Gas Gas EC 515 FSR
Is the Gas Gas EC 515 FSR the best thing to come from Spain so far?
Gas Gas has been building fuel-injected dirtbikes for seven years now. The pint-sized Spanish factory has shown it’s not scared of this new-fangled electronic stuff, and in fact it was Gas Gas who first produced a street-legal EFI dirtbike – a move that put it years ahead of the pack.
Now the baying hounds have caught up, with companies such as Husky, Sherco and Aprilia selling EFI enduro machines, and Suzuki having fitted it across its motocross range.
However, Gas Gas has stayed one step ahead. Changing suppliers from Magneti Marelli to Kokusan, it also went to a battery-less system.
Now the battery supplies charge to only the lights and the e-start; all engine management electrics are powered by the stator. In fact, you can completely remove the battery and the bike will still fire from the kickstart.
Why you’d want to do that is beyond us, but it’s good to know that when the poo hits the fan, your ability to return to the cars is not dependent on a lump of lead made in China.
And the stator itself is no ordinary stator. It’s a high voltage, low inertia unit – nothing unusual there – but rather than the usual 12 windings it has 16. Half are dedicated to recharging the battery and the other half to supplying the charge to run the engine control module (ECM).
Five hundred degrees of rotation – about three quarters of the four strokes – charges a condenser sufficiently to power up the fuel pump to three bar (45psi) and boot the engine into life.
Now if you’re geeky like me and can’t get enough of this, the nerd stuff doesn’t end there. The Kokusan is not only battery-less but runs a manifold air pressure sensor, something the Magnetti Marelli didn’t.
Yawn if you must, but this has big implications for the ECM. This extra sensor monitors air pressure waves in the inlet manifold and allows the ECM to determine if the correct fuel mixture is being supplied.
The upshot of this is that once the ECM parameters are downloaded there is no need for re-trimming the EFI. It’s set and forget. Small mods that improve airflow, like new exhausts and opening up the airbox, or even performance losses caused by wear, are automatically taken into account.
Only when you delve deep into the engine’s interior and start transplanting vital organs is it necessary to play with ECM parameters.
And here again the Kokusan delivers. Engine management programs can be loaded as fast as you can boot up a computer. This has two direct effects. First, as new updates become available your dealer can download them into your bike at the next service. Second, power-tuners are now able to develop their own programs to either beef up the standard delivery or match their own in-house cam profiles and head specifications with appropriate ECM programs.
The future has arrived.
IT’S ALL NEW
Looking at the EC 515 FSR, it’s impossible to tell it apart from the 450 without the aid of the stickers on the swingarm. And like KTM, the only difference between the 450 and the big-bore is the dimensions of the pot.
We think it’s a handsome bike, but that’s a step down from early Gassers, which we thought were stunning. Gas Gas has gone to a more contemporary, angular styling reminiscent of KTM, with one-piece rearguard/sideplates, V-grooved front guards and radiator shrouds that cover the black tank.
We like the switchgear, which is worlds ahead of anything else we’ve seen. Rather than the stone-age boulders of plastic with embedded buttons waiting to be smashed by the first low-side, Gas Gas has given us a tiny round dial with inbuilt LED lights neatly tucked away behind the bars. It’s a thing of beauty.
The various displays that were on the speedo are now incorporated into the dial as LED lights. The Acewell speedo has been replaced by a much more attractive, colour-coded Trailtech speedo.
The cockpit is minimalist, functional and attractive. At last someone has given us what we want.
BUT WHAT’S IT LIKE TO RIDE?
The EC 515 FSR is slim, low and feels light in the hand, and that’s a good start. It’s immediately comfortable, which inspires confidence, and that’s desirable on a bike sporting an open-class engine with the added performance of EFI.
The suspension is handled by an Ohlins at the rear and a Marzocchi 48mm Shiver up front – a package that has worked well for Gas Gas in the past. Gas Gas was keen to inform us it’s done a lot of work on the valving for the Shiver to improve the action’s suppleness and progression.
Once the show is rolling the initial nimble feel is confirmed. The big FSR tips into corners better than any big-bore on the market, even the previous title holder, the lovely TM 530.
The slim profile and low seat height make moving around on the bike and getting your legs out easy. The front wheel goes exactly where you point it and it stays there. It will carve up the tight line or blast the wide line with equal ease.
Gas Gas has made this bike handle well in the tight bits without sacrificing any straight-line stability.
The big Gasser comes with the same Adler slipper clutch fitted to the 450 FSR for the last three years. The slipper has two major effects: clutch pull is ridiculously light (most riders ask if it’s still connected), and the engine braking effect of the big-bore engine is removed.
This might sound like a detrimental side-effect, but once accustomed to it you realise it dramatically increases the stability of the rear under hard braking, and during corner entry. And that can’t be underestimated on a bike this fast.
The work the factory has put in with the valving has reaped plenty of reward, and this 48mm Shiver is the best conventional Shiver fork it’s served up.
It’s still a shade behind its 50mm big brother, and the Ohlins, but it’s a good, honest, hard-working unit. Both the front and rear soaked up the jittery stuff well, and also coped with our regular diet of water bars and rock steps. We were hitting obstacles as fast as we dared, and not once did the big Gasser step out of line.
When you buy a big-bore you’re after something that stirs the blood. This bike won’t disappoint. From idle, the engine pulls hard, in fact to say it pulls like a 14-year-old is doing it an injustice.
No, this engine has enough torque to send a Collins class sub into orbit. The power is strong and immediate. Let it work a little and you get into a mid-range that threatens to change the Earth’s orbit. From here the bike freely revs to the limiter while making strong, useable power.
Hills? What hills? Point the big Gasser at a climb, wind on the power and watch the hill get sucked under its front wheel.
There’s not a shadow of doubt, this FSR is fast and you know it the second you wind the grip. But it’s not intimidating “ooohhh, sh*t!” power unless you do something stupid. However, overstep the mark and things will go wrong very quickly.
Getting on the gas early is easy, and the combination of predictable power and scalpel-sharp handling takes all the hard work out of it.
IS IT GOOD VALUE FOR MONEY?
A modern enduro bike is not a cheap item. A new European four-stroke will set you back around $13,000 by the time you put it on the road. So what do you get for the money when you hand over the readies at your local and friendly Gas Gas dealer?
Like all European bikes it comes with a quality alloy muffler that actually works, something that most of the Japs can’t seem to manage (and that we’ll harp on about until they do).
The standard bars are quality Hebo tapered alloy units and attached to them is switchgear that’s second to none in terms of design and practicality. A stainless steel exhaust system (that resists rusting), quality plastics and Hebo grips round out the package.
Mechanically, you get class-leading EFI technology and an Adler slipper clutch (a $1000 aftermarket accessory on any other brand) – so on purely a bang-for-buck level this bike is good value.
The Gasser comes with plastic handguards and a bashplate too. In reality they do little more than look pretty, so we’d replace them with more substantial units as soon as we wheeled the bike home. We’d also bless this machine with a decent set of radiator guards.
Other than that it’s the usual four-stroke ownership demands. A regular oil change with quality oil and frequent air filter maintenance are both compulsory.
The FSR motor has certain similarities with Suzuki’s DR-Z400 mill, strange as that may seem, and has shown itself to be equally robust. However, we have an inkling that the EC 515 FSR is going to cost its owner a small fortune in rear tyres. Chains and sprockets won’t set longevity records either.
Is this the best big-bore ever made? In my opinion, there’s not a shadow of a doubt. And all the Mad Monkeys believe they were on something special.
It was fast, furious and hell fun to ride. It’s like riding the ‘Kingda Ka’ roller coaster. You scream, holler and laugh all the way, then you want to do it again and again and again.
To comment on this article click here Published. Wednesday, 15 July 2009
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