Nothing brings me more joy than watching my son share the same passion that I do for dirt bikes. However making the decision (as a parent) to purchase the correct machine can be somewhat confusing, difficult, and expensive. That is where Keefer Inc. Testing comes in! We decided to do a 2019 85cc shootout for you moto loving parents out there, but also give you some insight on which bike might be best for you and your little one. This was a big undertaking for myself as it’s tough to get kids to open up on how each bike feels, but we can officially say that the 2019 85 MX Shootout has officially taken the checkered flag after three days of testing, over 50 pages of testing notes, eight test riders, and after countless engine hours have racked up on thee little bikes. The tracks we chose to test at were good for a wide range of abilities and wasn't so gnarly that your typical 85cc novice couldn't have some fun. We feel the tracks we tested on were the best tracks (combined with the prep that was performed) that brought out each machines strengths and weaknesses. In doing this we know the information gathered was the most accurate we could offer from our 11-14 year old testers. Below are the final rankings and a brief evaluation summary that were tallied up by using an olympic style scoring. If you want to hear more about each bike, get a much broader breakdown of each machine, and hear from one of the testers, click on the podcast tab to listen to the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Keefer Tested Podcast Presented By Fly Racing And Race Tech this week!
Check back soon for a “Best Settings” article for each machine and a full photo gallery. We also will be doing some “Living With” articles with a few of these throughout the 2019 year, in order to give you parents some feedback on what is breaking and what you can do to make these bikes even better. Just don’t go all mini parent on your kids! Let them enjoy riding their dirt bikes and having fun with their family and friends. #KeepKidsOnDirtBikes
The 2019 Suzuki RM85 wasn’t available when we had photo day, so look for more action shots of the RM85 when we post up the “Best Settings” article.
First Place: Tie KTM 85SX/Husqvarna TC85
MSRP: KTM 85SX $5,899.00
MSRP: Husqvarna TC85 $5,999.00
Unlike its bigger brothers, the KTM and Husqvarna are identical on paper and most of our test riders couldn't feel the difference between the two on the track, hence why we chose to have a tie for first place. Both engine packages are powerful enough to make even our pro test riders smile. Every test rider underestimated the power of the small but mighty engine, however it wasn't so gnarly that it scared our novice kids. Make no doubt about it though, these are racing that want to go fast. The KTM and Husqvarna have a smoother delivery down low (similar to their bigger four-stroke counterparts), but once both hit the midrange, they explode with a pulling power that gets you down the track in a hurry. Simply put the engines in both of these machines out perform all of the others in class and put smiles on every one of our young testers faces. Heck, I even rode them and it put a smile on my face! I wish I had these engines when I was on minis! The beauty of these motors is if you wanted to tame the power or move it around, you could very easily do so with the power valve adjuster. You can turn the power-valve adjuster on the right side of the engine 1/4 of a turn clockwise, have your little one ride the bike, come back to the pits and turn it 1/4 of a turn counterclockwise (from stock), and have them tell you which one he or she prefers. Doing this makes a big difference in the power delivery, so it’s worth the time and effort to give it a try to make the rider feel comfortable. Plus it’s a good evaluation to test their “test rider skills”. The top end and over-rev is what really sets these engines apart from the Yamaha. The Yamaha is better down low, but once opened up, the KTM and Husqvarna simply out pull it down the straights. You can just hear how much further the KTM and Husqvarna rev out when watching/hearing the kids ride each machine.
The hydraulic clutch was well perceived by each tester and the overall abuse that the KTM and Husqvarna clutches can take is better than the other colored machines. Usually air forks are a nightmare on big bikes, but in the world of small bikes, I don't think it’s as critical. Not one test rider complained about the 43mm WP AER fork and in fact it was easy to dial in for our wide range of testers. We normally stuck with the recommended 5 bar of fork pressure, but dialed it down to 4-4.5 bars for the lighter kids with great success. The KTM and Husqvarna do sit a little taller than the other bikes in the shootout so that is something parents will have to know going in before purchasing. Some of our smaller testers could quite touch the ground when seated, so be forewarned that you may have to lower the seat height for smaller riders. The handlebar bend is tall, wide, has some rise to it, but gives room for riders to grow into. The bar pad that KTM/Husqvarna use are horrible and should be replaced immediately with a foam style pad. The downside to these two machines? Price! They are over a grand more than any other bike in this shootout, so be sure you’re ready to pay for that “Race Ready” motto.
Incredible mid-top end engine delivery
Lack of bottom end power (compared to Yamaha)
Hard feeling bar pad
Could be tall for smaller riders
Who Are These Bikes For? Riders that want to go racing and ride very aggressively.
Third Place: Yamaha YZ85
Yamaha came in with a new YZ85 for 2019 and it was well perceived by most testers in our shootout. The engine on the 2019 Yamaha YZ 85 is very strong coming out of corners, but doesn't pull quite as far as the KTM and Husqvarna on top end/over-rev. The Yamaha has more of an exciting hit down low than the orange and white bikes, but just doesn’t have the recovery through the mid range like the front runners do. When some testers made a mistake coming out of corners they had to cover the clutch way more than they did with the KTM and Husqvarna. If the clutch was abused (like some novice kids can do) the YZ85 started to slip and drag during the course of the day. You could hear it starting to slip, so we were forced to change out the clutch plates after our second day of testing. The tighter the track we tested at the more the testers liked the power and RPM response of the Yamaha. It is a very exciting power delivery. The good news is that the jetting is clean and crisp with the Yamaha and comes ready to go right from the crate.
The 2019 Yamaha YZ 85’s suspension has a plush feel to it and to most testers had more comfort (in fork) on braking bumps than the Husqvarna and KTM. However our heavier testers couldn't quite get it to hold up enough for their aggressive style and had to really pay attention to downsiding jumps perfectly. Straight line stability was also praised as testers thought they could hit bumps faster at speed and the Yamaha remained stuck to the ground/planted. Compared to the KTM and Husqvarna though the Yamaha corners a little slower. Entering corners some testers thought it felt tough to lean the YZ85, which forced them to use outside lines more instead of getting into a tight rut. The handlebar bend was well liked by every test rider and the way the Yamaha fit all of our testers was amazing. Simply moving the bar mounts forward or back help create a smaller or larger rider triangle for each test rider. The ground clearance seemed to be just right for the wide range of riders as each felt comfortable right away. If you’re looking for a competitive bike that isn’t a KTM or Husqvarna, look no further than the YZ85. The blue bike should be your top pick simply because it’s a great bike that costs less than the top two machines. With a pipe and silencer the YZ85 could be as fast as the orange and white on top end.
Great bottom end power delivery
Ergonomically fits a wide range of riders
Stable at speed
Slightly slower cornering compared to Husqvarna and KTM
Black frame paint chips way too quick
Who Is This Bike For? Riders who like a lot of RPM response and like to be aggressive on fast tracks.
Fourth Place: Kawasaki KX85
Fourth place goes to the Kawasaki KX85. The green machine honestly doesn’t do anything bad, but from what we heard from each test rider, doesn’t have any real stand out “this is the best” qualities (compared to the other machines) either. The engine delivery is calculated and easy to ride, which did make our younger/novice test riders more confident in charging around the track. There is no real explosive hit out of corners, but instead the rider has tons of traction at the rear wheel that is exceptional under slippery conditions. The Kawasaki gets pulled through the mid range and top end at faster/deeper tracks and our more experienced riders were just looking for more power throughout the power curve. The jetting comes a little rich so raising the clip up one or two really helped the rich/lethargic feeling on low end. The suspension is plush yet very soft for any test rider over 100 pounds, so if you are on the bigger side, a set of heavier springs and a re-valve might be in order. The lighter/smaller kids that tested the KX85 loved the bump absorption and raved about how stable the bike was for them on rough tracks. The KX85 corners well and to most testers had the best overall cornering stability that allowed kids to push past their limits through fast sweeping corners. The Kawasaki feels longer and lower to the ground, which makes it planted once under a lean angle. The KX85 is tailor made for smaller riders as the bars are swept back/low and the rider triangle is very small. Kawasaki needs to update their bar spec and quality of handlebar as it is dated compared to the others (besides Suzuki) in the shootout. We do know with a little work the KX85 is a weapon of choice for a lot of young amateur racers, but in stock form needs some updates to make it better than the top three.
Stable at speed
Plush suspension for smaller riders
Rider triangle great for kids coming off of 65’s
Vanilla power delivery
Small cockpit for bigger kids
Soft suspension for aggressive riders over 100 pounds
Who Is This Bike For? Riders that race motocross and grand prix’s that prefer stability.
Fifth Place: Suzuki RM85
The Suzuki ranked fifth, but although the looks of the RM85 look dated, the engine is actually quite good. I would say this is the most underrated/peppy engine in the shootout. The test riders felt the RM85 had better bottom end/RPM response than that of the KX85, but couldn't quite match the top end pulling power that the other bikes ahead of it had. Top end was short and the jetting was also a little rich for sea level riding conditions. We raised the clip up one (leaner) and this helped RPM response a little through the mid and top end range. Once jetting was leaned out most testers thought the Suzuki RM85 had a lightweight feel coming in and out of corners because of the snappy throttle response down low. Lightweight testers didn't mind the mellow mid-top end pulling power feeling, but riders that were over 100 pounds and more aggressive, simply needed more engine. The suspension is soft stock and compliments lighter riders well, but if you're an aggressive or heavier 85cc rider, you will want to get some heavier springs ASAP. The ride attitude of the RM85 on the track was tougher to figure out (with aggressive riders) because most of them complained about the front end feeling low on de-cel. With some of that front end dive though came increased front end traction through corners. Just like most Suzuki’s, the RM85 turns as well as the front runners in the class and likes tight inside lines the most. If the corners are sweeping and long the Suzuki can get a little unstable/twitchy for lighter riders. Straight line stability was well perceived with larger testers and was a little harder to handle with lighter riders. A couple testers complained about vibration coming through the handlebars and the grips hurting their hands. Suzuki desperately needs to update this area of the RM85 as we think these are the same bars that were on Buddy Antunez’s Suzuki when he was an RM80 rider back in the day. Although on paper the Suzuki is heavier it feels light on the track! Even thought the Suzuki RM85 is fifth we think this is a great bike for any local or novice/intermediate racer. My son Aden says this was one of the most fun bikes he has ridden at Milestone to date! Trust me, that says something as he is pickier than his old man.
Good bottom end snap
Gives riders confidence in tight corners
Mid-Top end power
Dated handlebars and grips (cockpit)
Who Is This Bike For? A lighter novice rider that needs to gain confidence through ruts/corners.
Best Overall Categories:
Best Bottom End: Yamaha
Best Mid Range: KTM/Husqvarna
Best Top End: KTM/Husqvarna
Best Over Rev: Husqvarna
Best Fork: Yamaha
Best Shock: Yamaha
Best Cornering: KTM/Husqvarna
Best Straight-Line Stability: Kawasaki
Best Lightweight Feel: Suzuki
Best Brakes: KTM/Husqvarna
Best Ergonomics: Yamaha
Best Shifting: KTM/Husqvarna