Slow Ride…Take It Easy
By Jimmy Lewis • Photos by Drew Ruiz
Is this the future of trail riding? Is this the cheater bike that’s going to turn EnduroCross upside-down? Have we been missing the boat on how to make trailbikes since the craze of long-travel suspension machines led us astray? Or have the trials guys had it all along and been holding out? Well, it was a long, treacherous road, but we got our hands on a Scorpa T-Ride and will answer these questions and more in Dirt Rider’s version of “We ride another weird bike.” Hey, you guys asked for it!
I’d be the first to tell you that I’m often led to and attracted by strange and awkward bikes. I’ve liked Huskys, Husabergs and Gas Gas’s in a world of Hondas, Yamahas and KTMs. I liked four-strokes before they came back and like two-strokes before they slip away. So throw me a bone in the form of one of the strangest dirt bikes to come down the pike in a long time, and I might just go head over heels. Well, the Scorpa seems to fit right in that niche between trials and trail. It’s a gap that Gas Gas tried to fill with its Pampera a while back, a concept that just didn’t catch on and was never improved upon. The Pampera was more of a putt-putt trail/dual-sport bike with an expensive price tag and the performance of a CRF230F in motor and suspension. Where the T-Ride takes a 90-degree turn from this is right at birth. It’s constructed with a Yamaha WR250F motor as a powerplant, tuned and geared for its different chassis. Most notable is the use of a 28mm Del ’Orto carburetor. This powerplant is shoehorned into a frame that’s half trials bike, some trailbike and then a little less of everything to make the whole package compact. Somehow they found the space for a two-gallon gas tank, a battery, the airbox and the muffler that rides 100 percent under the seat and rear fender. There’s enough street gear mounted to make getting a license plate possible if you live in the right state, but there’s no spark arrestor so forget about riding in a lot of places without a little home fabrication.
Electric starting makes this bike genius, yet it still has the backup kickstarter for those times you forget to turn the key off. The size of the bike is a bit strange at first, especially the slimness of the machine all the way through its length. It’s set up with a trials-bend and -positioned handlebar and the footpegs are up pretty high in relation to the seat—tall guys won’t like the fold the sitting position puts on their knees. But the bike’s seat is one of the most comfortable saddles out there today, so sitting on it is actually a charm. But when seated the bar seems high and far forward, a little off-putting but not so severe that you can’t ride the bike in a crouched position. That’s because it doesn’t take long to figure out that this bike is built to be ridden standing up. Then the bar and footpeg positions, along with the gear shifter’s location of being high and far forward (just like on a trials bike), begin to make sense. It’s an arrangement that puts a lot of weight on the rear of the bike but also has the rider in a forward position. Every rider to try the T-Ride was super impressed with its climbing ability, an area trials bikes can really suffer on, especially in softer conditions.
Once you’re used to the riding position you start paying attention to the motor. The Yamaha base is bumped up with low-end torque that no WR250F we’ve ever ridden has exhibited. A lot of this grunt comes from the smaller carb and its ability to modulate at the lower power points in the delivery. If you rev it up, the bike pulls, but it definitely doesn’t make the same top-end steam of the regular dirt bike with the same motor. We’d say the jetting was good but not great; it seemed like it could use some tuning on the pump-squirt delivery to improve the pickup when riders really wanted a big hit of power. The clutch handles abuse and has the necessary control, but since most trials bikes have hydraulic clutches with buttery light pulls, we felt something was missing here. The transmission seemed a little tighter than a standard Yamaha WR. At first we expected first gear to be a lot lower than it was, and fifth wasn’t a total overdrive, but once moving at a trail riding pace there were two or three gears for almost any situation. And since the shifter was a bit farther away than we’re used to, not having to shift was a good thing.
The chassis is the real unique part of this bike, and it seems to be a mixed bag of tricks for sure. It has that magical quality of low seat height. This, for some riders, is the best thing that they could ever do for their confidence. Being able to flat-foot with both feet is a strange but comforting feeling for shorter folk, and the Scorpa has that. At the same time the 232-pound weight isn’t all that light, and in just moving the bike around it acts a bit dense, if not downright heavy. But once you’re rolling the bike becomes feathery light and you see just how agile a bike with a short wheelbase and steep fork angle can be. It’s also super-light steering, largely because the stuff below the handlebar is all lighter than on a conventional bike. When you’re standing all your weight goes down low through the footpegs, creating a very low center of gravity, and you have a lot of leverage on the bike.
Add to this the trials-based suspension and here’s where the bike either becomes magical or mystical. With around 7 or 8 inches of travel front and rear, with both ends sprung pretty softly at that, this bike wasn’t meant to pound through bumps. Especially the rear, as it’s easy to bottom then it’s fast on the rebound, giving the bike a very springy ride that will bounce, especially when combined with the trials tires and their flimsy flex-all-over-the-place sidewalls. But if you use just a little more finesse or ride the bike slowly so it doesn’t get compromised, it comes into its own. At low speeds the suspension is plush and comfy. The full compression of the shock or fork and then the fast rebound can be utilized by the rider to spring and bounce the bike where he or she wants it. Now the T-Ride becomes like a bouncing scalpel able to pop, spring and cut wherever you point it. Factor in the great control through the bar and footpegs and the bike is a weapon in anything technical as long as the speeds aren’t too high. It prefers to be “manualed” across bumps, a technique that nonsuspended BMX bike riders use where they force the rear wheel down into the bumps, keeping it planted while the front rarely touches the ground.
On the list of usual stuff, the bike has almost two gallons of fuel and it will go about 50–60 miles depending on how you ride. It’s amazing how long that can take on a bike that likes the slow stuff. The brakes aren’t the strongest we’ve tried, but they have good feel. They are a little on the weaker side, mostly because of their size and the bike’s weight. You can’t flick the bike around with light brake touches as if you’re on a trials bike; bigger binders might be a good improvement, but these rotors stay out of the way of damage by being smaller. We had a bit of dust make its way past the fabric air filter. It rides on the top of the airbox, and it looked as if the sealing on the lid on our bike was a bit misshapen, so when the filter started plugging, dirt began going past the loose seal. Plus, it comes stock with a burly skid plate—good job!
This is a very unique bike and it may change the world. Well, Scorpa is too small to do that, but when and if KTM makes one of these, watch things change. This is truthfully a few small changes away from being the ultimate trail riding bike. It also packs some of that politically correct low-impact punch with a largely spin-free ride, and it’s quiet to boot, albeit without a spark arrestor. For mass consumption it would have to lose just a bit of its trials traits to become more of a “sit-down putt-putter” that a lot of backcountry junkies will love. It competes with bikes like Honda CRF230Fs and Yamaha TT-R230s, but it has a boatload of performance on them. Its shining feature is low seat height, but the performance packed in the chassis and agility make it much more capable than most will ever discover. Just watch the Scorpa video at www.scorpausa.com to feel really small.