TransWorld Motocross Race Tests: 2003 85cc Machinery

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By the testing staff of TransWorld Motocross

2003 Honda CR85R Expert
Little Red Rocket

For the last six years, the full-sized bikes in the CR lineup have commanded the lion’s share of attention from Honda engineers. In 2003, however, the smallest CRs finally got a serious makeover. The Honda CR85R and CR85R Expert both boast bigger motors and all-new bodywork this year, and the changes have been nothing short of excellent.

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The biggest change came in the engine department. Through use of a bigger bore, Honda upped the mini’s displacement to 85cc. Believe it or not, that was about all the engineers had to do to make the new CR85R motor one of the—if not the—most potent bikes in the class. Unlike the Suzuki RM85L we tested elsewhere in this issue, the Honda’s engine features a standard cylinder with no power valve. Power is average down low, but once the revs begin to build the CR really comes to life. The Honda is built with a more experienced rider in mind, as its powerband is on the aggressive side. A hard hit in the middle of the rpm range gets things going in a hurry and the bike pulls hard and revs out a lot farther in each gear than the Suzuki.

On the track, our faster testers definitely appreciated the bike’s engine as it rewarded them for being aggressive with the throttle. As a matter of fact, out adult tester Josh Stice was shocked at what a punch the mini packed. In comparison to his regular CR125R, the Hatchet felt that the mini gave away nothing in the power department. Guest photo model Mike Alessi said that the new CR85R is faster in stock condition than some of his modified ’02 CR80Rs were last season, and felt that at baseline, there is no comparison between the two.

Our beginner testers, on the other hand, struggled a bit to keep the CR85R on the pipe, especially in tacky or loamy conditions that could bog the motor down when it was not being ridden hard. On hard-packed tracks, the advanced power delivery was not as difficult for lesser riders to adapt to. We bolted every aftermarket pipe and silencer combo on the CR85R in search of more low-end power. While all of them showed little gains down low on the dyno, none of our testers could feel them on the track. What the pipes did, however, was make the Honda hit even harder and pull further on top. Of all the minis we’ve tested thus far, this is definitely the racer’s bike.

Like the engine, the suspension action seems to be geared towards faster or heavier riders, especially on the CR85R Expert big-wheeled model we tested. Almost unbelievably, the bike was just firm enough for the Hatchet to nearly match his big bike lap times on, and he weighs 160 lbs.!

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The rest of the bike is typical Honda. Fit and finish of the bike as a whole is superb and the all-new bodywork is both pleasing to the eye and to the body. Nothing snags or snares the rider as he moves around on it and the rider compartment is compact enough to accommodate smaller riders, yet roomy enough for taller riders to enjoy.

The CR85R carries a retail price of $2899 and the larger-wheeled CR85R Expert is $100 more, at $2999.


2003 Kawasaki KX85
Green Means Go!

When it comes to choosing a mini motocrosser for your child, being realistic about his or her needs is important. After all, if junior is just starting out and learning how to ride; buying the fastest, most race-ready bike probably isn’t the best choice.

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Though the Kawasaki KX85 has earned its fair share of race wins at the highest levels of mini racing, the little grn bike is just what the doctor ordered for novice riders or those extra small in stature. Thanks to its powervalve-equipped engine, the KX85 delivers a smooth, easy-to-ride powerband that makes it easy for lesser riders to control. Like the Suzuki RM85, the Kawasaki’s powervalve system makes for a smooth, linear powerband, a direct contrast to the harder-hitting standard-cylinder Honda and Yamaha minis.

The KX85 engine has impressive low-end for a small engine, and the power stays nice and strong through the middle of the rpm range. The transition between low-end and mid-range is smooth, making the bike easy to go fast on for lesser-skilled riders who might otherwise struggle with a pipey powerband. The Kawasaki’s weak point is definitely top-end overrev, as it signs off and falls a bit flat up top. When the engine reaches about 11500 rpm, the engine stops making power and falls a good two horsepower short of the red and blue competition. Our faster and/or heavier testers commented that the bike would not pull hard in each gear, forcing them to shift sooner than they would have liked.

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Handling-wise, the KX85 rated very highly with all of our testers. Our novice tester noted that the bike was very responsive to rider input, and was easy to maneuver. The stock suspension is definitely set up with a lighter and/or slower rider in mind. Our intermediate tester was able to get the bike to bottom on both ends fairly easy, but our lighter novice felt that the bike worked perfectly. As is the case with all big bikes, it is hard for a manufacturer to deliver a suspension package that works ideally for riders of all sizes and skill levels. With some tweaking, the KX suspension can be dialed in to suit everyone. Fork and shock settings aside, the KX is a great handler. The perimeter-framed scooter is nimble in tight conditions, yet stable at high speeds. The ergonomics of the KX85 are very neutral and can accommodate both short and tall riders with some adjustments. Thanks to the Kawasaki’s perimeter frame the KX85 is the widest and heaviest bike in the 85cc class, but it hardly feels that way on the track.

The 2003 Kawasaki KX85 costs $3099.00.


2
003 Suzuki RM85L
Screaming Yellow Zonker

When it comes time to purchase a minibike for junior, a realistic parent takes more than just brute power into consideration. Sure, having the fastest, hardest-hitting bike on the starting line is important if your kid is racing, but what if he or she is just starting out? In this case, a pipey race bike isn’t the best choice at all.

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Though Suzuki has won plenty of races and National Championships with its popular RM85 and RM85L (big wheel), the little yellow bike is known for its potent, yet beginner-friendly engine. As one of only two manufacturers to equip its mini with a power-valve (Kawasaki is the other), Suzuki has an 85cc powerplant that has tons of hop-up potential, but is at the same time easy for beginners and novices to ride. We had riders of all abilities try out our RM85L test bike, and to double check the feedback from our pint-sized testers we sent Josh “The Hatchet” Stice out for some hot laps, as well. (Don’t laugh; even though the Hatchet was cramped on the mini, he still spanked plenty of “grown ups” on full-sized bikes…) For an 85cc engine, the RM85 motor cranks out an impressive amount of low-end power and pulls strong through the middle of the powerband. There isn’t a huge, arm-jerking hit as the motor builds revs. Instead, the bike pulls strong and steadily into an average top-end overrev. Our beginner test rider felt much more at home aboard the Suzuki RM85L than he did aboard the Honda CR85R Expert that we tested elsewhere in this issue, stating that the bike was easier to keep on the pipe and in control.

The RM85L’s suspension is set up well for riders in the 90-100 lb. range, but riders who are lighter or heavier and/or faster may need help from the aftermarket to get the fork and shock to work ideally. With only four compression adjustments on the rear shock, the RM85L isn’t the most tunable bike we’ve seen. Still, the performance of the stock suspension should suit the majority of riders with some effort dialing it in.

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Fit and finish of the RM85L is great; the bodywork is slim and easy to maneuver on, and the brakes and controls rated high with our testers. The stock steel handlebars bent in the first crash our test bike suffered, and we replaced them with sturdier mini Pro Taper AC-3 handlebars. Unfortunately, the throttle-side grip is vulcanized onto the throttle tube and virtually impossible to remove. (When little Timmy asks to replace the stock grips with fancier blue ones, make him remove the stockers himself.)

Bonuses for Suzuki riders include a free trip to Tony D’s Motocross School (a huge plus for not only beginners, but all riders), a generous race contingency program and—most importantly for parents—the Suzuki Good Scholar Program, which rewards students who maintain a good grade-point average with a $500 savings bond. With a retail price of $3199, buying a RM85 or RM85L actually gets you more than you bargained for…


2003 Yamaha YZ85

Race Ready

All new in 2002, the 2003 Yamaha YZ85 returns unchanged, with the exception of bold, new graphics. But that’s okay. Bumped up in displacement and given a major facelift last season, the YZ85 is a serious motocross race bike that delivers race-winning performance, right off the showroom floor.

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Like the Honda CR85R, the Yamaha was designed with the more experienced, more aggressive rider in mind. The straight-cylinder (no power valve) motor produces a hard-hitting powerband that gets up and goes when kept on the pipe. Low-end power is minimal in comparison to the Suzuki RM85 and Kawasaki KX85, both of which are equipped with power-valves and have good torque down low. Once the rpms begin to rise, however, things start to happen in a hurry and the YZ85 delivers a mid-range punch that is rivaled only by the Honda’s. Our novice tester was excited about the bike’s aggressive powerband, but admitted that at times it was a lot for him to handle. Faster test riders, however, loved the engine character of the YZ85. On top, the engine pulls hard in each gear and is most at home being revved to the max. Clutch action is buttery smooth and a slick-shifting rider can really keep this bike purring.

For our less-skilled riders, we experimented with larger rear sprockets and found that adding just one tooth helped the bike’s bottom-end power delivery considerably. Unfortunately, this also exaggerated the intensity of its mid-range punch but our beginner was able to adapt to this style power more easily.

Suspension action of both ends of the Yamaha YZ85 is excellent. Also designed with faster riders in mind, the Kayaba fork and shock are a little firm for smaller or slower riders, but fast or more aggressive riders will love them. In fact, we’ve heard that mini sensation Landon Currie competes with bone-stock suspension components on his YZ85. The Yamaha is a quick handler, and can carve through the inside of any corner, no matter how tight. Like the rest of the big-bike lineup, the mini YZ is stable at speed and very predictable over jumps.

All of our testers were impressed with the ergonomics of the YZ, reporting that it is slim and comfortable, with no offensive body parts to catch on your legs or boots. Some complained that the rear disc brake was on the touchy side and caused them to stall, but the front binder drew great reviews from all.

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During testing, weRM85L’s suspension is set up well for riders in the 90-100 lb. range, but riders who are lighter or heavier and/or faster may need help from the aftermarket to get the fork and shock to work ideally. With only four compression adjustments on the rear shock, the RM85L isn’t the most tunable bike we’ve seen. Still, the performance of the stock suspension should suit the majority of riders with some effort dialing it in.

[IMAGE 6]

Fit and finish of the RM85L is great; the bodywork is slim and easy to maneuver on, and the brakes and controls rated high with our testers. The stock steel handlebars bent in the first crash our test bike suffered, and we replaced them with sturdier mini Pro Taper AC-3 handlebars. Unfortunately, the throttle-side grip is vulcanized onto the throttle tube and virtually impossible to remove. (When little Timmy asks to replace the stock grips with fancier blue ones, make him remove the stockers himself.)

Bonuses for Suzuki riders include a free trip to Tony D’s Motocross School (a huge plus for not only beginners, but all riders), a generous race contingency program and—most importantly for parents—the Suzuki Good Scholar Program, which rewards students who maintain a good grade-point average with a $500 savings bond. With a retail price of $3199, buying a RM85 or RM85L actually gets you more than you bargained for…


2003 Yamaha YZ85

Race Ready

All new in 2002, the 2003 Yamaha YZ85 returns unchanged, with the exception of bold, new graphics. But that’s okay. Bumped up in displacement and given a major facelift last season, the YZ85 is a serious motocross race bike that delivers race-winning performance, right off the showroom floor.

[IMAGE 7]

Like the Honda CR85R, the Yamaha was designed with the more experienced, more aggressive rider in mind. The straight-cylinder (no power valve) motor produces a hard-hitting powerband that gets up and goes when kept on the pipe. Low-end power is minimal in comparison to the Suzuki RM85 and Kawasaki KX85, both of which are equipped with power-valves and have good torque down low. Once the rpms begin to rise, however, things start to happen in a hurry and the YZ85 delivers a mid-range punch that is rivaled only by the Honda’s. Our novice tester was excited about the bike’s aggressive powerband, but admitted that at times it was a lot for him to handle. Faster test riders, however, loved the engine character of the YZ85. On top, the engine pulls hard in each gear and is most at home being revved to the max. Clutch action is buttery smooth and a slick-shifting rider can really keep this bike purring.

For our less-skilled riders, we experimented with larger rear sprockets and found that adding just one tooth helped the bike’s bottom-end power delivery considerably. Unfortunately, this also exaggerated the intensity of its mid-range punch but our beginner was able to adapt to this style power more easily.

Suspension action of both ends of the Yamaha YZ85 is excellent. Also designed with faster riders in mind, the Kayaba fork and shock are a little firm for smaller or slower riders, but fast or more aggressive riders will love them. In fact, we’ve heard that mini sensation Landon Currie competes with bone-stock suspension components on his YZ85. The Yamaha is a quick handler, and can carve through the inside of any corner, no matter how tight. Like the rest of the big-bike lineup, the mini YZ is stable at speed and very predictable over jumps.

All of our testers were impressed with the ergonomics of the YZ, reporting that it is slim and comfortable, with no offensive body parts to catch on your legs or boots. Some complained that the rear disc brake was on the touchy side and caused them to stall, but the front binder drew great reviews from all.

[IMAGE 8]

During testing, we were able to try aftermarket exhaust pipes from the three major pipe manufacturers, and found that all of them improved the bike’s performance for riders of all skill levels. At press time, we began testing a fully built FMF YZ85 that produced nearly as much power as some stock 125s, so it’s obvious that plenty of additional performance lurks within the YZ’s cylinder.

The 2003 Yamaha YZ85 costs $2949.00.

, we were able to try aftermarket exhaust pipes from the three major pipe manufacturers, and found that all of them improved the bike’s performance for riders of all skill levels. At press time, we began testing a fully built FMF YZ85 that produced nearly as much power as some stock 125s, so it’s obvious that plenty of additional performance lurks within the YZ’s cylinder.

The 2003 Yamaha YZ85 costs $2949.00.