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words - Mat Boyd
Two of the biggest names in motocross have helped to transform KTM's 450, 350 and 250 SX-F models, and their efforts haven't been in vain...

Austrian off-road specialist KTM had never won a major championship in the USA, so it decided to address that by recruiting gun racer Ryan Dungey to the Red Bull/KTM team, placing him under the watchful eye of team manager (and multiple world MX winner) Roger DeCoster. 

The Dungey/DeCoster pairing was always going to be something special, but something KTM didn’t count on was a request for a new motocross weapon – something even more potent than the current crop of track-based orange rockets. Dungey and DeCoster produced a list of what they wanted in the new machine and KTM delivered, rolling all their demands into the new 2013 KTM 450 SX-F. Evidently the new machine is worthy of its hype – Dungey took out the 2012 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship at Unadilla, New York, on August 18, handing KTM its first US title in the process. Mission accomplished. 

Along with the new 450 SX-F, KTM has passed down all this new-found knowledge to the 350 SX-F as well as the 250 SX-F, assembling what is arguably its best-ever motocross range. KTM has redesigned the frames and swingarms for better feedback, also shaving weight from the engines and increasing horsepower across the range. A new connecting rod (manufactured by Pankl) with a pressure-lubricated plain bearing has increased the crank service intervals from 50 to 100 hours, while the 450 SX-F engine has been completely redesigned. 

Needless to say, the sense of anticipation was high at KTM Australia’s national press launch for the new motocrossers, held recently at the Louee Enduro and Motocross Complex, near Mudgee, NSW. Let’s see how the machines stacked up… 

2013 KTM 450 SX-F
Let me start by saying I’ve never been a big fan of the 450 SX-F. It’s always had unbelievable power but that power was unleashed with light-switch delivery. I like aggressive power in a motocrosser, but when you take something as powerful as a KTM 450 and then make it snap it becomes a real handful. I also struggled a bit with the bike’s ergonomics – I’d never developed the same level of confidence on the Euro machine as I had on the Japanese 450s.

The new $11,495 450 SX-F is the product of two champions. It’s proof of what happens when you put years of knowledge together with a huge depth of talent. Together Dungey and DeCoster have come up with a bike that’s effortless to ride – a big statement in itself for a machine that reportedly puts out around 58hp in stock-standard trim. 

The 450 now has a more Japanese feel to it. You sit behind the handlebars a little more rather than being over the top of it, and the rear of the bike sits a little lower, making it feel far more stable. Aboard the new 450 it felt like I was controlling the bike, rather than the other way around. The 2012 model had a hefty feel to it, but the 2013 incarnation feels lighter and more spacious, allowing the rider to move around the bike with ease. The seat and tank are quite flat, which opens up the cockpit nicely, while the tank and shrouds give the bike a much slimmer mid-section. The new shrouds also allow you to get your leg right up and out of the way without catching your boot or knee braces on any sharp edges. 

The issue of rear-end chatter when you’re hard on the brakes is gone, too – instead the rear end stays planted. Even when the bike does start to lose traction and slide into or out of turns, it remains predictable and controllable. You can stay on the gas safe in the knowledge the bike will keep tracking straight and true, without the rear blowing out and attempting to overtake you.

The WP suspension now has a harder standard set-up to better suit the average-sized Aussie. On any test bike the first thing I do is usually crank up the clickers to support my weight, control front-end dive into turns and raise the accuracy of the steering, but on the KTM I made a bare minimum of changes. The standard set-up was good and both wheels remained firmly planted, whether I was trying to scrub, whip or rail a turn.

The new engine, while still churning out massive power, now has smoother delivery – instead of snapping on and the bike fish-tailing out of turns, the power now rolls on predictably, making it much easier to find traction and maintain control. There’s nothing worse than being scared to twist the throttle too early in a turn because you’re afraid you’ll be spat off the track, or a bike that will only turn when you’re hanging off the back with the throttle to the stop.

The new KTM is no longer like that. It now turns with ease at any speed you choose. You can cruise along and it’s still smooth and effortless – likewise when you’re pushing it. Tipping it into ruts poses no problems because the bike is now so well balanced – it’s no longer fighting you at every change of direction. In fact, perhaps the best aspect to the new 450 is just how little effort is required change direction, whether you’re exiting a corner or attacking a chicane. The redesigned cylinder head – now a single cam unit – has seen weight shaved from the top of the engine, and that all helps the bike to head in the right direction. 

The brakes have a nice, solid feel to them, and they allowed me to pull up rapidly and slot into those tight inside lines through the corners. The clutch, which has been fitted with a diaphragm spring, is really light – you could use it all day without getting a sore hand. It’s also been fitted with a rubber damper to take a little of the harshness out of the engine and transmission. It’s an electric start engine and there’s no option for a kick starter. This means starting the bike in gear is easier than ever, but make sure your battery is fully charged before you set off to the track, because without a kick starter as back-up you’ll be sorry if it’s flat.
2013 KTM 350 SX-F
I felt the 2012 model 350 SX-F just didn’t have a niche, unless you were out to enjoy the odd club day or a weekend bush bash. As a bike in the professional race world it just didn’t fit. Sure, Italian motocross wizard Antonio Cairoli does okay, but what’s inside his engine? That engine may have 350 SX-F cases, but you’ll need x-ray vision to see all the internal components made from ‘unobtanium’. Yes, you can be competitive on a 350, but it sure helps if you’re a featherweight, otherwise you’ve got a hard job ahead of you.

But before I write off the 350 completely, let me tell you about the 2013 version, which is priced at $10,995. With five more horsepower over the 2012 model the 2013 350 SX-F really is set do battle with the big boys. With all the same characteristics as the 250, but only 1kg heavier, and putting out approximately 52hp at the back wheel, maybe the 450s should be a little worried after all… The 350 does force you to ride it more like a 250, though – you have to work the gears far more than a 450 and it doesn’t quite have the torque to pull you out of a turn in a higher gear like the 450, but it still produces amazing power. Besides, who really uses all of a 450’s power anyway? 

The engine keeps pulling all the way through to redline and it’s just as easy to throw around as a 250. The 2012 350 felt like a really quick 250, but the 2013 350 feels more like a really light 450. That 5hp gain has really made a huge difference to this bike. The delivery is still nice and smooth and finding traction is easier than ever, but the bonus is that because it’s so light you can find other lines around a track that would be far harder to find on the bigger 450.

My pick for a race bike would still be the 450, but for a young rider coming off a 250 who doesn’t quite have the physical strength to handle a 450, the 350 is the perfect stepping stone.
2013 KTM 250 SX-F
The 250 SX-F has won many races over the years, thanks largely to its storming engine and superb chassis – it’s one fast 250. But when you’re looking to buy a 250 reliability is also a big issue – these things get ridden hard, and so they generally cop a flogging on each and every ride. Past KTM 250s had the speed and the reliability, but in recent years the competition has caught up and so it was time for KTM to pick up its game – which is exactly what it’s done.

With an engine that revs to 14,000rpm this thing spins harder than your grandmother’s sewing machine, while putting out a massive 42hp at the rear wheel. From the first handful of throttle you’ll be gobsmacked by how much power this little quarter-litre rocket pumps out. The power doesn’t let up until it hits the limiter. The grunt is eminently tractable, but it still takes off when you twist the wick hard. It can be chucked around with ease and it tracks beautifully into, through and out of turns.

The 250 SX-F ($10,495) is actually suitable for everyone from a junior rider to a senior, because it strikes that incredible balance between manageability and outright punch. It’s a ripper.
THE WRAP
It’s safe to say that while Dungey and DeCoster are together, the KTM range will only keep improving. In just one year the pair has helped develop a motocross range that represents a significant leap from all that went before it. Instead of bikes bursting with horsepower and a chassis design that only the fittest and strongest of riders can handle, KTM has produced a motocross family that’s still powerful, but thoroughly manageable – and that’s only going to be to the benefit of a far broader spectrum of riders. For someone who struggled with KTM products in the past, I’m now a confirmed fan.

To see the new KTMs in action, check out the following clip taken at the range's national press launch...


SPECS: KTM 450 SX-F
ENGINE
Type: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke single-cylinder
Capacity: 449.3cc
Bore x stroke: 95mm x 63.4mm
Compression ratio: 12.6:1
Fuel system: Keihin electronic fuel injection, 44mm throttle body
Claimed maximum power: N/A
Claimed maximum torque: N/A

TRANSMISSION
Type: Four-speed
Final drive: Chain
Clutch: Wet

CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame type: Central double cradle, aluminium subframe
Front suspension: 48mm upside-down WP fork, 300mm travel
Rear suspension: WP monoshock with linkage, 330mm travel
Front brakes: 260mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear brake: 220mm disc with single-piston caliper
Wheels: Front 1.6 x 21, rear 2.5 x 19
Tyres: Front 80/100-21, rear 110/90-19

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Claimed dry weight: 106.4kg
Seat height: 992mm
Wheelbase: 1495mm ±10mm
Fuel capacity: 7.5 litres
Ground clearance: 371mm

OTHER STUFF
Price: $11,495
Colours: Orange/black
Test bike supplied by: KTM Australia, www.ktm.com.au
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres

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Published : Thursday, 23 August 2012
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