MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE YCF BIGY 190MX ZE PIT BIKE
Q: WHAT ARE YCF MOTORCYCLES
A: If you live in America, there is a good chance you have never heard of YCF pit bikes. Not because it is a new company, as it has been around since 2005, but because the bikes weren’t sold in the USA until 2019. Believe it or not, YCF sold over 8000 motorcycles last year in 18 different countries. To put that into perspective, YCF sold roughly four times more bikes in 2018 than TM Motorcycles produced. YCF is no small potatoes. It is focused on bringing back the once extremely popular pit bike craze to the world.
Q: WHERE ARE YCF BIKES MADE?
A: This is somewhat complicated to explain, but here it goes. Frenchman and former professional racer Yannick Coquard wanted to up the ante on pit bikes. He wanted to make inexpensive play bikes that were lighter, stronger and better than what the “Big Four” Japanese brands offer below the high-priced spread. YCF stands for “Yannick Coquard Factory.” After a few years of experience and success, Yannick built a 53,000-square-foot factory in Guangdong, China, that is dedicated to the development and production of YCF motorcycles, with an additional 27,000-square-foot factory for CNC machining parts.
With that said, YCF is a French company that makes its bikes in its own factory in China; however, YCF doesn’t manufacture its own engines. The huge China-based motorcycle/engine company Zongshen, which sells over 1,000,000 motorcycles per year on its own, provides YCF with the engines for many of its bikes, including the Bigy 190MX ZE Factory we tested.
Q: WHY DID WE TEST A BIKE NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT IN THE STATES?
A: A start-up manufacturer wanting to break into the American market has to start somewhere. YCF got its start in France with the help of many top MXGP riders who all have YCF pits bikes in their garages. In Europe, YCF has over 250 dealers. Once YCF got some momentum going on the continent, it waited for the correct time to break into the American market. YCF took its first steps in 2019 when Yannick moved to America to build a YCF office in Edgewater, Florida. In the first year, YCF locked down 14 YCF dealers, most of them located on the East Coast. With that said, YCF is on the move. Yannick has set a goal of getting over 200 dealers in the U.S. by the end of 2020. Dealers are the lifeblood of any successful motorcycle company; the dealers are the foot soldiers who connect the manufacturer to the consumer. Pit bikes are becoming a thing again, and since it was the USA that first launched the pit bike phenomenon 20 years ago, MXA would like to think it could happen again. Fun is, after all, contagious.
Q: OUT OF THE 19 MODELS YCF MAKES, WHICH ONE DID WE PICK TO TEST?
A: YCF makes a range of bikes—from 50cc starter four-strokes to 190cc four-stroke play bikes. Fun fact: YCF has also joined the electric revolution with two 50cc electric bikes. However, since most members of the MXA wrecking crew are adults, who still act like kids, we voted to go with the biggest bike YCF makes—the Bigy 190MX ZE Factory. It is a 187.2cc, air-cooled, single-cylinder four-stroke with 17/14 wheels (the same-size wheels that are on 85cc machines) and a seat height of 35 inches. It retails for $2999. This isn’t a big bike by any means, as YCF prides itself on being a pit bike company, but 187.2cc is big in the pit bike world.
Q: WHAT POPULAR BIKES ARE IN THE SAME RANGE AS THE BIGY 190MX ZE?
A: Remember the days of riders dumping thousands of dollars into making their purpose-built play bikes into pit bikes? They even had a National Championship held every year in Las Vegas. Kawasaki, Honda and Yamaha never meant for its play bikes to be raced, jumped or abused by adults. They eschewed higher bars, bigger displacements and longer-travel suspension. The Japanese manufacturers made their bikes as starter bikes at an affordable price point. Although hindsight is 20/20, these manufacturing juggernauts should have capitalized on the changing market when pit bikes exploded. Instead, YCF did. YCF made what the big manufacturers would call a trail bike into a full-blown pit bike that is ready to huck jumps and line up at the starting line.
The Japanese models that we would consider in the same category as the Bigy 190 are the Kawasaki KLX140 and the CRF125F. They all offer the same wheel sizes (14-inch rear and 17-inch front), and they all are within $200 of each other in price, with the YCF being the cheapest. It is obvious that the YCF offers a bigger engine, but what really caught our eye was the seat height and ground clearance of the bike in comparison to the KLX140 and CRF125F. The YCF is 6 inches taller and has a ground clearance that is 4.5 inches higher than the CRF and 4.3 inches taller and 3.5 inches further off the ground than the KLX. We know having a higher center of gravity isn’t usually a good thing; however, not having enough suspension travel and ground clearance isn’t good, either.
Q: SINCE YCF BIKES ARE MADE IN CHINA, DOES THAT MEAN THEY ARE CHEAPLY MADE?
A: We have been as disillusioned with inexpensive Chinese motorcycles as anyone. In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for a rider to break a small part on the Chinese pit bike he bought at an auto-parts store only to find out that the company went out of business six weeks after he bought the bike. We know what you are thinking, because when we got our hands on the YCF, we thought we were going to snap the frame in half the first day of riding it. The first hint that the Chinese-made YCF bikes weren’t made of papier-mâché (like most Chinese bikes) was the minimum six-month parts warranty. We talked to the owner, Yannick Coquard, personally, and he said that, in most cases, if someone calls about a bike problem, he will generally warranty it up to a year after purchase—as long as it isn’t user abuse. Warranty follow-through is the first sign that a producer believes in his product, because if the bikes broke all the time, he would have been out of business years ago. Yannick offers a warranty—based on two decades in business—that trumps the Japanese manufacturers’. That is impressive to say the least.
Q: SO WHAT IS THE BIGY 190CC LIKE TO RIDE?
A: The YCF 190 is cold-blooded. It needs to be nice and warm before you hit the track. The first thing you notice at the crack of the throttle is its torquey bottom-end power. It gets up and goes—fast. Once up to speed, the power levels off and builds slower. In stock trim, the jetting is too rich. It had a serious bog down low. We dropped to a 110 main jet to clean up the Keihin PE28 jetting. Since the bikes are jetted for France’s elevation and weather, Yannick is working on developing jetting specs for all the YCFs in the U.S. Yannick plans to have the jetting worked out tout de suite.
We rode the YCF 190 on big open tracks, tight tracks, backyard tracks and jump tracks. Since the engine offers good torque, the power suits tighter tracks well. Our test riders felt the bike ran out of steam on the high-speed tracks, although YCF has a solution for that. YCF offers a 212cc big-bore kit for $299 that will pump up the power output for faster tracks.
In out-of-the-crate trim, the YCF felt unbalanced. The forks were soft and the shock was stiff—and with that comes the inevitable stinkbug stance. Much of the weight of the engine is on the front wheel as well, making the rear end light. The skewed weight bias made the bike unstable, while the forks dove under braking and bottomed any time the bike left the ground; however, the ENGI forks and shock had adjusters that some of the Japanese bikes don’t offer. Our test riders went much stiffer on the forks and lowered the rear, softening the compression on the rear as well. This helped the handling dramatically. After clicking the dials, we were impressed with the suspension, as it held up well for our big riders yet offered comfort on the bumps. We could tell YCF didn’t skimp on the ENGI suspension components.
Q: IS THE BIGY 190 ELECTRIC START?
A: Yes! And it works great. It also has a kickstarter that sticks out like a sore thumb, literally. Take it from us, you should remove the kickstarter and plug up the hole, because the kickstarter shaft sticks out further than the cases, making your boot hit it. Test riders complained that they could feel the kickstarter against their right leg every time they gripped the bike with their legs. We understand why YCF offers both the e-start and the kick start, but it is time to believe in your product and let it go. This will make the YCF 190 rider feel more at home on the bike.
Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?
A: The like list:
(1) Purpose. We love that this is a purpose-built pit bike for adults and kids with enough power and suspension to use in the real world.
(2) Warranty. The six-month warranty gives us peace of mind.
(3) Suspension. Even though the forks and shock aren’t perfectly mated to each other, they do a good job on what the bike is made for.
(4) Made in China. We love that YCF has gone against the grain to make a Chinese product that doesn’t fall apart after the first ride.
(5) Parts. YCF claims that it has every part for its bikes in its Florida warehouse, where you can get two-day shipping straight from the website (www.ycfusa.com)—although YCF hopes to sign up enough YCF dealers to make the parts available in your hometown.
(6) Electric start. This makes everything better, unless it doesn’t work. This one does.
Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?
A: The hate list:
(1) Kickstart. The kickstarter shaft sticks out too far. Our test riders hit their legs on it.
(2) Allens. Many of the bolts on the YCF have Allen heads. It would make life easier if the bolts were the usual 8mm, 10mm and 12mm hex-head bolts that are standard issue on all dirt bikes, plus everybody already has the proper tools.
(3) Stinkbug. The rear of the bike sits too high. Lowering the rear of the bike would create better balance fore and aft.
(4) Rear brake pedal. The rear brake pedal is massive. When you put the bike on a bike stand, the rear brake pedal hangs down and makes the bike sit all caddywampus. We talked to Yannick about this, and he is already working on something more logical.
(5) Cheap parts. The majority of the YCF 190MX is bullet proof. However the kick stand and shift lever broke in no time.
(6) China. Hopefully YCF will be able to keep ahead of the curve in China-USA relations.
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
A: The Big Four Japanese brands—well, three of them at least—have tried hard to reinvigorate their play bike lineup of small bikes, but the Japanese brands come up short on offering pit bike-specific motorcycles (small bikes with added performance). With YCF already selling 8000 units and planning to expand into the U.S. with 200 dealers in the next year, YCF will be a force to be reckoned with if the pit bike craze makes a comeback. We give kudos to Yannick Coquard for taking a chance on reinventing this niche market. He is the first to build a Chinese-made pit bike right.
MXA’s test riders had fun riding the YCF 190. All the meat and potatoes are there to make a great pit bike, play bike or trail bike. Yes, there are a few peccadilloes that need to be worked out, but we hope that YCF is successful enough in the U.S. to get a chance to do that.