AJP's bikes aim broadly, writes Jacqui Madelin

A new dirt-bike brand has hit New Zealand, apparently aimed squarely at the majority of off-road riders: those seeking a solidly built cross-country or trail machine rather than an out-and-out racer.

Founded by a pair of Portuguese brothers in 1987 as a workshop prepping off-roaders, AJP quickly evolved into making its own bikes - named for their creators, Antonio and Jorge Pinto. Clearly they knew what they were doing, as AJP machines won five Portuguese enduro titles in a row, from 1996 to 2000.

Export began by 2003, and the brand is now sold as far afield as Britain, Brazil and Japan, as well as New Zealand.

The man in charge of AJP here, Mike Ramsey, has pinned down 10 dealers and hopes the word will get out ready for spring.

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The line-up starts with the PR3 240 MX Pro, described as a three-quarter-style bike for all ages and powered by a 233cc 14.7kW, 18Nm single-cylinder engine. At 89kg it's a lightweight with a low 840mm seat height, a smaller front wheel and a relatively modest $6495 price tag.

You then step up to the PR4 240 Enduro Pro and Extreme, both 105kg and with a 920mm seat height and higher-tech Sachs suspension, the former road legal with full-size wheels at $6995, and the latter adding fully adjustable suspension, a performance muffler, and extra-large discs at $8995.

The PR5 Enduro delivers 249cc, with 20.2kW and 23Nm transmitted to that rear knobbly tyre via a six-speed transmission, the street-legal enduro bike with adjustable suspension at $8995, and the PR 250 Extreme topping the range at $9995, including fully adjustable suspension and some "race-bred" accessories like those Marzocchi forks.

All the road-legal bikes get a 12-month warranty, as opposed to six months for pure off-roaders.

We haven't had access to the new machines yet but tapped someone who has - a two-time International Six-Day Enduro rep for New Zealand and multi-enduro champ, now retired from racing, who took two of the bikes off road last weekend.

While still scraping the mud from his boots, he revealed the PR5 250 Extreme is a relatively slow-revver that can be ridden quite fast if you thrash it. He prefers bigger machines than a 250, but said the fuel injection delivered smooth response from a relatively torquey but slow-revving motor. Those used to race-bred performance may be disappointed, therefore, but anyone seeking a tractable real-world off-roader should be happy, particularly given the "decent, plush" suspension.

"It's not especially well balanced in that the rear felt harder than the front, but the action works well, the brakes are decent, and because the fuel is held where the airbox normally is, it feels quite light and it turns well. They've got the geometry right so it's planted and predictable up front."

Swapping the fuel tank and battery-and-airbox locations lowers centre of gravity - AJP has also changed the fuel tank material so it's slightly opaque, letting you see how much of your seven or 7.5 litres (depending on model) is left.

As for the PR4 240 Extreme, it uses the same fuel-airbox swap to lower weight, though this one feels firmer up front. "The AJP frame and swingarm look big and chunky and seriously overbuilt, and I expected them to feel heavy but they're not."

Performance seemed comparable to Honda's CRF230 - perhaps a little bit stronger, nothing to write home about perhaps, though "the jetting was a bit rich and with a bit of fiddling it would get better".

He sees the PR5 as a great trail bike for those of middling skill and sufficiently self-aware not to be lured into buying a more expensive high performance machine they can't benefit from, or for young up-and-comers or older, experienced riders wanting something not too demanding but still very capable.

As for the PR4, it would suit younger or smaller riders - or farmers. "As it's quite comfortable if you're not going too fast and it's air-cooled, so it'd make a good hill-country farm bike, where you don't want something with radiators as you want to step off often and just lean it on the hill."

Value? "At nine grand the PR5 would be good bang for buck, but at $10,500?"

Ah ha, that was the price on launch, but Ramsey has listened to feedback and dropped the sticker price under the $10,000 limit.

It'll be interesting to see whether the Kiwi preference for higher performance trumps the equally Kiwi preference for a handy and solidly built all-rounder.