KTM introduced its 2012 enduro bikes at the Inyan Kara AMA National Enduro, in Upton, Wyoming. And once we’d had the opportunity to do a quick evaluation of the various models we were allowed to choose our favorite KTM to race in the enduro the following day. Fun? You bet!
All the bikes feature new bodywork and stronger hand guards, plus a new airbox design with rear-facing intakes that promise to be more waterproof than previous models. Excel rims are used, wrapped in Dunlop tires. WP forks get new seals to reduce stiction and improve performance over small impacts.
The 250cc and 300cc two-stroke XCs get a new frame and swingarm, with a new non-linkage PDS shock. The two-strokes also get a redesigned reed valve to increase torque and smooth out the powerband. The 300 also gets a new cylinder, and both bikes share a new 2.7-gallon fuel tank and more reliable electric-start system.
The four-stroke XCFs received the lion’s share of 2012 updates, starting with a new frame, swingarm and PDS non-linkage shock with a revised rising rate. New cast triple clamps with 22mm of offset improve handling and flex characteristics of the new frame. All the four-strokes get new engine cases that are more pliable than past offerings, meaning they will give a bit on impact rather than crack. The cooling system has been improved, with integrated routing in the frame and new connectors. The 450 and 500 also come with electric cooling fans.
Fuel injection is provided by the latest Keihin 42mm throttle body, with automatic temperature and altitude compensation.
The 250XCF gets a new engine specially tuned for tractability. The generator is now more powerful, and a new silencer and spark arrestor keep the bike quiet and legal. The 350XCF gets an enduro-tuned engine as well, with lower compression (12.3 vs. 13.5:1) than the motocross version to smooth out the powerband. It also gets an all-new new diaphragm spring clutch with adjustable spring preload that is shared with the 450 and 500.
Like the 250, it gets an improved 196-watt electrical system and new 2.5-gallon fuel tank. The new 350F engine is purported to weigh just 62.8 pounds, including the electric starter, kickstarter and exhaust flange! With cylinder-head improvements, the 350 likes to rev, with the rev limiter set at 12,000 rpm. The six-speed transmission is ‘semi-close ratio’ with no big gaps to allow seamless power delivery. The valve train features new cam-chain guides and a simple spring-loaded ratcheting chain-tensioner system.
The 500XCF is big news, with a new SOHC engine, die-cast engine cases, multi-function balancer shaft, lightweight piston and Pankl connecting rod. The 500’s engine was designed to be reliable and simple to maintain, with the lowest possible weight and size.
All the four-stroke XCF-W models are California Green Sticker-legal, and come with special tamper-proof emissions equipment. For closed-course racing, authorized KTM dealers can make tuning changes.
That’s the tech scoop. But what are they like to ride? Before we go too far, I should mention that I am 165 pounds wearing riding gear, and the area we did our preliminary testing was a combination of gravely soil, fairly tight trails and high-speed two-track. Some things were consistent across the line, like excellent ergonomics, best-in-the-business brakes and a solid, strong overall feel. All the bikes have quiet exhausts, though the two-strokes do not come with a spark arrestor and are sold as ‘closed-course only’ machines.
The two-stroke 250XC-W feels exceptionally light and responsive, especially if you’ve gotten used to riding a four-stroke. Gear ratios, shifting and clutch worked great, as did the fork. The rear suspension is decent, and the new frame did give the 2012 a little better stability than past KTMs. It was fun to ride, and the snappy two-stroke powerband made us feel fast and reminded us how cool it is to ride a smoker.
But feeling fast and being fast are too different things, and while the 250XC-W was smooth and pulled hard, it still did it over a much shorter range than a four-stroke. You are always conscious of the fat two-stroke expansion chamber sticking out in the wind begging to get smashed. But that’s life with a two-stroke. On a tight course with a sharp rider the 250XC-W will fly, and it feels so light you just want to hop logs and look for jumps. But get sloppy and tired and you’ll soon be watching lazy four-stroke riders with envy.
The 300XC-W is the most popular bike in KTMs Canadian line, and for good reason. Nothing makes the instant bottom-end torque of the 300 – not even a four-stroke. It pulls hard, too, and while the powerband is short compared to a Thumper, the gear ratios and light feel of the 300 make this a very effective race bike. It is perhaps the most effective and versatile two-stroke ever built. Both KTM two-strokes thrive on ‘cut and thrust’ situations, where their strong braking power, agility and quick bursts of acceleration out of turns really pay off. One thing’s for sure, the KTM two-strokes are stone-axe reliable and have a loyal following.
The 250XCF-W was a mixed bag for us. It feels light, handles better at speed than the two-strokes, and even suspension feels more solid and controlled. That can be chalked up to the silky smooth powerband, which lets the whole chassis relax rather than skitter around like a two-stroke. It pulls okay, but not as hard as KTM’s motocross 250F or any other 250F MXer you’ve ridden lately.
In tight, slippery conditions the 250XC-W would be ideal, but on faster terrain you’ve got to work hard to keep up your momentum. The clutch and gearbox are excellent, which is good because to maintain speed in the open sections you’ve got to ride this bike very aggressively. We liked it, and it would be a great choice for slippery Eastern singletrack, but on the fast and loose trails at our test area in Wyoming, it simply made us work too hard.
The 450XCF-W surprised us by feeling nearly as agile as the 250XCF-W. It makes good, smooth power, never feels heavy or intimidating, and doesn’t hint at stalling or flaming out. It was confidence inspiring to ride, but the rear suspension did feel a little underdamped compared to the lighter, slower 250XCF-W. Like the rest of the 2012 KTMs, the WP fork is excellent. We liked this bike a lot, and it was our favorite bike up to this point of the day.
The 500XCF-W was a nice improvement to the old 530. It feels smaller and lighter than its predecessor, with strong torque that makes it easy to ride in the open sections or in the woods. This would make a killer play bike! But as a race bike it does feel a little cumbersome in the woods, and the rear suspension does feel too fluffy for the speeds of which this bike is capable. We’d be happy to ride it all day, but race it? Maybe if we grew another 6 inches taller and gained 40 pounds. The 500XCF-W was simply too much motorcycle for this little old writer.
We were able to ride all the cross-country ‘W’ wide-ratio transmission models except for the 150XC and the 200XC-W, so impressions of those will have to wait till a later date.
Which leaves us with…
The KTM 350XCF-W. We’ve read all about the 350. We’ve heard people say it was a slow 450, or a cheater 250F. Well, it’s sort of both of those things. It is physically lighter than the 450 by just a few pounds. We’ve ridden mildly souped-up 250F motocross bikes that can outrun it. The suspension is excellent up front and average in the rear. It doesn’t exactly sound like a winning combination, but trust us, in the real world it is.
Of all the new KTMs we rode in Wyoming, the 350 is the one we’d most like to have in our garage. It became the benchmark for all the other KTMs at our disposal, and we ended up begging KTM to let us race it the following day. But that’s another story, so stay tuned for the complete 2012 KTM 350XCF-W race test!
KTM 2012 Manufacturers suggested retail price, USA: