Comparison test of mid-range sport enduros 2018

Middle-class sport enduro bikes (2018) in a comparison test

Four bikes, one winner

They are not low-cost airlines and yet they are top sellers in the off-road society. Because mid-range enduro bikes delight both amateur enduro enthusiasts and professionals. The mixed test doubles from MOTORRAD as well. Our beginner and the off-road crack take off.

E.fifty-eight – in addition to the four Enduros, Mona looks like a primary school student at a basketball team’s autograph session. The bar is high. In the literal sense. The combination of short legs and a seat height of around 950 millimeters means for her: What tips over, it falls. The fact that the MOTORRAD volunteer is a specialist and competes in the women’s class at the Trial World Championship hardly makes things any easier for the little lady in the high enduro saddle. Especially not here on the combined enduro and motocross facility in Pietramurata. Boulders block the bumpy path on the enduro course, intricately tight bends require a skilled finger on the clutch. Big eyes, hunched shoulders – the 22-year-old balances the enduro bike over the rocky terrain like a tanker through the shallows. After all: Mona is also suitable for her profound driving background in this test as a representative of the Hobby Enduro group. An important job. Because the traditional displacement classes have long since disappeared, especially in popular enduro sport.

Middle-class sport enduro bikes (2018) in a comparison test

Four bikes, one winner

Honda, KTM, Husqvarna and Sherco

Whatever you like is driven. And these are the mid-range bikes. KTM started with the 350 EXC-F in 2012. Around two thirds of all four-stroke enduro riders are now on bikes with displacements between 300 and 400 cm³. The Sherco marks the entry into the middle class. The in-house propellant charge of the southern French has 304 cm³. Husqvarna and KTM, which are produced on the same line in Mattighofen, follow with 350 cm³. The Honda tops the displacement range with 413 cm³. Who is missing? Despite two midsize models (RR 350, RR 390), Beta keeps away from the MOTORCYCLE comparison as does the Italian luxury manufacturer TM Racing with the EN 300. What a shame. The uniform tires with Metzeler 6 Days Extreme are already on. Here we go.

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Honda CREF 400 RX.

Andi Boller, after all Supercross European Champion in his younger years, no longer needs to convince anyone of this displacement class. The 37-year-old is obsessed with the gas, splashing boulders with the Honda. Moment. Honda, enduro, middle class? The world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer has had a hard time with this combination. Only the Italian Honda branch Redmoto (importer for Germany: took care of the red ones in the undergrowth..

The technical basis of the CREF is provided by the 450 model

And because the men from Monza – who operated under the name HM-Honda until 2013 – had been waiting in vain for a mid-range hit, they picked up the wrench themselves for the 2018 season. The technical basis of the CREF 400 RX is provided by the 450 model, which has been in the brochures since last year with its 18-inch rear wheel, larger tank, softer suspension configuration and quieter twin silencers. With a four millimeter smaller bore, the cylinder cast by the specialist Athena reduces the displacement to 413 cm³. Thinner manifolds, a modified air inlet and three adapted mappings complete the conversion. Conceptually, the Honda stands out from the mainstream of Husqvarna, KTM and Sherco anyway: aluminum bridge profiles instead of steel frames, Unicam valve trains instead of two overhead camshafts, spring elements from Showa instead of WP Suspension.

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Typical of the Honda off-roaders: Short double silencers help to position the masses close to the center of gravity.

Andi rolls back into the paddock, wordlessly pushes the Honda into Mona’s hands. A good omen? Mona involuntarily gives the answer before the start. The trial woman needs three fingers to disengage the clutch. This is less due to weak female hands or the clutch operated by cable instead of hydraulically, but more to a Honda peculiarity. For years, the clutches of the red tunnel bikes have tended to slip and should be made more stable by means of taut springs. Mona is not intimidated and turns into the first tight bends. Faster than wanted. The first gear is significantly longer than that of the European trio and, of all things, the difficult Honda clutch requires a sensitive grip on the lever. And also to the throttle. Because despite the reduced displacement, the single flexes its muscles right from the start, already pushing forward in the speed cellar, as if the task was to crush the slabs of rock on the slopes into fine gravel. No doubt about it, the Honda doesn’t bother with amateurs – and Mona gives up after a few laps.

Honda with three driving modes

Andi can run again. The stiff clutch, the stiff suspension and the tough use in the lower rev range compared to the competition with a smaller capacity, even challenge the experienced on the tricky terrain. After all, the three driving modes that can be activated using the handlebars differ noticeably. But even in the tamest vote, the red one still bites hard. However, the more aggressively the CREF is taken, the more the bike and passenger will find each other. When the compact single plays its superior punch at mid-speed on fluid terrain, the rest of the trio is only dusted. 

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The Honda consumes 7.3 liters with a fight weight of 115 kg.

The faster the Honda whips along the extended gutters, the more calmly it stays on course. The more angular the braking and acceleration waves, the more Andi appreciates the greatest damping reserves of the quartet. Even on the bombed track, the fork and strut cannot be lured out of reserve. However, the 400 does not succeed in balancing delicately over roots and rocks, digging up steep ascents in an easily manageable manner, i.e… ultimately using the reduced displacement for more finesse. The Nissin brake requires more manual force than the Brembo counterparts of the competition, the ergonomics are more expansive, and at 115 kilograms (without gasoline), this is noticeable up to ten kilograms higher. Andi takes a pragmatic view of this orientation: “The Honda is a motocross bike with a lamp, a man’s motorcycle.” Mona just smiles painedly at this.

Differences between Husqvarna and KTM?

The new enduro rider has been fiddling with the Husqvarna’s smooth clutch for a while. Or was it the KTM? There are few differences. On the engine side, actually none at all. More important are the goodies standard on the Husky (KTM: manual adjustment mechanism for the fork spring preload for 194 euros, the engine protection for 96 euros or the ignition curve switch for 96 euros), which relativize the 200 euros higher price compared to the KTM. In terms of chassis, however, the one-and-a-half-sided twins differ significantly. In contrast to the directly hinged strut of the KTM, the sister brand, which has been part of the KTM Group since 2013, relies on a deflector. Mona climbs up with due respect – and already after the first few corners gives Andi her thumbs up at the edge of the track. Spontaneous relaxation? May be. 

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Husqvarna FE 350.

The smooth running of the engine, the sensitive suspension and the slim tank-seat line almost counteract the radical appearance of the Honda. Riders high in the rock garden. Mona turns round after round, only turns into the paddock after what feels like an eternity. A good omen? The answer is a wordless grin. The pragmatist Andi cannot be influenced by feelings. No more speed trial, now the FE has to deal with it. And so much in advance: Even in the first few meters, the driving experience on the Husky differs from the KTM. Especially the light front of the EXC-F gives way in the FE to a more neutral front part. On smooth terrain, the front wheel literally bites into the ground, while the FE hits the ruts more precisely in the extended meander. The monoshock activated via the lever handles the acceleration waves sensitively and with its successful coordination skilfully spans the curve from a delicate balancing act in the stone labyrinth to high-speed performance on the more open passages of the trail. Especially since the engine takes up this universality. The dohc unit is used as soft as butter in the lower speed range, finds traction effortlessly even on the large stone slabs and then revs up completely effortlessly. A dream. The fact that the FE cannot parry the absolute punch of the Honda doesn’t bother in the least. Not even that the electronic helpers hold back. The differences between the two mappings are barely noticeable, the traction control only in the beginning. With this effortlessly manageable performance, it is still a blemish.

A different driving experience on the KTM

Mona is curious and has already hung on the KTM. Has husky ever seen experience? Certainly not. Although the KTM also shines with the impressively elastic engine, the fluffy, easy-to-use fittings, the slippery gearbox, the slim waist and the flyweight of 105 kilos, the driving experience is different.

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KTM 350 EXC-F.

It takes some leg strength to make the PDS strut, which acts stuckily over small waves, work properly. It takes a conscious shift of weight forwards if the front wheel, which is light compared to the Husqvarna, should find enough grip in the corners. No problem for veterans, but for little Mona it is. Andi sets the offroad world in order again, forcing the EXC-F into the neighboring areas, through the acceleration waves and into the speed limiter. It is not surprising that the KTM manages the same lap times as the Husky under him. But even the head tester has to recognize: Even if two almost the same do the same thing, it is not the same after all. Nevertheless, it is not surprising that this duo has topped the sales hit list of all sports enduro bikes for years. A fact that for some also has its downsides: Not everyone wants to swim in this off-road mainstream. Especially when the alternative is neatly packaged and well equipped like the Sherco. Whether a complete Akrapovič system, cooling water expansion tank or steel / aluminum sprocket – the top model of the French, the Factory, leaves nothing to be desired. Except for those after a well-filled bank account.

And the Sherco?

With 10,600 euros, the Sherco tops the all marginal tariffs of the Stollen Quadriga with around 10,000 euros. Mona also stands on a Sherco during the trial. Is it because of this inner connection? As soon as she is on the slopes, she turns off the in-house single. Speed, that is the argument with which the stew built on the 250cc case ironed out its displacement disadvantage. With your finger on the clutch, bring the little engine up to speed as early as possible at the exit of the curve, then the Sherco can move forward. Up to 12,700 rpm – at least 1,000 turns more than the rest of the test field – the 42 hp single cylinder cheers unabashedly. Nevertheless: The lower punch demands attention from the pilot. If you let the speed drop, you lose valuable meters. 

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Sherco 300 SEF-R Factory.

In narrow passages, however, the pressure is easily enough to lift the front wheel over the boulders in a predictable way and to trot through the rough with little gas. The optional, tamer mapping that can be selected via a handlebar switch is never needed with this gentle characteristic. Tea Sherco propellant does not achieve the fine running culture of the Husky / KTM duo, but remains far more cultivated than the Honda. When it comes to chassis, too, the Sherco is between the two fronts. Only the comparatively tightly tuned suspension strut kicks on the brake shafts despite 35 millimeters of negative suspension travel and puts additional strain on the soft fork when turning. The shiny other side of the coin: the French woman slips through tight arches more jaggedly than anyone else, is slim, graceful, handy and sociable.

The grand finale: flight day for the enduros

The cracks have long been whipping over the tables on the motocross slope next door. Crosser Andi is no longer in the enduristic corner network. The grand finale: flight day for the enduros. Certainly not their core discipline, but an important additional qualification as the only training opportunity for many enduro pilots. In short: Faster, further, higher – this is what the Honda in particular identifies with. Lots of suspension reserves and an extremely powerful motor that can now be easily dosed on the now flowing terrain – the red one is all dozing here.

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The factory version of the Sherco shines with the best equipment.

The rest of the trio stay at a respectful distance between themselves. In the flowing swings, it is easy to let the dainty single-cylinder purr without fear of a nasty wedging stern to flick out of the residents at full throttle. The fact that the suspension of the three enduros are ultimately too soft for the radical ride over the washboard runway and the hard landings is due to the nature of their main job. The somewhat firmer KTM feels most like a sideline crosser, followed by the somewhat inhomogeneous (tight at the back, soft at the front) tuned Sherco and the comfortable Husqvarna. But Mona has long since disappeared with the exiled Swede to where it counts – somewhere on the enduro terrain. A good omen? Without doubt.

MOTORCYCLE test result

1. Husqvarna FE 350: The lever action transforms the Husky, which is technically closely based on the KTM, enormously. More traction, more comfort, more pressure on the front wheel. For enduro riders, the FE is the better KTM.

2. KTM 350 EXC-F: Which Husky is the better KTM? But only for enduro. In cross country, the EXC-F benefits from its larger suspension reserves. From the lively engine and the homogeneous overall package also different everywhere.

3. Sherco 300 SEF-R Factory: The easy-revving engine and agile handling define the strengths of the Sherco. The displacement disadvantage costs them some punch, however. The high quality equipment of the French woman is second to none.

4. Honda CREF 400 RX: With a lot of pressure and a tight chassis, the new Honda focuses on its target group: experts. Amateurs are overwhelmed by this alignment, as is the stiff clutch and the fat pads.

Offroad park on Lake Garda

Enduro, motocross and trial on a single site – the Metzeler Offroad-Park is a hot tip for tunnel freaks.

Lake Garda is only 20 kilometers further south, and there are mountain bike slopes and climbing walls in the immediate vicinity. Right in the middle of a games paradise: the off-road park in Pietramurata. It is divided into a World Cup-compatible motocross slope and an enduro course. 


Offroad park on Lake Garda.

The enduro trail created by ex-world champion Alex Salvini is around four kilometers long. The stony ground demands a lot of people and material, but particularly demanding passages can be avoided. The facility’s infrastructure is impressive. A paddock with electricity, accessories, tire service, high-pressure cleaners and a well-run restaurant represent a high-quality offer. The motocross course is open from Wednesday to Sunday, the enduro and trial race every day except Monday. The training fee is moderate at 25 euros (MX), 20 euros (enduro) and 10 euros (trial) per day. Interesting: 80 percent of enduro riders come from Germany or Austria. Internet: (Motocross), (Enduro).

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