This is undoubtedly one of the world's best learner's bikes. I know that's a bold statement, but I've ridden the new Pampera long enough and far enough to get the drift. But the really smart thing about this bike is that Gas Gas has indeed made a decent machine for beginners, but because of the grunty 450cc four-stroke engine learners won't have to 'trade up' when they've developed the skills to ride a bit faster.
This bike has enough go to keep you interested long after you've first taken the plunge, and that's because it's based on the Gas Gas 450 FSR engine. The crankcases are the same, although the Pampera version has the '05 bore and stroke (95 x 62.5mm). In place of electronic fuel injection the Pampera gets a Dell'Orto PHF 36 carb and different cams. The muffler is the same - a solid-looking item with a riveted end-cap that you can drill out when you have to repack the cylinder. The main reason for going to a carburettor was to save money. The reason for going to a 450 was that Gas Gas no longer has a 400cc four-stroke engine in its dirt bike range.
Engine capacity is actually 443cc and it drives through a six-speed transmission with 13/48 gearing. Spark is supplied by a Ducati digital CDI unit, and start is electric with a kick-start back-up. We had no problems with the starter on this bike; it fired up smoothly and quickly every time - which is something that can't be said for every small volume European bike that comes to our very public, not even slightly secret testing ground. Some of them sound like a coughing seal.
Overall the bike seems nicely finished and the ergos are good too. This bike does not have the rock-hard seat found on all the other Gas Gas models right now, so you can ride all day without the fear of developing a case of nuclear monkey butt. The Pampera is probably slightly cramped for taller riders, but that's because the bars are a little low compared to the setup on the 450 enduro.
The instrument pack is very straight forward and easy to use and the numerals, although digital, are easy to read when you're thundering along a trail.
For the trail, the Pampera is blessed with a damn fine engine. Going to 450cc with a Dell'Orto carb did not produce more power, but it did give the torque a hurry up. What you get when you yank on the throttle is a healthy bark from the muffler and a willing surge of power that comes on strong, but not in a manner that will frighten the chipmunks. This is a good engine for dealing with technical sections at your own pace, but it'll snap to attention and distribute shrapnel if that's what you want. It will also chug along pretty much anywhere in the rev range while you, the learner, come to grips with these strange and wondrous machines.
The ergos, as we mentioned earlier, are also ideal for beginners. Seat height is a low 920mm, so unless you're a dwarf you'll be able to plant your feet on the ground when the going gets a bit gnarly, and of course that gives you more confidence and helps accelerate the learning process. This engine is kinda like the donk in the Honda XR400, but with more power and torque.
It's not too tough on the juice either, although we'd have to admit that some riders would prefer a larger fuel tank. There's a trend among manufacturers these days to go to smaller tanks to reduce the width of their bikes, but frankly that doesn't suit a lot of riders who want a bike they can count on to run 100km before things splutter to a halt.
The Gas Gas has a 7.4lt tank, and on our test ride we recorded a fuel economy figure of 13.5km/lt. Now that ain't too bad in itself, but with the tiny tank that's only a theoretical range of around 100 clicks - we'd like a figure of 100km per tank that's a little more reliable, and a little less theoretical...
But we don't want to end this story on a negative note, and we won't. What Gas Gas has done here is produce a much better bike than Suzuki's DR-Z400, with a much higher level of standard equipment - good brakes, hydraulic clutch, nice chassis and suspension and a tough little engine - all for $9250 plus ORC. And best of all, you won't have to trade it in as soon as you've ridden it!
Gas Gas Pampera
Engine: 443cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-valve four-stroke single cylinder
Bore and stroke: 95 x 62.5mm
Fuel system: 36mm Dell'Orto carburettor
Frame: cromoly-tubed Deltabox
Front brake: single 260mm disc with twin-piston calliper
Rear brake: single 220mm disc with single-piston calliper
Front suspension: 45mm Marzocchi USD forks, non-adjustable
Rear suspension: Progressive Sachs monoshock, adjustable for preload and damping
Wheels: spoked alloy
Tyres: 90/90-21 front, 120/90-18 rear
Seat height: 920mm
Claimed dry weight: 119kg
Fuel tank: 7.4L
Price: $9250 plus ORC