days riding the GASGAS EC 350F, I may have found the perfect bike as I start my transition to doing more trail riding with a bit of MX thrown in; I would have been quite happy to hold onto this bike for more than a little while longer.