Offroad Master 2002

Table of contents


Offroad Master 2002

Offroad Master 2002
Master of disaster

18 motorcycles, seven nations, four days. 179 liters of rain per square meter. Choosing the best off-road bike of the 2002 vintage turned out to be an unparalleled adventure.

Gert Thole, Rolf Henniges


He’s like a big boy who never wants to grow up. Rascal rogue face, always a smile on the lips, life is his friend. Bert von Zitzewitz, 43, motorcycle dealer and owner of an enduro and motocross school in northern Germany, has collected victories and titles in his motorcycle career like many other postage stamps. Vice world champion, ten-time German champion, ten gold medals at the Sixdays, one silver. When MOTORRAD asked him to take part in the Offroad-Master as a German representative, he spontaneously agreed. Sure, of course. Spain, sun, ride in circles a few times, then judge the bikes. What could be better in a dreary November??
The idea of ​​choosing the best bike of the year is not new. Once a year, Motociclismo, the Spanish sister magazine of MOTORRAD, organizes a similar event for sports motorcycles. Following a similar principle, the competition enduro should now be felt against the tooth for the first time. For this purpose, the four-day off-road battle is split up. For two days on a motocross course, two days on an enduro course, you will be battling it out for times. Everything that has rank and name in the enduro world has started. Only Husqvarna can be excused. The suppliers, gasoline allergy, Amore and everything.
Wednesday, November 14, 2001, 8:19 a.m. World Championship motocross track in Bellpuig, 76 kilometers southwest of Barcelona. Sunshine, three degrees plus. Extended ruts, a washboard, many tables and two jumps around 30 meters invite you to a happy test round. Feels like minus five degrees. Bert raises his eyebrows, puts expectation and reality in the right light. The paddock is in order, the machines are given their last manicure. It works between the long-legged tobogganing trees Kawasaki KDX 220 like a dachshund in a greyhound kennel.
12.11 p.m. The first class, 125 two-stroke and 250 four-stroke are at the pre-start. Bert feels his way closer to his personal limit lap after lap, getting to know the route better and better. While the pilots circling the difficult cross-country piste with the enduros, the weather is creeping up. At 2:52 p.m. the thermometer shows plus ten degrees, slightly overcast. The second class, 250cc two-stroke and 400cc four-stroke hums in the pre-start. The driver change is on the fly, everything else according to plan. Only the TM 400 does not start. Even those who attempt to kick-start their cared for mechanics leave them indifferent. The Portuguese David Seguro, the only non-professional, shines with involuntary but accomplished stunts. On the very first day his fingers were adorned with a lively collection of bubbles, the motorcycles dragged him around the course. Bert and his colleagues who are experienced in the World Cup, on the other hand, wring out the throttle until late in the evening, as if it were about the World Cup crown.
Thursday, November 15, 2001, 7.58 a.m. Light drizzle, the clouds almost reach the ground. The Pyrenees report snowfall down to low altitudes. Remnants of the storm of the century that just swept over Barcelona and Mallorca. How good that the organizers watered the motocross track overnight – the course is greasy, extremely slippery. Scandinavian conditions. Ideal conditions for the Finn Vesa Kytonen. He puts a tango with the big four-beats on the floor, almost as if it were dry. Bert is also in his element and with the KTM EXC 520, his favorite bike, was particularly satisfied, despite the drizzle. It could get worse after all.
It will come too. At 10:23 a.m., the drizzle turns into continuous rain. Mixed with hail and light snow. The loamy, churned-up soil mutates into a kind of liquid cement. Bert and his colleagues juggle the thick plows around the course, cut their way up the steep driveways, squander the damp soil as if it had to be punished. At 12:30 p.m., organizer Pepe, Motociclismo Spain, a casual guy with a wax jacket that looks like she has seen all Sixday events, breaks off the test drives because of extremely heavy rain. Group photos? “On the enduro track,” says Pepe, “tomorrow it will be nice.” The engines howl from the dynamometer tent like injured wolves, the entourage is slowly packing up. Ready to switch to the enduro track at Bassella.
Friday, November 16, 2001, 7.48 a.m. Bassella, 72 kilometers south of Andorra. The almost six-kilometer circuit is purely cross-country. Was the special test in the Spanish Enduro World Championship run in 1991. 100 percent off-road. Without big leaps, but peppered with everything an enduro heart desires. Deep ruts, steep ascents and descents, water passages, narrow forest paths, tree roots, stones, rubble, sand, gravel, topsoil. Alleluia. From 8.31 a.m. the rain begins with its bombardment. Both the KTM and the Gas Gas team arrived in a huge 40-tonne truck, juggled the semi-trailer truck over the slippery ground and completed a basic course in getting stuck. Photo session? Maybe tomorrow. The weather is guaranteed to get better. Say the weather reports. Says Pepe.
Isolated bright spots on the horizon give everyone hope. at Gas gas an Italian espresso machine is running at full speed, KTM continues to distribute its load to Red Bull, Castrol rain ponchos and low pressure area Luis. Drainage ditches are being drawn around the vehicles, Vesa Kytonen is solid as a rock. By Finnish standards, this is a completely normal summer day. So what? 11.06 a.m. The introductory lap for the drivers begins. Bert catches them Husaberg 650. A mix of tractor and Harley-Davidson. A few laps have to be enough for the professionals to get to know the winding course. Then it’s time to gasp.
11.21 a.m. The second class starts, the weather pretends to be better, takes a short breath, and from 12.26 p.m. starts with sudden hardness in a continuous rain. The track begins to wash out. Times are no longer comparable, and the drivers’ displeasure is growing. 1.45 p.m. The ruts have disappeared under a carpet of water, the driveways are slippery, and driving requires extreme concentration. Somewhere in the forest is the Portuguese with the TM 400. The old suffering. The Italian TM mechanic grabs a 300cc gas to find his baby and convince him to start. It doesn’t matter, the Husaberg mechanic also wears a KTM poncho.
2:09 p.m. It pours from full pipes. Vesa Kytonen is completely unimpressed, burns times on the slimy silt as if it were dust dry. Bert helps 29-year-old Swede Mattias Nilsson kick off his Husaberg on the track, naively overtaking Serge Nuques, 30, the winner of the 1999 Offroad Challenge. Even makes up lap after lap seconds over Nilsson. The Swedish supercross champion has lived in Spain for eight years and stamps the lap times for motociclismo on paper. A break is announced from 2:37 p.m. Bert casually gives the two of them his age: 43.
Salads and sandwiches are served in a hall of the SIP, an off-road vehicle club. The last round starts at 3:07 p.m. The 125 cc should cross the slopes mixed with the big pots. Lightning flashes, the locks open completely, after four laps nothing works. The water is now waist-high in some places. Fog reigns in the forest with devious harshness, the ground is more slippery than the nights in the neighborhood. Bert gives 70 percent, drives super safe. The Portuguese crosses the finish line after every lap and hopes it will be the last. Only the Finn bores his way through the forest in every passage, as if it were a motorway, the trees around only accessories. Unimpressed by the adversity, he parks his motorcycle as if he were just coming off the bread roll. No wonder. Although he is a tire dealer by profession, he lives in the middle of the forest. His shopping route differs only slightly from the local route. On the last lap of the day, the Portuguese is pulled through the forest by the 650 Husaberg, Bert seriously considers jumping over the water holes and the Swede thinks in terms of throttle valve opening angles and ruts. It is enough. In some places the water is so high that there is a risk that the motors could suck it in. Objective test results are no longer achieved.
At 4:12 p.m. it is canceled. The fight for seconds has turned into a pure arrival. Precise driving that produces reproducible results is no longer possible. The conditions force the drivers to make too many mistakes over the distance. The Portuguese cannot survive a lap without a fall. Why should chance choose the bike of the year? In theory, under these difficult conditions, the Kawasaki KDX 220, an ancient carrot, could conjure up the fastest time on paper. Driver and organizer agree: These times cannot be counted. Tomorrow all bikes have to be ridden again. Under better and comparable conditions. “In the sunshine,” says Pepe.
Saturday, November 17, 2001, 7.46 a.m. Sunshine. Collective sigh of relief at breakfast, a spirit of optimism is all the rage. But the announcement by the Spanish colleagues to start this morning at 8.30 a.m. is interpreted differently. Did you mean the European or the Spanish period? At 8:43 a.m., the paddock looked deserted. The photographers sadly dry their housings and clean the lenses. Bert inspects sections of the route, checks the depth of the water holes and the bottom. In places it is as easy to grip as a file, the loose soil has been washed away. Nevertheless, it would make more sense to wear swimming trunks instead of underwear. A dark wall pushes up from the east. Strange when the wind comes from the west. Instead of starting immediately, group photos are taken. The layers of clouds merge over the scenery as if it were a matter of topping Salvatore Dali’s works. 10:33 a.m. Nobody is on the line yet. 10.55 a.m. Light rain sets in, the photo session is canceled, all drivers are at the start. Final preparations are in progress. The start at 12:13 p.m. is in the pouring rain.
The big four-stroke class is on. Once again nobody wants to go to the Husaberg voluntarily. The serious question that arises is how the Swedish test drivers must be built. Arms, diameter like thighs, minimum height two meters? Bert can’t avoid beating around the course with the tractor. After each lap, the mud plows are briefly inspected and adjusted to the needs of the pilots. Brake and clutch lever position, handlebar inclination – two minutes should be enough. Quickly clear the mud from your glasses, choke a banana through your throat, a sip of water. Here we go. Bert burns a dream time of 6:15 minutes on the course with the 520 KTM. Extremely fast under these conditions. But not fast enough. Vesa K. sets the best time with every bike, even 5:40 minutes with the KTM 520. As soon as his body is connected to the two-wheeler and the wheels start to turn, all you can see is the whites of his eyes. At 1:57 p.m. it is all over, the motorcycles and drivers have their mud packs behind them, the results have to be evaluated. Although none of the drivers know their lap times, their forecasts are almost identical: 250cc four-stroke Yamaha, 400cc KTM, 520cc KTM. Driveability is very important in this area – power is nothing without control. Almost all drivers state that their emotional bests under these extreme conditions were with the Yamaha To have driven out the WR 250.
3:21 p.m. The rain has stopped, after a pleasant snack the finalists have been determined: WR 250, EXC 400, EXC 520. The best drivers too: Vesa, Tullio Pellegrinelli and Bert. The rain streams have now washed away the loose surface, there is grip. Now it’s about beating the two-pounders, which are bursting with suspension travel, over hard ground with extreme ruts and stones that have been washed away. The Italian Tullio Pellegrinelli, enduro world champion and twelve-time Italian champion, a guy who has never done anything but driving off-road, looks at his blistered hands: “Someone said: Come to Spain. Drive around a bit, soak up the sun – this is almost as intense as the Sixdays. “
According to the motto: “Second place is the first looser”, the three fastest on the track fight a bitter fight for every tenth of a second. The hunting fever has seized them, everyone wants to be on top of the podium. The spectators in the middle of the difficult to access terrain around the course experience a hunt that is in no way inferior to a fight for the World Cup crown. But the Finn is unbeatable, Tullio and Bert take off their hats appreciatively. The KTM EXC 400 drove home victory due to the somewhat stable track conditions. It is the optimal synthesis of strength and handiness and can best play its joker among these professionals. The KTM EXC 520 came in second. “Under these difficult circumstances, any mediocre rider would set their best time with the Yamaha,” says Bert with conviction. “If the route demands everything from you, then the motorcycle should be your friend and not fight you.” He smiles in his youthful, mischievous way and packs his trunks again. Thank God it wasn’t in vain in my luggage.

1st place in class 1 – Yamaha WR 250 F

It is not surprising that a four-stroke engine prevails in this class. The more difficult the conditions, the more the small four-stroke Yamaha can show its advantages. Sit on it and accelerate, no motorcycle makes it as easy for the driver as the WR 250 F.

Class 1 rating

On the fast, hard cross-country piste, the more aggressive two-stroke engines can hold their own before the larger four-stroke engines. The all-round balanced Gas Gas EC 125 creates the best individual time here before the more toxic 125cc KTM. On the other hand, the gentle four-stroke Yamaha clearly prevails on the slippery enduro track, followed by the somewhat weaker four-stroke colleague from KTM. Four drivers set their personal best there with the WR, but at least three did so with the 125cc KTM. The WR also received top marks for its fantastic engine, so that it could no longer take the overall victory just before the 125cc KTM.

1st place in class 2 – KTM EXC 400 Racing

Mud, deep grooves, slippery terrain, that’s where the middle-class KTM feels right at home, and that’s where its good-natured character comes into its own. Especially since the tightly coordinated chassis harmonizes almost perfectly with the drive.

Class 2 rating

An interesting group: three classic competition two-strokes with 250 cm3, three 400 four-stroke athletes, plus the two more leisure-oriented enduros from Kawasaki. The fact that the latter can pull themselves out of the affair more than respectably is largely due to the catastrophic weather conditions during the enduro test. The persistent rain made the course extremely slippery and sometimes deep for no reason. Which also explains the significantly worse times in comparison with the 125/250 class. On the enduro track, the Kawas can even place themselves in front of the three two-stroke racing machines, but on the dry cross-country terrain they have no chance due to a lack of power and firm suspension. As the clear winner, the four-stroke EXC from KTM dominates this class. She can set the best times both in the cross test and on the enduro track. In addition, four drivers set their personal best with the EXC 400, the 400 TM, which ended up in second place, and the 250 two-stroke from Gas Gas and KTM, each recorded a best time. Although the Husaberg has more potential, its sluggish characteristics make it difficult for the drivers.

1st place in class 3 – KTM EXC 520 Racing

The concentrated power of the 520 is simply too much power in some situations. But on the muddy slope it shovels like a tractor. And on the fast cross-country course, too, it is the undisputed king with its stable chassis and progressive suspension.

Class 3 rating

Only a two-stroke engine defends itself desperately against the four-stroke superiority in the large class. Thanks to its wonderfully soft engine, the Gas Gas EC 300 does well and even comes in second place. The following applies to the Husaberg models: The Swedish machines are somehow different, took some getting used to, and all drivers had major problems adjusting. The best times are recorded by others: with the Yamaha WR 426, despite the displacement handicap, at least one driver managed his top time in the enduro test, the rest of them were fastest with the big KTM. Power from the cellar is the secret of their success in the deep muddy grooves.

The rules of the game

The Offroad-Master is not a comparison test in the usual style. Rather, it is more of a kind of competition with the aim of filtering out the fastest sports enduro under defined conditions. Even if the results cannot be transferred to every driver and every purpose, they give the sports driver a lot of information about the potential of the machines. Lap times were clearly in the foreground here. Experienced, trained pilots are an absolute prerequisite for fast, meaningful times. Each of the seven magazines involved provided a driver (see box on page 125). The invitation to the Master Enduro went to all manufacturers, but the refusals came from Husqvarna and VOR. The same tires for everyone created comparable starting conditions; Bridgestone supplied an entire truck full of the ED 660 A / 661. Classification was based on a scheme that is already being used in some countries and will soon become an international standard: 125 two-stroke engines are combined with 250 four-stroke engines, 250 two-stroke engines compete against 400 four-stroke engines, the large class is open to two- / four-stroke engines. Four-stroke over 250 / 400cm3. The first test was on the cross course in Bellpuig, a fast, rock-hard GP slope with large jumps and tables. Then the entourage moved towards the Pyrenees on a varied enduro terrain with many different, difficult passages. The rules: On the cross track, after the previous training, the seven pilots drive an introductory lap with each machine to get to know the track, followed by two timed laps the better is rated. On the enduro track, after a few training laps of course, every motorcycle is used for one lap on time. In the event of an irregularity – fall, capital driving error, stalled engine – an additional lap brings a meaningful result. All test drivers also have to evaluate the machines in an extensive evaluation sheet. The average of the individual assessments of all seven drivers gives the final grade for each machine. The following parameters played a role in the ranking: the best individual time of all seven drivers, plus the number of test drivers who drove their personal best with the model, the average time of all drivers with the respective model and finally the final score of each vehicle. The times of the enduro route were weighted with 70 percent, those of the cross route with 30 percent. It’s a good thing that sophisticated Excel programs kindly do some of the arithmetic work these days.

The final

Enduro sport is usually a class society, but even in the German Enduro Championship there is an overall winner across all classes. Therefore, the question of the fastest motorcycle is quite interesting. And behind this, of course, is the fundamental question of the best off-road motorcycle ever. So the starting signal for the final of the Offroad Masters with the three fastest drivers on the three class winners. Each driver completes two laps with each machine on the enduro course, the fastest time is counted. In the end, the KTM EXC 400 Racing prevailed relatively clearly, with all drivers achieving their personal best. A worthy winner with the best package of controllable performance, stable and agile chassis, progressive suspension and practical equipment.

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