When it comes to the off-road market, there are few real affordable trail bikes left. With showrooms dominated by enduro bikes costing in excess of seven grand in the UK, the SWM RS300R’s £5K price tag comes as a refreshing change. But with such a saving over the mainstream machines, does opting to go with the newly revised marque rather than the class leaders mean you’ll be buying now and regretting it later? Ride Expeditions decided to investigate.
THE BACK STORY
If you’ve not kept up to date with the chequered history of Italian dirt bike manufacture, here’s a quick lesson on the bits that matter for this review. In 1987, the Husqvarna motorcycle division was sold to the Italian motorcycle manufacturer Cagiva, transferring production from it’s heartland in Sweden to Varese in the north of the country, and becoming part of the MV Agusta stable.
Twenty years later in July 2007, the vast BMW empire bought the brand, intending to make a big move into the enduro market and establish the Husqvarna brand as the two-wheeled version of what Mini had become to its car division.
In essence this seemed to be going pretty well, with beautifully designed and purposeful machines being churned out from the Varese plant and the brand enjoying renewed success in the enduro market, even if motocross success eluded them. But behind the scenes, BMW were clearly going cool on the whole idea, and in a shock move in January 2013 they sold the whole shooting match to Pierer Industries, effectively though not technically, KTM.
From then the writing was on the wall for the Italian factory, as it was evident that Pierer would move production to the orange giant’s factory in Mattighofen. When this eventually happened in October 2013, the production facility and the workforce were left high and dry as the new owners were not taking even one of the existing models to the new range. The spares, the tooling, the designs were all destined for the scrap yard.
A NEW DAWN?
But that didn’t happen. Engineer Ampello Macchi had been with Cagiva, Aprillia and Husqvarna and was determined that the expertise and skills of the Italian workforce should not be wasted. Teaming up with the Chinese manufacturing giant Shineray for the necessary finance, Macchi formed a new company to resume production at the facility, choosing to revive the SWM brand that had ceased production way back in 1984.
Prior to that, SWM – Speedy Working Motorcycles – had been a powerful force within both motocross and enduro during the seventies and eighties, and as a revered Italian brand it seemed a fitting move.
Using a combination of models derived from the previous Husqvarna back catalogue and a smattering of new machines, SWM has been making slow but steady ground into a tough market place, and the RS300R is perhaps the most competitive and capable enduro machines in the range. So this is the one we wanted to test, so we hooked up with Bristol SWM dealers Classic Enduro who just happened to have a demo model ready to go.
OK so how a bike looks matters. Ugly bikes don’t sell well and kerb appeal is an important driver to buying, perhaps more so than it should be. But luckily, SWM have got it right, maintaining the red, black and white colour palette from the BMW Huskies to good effect. The logo is a reworking of the original 70’s version, a nice nod for those that know, a good logo for those that don’t. The radiator shrouds like on the predecessor TE are high mounted and make the bike look taller than it is. There are number boards on both sides of the bike, but the company’s decision to go with thin stick-on graphics rather than proper vinyl or sublimated graphics is an indication of savings made, although the 2017 model looks to have upped the quality of the side graphics
Although the bike runs a single cylinder motor, there are twin end cans that exit from the rear of the machine and look totally brilliant. Ok it’s extra weight that might not be really necessary, but hell it looks good.
The motor is compact and topped off with a red rocker cover, and although it’s not the sublime little unit that powered the TE250 and TE 310, it’s still a tidy lump with all the components well laid out and accessible.
The seat unit runs into the tank at one end and fender at the other to give a nicely flattish profile. The clocks are clear and easily visible and being a road-based model there’s even a key to lose.
If there’s one bit we didn’t like it’s the flat duckbill of the front mudguard – it just looked strange however effective it might be. But if that’s all we didn’t like it’s not much and overall it’s a good eight out of ten in the looks department.
OK so lets look at how it’s put together. The bike runs a single beam, double cradle main frame with a detachable alloy subframe. At the front there are a set of 48mm Kayaba USD forks that have adjustable compression and rebound damping that give the bike a smidge under 300mm travel. At the rear it’s a Kayaba unit again with the same adjustments available, operated through a linkage system. The shock is mounted slightly off centre to accommodate the air box. Travel at the back is just under 300mm.
For the brakes its hydraulic units both ends, with a 260mm disc with a floating caliper up front and a 240mm unit with the same caliper set-up at the rear.
Wheels are industry standard 21 / 18 combination, with a 90/90 on the front and a 140/ 80 at the back. The bikes come with Michelin Completion IV as stock but the one we rode had a Maxxis Trail Maxx tyre on the rear for better grip on the rocks.
In terms of the motor, it’s a four valve, dry sump 297cc lump running an 83 by 555 bore and stroke and a 12.1: 1 compression ratio. There’s auto-compression to aid starting and also a manual decompressor, which could prove handy if you drown the bike. Two radiators sit either side of the frame with a fan to keep things cool and a conventional wet multiplate clutch operated by a hydraulic mechanism.
The bike has an electric start and no kick-start, which seems to be the way the market is going, despite the obvious issue if the battery doesn’t have enough power to fire the motor up. This in our view is not great.
The fuel system used a 42mm Mikuni throttle body controlled by an EFI unit. And to finish things off, there’s a Regina chain linking the 13-tooth front to the 50-tooth rear chainwheel.
So in terms of the measurements, the SWM has a 1485mm wheelbase and sits at a 955mm seat height which for most riders is just about right. Ground clearance is a respectable 300mm and the whole thing weighs in at 111kg before you fill up the relatively small 7.5 litre tank, which means it is near enough 119 kg ready to go. And to please the bureaucrats, it’s Euro 3 and 4 compliant.
SWM RS300R – ON THE TRAIL
So our test for the SWM RS300 was going to be a tough one. While our normal trail riding route would take in the gentle lanes of Bath and North Somerset, for this one we’d travelled to another country entirely. OK, so it was only southeast Wales but all the same the terrain is noticeably more nadgery and technical than the West Country equivalent. Over the course of the eight hours of riding before the sun went down and sent us back across the Severn Bridge, we encountered a range of lanes from vicious rock steps, steep declines, fallen trees and rain-filled gullies that go on forever. Oh and one of the toughest lanes that we have ever encountered with a foot wide trench that was almost impossible to ride without standing over the bike. In terms of British trail riding, this was hard core.
Sitting on the bike, it immediately feels identical to the Husqvarna from which it was derived. The seat feels taller than it should be as the foam is quite hard – and that’s saying something from a KTM rider. The fat bars are wide and in a comfortable bend but for personal preference we might have preferred maybe 30mm risers or a taller bend. The clutch is super light, the front brake has a good feel and the layout of the cockpit is open and uncluttered
Although the rad shrouds are wide at the front and the twin pipes similar at the rear of the machine, the bike is particularly narrow around the mid-section which makes standing and gripping the bike really easy.
When we first set off on the bike, the gears seemed to be extremely short and we were soon in top, but on checking again the impression was partly due to the quite noticeably stepped power delivery. Almost like a two-stroke, the RS goes from a gentle burbling delivery to a full on rasping surge of power as you climb the rev range. You can really rev this little motor and it keeps on giving right up to screaming.
Once you have this dialled then the ride becomes much more enjoyable, varying from soft trickle over the greasy rocks, to banzai throttle up the muddy bits. Yes sure it feels a tad heavier than a 300 cc two stroke, but not by much thanks to the compact engine and great power characteristics.
With many of the lanes and trails being tight and technical, the balance of the bike was particularly important and the SWM came away with flying colours. The bike feels beautifully neutral, and hence moving around your weight, countersteering through the pegs and generally climbing around the machine to tackle the trail feels easy and natural. Ever on the super hard lane with the massive trench and no room to move, the RS kept plugging away, only triggering its radiator fan on a couple of occasions when the going was particularly impossible.
The bike also handles water really well. At one point we dropped down into what looked like a short river crossing, but turned into a drowned lane with two to three foot deep water stretching on for a good 200m. The bike coped well, maintaining forward motion and a protective bow wave as the water lapped all around. One of the KTMs in the group did get bogged in the water and was a real pain to expel the water, no thanks to the terrible access to the plug. Had the SWM got drowned, the plug is particularly easy to get at on the right of the bike. This might not seem much of a deal but as most four strokes have the plug so buried into the motor that you have to remove half the machine to take it out, this is a great bonus to trail riders.
Suspension wise, the set up is effortless both ends – soft enough to take the hits and rock steps without missing a beat and maintain forward movement. Combine this with the confident and reliable grunt from the motor and it’s a winning combination.
While the ergos and layout on the SWM are peachy, the hard seat loses points for all day riding.
With a relatively new machine it’s difficult to tell, but as the previous Husqvarnas kept their looks better than most Italian beauties, the SWM has good potential.
A new dirt bike for five thousand English pounds? Great value for this quality
We’re scoring 5 here too – the SWM looks great and the 2017 model is even prettier
SWM RS300R – THE VERDICT
Usually when you look at bikes that are significantly less expensive than the competition, it’s pretty obvious where the savings have been made. Cheap components, poor build quality and shonky detailing are all hallmarks of the machines at the lower end of the market. You know the ones we are talking about here …
But none of this is true of the SWM. The RS300R is well made, has good quality running gear from its brakes to its electrics and is as well specced as anything else in the marketplace. And yet it’s over two grand cheaper.
It’s difficult to ignore this type of saving.
Of course a lot of these savings comes from the fact that the new bike shares a lot of the components and tooling from the Husqvarnas that were previously made at the factory. Without having into factor in research and development costs that normally load a bikes ticket price, the guys at SWM have been able to enter the market at an extremely attractive point for potential buyers. Whether they can continue this on newer models remain to be seen, but for the moment the RS300 makes a lot of sense.
It’s a cracking little bike.
The downside of buying cheaper is of course that you have to sell cheaper, and inevitably non-mainstream bikes suffer worse depreciation than their big selling counterparts. Residual values on the SWM will not be as robust as the equivalent KTM.
But does that matter? If you are looking for a well-made trail or enduro machine that will not break the bank, then buying a brand spanking new SWM looks like a pretty attractive proposition compared to taking a chance on a second-hand bike from the likes of KTM or Husqvarna or any of the Japanese manufacturers.
RIDE EXPEDITIONS REVIEW RATING : SWM RS300R 2016
The SWM is a well-built and very competent dirt bike at an astoundingly good price, and on that basis ticks all the boxes. As a company that runs dirt bike adventures all over Asia, we like all those attributes in any bike. Inevitably with a smaller capacity four-stroke motor, the SWM is going to find more fans within mainland Europe than perhaps in Australasia or the US, due to both the nature of the trails and maybe a false allegiance to the 450 machines that is still plainly evident.
But the SWM is a great machine that can play with the mainstream manufactures on equal terms – it’s well worth considering. Check out the range here.
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