When it comes to both supercross and motocross there is an undisputed champion in the paddock, the 450 four-stroke. But when it comes to hard enduro racing it was always a toss up, some riders preferred the more powerful big-bore four-strokes while others preferred the smaller, lighter-weight two-strokes. But now we may have a clear answer to the question of which size bike is best.
The enduro game has changed a lot over the last couple of years. Not only has it become increasingly popular, it’s also become much harder competition. The courses are steeper and more technical, requiring more from both rider and machine. In the pursuit of the perfect race they have posed the question; what is the perfect bike? Now the answer is finally starting to reveal itself. We’ll see if you can guess what all these models have in common: KTM 300XC-W, Beta 300 RR-Race Edition, Gas Gas EC 300, Sherco 300SE-R and Sherco 300SEF-R. Do you see any similarities here? Here’s a hint, the number 300 is in all of them. And that’s because the 300cc platform has slowly yet surely become the standard for hard enduro riding and racing.
KTM can be credited for the inception of the 300cc two-stroke, stemming back all the way to 1986. While it’s gone through a lot of different iterations from then to now, one thing has stayed the same, the magic power of the 300. The combination of the engine and KTM’s PDS suspension has skyrocketed KTM to the top of the heap in hard enduro racing, so much so they now have every enduro specific manufacturer following in their footsteps.
The reason the 300 two-stroke is so good for enduro racing is simple, it combines the best of all worlds. It has tons of power and is butter smooth with tons of low-end punch, at least for a two-stroke. And you get all of this in a light-weight package. That sounds like a win-win to me. It’s that ratio of smoothness to grunt that you don’t get on a 450 four-stroke. While four-strokes are typically torquier, especially down low, they are much heavier because of all the added mechanical parts, and that’s only half of the equation. Four-strokes also feel heavier because they house a bigger piston, and when that piston is rotating at the absurdly high RPMs that these modern-day four-strokes do it tends to apply a rotating mass that makes the handling feel heavier, requiring more effort. You could ride a 250 four-stroke, but they can leave you wishing for more power. But what if there was something in the middle? We don’t have to speculate anymore because there is, it’s called the Sherco 300SEF-R.
Sherco is based in both France and Spain, specializing in trials bikes since 1999. They have since expanded into the enduro market, producing several different models since the early 2000’s. But the one worth noting is the 300SEF-R, a 300cc four-stroke that is getting glowing reviews by everyone that rides it. The concept is fairly straightforward, more power in a smaller chassis. Dimension wise the SEF-R shares similar specs to the 250SEF-R, with the exception of a different bore which gives it a 55cc displacement bump. Sherco claims a dry weight of 224lbs for both their 250 and their 300SEF-R, something that is slightly debatable. However, if those numbers are accurate it would put the 300 into the same territory as KTM 300XC-W.
While the 300XC-W will undoubtedly make more power, it’s going to become a torque battle. The low-speed delivery of the four-stroke engine makes up for the slight disadvantage to the two-stroke at full clip. With weight being equal we are left with a battle that consists more of rider style than actual motorcycle performance. Being a 250 four-stroke rider myself, I can imagine the 300SEF-R to be the perfect bike. If you don’t believe me you should know that Matthew Phillips was crowned last year’s EnduroGP champion… on a 300SEF-R. While that comes down to the talent of the riders it still pits bike vs. bike, and the four-stroke came out on top in 2016. It will be interesting to see how the Sherco does in this year’s Red Bull Hard Enduro Series, I know I will be rooting for it. Whichever your poison, I think we now know the undisputed king of enduro racing is now the 300cc motorcycle, regardless of how many strokes it takes.