MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2023 GASGAS MC350F
THE GEAR: Jersey: Moose Racing Sahara, Pants: Moose Racing Sahara, Helmet: Arai VX-Pro4, Goggles: Scott Prospect, Boots: Gaerne SG-12.
Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2023 GASGAS MC350F BETTER THAN THE 2022 GASGAS MC350F?
A: No, but it isn’t any worse. In truth, it might be the smartest buy of 2023. We’ll explain as we go along.
Q: HOW DOES THE 2023 GASGAS MC350F DIFFER FROM THE 2023 KTM 350SXF?
A: Lots of ways. First, the 2023 KTM 350SXF is all new from the ground up—new engine, new frame, new subframe, new swingarm, new rear axle, new shock, new bodywork, new electronics, new seat, new air filter, new rear brake pedal and new triple clamps. On the other hand, the 2023 GasGas MC350F is unchanged from the 2022 model. It uses last year’s KTM, Husky, and GasGas frame and engine (and, of course, the old subframe, old swingarm, old rear axle, old shock, old bodywork, old electronics, old seat, old air filter and old rear brake pedal).
The 2023 KTM 350SXF (and for brevity’s sake, the Husqvarna FC350 is covered by the KTM umbrella) is essentially a first-year model, while the GasGas MC350F has stayed the same since KTM bought the brand and started producing the platform-shared bike in 2021. The KTM got a totally new platform for 2023, which means that for the first time since the Spanish brand went Austrian, it is not platform-shared wth KTM and Husky.
Q: WHY AREN’T WE UPSET THAT THE 2023 GASGAS MC350F DIDN’T GET ALL OF THE 2023 KTM 350SXF’s BELLS AND WHISTLES?
A: To tell the truth, most MXA test riders, who can choose any bike in MXA’s stable of 2023 machines to race, gravitated towards the GasGas early on in the test regimen. These are spoiled and pampered racers, so, at first glance, it was surprising that they wanted to race the three-year-old GasGas MC250F, MC350F and MC450F instead of the new whiz-bang, Buck Rogers-replica 2023 KTMs and Huskys.
The GasGas package stands alone. It isn’t riding in on the coattails of the KTM 350SXF anymore (at least for this model year). It is a proven design. The GasGas isn’t bug-free, but at least the bugs are well known. The KTM 350SXF is a new species with its own peculiar bug infestation. Perhaps the biggest reason that the 2023 GasGas MC350F is a studio hit with the MXA gang is because it is now completely different from the orange KTM and whatever color the Husqvarna is. Below is a list of how the MC350F differs from its Austrian brothers.
Q: HOW DOES THE 2023 GASGAS MC350F DIFFER FROM THE 2023 KTM 350SXF?
A: As a refresher course, we’ll break down the real performance-altering differences between the MC350F and the 350SXF.
Suspension. Right up front, the GasGas suspension is softer. From its inception, the GasGas setup was designed to suit the needs of the vast majority of forgotten riders—Novices, Vets, old-timers, trail riders and play riders. Conversely, it isn’t well suited to heavier or faster riders, but it is perfect for the typical Vet.
Shock. The 2023 KTM 350SXF and Husky FC350 shocks are spec’ed with 45 N/mm shock springs and stiffer valving than the GasGas MC350F. The GasGas shock has a plusher 42 N/mm spring and lighter damping.
Forks. The KTM 350SXF and Husky FC350 share the same fork valving (both with Hydro-Stop), while the GasGas forks have lighter valving (sans Hydro-Stop). Of course, every WP air fork can be made stiffer or softer with the use of WP’s pump, but overall, the GasGas forks were planned from the git-go to be softer. And so was the suspension valving, as the internal valving on both the forks and shock is also softer.
As a rule of thumb, faster riders need stiffer suspension because they’re hitting bumps, ruts and jumps harder. Fast riders need suspension that won’t dive excessively coming into corners or on the face of jumps. Slower riders need softer suspension to compress over the bumps, because they aren’t going the same speed as the Pros.
Tires. Unlike the Dunlop MX33-equipped KTM and Husqvarna, the GasGas is spec’ed with Maxxis MaxxCross MX-ST tires. We like the grip of the rear tire in pure intermediate conditions, but have thrown knobs when we pushed it into hard-pack terrain. The front Maxxis tire is workman-like at best. There are brand-new Maxxis motocross tires for 2024.
Exhaust. The GasGas MC350F doesn’t have a resonance chamber in the head pipe, which leaves extra midrange horsepower on the table (easily found with an aftermarket exhaust).
Map switch. The GasGas MC350F engine has a complete suite of maps, Traction Control and Launch Control embedded inside the MC350’s ECU; however, the bad news is that the 2023 GasGas does not come with the switch to access anything but the stock map. That is a $170 bummer.
Q: WHAT ARE THE BIG PLUSES OF THE GASGAS MC350F COMPARED TO THE KTM 350SXF?
A: First and foremost, the GasGas MC350F is a known quantity. Unlike the next-gen 2023 KTM and Husqvarna, the 2023 MC350F is a tried-and-true platform. Riders know what to expect from it. It doesn’t require a long break-in period. It is easy to ride, compliant over bumps and nimble in the corners.
Second, at 219 pounds, the GasGas is 6 pounds lighter than the KTM 350SXF or Husky FC350.
Third, the power output of a 350cc engine is perfectly situated between that of a 250 and a 450. With 54.5 peak horsepower, it can run with 450s, especially given its ability to rev higher and pull longer. As a bonus, it is stronger at low to mid than any 250, giving it added thrust out of corners without the arm-stretching jolt of a 450.
Fourth, it is true that the GasGas MC350F price went up by $300 for 2023 to $9899, but it is still $900 cheaper than a Husky FC350 and $800 cheaper than a KTM 350SXF.
Q: WHAT ARE THE DOWNSIDES OF THE 2023 GASGAS MC350F COMPARED TO THE KTM 350SXF?
A: There is a lot to like about the 2023 GasGas MC350F, most notably the compliant chromoly steel frame, light weight, sleek bodywork, proven engine and time-tested geometry, but we did have issues with the 2023 MC350F. Here is the short list.
(1) Triple clamps. The most noticeable on-track difference between the KTM and GasGas are the triple clamps. The KTM is spec’ed with CNC-machined billet triple clamps. The GasGas MC350F comes with forged aluminum triple clamps borrowed from the KTM, Husky and GasGas off-road models. As for the differences, the forging is softer and more forgiving in the rough, while the billet triple clamps are more accurate on corner entrance. Some test riders prefer the flexible clamps because they are more comfortable going through harsh terrain, but in back-to-back tests against the billet triple clamps, every test rider could feel the added accuracy at turn-in of the beefier CNC’ed clamps. If you prefer to keep the stock GasGas triple clamps, try upping the torque specs on the top triple clamp to 22 N/mm and on the bottom clamp to 17 N/mm. This helps lessen the vague feel.
(2) Bells and whistles. Not every rider needs all the bells and whistles that come on modern motocross bikes. Case in point, the 2023 GasGas MC350F did not get the exotic electronics package that the 2023 350SXF and FC350 come with. Instead of Quick Shift, Traction Control, Launch Control, an hour meter and two distinctly different maps, the GasGas MC350F comes with one map and no added accoutrements. GasGas does offer an accessory map switch to give you access to the two maps, Traction Control and Launch Control.
(3) Airbox. GasGas needs to offer an optional vented airbox cover, like they do for KTM and Husky, so the engine can breathe because when it breathes properly, it is noticeably more responsive. The stock GasGas cover is very closed off. You can order vented GasGas airbox covers from UFO Plastic in red, white or black.
(4) Hydraulics. The 2023 GasGas MC350Fs that rolled down the Mattighofen assembly line early in the production schedule came with Brembo brake and clutch hydraulics. Later in the production run, the Brembo units were replaced on an unknown number of units by Braktec components. Why? Supply-line shortages. To keep the assembly line moving in the face of Brembo shortfalls, the Braktec components from the KTM, GasGas and Husqvarna off-road models were substituted. The short answer to the question you were going to ask is that the Braktec brakes are not as good as the Brembo brakes.
Q:WHAT DID WE HATE?
A:The hate list:
(1) Spokes. The spoke by the rim lock comes loose quickly. Watch it closely, because when it goes off song, the rest will follow.
(2) Preload ring. The plastic preload ring gets chewed up when setting sag. Thankfully, WP fixed it on the next-gen KTM/Husky bikes.
(3) Fork adjuster. The fork clicker adjusters need to be a little longer for more leverage.
(4) Bar pad. The tiny GasGas bar pad doesn’t make much sense from a dental point of view.
(5) Front tire. We think the Maxxis rear is tire is a decent intermediate tire (but watch the side knobs for signs of cracking on hard terrain), while the front still needs work.
(6) Gearing. If you want quicker and more responsive low-to-mid power, gear it down by adding 1 tooth to the rear sprocket—and many 350 racers add 2 teeth.
(7) Brake spring. The stock rear brake pedal spring should be called a “break spring.” We carry spares in our toolboxes. This isn’t a problem on the new 2023 KTM/Husky bikes, but on the GasGas MC350F, you would be smart to replace your spring with a Honda brake spring.
Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?
A: The like list:
(1) Weight. The GasGas MC350F is lighter than the KTM 350SXF and Husky FC250—not because GasGas trimmed the fat, but because the next-gen 2023 Husky and KTM chassis gained weight.
(2) Brakes. The Brembo brakes are awesome—if your MC350F came with them.
(3) Chassis. The GasGas MC350F offers more flex and comfort than the other two Austrian bikes, making it easier to adapt to. For most riders, only minimal changes are needed to feel comfortable.
(4) Air filter. It’s very easy to install and remove air filters on the GasGas. Plus, it comes stock with a Twin Air filter.
(5) Power. The 2022 GasGas makes 54.5 horsepower, and a vented air box and aftermarket exhaust will get the dyno numbers up with the best in class.
(6) Silver rims. Silver rims look trick with the red plastics and frame. Plus, after a couple bouts with tire irons, the silver rims will still look good, unlike black anodized rims.
(7) Suspension. The only riders who won’t love the suspension setup are fast or fat guys.
(8) Usability. We consider the 2023 GasGas MC350F to be a hot rod. It comes as a bare-bones package that over time you can hop-up with whatever aftermarket parts you want (triple clamps, maps, exhaust) while still racing it “as is.”
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK OF THE 2023 GASGAS MC350F?
A: If you have “first-year-model” jitters about the next-gen KTM 350SXF and Husky FC350, you should consider the 2023 GasGas MC350F. Why? It has a proven engine, a more resilient chromoly frame, a real-world suspension setup, a solid track record for reliability and weighs less.
MXA’S 2023 GASGAS MC350F SETUP SPECS
This is how we set up our 2023 GasGas MC350F for racing. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.
XACT AIR FORK SETTINGS
TheMXA test riders didn’t vary far from the stock clicker settings. The WP XACT forks offer a plush setting that has great bottoming resistance. When we noticed that some test riders weren’t using all the WP fork’s travel, we turned the compression clickers out until they used the entire stroke. Sliding the forks down in the clamps and torquing the triple clamp bolts helped steering accuracy. For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup for an average rider on the 2023 GasGas MC350F (stock specs are in parentheses):
Air pressure: 151 psi (Intermediates), 145 psi (fast Novices), 140 psi (Vets and Novices)
Compression: 12 clicks out
Rebound: 12 clicks out
Fork-leg height: Second line
Notes: We got our best feel when the orange rubber ring was within 1-1/2 inches of bottoming. With that air pressure, we could use the compression damping to fine-tune the travel. Depending on track conditions, we slid the forks up and down in the triple clamps to change the bike’s head angle to fine-tune the handling. Check the air pressure in your forks often, and don’t forget to bleed the air screws to release built-up incidental air pressure.
WP SHOCK SETTINGS
We like the GasGas MC350F shock. Although we do make high-speed clicker adjustments, most of our riders usually stick to the stock 15 clicks out on low-speed compression. Our only issue, which only applies to heavier or faster riders, is with the 42 N/mm shock spring. Intermediates, Pros and riders over 185 pounds might need to switch to a 45 N/mm shock spring. For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup for the 2023 GasGas MC350F (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 42 N/mm or 45 N/mm for heavier or faster riders
Race sag: 105mm
Hi-compression: 1-1/4 turns out (1-1/2 turns out)
Lo-compression: 15 clicks out
Rebound: 12 clicks out (15 clicks out)
Notes: We were impressed by the shock; however, we turned the high-speed compression damping in a 1/4 turn to lessen G-outs and ran more rebound than the recommended setting.
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