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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 Specifications|
|Engine Type||Single-cylinder, 4-stroke|
|Bore x Stroke||95 mm x 72 mm|
|Starter / Battery||E-starter / Lithium Ion 12V 2 Ah|
|Fuel System||Keihin throttle body Ø 42 mm|
|Control||4 V / OHC with rocker arms|
|Lubrication||Pressure lubrication with 2 oil pumps|
|Clutch||Wet multi-disc DDS clutch, Brembo hydraulics|
|Ignition / Ems||Keihin EMS|
|Frame||Central double-cradle-type 25CrMo4|
|Handlebar||Neken, Aluminum Ø 28 / 22 mm|
|Front Suspension||WP USD XPLOR 48, 11.8 inches of travel|
|Rear Suspension||WP XPLOR PDS shock absorber, 12.2 inches of travel|
|Front Brakes||Disc brake Ø 260 mm|
|Rear Brakes||Disc brake Ø 220 mm|
|Front Wheel||1.60 x 21″ Giant|
|Rear Wheel||2.15 x 18″ Giant|
|Chain||X-Ring 5/8 x 1/4″|
|Steering Head Angle||63.5°|
|Triple Clamp Offset||22 mm|
|Ground Clearance||14.0 inches|
|Seat Height||37.8 inches|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||approx. 2.25 gallons|
|Weight, Ready to Race||234.8 pounds (claimed, without fuel)|