2015 Sherco 300SE-R

French Fancy

Words & pics: Paul

Rather than the advent of the four-stroke killing off the two-stroke, the first half of this decade has, if anything, seen the pre-mixers getting more popular. Paul and Whytey spent some time with the latest 2T offering from France to see if it can keep up with the Austrians…

When Sherco started producing enduro bikes back in 2002, the models which appeared off the production line looked quirky, in a way that made them instantly recognisable as European. They didn’t look modern I guess you could say, and as such, not many riders appeared to make the move from orange to blue. To be honest, we’d almost completely forgotten about Sherco, with only a quick test of a 300cc four-stroke last year being arranged by borrowing a bike that was destined for a racer in the enduro scene. It seemed a pretty sweet bike and the styling had been updated, but a manufacturer that needs to borrow a customer’s bike to let a magazine test was obviously under-resourced and not likely to be a main player. Or so we thought…
Then came the call from Dale Schmidtchen of Mojo Motorcycles. He explained how he was involved in Sherco in Australia and the importer there was now going to become the importer here. Normally, that’s a recipe for disaster. But the difference here is that Dale in based in Auckland and knows just what Kiwis want, especially us motorcycling journalists! Before we knew it, a couple of shiny new Shercos were delivered to DRD HQ which had been prepared meticulously by Blackwood Motorcycles, with the brief to go give them shit. This guy really knew how to rev us up!

Not So Weird

If it wasn’t blue you’d swear you were looking at a model from another, well-established brand, such is the attention to detail and quality of the machine, not to mention the quality of components sourced from other manufacturers. Sherco used to get their engines from Yamaha, but now they’re all their own, and they look pretty good. The 300cc two-stroke is fitted only with an electric leg, with the starter hidden nicely away behind the exhaust at the bottom of the engine where it’s unlikely to get any hard knocks and the weight is kept low. It’s light, too, with Sherco claiming the electric start is almost as light as the kick-start version.
WP provide the suspension and there’s a nice set of 48mm USD forks up front with 300mm of travel. WP also supply the rear shock, which like the forks is adjustable for compression and rebound but also has adjustment for high and low speed settings. The brakes are by another best in the business, with Brembo calipers front and rear. A 9.5litre tank means you’ll get plenty far on the Sherco before worrying about gas, while the chrome-molybdenum steel perimeter frame should give enough flex for the ride to be nice and plush.
With a seat height of 950mm, the saddle of the Sherco is up there with the highest, although once you’ve got a leg over, you’ll discover it’s a nice place to be. The LCD dash is bang up-to-date, with various modes available for you to keep a check on time, distance and speed. The Oxia ‘bars have a decent bend on them making the Sherco comfortable while standing and the controls are all quality. The long muffler looks slightly vulnerable with no plastic shrouds covering the end-can, while the long, uniform expansion chamber looks like it’s designed to produce low-mid power rather than a blistering top-end.

Trail Tornado

From the cockpit and there’s a slightly different look than we’re used to, with a slim Sherco barpad positioned in the centre of the Oxia ‘bars and a couple more switches than we’re generally used to. On the far left is a red kill button, but next to it is a rocker switch for turning the headlight on or off. Then on the right side of the ‘bar is another engine on/off switch along with a black start button that looks like it’s been borrowed from another production line. Below the starter is another switch that controls the adjustable characteristics of the power valve. Switch this at standstill and you can hear the electric servo adjusting the position of the power valve and changing the characteristics of the machine. Simply looking over the bike gives you the impression of quality workmanship, with top components joined together to make one impressive package.
Firing the 300 into life takes only a short jab on the button, with the starter engaging the instant you press it and firing the two-stroke into life. The noise from the FMF exhaust system isn’t anything too extreme, and after letting the blue machine warm up, I pulled the light clutch, selected first and headed out onto the test area.
Sharing the same suspension as the 300cc four-stroke that I also had to test at the ride, the 300 SE-R felt harsh in comparison to the plush four-stroke machine I’d already taken for a lap. With the Aria school trail ride chosen as the venue to test these two very exclusive machines, it was a surprise to come across someone riding the exact same bike. Still, after checking each other’s rides it was good to get his opinion that he was enjoying the 300SE-R.
The Aria trail ride is located in the vast King Country, with the trails set around the numerous hills and valleys of four huge stations. The tracks were hard and dusty with the corners powdering up in places, and every corner seemed to run into a hill climb of varying difficulty. You needed to keep on your toes as the speeds could get high yet there were only a few areas where riders were warned of hazards.
Thankfully the two-stroke Sherco is a sharp steerer, with what feels like a steep steering head angle making the 300 change direction within the blink of an eye. The slim saddle and smooth plastics makes you naturally grip with your legs when standing, yet there isn’t anything to get hooked up on, so it was easy to keep the Sherco under control and in a straight line when on the gas across the lumpy paddocks. Softening the front forks four clicks of compression helped with the deflection, and it didn’t take long before I was loving the power and flickability of the French machine.
The other SE-R rider I encountered runs a YZ250 as his regular ride, and he was astounded with the amount of torque that a two-stroke could produce, as he was used to the aggressive power-band of the motocross weapon. The SE-R almost has two personalities, with it happy to be sort-shifted and lugged around in the lower rev ranges like a four-stroke, but then can also be wrung out in the higher revs and into the healthy powerband. With a heavier fly wheel and an exhaust tuned to give maximum low-to-mid range power, the Sherco works best in the middle area, swapping between the torque and the power with a twist of the wrist. All the hills were dispatched with easily, even the steepest varieties that were covered in sheep tracks, and it’s easy to see why 300cc two-strokes are the weapon of choice for hard enduro riders. One gear can usually be used, with the power to attack the hill at the bottom being replaced with the torqueyness as the revs drop during the climb. If you need a bit more oomph, simply touch the clutch and the piston lights up again giving you a healthy boost at a time when you’d be frantically knocking down the gears on a thumper.
Thankfully, the gear selection was positive and the clutch was only really required when you needed a quick burst of revs. Obviously what goes up must come down, and there were plenty of big descents after you’d made it to the top of the hill, usually covered in ruts. As the bikes were literally straight out of the box, the Brembos needed a bit of bedding in to get them working properly, and once I’d adjusted the lever with the span adjuster to suit my long reach, the performance was there to get the Sherco standing on its nose. There was plenty of feel, so the chance of locking the front would only be likely in a panic situation, but you knew you had the stopping power there if you needed it.
With dust a bit of an issue in this dry area, it was good to get back to the pit and discover how easy the air filter is to access, with a simple zeus fastener at the rear of the seat allowing you to get to the filter within a second. The access is wide as well, meaning it’s not likely to be like a working out a puzzle trying to get it out and back in again.

Magnifique

Sherco have done a fantastic job with the 300 SE-R, making an easy to live with off-road bike that is a definite contender to the more established brands out there. Okay, they’ve probably taken the best of the rest and looked at what they need to do to match them; but, hey, that’s better than trying to re-invent the wheel!
The flexible powerplant is a standout factor of the 300 SE-R, which when combined with the sharp steering gives you a bike that is as happy groveling around in tight bush tracks as it is flat out in sixth gear on the fast fire breaks and trails. The rear suspension with linkage helps absorb the bigger impacts and once the forks were softened, I found the WP package was plush enough yet didn’t bottom out. Okay, there weren’t many big jumps on the trails, but there were plenty of hidden holes and drop offs which would appear from nowhere which the SE-R simply shook off and got on with tracking ahead.
If two-strokes are your thing but you’re looking for something different to pull off the trailer, then learning a bit of French might well be the answer. The Sherco is modern-looking yet still distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd, and is certainly capable enough to hold its own on the trails and enduro loops.

2015 Sherco 300 SE-R

Price: $13,490

Engine: 2 stroke single cylinder with electronically controlled exhaust booster valve
Displacement: 293.14 cc
Bore and stroke: 72 x 72 mm
Fuel system: Carburator Keihin PWK 36
Starter: Unique electric starting system
Ignition: Kokusan 220 W
Cooling System: Liquid system with forced circulation
Transmission: 6 speed sequential gearbox, primary gear drive chain secondary drive
Clutch: Hydraulic, multidisc in oil bath
Exhuast System: FMF Chamber, stainless silencer
Frame: Half perimeter frame Chrome-Molybdenum
Front Fork: WP telescopic fork, Ø 48 mm tubes rebound and compression adjustable
Front Suspension Travel: 300 mm of travel
Rear Shock: WP progressive, multi adjustable rear shock utilizing a linkage and rod system
Rear Suspension Travel: 320 mm of travel
Brakes Front:  Brembo hydraulically activated
Front Disc: 260 mm diameter front disc
Brakes Rear: Brembo hydraulically activated
Rear Disc: 220 mm diameter rear disc
Front Tyre:  90/100 – 21 inch Michelin Enduro Competition
Rear Tyre: 140/80 – 18 inch Michelin Enduro Competition
Wheelbase: 1,480 mm
Ground Clearance: 355 mm
Fuel Tank: 9.5 Liters
Dry Weight:105 kg

Switch It

Underneath the start button is a switch that looks almost out of place, but it’s probably one of the most important on the Sherco. Flick it at standstill and you’ll be greeted with the whir of an electric motor altering the position of the power valve. That sees the valve take longer to open, essentially giving you a gentler bottom-end and slightly less abrupt throttle sensitivity. You can still wind the Sherco out and get the full power, it just takes a little more to get there. Ideal for sloppy or slippery conditions where you don’t want a hard hit of power lighting up the rear tyre, it’s also perfect for when you’re on your third loop of a ride and start thinking halfway round that you should be back in the pit tent having a beer.