This week’s selection from Greg Primm’s Classic Steel is a rare bird indeed, the 1995 TM 250 Cross.
This may be one of the ugliest bikes ever built. The 90’s were the age of pink and purple dirt bikes and the TM was one of its worst offenders. Thankfully, under that ridiculous plastic was actually a pretty good machine.
TM is what is known as a boutique manufacturer. The Italian company specializes in building a small number of motorcycles for a premium price. Their entire yearly run of TM motorcycles is probably smaller than Honda’s weekly run of CRF50’s. Of course being small has its advantages and disadvantages. Because TM is focused on only one thing it can devote all its resources to making the absolute best bike possible. The flip side of that though, is the simple fact that because they are so small, those resources are pretty limited. TM motorcycles are rare, exotic machines made for the rider who likes to stand apart from the crowd. It is a different kind of bike for a different kind of rider.
The sand cast cases on the TM gave it the appearance of a one-off “works” race motor. Power was decidedly focused in the mid-range with a ferocious hit and little else. Although the motor proved reliable, little annoyances like leaking gaskets, reminded the owner this was not your typical Japanese ride it and forget it motorcycle.
TM rose to prominence in the eighties as a manufacturer of small two-stoke motors. While they did make small 80cc and 125cc motorcycles for the Italian market, it was their kart racing motors that made them famous. In the world of karting, TM was at the top of the heap in performance. From there TM broadened their racing interests into ISDE off-road racing and eventually motocross. By the mid-nineties TM was looking to break into the lucrative US off road market with a new line of no compromise race machines.
It is rare to actually see a TM here in the US even today. The bikes are built in small numbers for customers willing to pay a premium to be different.
The 1995 TM250 Cross was an interesting mix of premium materials and cobby construction. Parts of the bike resembled works of art, while others looked to have been assembled in Luigi’s back yard. The TM used premium components for things like the clutch and suspension, while at the same time using retread Japanese plastic for the bodywork. The bike really was a study in contradiction.
The TM’s 249cc motor was their own design, although it borrowed liberally from the Honda CR250R motors of the day. 1995 was the second year for TM’s 250 motocross project and the bike was still a bit of a work in progress. The bore and stroke of the TM 250’s motor was taken directly from Honda’s CR250 (a CR250 piston was even interchangeable with the TM one). Even the clutch was interchangeable between the two machines. Considering the Honda was acknowledged to have the best motor at the time, it is little wonder TM used this as a jumping off point for their new machine. Where they differed was in the use of a case reed intake on the TM and a simpler power valve design than the Honda. One of the really cool features on the TM was one of the first hydraulic clutches to find their way to a production motocross machine. This was years before KTM would add this feature to their bikes and a really trick item in 1995.
The TM 250 was one of the first production bikes to feature a hydraulic clutch as standard equipment. It would take KTM a few more years to put this feature on their production bikes and 15 years later the Japanese still have not done so. One interesting fact about the TM motor was the addition of a counterbalance to smooth vibration. Although common on four-strokes this feature was rarely seen on two-stroke race bikes.
Perhaps the most curious part of the TM was the outlandish bodywork. It was certainly impossible to mistake the bike for anything else on the track with its eye watering neon pink plastic. The plastic itself was an interesting mishmash of bodywork from other machines. Early TM’s came equipped with radiator shrouds and front fenders off of a 93 RM combined with 92 CR rear plastic. Later TM’s switched to using side panels and rear fenders from a 94 KX (I actually think this looked way better on the bike). No matter which combination of body work you were lucky enough to get, it was always in florescent pink. Subtle the TM was not.
’95 TM’s used an oddball combination of plastic components from several different bikes, all painted day-glow pink. This TM has a KX rear mated to an RM front. No matter what plastic you got, the bike was impossible to miss.
In the performance department the TM was an absolute rocket. The karting heritage showed in a hard hitting explosion of power that made the TM a handful to control. On pavement, all that power was a blessing, in the dirt it was hard to use. The case reed mill came out of the hole with a lackluster low-end pull followed by a sudden blast of power as the bike climbed on the powerband. After the howitzer midrange the TM would peter out as the revs climbed. The mid-range only motor was fun to ride but difficult to use. The buttery smooth hydraulic clutch did help with keeping the explosive power slightly under control. On a perfectly groomed track the bike was fast and effective but as the track dried out the TM became harder and harder to manage. The TM 250 motor was certainly competitive, but it could have used a little more refinement to compete with the best from Japan in 1995.
The TM featured Marzocchi Magnum conventional front forks painted white (who the hell picked the color scheme on this thing, Mr. Magoo?). The Marzocchi’s worked great but ate fork seals at an alarming rate. An oversize Brembo front brake ensured the TM could stop on a dime.
Suspension duties on the TM were handled by a Swedish Ohlins shock in back and Italian Marzocchi forks up front. These were some of the best components available in 1995 and could be made to perform brilliantly with the right set up. The right-side-up Marzocchi forks were plush and soaked up everything on the track with aplomb. The only real problem with the forks was seal life, as they were known to eat fork seals faster than you could replace them. If you could keep the seals together you had some of the best forks on the track. The Ohlins shock was not quite as plush as the front forks but still better than average in performance. It provided good bump absorption and solid bottoming resistance over jumps. An occasional tendency to kick in braking bumps was the only real complaints heard about the Swedish shock.
Out back the TM used a premium Ohlins shock and the longest silencer stinger known to man. The green plate background and flo pink plastic certainly made a treat for the eye.
As for handing, the Italian TM was typical of most Euro bikes of the time. That meant stable as a freight train and just as enthusiastic to change direction. The long bike preferred to be slid rather than “turned” around corners like a Japanese machine. This also meant the bike was magic on long rough straights that would have an RM or CR owner saying Hail Mary’s by third gear. The excellent suspension helped here as well and made the TM a great bike for fast rough tracks like Glen Helen.
Italy has always been the home of flamboyant machines. Whether it is a funky little Fiat or a rip roaring Lamb, no one would ever accuse an Italian of lacking personality. In a sea of “me too” clone, the TM 250 was a rebellious breath of fresh air.
The ’95 TM certainly was not a bike for everyone. The styling screamed “look at me” and at $6500 it was $1500 more expensive than its Japanese competitors. What that money did get you was excellent suspension, a rocket motor and exclusivity. If you were the kind of guy who liked to march to the beat of a different drummer, the TM was just your kind of bike.