How many times in motorcycling history has a new “inbetweener” class popped up seemingly out of nowhere, promising riders that the middle of the road is the fastest route to success? Right now, such a trend is in full effect with street-legal, four-stroke enduros. These are the new middleweights, a small collection of enduro bikes that split the difference between two of off-roading’s most popular classes. They’re lighter than the 450s and 500s and more powerful than the 250s, a compromise intended to offer riders the best of both worlds.
Husqvarna was there first with its TE310 in 2009, followed by KTM’s 350 EXC-F and Beta’s 350 RS, both new for 2012. All three are street-legal in all 50 states, yet they give up virtually nothing to their purebred off-road racer cousins.
“This is the new enduro class,” said Off-Road Editor Ryan Dudek. “If there is a replacement for 250cc two-stroke enduros, this is it. They are fast enough for anything off-road and light enough to not wear you out.”
We interpreted their existence as an invitation: It sounded like a party we couldn’t miss. So we gathered up the trio and RSVP’ed ourselves to the Arizona desert near Wickenburg for multiple days of dodging cholla cactus, tiptoeing along single-track and crawling through rock-infested washes.
Each manufacturer approached this new class in its own way, but all three bikes offer varying degrees of what we are looking for: precise handling, hardcore enduro performance and the ability to hit the pavement to connect trails when necessary.