2019 KTM 500 EXC-F Review

Ryan Adams
by Ryan Adams

A kickass dirt bike. that's also a street bike

For a number of years now, if you wanted a dual-sport bike with true off-road performance, a dirt bike with turn signals if you will, there was one option and it was orange. KTM’s EXC-F lineup of plated dirt bikes show little compromise to their off-road prowess in order to maintain 50-state-legal status in the U.S. to be used on public roads. EXC-F models can be had in 250, 350, 450 Six Days Edition, and 500. Since more is more here at MO, we snagged the big boy out of KTM North America’s press fleet to see what’s been up with the big orange dual-sport from Mattighofen.

2019 KTM 500 EXC-F

Editor Score: 93.75%
Engine 19.5/20
Suspension/Handling 14.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.5/10
Brakes 9.0/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.75/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 10.0/10
Value 9.0/10
Overall Score93.75/100

KTM’s EXC line has enjoyed immense popularity for serious dual-sport riders in recent years. In part, KTM’s success can be attributed to the lack of options in the U.S. market for such a bike. Of course, Beta and Husqvarna were there, but their checkered pasts and lack of availability led to a lack of popularity. Don’t get it twisted though; KTM’s off-road lineup are potent performance motorcycles that have a pedigree of championships behind them. The motto “Ready to Race” is truly the foundation on which all of the company’s bikes are built, and the EXC-F line is no exception.

For the 2019 model year, the 500 EXC-F hasn’t undergone a substantial overhaul from the previous year, or two, for that matter. Since the 500 EXC model designation in 2012 (despite previous models using different numbers such as 525 or 530, the engine’s displacement has been 510cc beginning with the dual-sport’s street-legal inception in 2007), KTM views its 500 EXC-F to have undergone two generations of change. First, with the introduction of the 500 in 2012 and again with a substantial revision in 2017. Over those years, KTM focused on weight savings and power production, with the engine becoming smaller and lighter throughout the years. The imminent tightening of emissions regulations forced KTM to make the decision in 2017 to cease production of its trail line of off-road four-stroke (XC-W) motorcycles and has since put its full focus on creating trail-worthy plated dirt bikes – something I am not in the least upset about.

The 2019 KTM 500 EXC-F is a fantastic dirt bike with adequate street manners. I do believe, however, that the 500 EXC-F is the type of dual-sport bike most will throw proper dirt bike tires on and plan to spend as little time as possible on knobby-chewing pavement as possible. If you’re looking for a comfy dual-sport to spend just as much time – or more – on-road as off-road, there might be better options. If you’re planning to spend almost all of your time getting as far away from paved roads as possible, we’re not so sure there are better options.

Although the engine is now kickstarterless, an accessory kickstarter can be purchased from KTM’s Powerparts catalog and fitted where the black plug is on the left. We’re told if the lithium battery is dead though, it won’t have enough power for the EFI system anyway, so all the kicking in the world isn’t going to help.

As mentioned previously, the 510cc powerplant has had the same displacement throughout the years, though the engine itself has received a number of evolutions in that time. The current 510cc SOHC liquid-cooled Single has a bore of 95mm and stroke of 72mm with a compression ratio of 11.8:1. The big Single is electronically fuel injected and fed via a 42mm Keihin throttle body. While we weren’t able to dyno the 500 EXC-F, previous claims from KTM state around 50 hp and 34 lb-ft of torque.

From your right wrist to the rear wheel, the 500 is smooth and strong. Power comes on hard and fast from the start while climbing and smoothing out in the mid-range just to offer another quick rush near the top. The hydraulically actuated DDS clutch makes feathering the lever through tight obstacle-strewn terrain easy and the wide-ratio gearbox left me happy with gear spacing during technical slow speed maneuvers as well as faster riding in more open landscapes. The motor is able to be lugged low in the rpm range, letting the bike tractor up hills with ease.

Start wringing the 500 out and you’ll quickly learn, this thing handles as well as any trail-only dirt bike. KTM stands behind its choice of chrome-moly steel frames from MotoGP to the EXC-Fs and everything in between. They claim this allows for high rigidity while allowing “defined” flex. When it is combined with the fantastic suspenders found on the 500, we agree with the Austrians. The bike feels light, flickable, and responsive. The 250-ish-pound weight certainly helps as well.

The stock suspension settings worked well for the varied terrain we tested the 500 EXC-F in. Those sensitive to handlebar position, like my friend B. Jaswinski, have the option of adjusting the bars between two positions in the triple clamp.

As should be expected, suspension duty is handled by WP components. A 48mm USD WP XPLOR fork, which is fully adjustable with rebound on the right and compression on the left fork leg, offers 11.8-inches of travel while the rear shock, also typical of KTM enduro models, a WP XPLOR PDS-type (linkageless) shock, is fully adjustable and provides nearly 13-inches of travel giving a total of 13.9-inches of ground clearance. For 2019, the fork is said to be stiffer overall, which prompted a revised piston in the shock to improve the damping characteristics and better match the fork. Stock settings on the 500 EXC-F proved to be pretty well sorted for our mixture of fast sandy trails and slow-speed rocky technical sections. As our part-time contributor and full-time son to the illustrious Jonathan B, Ryan Burns noticed, if you plan on taking the EXC to the motocross track, it will handle it just fine, but you’ll want to adjust the clickers accordingly to stiffen things up a bit. With speed, the hits come harder, and those looking to race the 500 EXC-F may opt to swap in stiffer springs. For those of us looking to do a bit of everything, the stock units work pretty well. No matter the terrain, if you’re willing, you can bet the 500 EXC-F is up to the challenge.

A two-piston Brembo caliper with braided line, an adjustable lever, and a 260mm rotor provide excellent front brake feel off-road.

Slowing down the 500 is handled by a 260mm single rotor and two-piston Brembo caliper on the front 21-inch hoop, which provides great modulation and feel at the lever off-road though a firm bit of pressure is needed on the pavement. Out back, stopping the 18-inch wheel is a 220mm rotor and single-piston Brembo unit. It’ll lock up the rear just fine. Continental TKC80s are the stock rubber and did better than I would have initially given them credit for, though I would swap in a set of dirt bike knobbies right away if it were in my garage.

The 500 EXC’s asymmetrical 2.25-gallon tank is slightly transcluscent which takes only a quick glance to have an idea of how much fuel you have left.

The 2.25-gallon tank should be good for 115-plus miles. If you find yourself wanting to go further into the fray, the aftermarket is rife with larger tank options. Should you find yourself sitting for the majority of those miles, you’ll likely notice the seat on the 500 EXC-F, while grippy, is pretty dang stiff. Not the type of saddle you’ll want to spend much time sitting on. That is, if you can climb onto it at all with its lofty 37.8-inch seat height.

Suspension adjustment doesn’t get any more clear and easy than that.

Despite the stiff seat, the 500’s on-road manners are fine. The bike is stable at well-above legal speeds and will hit triple digits when asked. Some things such as the placement of the ignition switch and small display (only a small amount of information is available at one time and the buttons can be difficult to push) seem to hint that normal street bike niceties are mostly an afterthought on the 500. Again, not something that bothers me much, but the key is a pain in the ass to get in and out of the ignition.

Out of the box, off the showroom floor, the 2019 KTM 500 EXC-F is a fantastic dirt bike with the added versatility of being able to connect trails via public roads. It is first and foremost, a great dirt bike, agile, powerful, and lightweight. All of the things one wants in a trail bike with only the slightest concessions for 50-state legality on the street. Is the 500 EXC-F still the undisputed champion of the category? Husqvarna and Beta have also produced performance-minded dual-sports for some time, but the introduction of the Honda CRF450L has left Honda loyalists hoping and brand-curious enthusiasts wondering, how will the new kid on the block stack up to the time-tested king of the hill?

We were considering the same question…

2019 KTM 500 EXC-F

+ Highs

  • Tractor like torque with smooth power delivery through the powerband
  • WP suspension performs very well in a multitude of terrain
  • A dual-sport that handles more like a motocrosser

– Sighs

  • The seat is not the kind of seat you want to sit on… very long
  • The headlight is, in a word, terrible
  • Yeah, I can’t think of anything else…

2019 KTM 500 EXC-F Specifications

Engine TypeSingle-cylinder, 4-stroke
Displacement510.4 cc
Bore x Stroke95 mm x 72 mm
Compression Ratio11.8:1
Starter / BatteryE-starter / Lithium Ion 12V 2 Ah
Transmission6 gears
Fuel SystemKeihin throttle body Ø 42 mm
Control4 V / OHC with rocker arms
LubricationPressure lubrication with 2 oil pumps
CoolingLiquid cooling
ClutchWet multi-disc DDS clutch, Brembo hydraulics
Ignition / EmsKeihin EMS
FrameCentral double-cradle-type 25CrMo4
HandlebarNeken, Aluminum Ø 28 / 22 mm
Front SuspensionWP USD XPLOR 48, 11.8 inches of travel
Rear SuspensionWP XPLOR PDS shock absorber, 12.2 inches of travel
Front BrakesDisc brake Ø 260 mm
Rear BrakesDisc brake Ø 220 mm
Front Wheel1.60 x 21″ Giant
Rear Wheel2.15 x 18″ Giant
Front Tires80/100-21″
Rear Tires140/80-18″
ChainX-Ring 5/8 x 1/4″
Steering Head Angle63.5°
Triple Clamp Offset22 mm
Wheelbase58.3 inches
Ground Clearance14.0 inches
Seat Height37.8 inches
Fuel Tank Capacityapprox. 2.25 gallons
Weight, Ready to Race234.8 pounds (claimed, without fuel)
Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams

Ryan’s time in the motorcycle industry has revolved around sales and marketing prior to landing a gig at Motorcycle.com. An avid motorcyclist, interested in all shapes, sizes, and colors of motorized two-wheeled vehicles, Ryan brings a young, passionate enthusiasm to the digital pages of MO.

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8 of 49 comments
  • Old MOron Old MOron on Jan 09, 2019

    If you’re looking for a comfy dual-sport to spend just as much time – or more – on-road as off-road, there might be better options. If you’re planning to spend almost all of your time getting as far away from paved roads as possible, we’re not so sure there are better options.

    You MOrons need to do one of your famous comparos.
    This noncommittal language is unbecoming.

  • Craig Hoffman Craig Hoffman on Jan 09, 2019

    Not busy this morning, have a bad cold and feel a dirt bike related data dump coming on...

    I have a '10 Husaberg FE450, it is not street legal, but I smoked it by the DMV as it's MSO did not say "off road only". At least back then KTM was like that - some bike's MSO forms said off road only, some didn't. Luky for me mine didn't. I may never part with that 450 :)

    Real dirt bikes can take us to amazing places like these snow caves here. We are above the tree line around 12,000 feet high in Colorado. The trail leading to this spot was very rocky - as I like to say that is the nature of the planet - above the tree line it gets rough.

    This street legal but real dirt bike KTM can take you to legit hard core tough to get to high country places like this, and then you can legally ride into town, gas up, ride to your condo, drink beer with your buddies, etc. It is the life man!

    That is the beauty of this kind of focused machine. Let's face it, the 500 sucks badly for extended street riding. It tolerates it, but that is not what the bike is for. Don't buy a 500 for street riding, just don't. Get a 690 instead for that. Very good on the street and still has some dirt capability.

    In this case, we trailered our bikes to Crested Butte, CO, explored the gnarliest coolest trails that only real lightweight dirt bikes can go on, found stuff like this, rode back to our lodging on the street, and then ate too much, got toasted and told a bunch of tall tales. Once we hit town, the bikes were off the trailer until we went home. Good times with the boys for sure. Have gone on so many of these adventures over the years in Utah and CO. Idaho is next baby!

    In the end, a good bike is just a tool, the challenge is to use it with like minded people to have amazing experiences. I have used my bikes the fullest that I can with good friends. So blessed :)

    https://uploads.disquscdn.c... deeea21ce0bbba0b4030df.jpg