The 2022 GasGas EX 350F landed in our garage just as the snow started falling on our favorite mountain single-track, prompting the nannies at the United States Forest Service to close them down for the winter. That moved the venue of our review to the Mojave Desert, and we certainly can’t complain about that. Despite the many shortcomings of California, the ability to ride year-round on a wide variety of terrain makes the downsides considerably more tolerable.For those not familiar with the GasGas saga, it’s a Spanish brand that started up in 1985. As is typical with Spanish motorcycle companies, financial issues constantly reared their ugly heads. Eventually, GasGas was purchased by KTM AG, which already owned KTM and Husqvarna. KTM has continued to sell the Spanish-made GasGas trials bikes, while selling off the enduro manufacturing capability to Rieju, another Spanish company. The GasGas enduro models are based on the platform shared by KTM and Husqvarna, with a focus on simplicity and a lower cost.
The 2022 GasGas EX 350F brothers are the KTM 350 XC-F and Husqvarna FX 350 off-road race bikes, with the GasGas getting a bit of massaging and cost-cutting. You won’t find the traction control or power modes that the KTM and Husky enjoy, and the exhaust is simplified by eliminating the resonator in the header pipe. The suspension units are the same as its Austrian brothers—including the WP Xact air fork—but with a GasGas-specific suspension setup. The GasGas has the same swingarm as the Husqvarna, which is different from the KTM. GasGas specific parts include the bodywork and a forged, rather than machined, triple clamp.In exchange for these differences, the 2022 GasGas EX 350F is $600 less expensive than the KTM equivalent and $700 below the price of the Husqvarna version.Marketed by GasGas as “one hell of a fun ride,” we took the 2022 EX 350F out to the Mojave Desert to have some fun. Spoiler alert: We had tons of fun, and kept going back for more.To please the tailpipe sniffers in the Californian government, we installed a Fisch Moto Spark Arrestor insert into the stock GasGas muffler. This clever $79 unit takes just a couple of minutes to install when you need it, and it can easily be removed when you don’t need a USFS-approved spark arrestor. You can also swap it between exhausts with identical inner diameters and depths.The short-stroke DOHC 350cc engine has lots to offer for a desert rider. It combines the free-revving nature of the GasGas 250F motor with some of the grunt of the SOHC 450F powerplant. The result is a highly flexible motor with an impressively flat torque curve with the meat of the powerband stretching from about 5k to 13k rpm, approaching its near-50 horsepower peak output about 1500 rpm before the rev limiter kicks in.There’s no hitch in the power as it builds, so the delivery is extraordinarily predictable, usable, and adaptable to any conditions. From just off idle to 5000 rpm, the motor is delightfully docile in the tightest situations—flameouts and stalling are non-issues.Matching the broad powerband is a wide-ratio six-speed transmission. You have to work to be in the wrong gear when riding the 2022 GasGas EX 350F. Typically, I found myself shifting fairly early, enjoying the midrange torque and less frantic power delivery. Remember, this is a fun test—not a race test.The desert floor is mostly flat, but there are channels of unpredictable width and depth caused by infrequent, though often intense, rainfall. You can be ripping across the desert and, all of a sudden, there’s a chasm you may not have spied while scanning the oncoming terrain. This is one of the instances where the EX 350F is especially fun.Unless you have the motor completely tapped out, all it takes is a blip of the throttle, and the torque-everywhere powerband delivers instant front-end lift to clear most gaps. When I had time, I’d preload the linkage-assisted WP Xact shock to get a bit of lift to smooth the hit on the opposite side of the gap.When I couldn’t clear an obstacle, the shock didn’t punish me. Instead, it seamlessly absorbed the impact—no hard bottoming from too-soft suspension, or a kick skyward from a too-hard setup. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell if I was riding great, or the EX 350F was simply camouflaging any errors I made.One of the great joys of desert riding is slaloming at high speed through the bushes. The GasGas EX 350F excels here, with the front end responding as desired. If I was in the mood to get loose and steer with the rear Dunlop Geomax AT81, a twist of the throttle rewarded me instantly. I could spin up the rear wheel at will and slide back-and-forth whenever I liked—great fun.The average undulations across the desert were beautifully handled by the WP Xact suspension combination. The air-assisted fork provides superb feel, as well as a compliant ride that resists bottoming when things go wildly wrong. The action is neither overly plush nor excessively taut. Indeed, it is on the firm side, as the GasGas EX 350F does have a racing heritage and capability, yet it never feels even remotely harsh.At 170 pounds sans gear and riding at an intermediate level, the WP Xact suspension felt like it was set up for me in stock condition. I wanted neither firmer nor softer action. That’s a good thing, as I’m not well-versed in the world of air fork suspension. Given that air forks require more attention than a traditional spring-suspended fork, it seems odd that GasGas wouldn’t give its “fun” motorcycles less fussy suspension. Regardless, the 2022 GasGas EX 350F has fantastic, perfectly balanced suspension that makes trail riding a joy.Although the desert is associated with sand, and there’s plenty, there are also lots of rocks when crossing desert mountain ranges. That includes highly technical rocky trails, brutal hillclimbs, and downhills that are steep and loose. This is where the desert truly challenges motorcycle and rider. The chassis and the motor of the EX 350F conspire to make the rider feel confident. The expansive powerband means less shifting and clutch work. Although the GasGas lacks the fancy electronic traction control its Austrian siblings enjoy, I rarely miss it. I can effortlessly dial in the power I need, and the motor does not unexpectedly spin up the outstanding all-around Dunlop AT81.Shifts in tricky conditions are flawless, and the transmission never demands my attention—it changes gears as needed in both directions, and false neutrals are not part of the program. This sort of controllability makes for ever-increasing hillclimb confidence.What goes up must come down, and the GasGas EX 350F combines engine compression braking with Brembo calipers on the disc to provide absolute deceleration control. Again, the Dunlops are a big help, as they put the braking power to the ground with authority. On faster downhills, the EX 350F lets me know that it will go where I point it, without drama.Working through the rocky hills with tight trails doesn’t faze the EX 350F. First gear is low enough that clutch slipping is kept to a minimum. When it’s needed, the DDS hydraulic clutch has a precise feel and a pull that’s not fatiguing.One of the most difficult obstacles on the desert floor is a volcanic rock garden. The lava rocks are of irregular shape and can be tire-slicing sharp. The WP suspension comes to the rescue, nicely preventing the front end from deflecting. It handles the rocks so well that it encourages more throttle, rather than less. Wicking it up gets you on top of the rocks, and that’s a rewarding feeling. The EX 350F makes the rider feel right at home, and that’s what motorcycle riding fun is all about.Sand washes are another fun-inducing feature of the desert, and the 2022 GasGas EX 350F is happy for you to pour on the power—the more, the merrier. Here, the motor gets to stretch its legs, getting up on top of the sand and ripping through the deep sand at high speed. Sure, a steering damper wouldn’t hurt, but the EX feels good without it.The 2022 GasGas EX 350F has completely natural ergonomics. I instantly felt comfortable, and never felt out of sorts on it. I like the smooth transitions of the GasGas plastic—sometimes KTM plastic disagrees with my Alpinestars Tech 7 boots. That was not an issue on the 350F. Although the seat is predictably firm, I found it comfortable, even on longer rides. Hand and foot controls are where I want them to be, and work as I expect them to work—perfect. Holding 2.5 gallons, the fuel tank has a larger capacity than an MX bike, yet it stays out of the way.We’re still early in the evolution of the GasGas brand. We’ve long wished for friendly trailbikes from KTM, and were consistently rebuffed with the Ready To Race credo. Having said that, if you’re looking to compete in lower classes, you might just find the GasGas EX 350F to be a less-fatiguing mount that helps you get to the checkered flag, even if you don’t get there first.KTM AG has positioned GasGas as the “fun” brand, and we think that’s a great idea. We had an absolute blast on the 2022 GasGas EX 350F, and its softer suspension was undoubtedly a contributing factor to its enjoyment at non-competitive speeds. This is an encouraging start in the “fun” genre, with its winning combination of an easy ride and spectacularly usable motor.Photography by Kelly CallanRIDING STYLE
KTM RC 390 and Gordon McCall of Quail Motorcycle Gathering
byMotos and Friends by Ultimate Motorcycle
Hello and welcome once again to Ultimate Motorcycling’s weekly Podcast—Motos and Friends.
This week’s Podcast is brought to you by Yamaha motorcycles. Discover how the YZF-R7 provides the perfect balance of rider comfort and true supersport performance by checking it out at YamahaMotorsports.com, or see it for yourself at your local dealer.
This week features Senior Editor Nic de Sena’s impressions of the new KTM RC 390. The entry-level KTM has always been an impressive motorcycle that has sold extremely well, however the factory has now taken the bike to another level, with top-spec features that are typically found on flagship machines. Clearly KTM has realized that even smaller engined machines should have high spec suspension, brakes and electronics packages. Nic tells us how well the new RC 390 is equipped, and what he thought of riding the smaller displacement rocket.
In the second segment I chat with automotive and motorcycle industry icon, Gordon McCall. Gordon is the Director of Motorsports at the Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel Valley, California.
This weekend of Saturday May 14th sees the annual Quail Motorcycle Gathering re-start after its Covid-forced hiatus, and having attended every one of the previous Motorcycle Gatherings, personally I’m very happy that the event is back on the schedule. Gordon chats about the event and a little of what’s happening this year. It’s a great event and if you feel like a trip to the gorgeous Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley, you’ll get to meet Gordon, Roland Sands, and of course a large number of stunning motorcycles too.
From all of us at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!