When it came time for our daughter to move up from her PW 50 to something larger, her only request was that the bike be blue, which for us, meant either a Yamaha PW 80 or a TTR-90. Neither of these two bikes are in production anymore so we knew we would be buying something used, which suited us just fine as shelling out 2,000-plus dollars for a bike that she will soon outgrow isn’t something we were keen on. Besides, a well maintained PW 80 or TTR-90 can be had for somewhere in the vicinity of 500 to 800 dollars and will often resell for about what you pay for them. These two bikes have also changed little over the years so the model year was largely irrelevant; we just wanted something in good condition.
As it turned out, a friend had a PW 80 that we were able to try beforehand. Still, we ended up buying a 2004 TTR-90 with an e-start. Our purchase of the TTR 90 was based mostly on geography as there was one available a short ride away. With these two bikes now available to us, we figured we’d have a little shootout and see how they compared head to head.
Our test was conducted at a riding area comprised of some pee-wee friendly single and double track along with a few minor elevation changes. There was also a token mud hole and a short rock garden. Our two test riders were nine year old girls that recently moved up from up PW 50s.
Head to Head
The Yamaha PW 80 and TTR 90 share many similarities. Both have 3-speed manual transmissions and a semi-auto clutch that allows a young rider to master shifting without the added stress of the manual clutch. Seat heights are about the same at 24.5 inches with the base of the TTR frame sitting an inch closer to the ground. Both come with 14 inch front and 12 inch rear wheels that are slowed by drum brakes. The suspension systems are the same and provide 4.3 and 3.7 inches of front and rear travel, respectively. The PW weighs in at 124 pounds while the TTR is a bit heavier at 139 (dry weights). Both bikes have a kick starter but our TTR came with a perfectly functioning electric start.
While both motors are air cooled, the PW is powered by an oil injected, 79cc two-stroke engine. A four-stroke SOHC 89cc engine powers the TTR. Both motors have outstanding reputations for being “bomb proof” and are also whisper quiet, allowing them to be ridden in most suburban settings with minimal annoyance.
In stock trim, the PW runs a little rich and produces some smoke. However, you can lean out the jetting and make the smoke go away. Both engines also accelerate extremely smoothly with the two stroke PW 80 just a bit quicker to spin the wheel over loose terrain, as two strokes tend to do. The PW is by no means a handful – quite the opposite as each bike is extremely easy to ride. The TTR by contrast almost resists wheel spin but the extra 10cc allow it to keep pace with the two stroke. The TTR is also easier for dads to wheelie. The differences in engine performance are minor, but notable.
When watching the girls climb a loose, gravelly hill, it was easy to the see that TTR was better at finding traction. While stopped on an incline the extra weight and torquey four stoke motor of the TTR made it easier for the test riders to get going again. On the down hills, the little bit of engine braking provided by the TTR is more confidence inspiring and requires less manual braking. The extra 10cc of the TTR also provide a bit more power and top speed – the latter being a check in the minus column, for us, anyway.
The forks on the TTR are plush but slightly firmer feeling than the PW. While the forks on both bikes progress smoothly through the travel, the shock on each bike is often unsettled and kicks over moderate (relatively speaking) sized roots and rocks – especially on the lighter PW. You have the option of two preload settings on the shock but even on the softest setting, the shock is still less effective than the forks. The heavier TTR however, is more settled than the PW and tracks cleaner over the trail junk.
The obvious downside to the extra weight of the TTR is that it makes it more difficult for a young rider to pick the bike up after a tip-over. Both riders had an easier time picking up the PW than the TTR. With the PW being a bit lighter, it’s also more agile feeling.
When our test riders rode each bike back to back they found that the PW shifted easier. This was important to note because both girls are just learning to shift. I rode both bikes and never noticed the difference. Both riders also preferred the electric start of the TTR. And while the tractable motor and added stability over the trail junk are a nice characteristic of the TTR, it was less important to our 9 year old riders. When it was time for the girls to pick their favorite, it was something of a split decision in that both preferred the easy shifting of the PW and the e-start of the TTR.
We could have been quite happy with the PW 80 but in the end, it was the electric start of the TTR that reaffirmed our decision to choose the four stroke TTR over the PW. The e-start allows our little rider to start the bike with ease each and every time, taking away the stress and frustration of kick starting a flooded engine. She may struggle a bit more when picking it off the ground but we spin it as a fitness bonus. Either way, you can’t go wrong when choosing one of these two bikes as both are an appropriate platform for the young rider just starting out or moving up from a smaller bike.