There are no motocross bikes less understood by Americans than the bikes from Italian boutique builder TM Motorcycles. TMs have always been an acquired taste, largely because they have only been offered in minuscule production numbers. And that isn’t going to change any time soon. The TM factory in Pesaro, Italy, produces approximately 1000 machines a year, and if TM accelerated the assembly line to max capacity, they could produce 1700 bikes a year. Considering KTM’s 150,000-bike production run or the mega numbers of the “Big Four” Japanese brands, it’s clear there will never be a TM in every garage.
“IN THE PAST FORMER VOR, VERTEMATI AND LEM IMPORTER PETE VETRANO WOULD RETAKE THE HELE OF THE GOOD SHIP TM AND TRY TO RIGHT IT, BUT…”
Less than 200 TMs make the Atlantic crossing every year, and because of a series of importer woes over the years, that number has often shrunk to zero. The role of American importer has hopscotched from company to company, with each effort falling short. In the past, former VOR, Vertemati and LEM importer Pete Vetrano would retake the helm of the Good Ship TM and try to right it, but after stepping back in 2011 for the second time, Pete grew frustrated dealing with the Italian way of doing business—which meant late deliveries, hard-line pricing and a lackadaisical approach to the American market. In essence, he had tried to bail out TM twice, and both times he had hit a stone wall. He knew there had to be a better solution.
And that solution was his buddy Ralf Schmidt. Ralf, the largest TM dealer in Holland, Belgium and Germany, often came to the States to race, and as the Dutch TM importer, he formed a bond with American importer Pete Vetrano. They would go to the races together and talk about the future of TM. Pete was obviously jaded by TM’s missteps in America, while Ralf was enthusiastic about TM and the possibilities in the American market. During his 2014 American racing vacation, Ralf suggested that perhaps he should become the American TM importer. Pete agreed.
Ralf Schmidt is a no-nonsense Dutchman. He said, “I knew I couldn’t run a U.S. business from Holland, but luckily I have good people working for me at TM Holland, and I trusted them to run my company while I grew the American business. I flew to California in September of 2014 and bought a house on 20 acres so that I could have a warehouse, workshop and test track. I moved from Holland in October, and by January 2015 the first shipment of TMs arrived.
“I see a big future for TM to expand its U.S. dealer network,” says Ralf. “We will never be considered part of the ‘Big Seven,’ because TMs are unique bikes that are hand-built in small numbers, but they are great bikes. We have an incredible lineup of bikes, especially our 85cc minicycles and two-strokes. This is the future for TM.”
“MXA’s TEST RIDERS NEVER FELT RUSHED BY THE POWER, BECAUSE IT COULD DO AT 8000 ROM WHAT A HOPPED-UP 250 NEEDED 10,000 RPM TO ACHIEVE.”
Which leads us to our test of the TM 300MX. It is Ralf’s personal bike. He bought it back when he was visiting the USA regularly so that he’d have a bike to race when he was here. With TM USA in full swing and his time taken up with 2016 models and preparing for 2017, his 2013 TM 300MX was just sitting in the warehouse gathering dust. He decided to blow out the cobwebs and start racing it again, but only after he turned it into an up-to-date full-blown race bike.
“I wanted to build a TM project bike to prove to the naysayers how many aftermarket parts were available to modify and improve a TM. You never see TM parts listed in the catalogs of many aftermarket companies because we are so small that they can’t justify giving us any catalog pages, even though they carry TM parts. I wanted to show what was possible, and I wanted to use this bike as an example,” said Ralf.
THE LIST OF AVAILABLE MODS, PARTS AND PIECES IS FAIRLY EXPANISVE. HERE IS A QUICK RUNDOWN.
Pro Circuit. Believe it or not, Mitch Payton’s Pro Circuit powerhouse makes exhaust pipes and silencers for the TM 85, 125, 144, 250 and 300 two-strokes. Pro Circuit does not make exhaust systems for TM four-strokes.
ProX. Virtually any driveline part you need is available from ProX, including pistons, rings, bearings, clutches, swingarm bearings, sprockets, chains, brake pads, cables and hydraulic seals.
FasterUSA. Although TMs come with high-quality hubs, spokes and rims, FasterUSA offers TM-specific hubs (and, best of all, they only use six sprocket bolts instead of TM’s odd nine-bolt arrangement).
Rtech plastic. Rtech makes the OEM TM plastic. For 2008 through 2014 TMs, the plastic is available in white, blue or black. Ralf chose to use black plastic to make his TM 300MX stand out from the standard blue and white TMs.
VHM cylinder heads. TM USA offers VHM cylinder heads with a variety of combustion dome configurations, including OEM, high compression or custom-made (where you can send them your design and they will machine it for you).
Engine covers. TM USA has special finned and polished ignition and clutch covers cast in Europe to make the TM two-stroke engine stand out.
TM parts. You can order your bike with a black or translucent fuel tank. You can choose rubber-mounted or solid bar mounts. You can choose between 18- and 19-inch rear wheels. It’s possible to have an Ohlins TTX rear shock installed. Instead of the TM shock, our test bike had an Ohlins shock and re-valved Kayaba forks.
Miscellaneous. Bud Racing provides a wide range of anodized parts and special footpegs. Crosspro, from Portugal, builds TM skid plates and radiator braces for all models and all years. C84, known in Europe as Circuit Equipment, is a Brazilian company that supplies the TM GP team with hand guards, grips and handlebars. The water hoses are available from Samco. The stock brake rotors are from Galfer, but Ralf elected to swap to a full-floating front rotor from Braking. Rotor size is not an issue on TMs, because the stock rotor is 270mm. Dunlop provided a set of MX3Ss for the project bike. Moto Seat added the ribbed, color-coded seat cover. Thunder Graphics in Lake Elsinore, California, did the cosmetic makeover.
There is no doubt that TM USA’s project 300MX is a looker—it attracted crowds in the pits when unloaded by the MXA wrecking crew. But, what was it like to ride? The TM 300MX has a 72mm by 72mm bore and stroke. Virtually all 300cc two-strokes use these dimensions. That means that the 300MX piston is 5.6mm larger than the TM 250MX piston. On the dyno the stock 2013 TM 300MX makes 46 horsepower (compared to 44.02 horsepower for the 250MX). It should be noted that Ralf’s only power modifications to his project bike were the Pro Circuit exhaust, ProX piston and VHM cylinder head. These mods upped the power by 2 horsepower.
The TM 300MX’s powerband was incredibly pleasant. It offered abundant low end and a strong midrange. It worked best when ridden in the middle and lugged more than revved. The sensation of speed is muted by the increase in torque, as the powerband is broad and easy to manage. MXA’s test riders never felt rushed by the power, because it didn’t need to be revved and could do at 8000 rpm what a hopped-up 250 needed 10,000 rpm to achieve. The 300MX engine was a no-brainer to ride.
The gearing was controversial. It was very tall, but with its robust low-to-mid transition, the 300MX could pull the stock gearing, lessening the need to shift. On the other hand, some test riders wanted to play gun-and-run with the 300MX, and the stock gearing wasn’t suited to hitting it hard and fast. They wanted it geared down. In the end, since it was Ralf’s personal race bike, we let him choose the gearing. He liked it tall.
We really love the way TMs corner. Although the TM has a fairly tall seat height, it can get down and dirty in the tight stuff. What has always held TMs back in the handling department is not the frame geometry; it’s the suspension setup. Although TMs come stock with Kayaba SSS front forks, they don’t work anything like the Yamaha version of SSS. To fix this problem, Ralf sent the 300MX’s suspension to GPM Performance in Ubach Palenberg, Germany, to have it re-valved. Given TM USA’s close proximity to all of SoCal’s well-known suspension companies, this may seem like a strange choice, but for Ralf it made sense. GPM owner Philip Maassen raced for the Dutch-based TM team a few years ago and is working on his master’s degree in engineering now. But, most important for Ralf Schmidt, Philip came to California this winter to race at the same tracks where Ralf races. Philip’s credentials and experience gave Ralf confidence that GPM was the best choice for the 300MX’s setup.
How did it feel? It was very good overall, but because Ralf is taller and heavier than the average racer, it was a little stiff for our Vet test riders but perfect for the fast Pros. The valving felt right, and with little more than an oil-height change, we could have gotten the forks to work for a wider range of riders. We don’t expect you to send your suspension to Ubach Palenberg, but we like the
synergy of the story.
This is the first TM project bike that MXA has ever tested. While we have tested many TMs over the years, we have always focused on the stock machine and its strengths and foibles. It was nice to finally ride one that had all the wrinkles ironed out. For more information about Ralf Schmidt’s TM 300MX, including a list of cross-over parts from other brands that will fit on a TM, go to www.tmracing-usa.com.