2018 GasGas XC300

Twice as Nice

Words & pics: Chris

Forget everything you thought you knew about the GasGas brand. The 2018 machines are all-new from the ground up, and after a few year’s hiatus, GasGas is back and better than ever.

For those who have been hiding under a red, blue, yellow, green, white or orange rock recently, let us take a trip down memory lane for a quick second.

GasGas filed for bankruptcy back in 2015 and things looked bleak for the Spanish brand. Luckily, Torrot – a company best known for building electric bicycles – came in and swooped up the pieces, pumping much needed capital into arguably the best trials bike brand on the planet. By the end of 2016, production had resumed in Spain, albeit in low numbers.

Come 2018 and GasGas is back in the market in a serious way. The model range may have depleted a little, exterminating all remnants of any 4-stroke model GasGas used to produce, concentrating instead on a 250 and 300cc 2-stroke platform only. Coming in standard trim, a Six Days option as well as a new high-spec GP model, it is clear GasGas believe 2-stroke technology is here to stay.

We tested the EC 300 just over six months ago and were impressed with the all-new bike. A vast improvement from the previous GasGas Enduro bike we managed to get our hands on years ago. It was a long wait, but we finally got our gloves around the cross-country model from the Spaniards – the XC 300.

If nothing else – it’s a bloody good-looking bike right out of the crate. The livery of red and white, with splashes of black thrown in, makes the bike pretty striking right from the get go. The minimal amount of plastic on the sign panels, the way the engine can be seen from every angle, and the aggressive styling are so inviting to a rider, or at least to this rider. It looks racy and fast just sitting on the side stand. But looking wasn’t going to be satisfying enough.

The only way to really appreciate a bike that looks this good was to get it dirty. A Tuesday afternoon in a wet Maramarua forest was the perfect setting for this 300cc, 2-stroke Spanish beauty.

For the first time in the brand’s history, GasGas’ off-road models have been built around a central backbone frame from what was previously a steel perimeter design. The swap to the backbone mimics the KTM/Husqvarna brand, and is technically a step backwards in thought.

Forget that though, as the new frame design is bang on, give the rider a really connected feeling to the bike, and putting the riding characteristics more in line with other European brands. Which, from where GasGas had come from, is by no means a bad thing at all.

Connected to the frame is a nicely designed swing arm with linkage, attached to KYB suspension, front and rear.

After the frame, this is possibly the biggest and most important component change GasGas has used on the new models. Replacing the Marzoccohi forks and Sachs rear shock has brought the brand up to par with the rest of the other manufacturers. Something GasGas needed to do.

The seat is nice and flat, with the shrouds smooth and void of catching points. The seat-to-pegs-to-handlebars ratio is very roomy, especially for my 6’2 stature and long legs. The bike didn’t feel small, but it was easy to manhandle, pick up and put down where I wanted it to be.

The cockpit, with the Renthal 997 bend ‘bars that come standard, allows for aggressive riding. It sets you up for corners well and feels like more of a race bike over trail bike. This is one of the aspects I liked most about the XC 300 – it feels racy.

A flick of the round, green Start button ting-ting-ting’d the 300 into life, with the help of the easy pull choke on the clutch lever. Yes, the 300 is still carburetted, but that doesn’t detract from its character – it adds to it really. The rumble of the 300ccs could be felt through the seat like a dormant lion ready to wake up and seize his first kill of the day.

The Magura hydraulic clutch, which has its master cylinder painted black for coolness, is a smooth operator, allowing precision engagement all the way through the action.

At 299cc, the 2-stroke motor is plenty capable of doing just about whatever it is you had in mind. It has a decent amount of lug-a-bility, though not as much as our current longtterm injected TE250.

You can ride a gear higher and pull out of turns with ease and gather speed in a controllable fluid motion. This trait is great for a trail rider, but the real action comes in when you use the bike’s meat in the mid-range.

The engine really sparks up and throws down some serious horses to the back wheel, getting you up to speed pretty darn quick. The rev out isn’t as long as other 300s we have ridden, but it does pull strongly all the way through, begging for another gear before hauling ass even more. I could pop fourth gear wheelies from about half way through the rev-range, showing the torque from the punchy engine is strong.

It doesn’t seem to have a counter balance shaft, as you could feel that typical 2-stroke vibration. But that doesn’t take anything away from its handling or stability at speed. It just reminds you that you are on a pure-bred 2-stroke machine.

The gearing felt well-spaced with no large gaps and we never found ourselves in a situation where we needed an in-between gear on the trail. I thought I would have an issues with the carb, after months on the TPI Husqvarna we have in the shed. But apart from not being as smooth or having as much bottom end (it still has plenty), the carb fuelling engine felt livelier and at time a lot more fun to ride with. It was exciting and I liked that.

Master Stroke

Without a doubt, and no offence to the previous suspension suppliers, but the addition of the KYB suspension front and rear is a game-changer for GasGas. Gone are the days of an imbalance front-to-back, and having near-on no after-care information on setting for the Marzocchi fork or Sachs shock. They proved hard to dial in and just kinda terrible to use.

KYB shocks are not only proven in the off-road world, but they are universally known by professional racers, weekend warriors and suspension tuners across the country. Adopting them was a very smart move from GasGas.

Right out of the box, the XC 300 felt really planted to the ground and aggressive. The feedback from the suspension was strong and gave me confidence when putting the front wheel in holes, bumps, on logs or over tree roots.

It is set up on the stiffer side compared to the EC model and again promotes a more racy feel over trail riding. But the good thing about the units, like you will find on a lot of KYB’s stuff, the more you pushed the suspension and the faster you rode, the plusher they became and the better the bike felt. We didn’t play with the clickers all day, and as it was super wet, but also rock hard, it was a good showing from the new GasGas components.

Combined with the new chassis, the way the XC soaked up the tight and twisty single trail was stunning – this bike can turn! Tractable power put through the frame to the ground allowed the bike to flick left and right with minimal input from the rider while the sit-on feeling allowed you to easily get forward on the seat and get the weight on the front wheel when looking for cornering traction.

Dial the throttle on and the back steps outs easily and predictably as the engine’s power curve is smooth and deficient of any surges or flat spots. The whole package makes the GasGas easy to ride slow, and even easier to ride fast.

And it has all the extras that you have to usually purchase in addition to the bike; the Renthal ‘bars are quality, the Twin Air tool-less filter is easy to use and the V-Force 4-reed valve and factory FMF expansion chamber and silencer – specifically made for GasGas – mean your bang for buck is about as good as it gets.

Add to that the flat, soft seat with gripper cover, black rims, billet hubs, bash plate, gorgeous red frame, 10-litre tank and Nissin brakes that didn’t give a hint of fading all day – and it is clear that GasGas is back with a force, known only by the likes of Jedi Knight’s in The Empire Strikes Back.

The XC 300 is a viable option in the 300cc market. Let’s look at the options: you can buy a KTM/Husqvarna, Beta and Sherco pretty easily anywhere in our great land.

In days gone by, I would probably put all three options ahead of the GasGas if I was going to shell out my hard-earned on a new bike. The old suspension setup alone would steer me clear. It is however a new age for the Spanish brand. The mating with Torrot and current product development has seen a brand that was world class in the trials market, but only Ok in the off-road market, now reach its full potential in the latter.

If this is GasGas’ first real foray back into the world of dirt bikes, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next.