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The core of Motocross Action magazine is its bike tests. We spend a lot of time testing everything as thoroughly as possible to better inform you about the good, the bad and the ugly of modern motocross machines. The same holds true for the R&D departments of every motorcycle manufacturer. There are men who have dedicated their lives to building the best possible bike they can—within the budget, time and patience constraints of corporate bureaucracies. Sometimes they build something wonderful and sometimes—well, you already know what happens when things go sideways.

tenyearsofktm

KTM has been building motocross bikes for decades, but it wasn’t until recently that KTM became a serious contender in American motocross (and more important, on American showroom floors). MXA wanted to go back 10 years and show you the progress that KTM has made in the last decade. All the copy is pulled from the MXA bike tests of each model year. See what we thought back then and how our thoughts have changed over the decade. What follows is the good, the bad and the ugly of 10 years’ worth of KTM 450SXFs.

“This is a great bike—a great bike that is hampered by two corporate decisions: (1) The suspension settings are off the mark. (2) The head pipe is so short that it kills the low-to-mid transition. Both are easily fixable with the judicious application of moolah. Once you change the springs and exhaust, the 2007 KTM 450SFX rocks (and, best of all, it starts without fail).”

WHAT WE LIKED

(1) Steel frame. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know that aluminum is a cool frame material, but don’t discount steel. With the proper engineering, it is possible to make a steel frame lighter than an aluminum frame. KTM’s ’07 frame is 2 pounds lighter than its ’06 frame.

(2) Electricity. This is the way it is supposed to be. Many an AMA National point could have been saved if every bike had electric starting. Plus, KTM gives every buyer two batteries.

(3) Brakes. The best front brake in the motocross world. 260mm of pucker power!

(4) Forks. They have potential, but are seriously under-sprung—and not just for the fast or fat. The soft fork springs are very harsh in the mid-stroke and drop into their travel too easily, which makes them feel stiff, but it is a false reading. The simplest trick is to swap out the stock 0.46 kg/mm fork springs for stiffer 0.48s (and lower the oil height by 15mm). If you can’t find 0.48 fork springs, have your local dealer increase the nitrogen pressure in the SXS forks’ bladder from 1.2 bar to 1.8 bar (from 13 psi to 27 psi). This stiffens up the forks enough to make them raceable by faster riders.

WHAT WE HATED

(1) Basic black. KTM’s black rims and fork stanchions look flashy on the showroom floor, but after a couple of races on a rocky track, they look like they were modeled after a Dalmatian.

(2) Side panels. KTM took it to heart when we said that KTM’s old trapezoid number plates were just like not having a number plate at all. So, the new side panels aren’t number plates. The numbers go on the airbox lid.

(3) Four-speed. We liked KTM’s four-speed, but we only race our test bikes. If we used them for desert, play, Glamis or offroad riding, we’d want a five-speed. The MXA wrecking crew doesn’t need to take a poll to know that American riders prefer five speeds over four. Five just sounds faster than four.

(4) Lifting. The real challenge of 2007 450SXF ownership is trying to figure out how to put the bike on the stand after a race. There is no place to grab it, save for the scalding-hot exhaust or flexy fender. We either lifted it by the rear wheel or grabbed the muffler with a gloved hand swiftly.

(5) Front fender. MXA test riders always whined about the need for a fender brace on KTM’s previous front fender. No more. For 2007, KTM beefed up the fender with a molded-in brace. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, and the front fender hits the tire when you land from jumps.

(6) Powerband. The 2007 KTM powerband is strange. The KTM 450SXF is less than stellar from idle to the midrange. It kind of dogs it at low rpm, and then kicks like an army mule higher in the powerband. Every test rider wanted more bottom and a stronger transition into the middle (although we were very thrilled with the top-end). The problem? The stock head pipe is a massive unit.
The diameter is too large, and the overall length is too short to encourage low-end thrust. The aftermarket pipe builders will have a field day building smaller-diameter and longer head pipes for the KTM 450SXF.

“KTM is the Rodney Dangerfield of American motocross. It gets no respect. In sheer numbers, there are fewer KTMs on the starting lines than any of the other ‘Big Five’ brands. In the psyche of American riders, KTMs are offbeat, unusual and different. KTM is rarely the first choice on the consumer’s wish list. It’s fashionable to knock KTM in the USA, but we’d like to offer them kudos instead. The small Austrian factory has managed to build an engine that is the envy of the industry. It makes the most power, the broadest power, the highest-revving power and is incredibly easy to use. Yes, Virginia, KTM still needs help on its suspension settings, but this bike is more like Charles Atlas than Rodney Dangerfield.”

WHAT WE LIKED

(1) Hydraulic clutch. Every bike should have a hydraulic clutch. It takes the hassle out of fluctuating lever settings.

(2) Fork guards. KTM’s new wraparound fork guards are the most protective in the sport.

(3) Gas cap. Why would KTM put a lock on its gas cap? You have to push a button before you can turnthe cap. Isn’t that like wearing suspenders to hold up your belt?

(4) Electric starter. Every R&D budget for 2009 should include electric starter technology instead of fuel injection. Modern bikes run fine with Keihin carbs, but they don’t always start. The KTM does.

(5) Power. We are talking about a 2-horsepower gain at peak, as much as 3 horsepower at 9000 rpm and an extra horse off idle. This is a 450cc motocross engine that has gained almost 6 horsepower in three years. Yikes! On the dyno, it is the most powerful 450 motocross bike on the showroom floor. Peaking out at 54.3 horsepower, the 2008 KTM 450SXF is 2-horsepower stronger than the CRF450 and four ponies up on the KX450F and YZ450F.

WHAT WE HATED

(1) Black. We love black rims and black forks on other people’s bikes, but not on ours. They look like they were blasted by a shotgun after a couple months of racing.

(2) Hot-start lever. The plastic hot-start lever is prone to damage.

(3) Seat. We’ve never felt comfortable with KTM’s foam. Your KTM dealer can get you optional saddles in every size, from thick to thin.

(4) Tires. We used to think it was cool that KTM brought back the discontinued Bridgestone M59/M70 tire combo, but the world has moved on. These are good sneakers, but not great ones.

(5) Four-speed tranny. Do we think that KTM needs a five-speed tranny? We think that KTM needs to go to five speeds to win over a skeptical American public.

(6) Forks. Is the suspension better than last year’s? Maybe and maybe not. The stiffer springs are a big plus, but the WP engineers didn’t complete the renovations. Last year MXA ran the combination of stiffer fork springs and a lower oil height. We found that the stiffer springs held the front end higher in its stroke, while the larger air cavity reduced mid-stroke harshness. To us, it was the logical path to follow. But, WP only bought into half of our equation. In our opinion, WP gave up a golden opportunity to fix its forks. Instead, WP made a series of changes that resulted in zip-squat-zero improvement in the forks.

(7) Shock. KTM’s no-link rear suspension is a public-relations nightmare. Scientifically, it can be proven that the rising rate of a single-sided, link-less shock is identical to that of a revolving link system, but the average consumer doesn’t buy it. Science or not, they believe that the lack of linkage means that the KTM doesn’t have a rising-rate leverage curve. Wrong! The problem is that KTM has made a mess of its link-less rear suspension. KTM has selected bad rising-rate curves (based on the location of the shock) and hinged their success on the Ohlins-designed PDS dual-piston shock design, which probably wasn’t the proper design for KTM’s system. KTM has stubbornly stuck to its guns in the face of an angry mob.

“All of its success on the world’s professional racing stages is important to KTM, but what KTM would really like is to be accepted by rank-and-file American motocrossers. They just want a little respect.”

WHAT WE LIKED

(1) Handling. The KTM 450SXF corners like a caged tiger. There is none of the old-school understeer that used to define Austrian race bikes.

(2) Power. We like this engine. KTM has produced a usable powerband that has three major charms: (a) It is not scary to use. Although the 450SXF is fast and powerful, it doesn’t feel like it because it starts off mellow and build its intensity as it goes. (b) The 2009 KTM 450SXF feels like it revs forever. In truth, it doesn’t rev forever; it just revs at a metered pace that maximizes pulling power up to where the rev limiter kicks in at 11,200 rpm. (c) With 53.9 horsepower and 34.3 foot-pounds of torque, the KTM can claim the most top-end power, the most over-rev, the highest rev limiter and the longest pull.

(3) Plastic frame guards. KTM’s frame guards protect the frame from scratches and include a burn guard for the mid-pipe. The burn guard melted on our bike, but we never got a hot foot.

(4) Compression adjusters. The new dials on top of the forks are easy to turn.

(5) Triple clamps. The adjustable offset triple clamps are now anodized black, while the fork stanchions are no longer black. It is a lighter and more professional look.

WHAT WE HATED

(1) Seat height. The KTM 450SXF is too tall. The seat is not plush, and the edges of the seat wear out in short order, causing fraying on the lower edge.

(2) PDS system. It’s no secret that the MXA wrecking crew doesn’t have much faith in the dual-piston WP PDS shock. We don’t think the rising rate of the KTM’s shock layout needs the extra damping assistance of a secondary damping piston. KTM disagrees, but over the years its engineers have been steadily downplaying the effects of the second piston. For 2009 the needle that activates the second piston comes in much later in the stroke and has been increased in diameter from 11.5mm to 14mm (it was originally an 8mm needle when the system was first introduced). Now the second piston comes into play largely as an anti-bottoming device.

(3) Shock. We had shock troubles. Even with the stiff 7.2 shock spring, we had trouble getting the race sag where we wanted it (110mm). This shock is not on the same level as the Yamaha YZ450F rear suspension.

(4) Tires. The very old-school Bridgestone M59/M70 tire combo is getting long in the teeth.

(5) Front brake. Most MXA test riders preferred last year’s incredibly powerful front brake. It is a better front brake for the average rider, but we will miss the works-style power of the older model.

(6) Graphics. What’s with the cartoons hidden in the radiator-wing graphics? There is a freestyle ramp, a 30-second board and a bunch of juvenile graffiti mixed into a jumbled motif. Next year, let’s try to go classy.

(7) Four-speed tranny. No doubt, the four-speed is easier to ride, but the five-speed would be easier to ride fast.

“For decades KTM suffered from being too ‘European.’ The orange bikes were tall, long and heavy. The suspension was hampered by offbeat WP suspension components and handling that was more push than turn. No more! Over the last three years, KTM has made quantum leaps with the 450SXF. Today, it is a bike with superb handling, a tremendous powerband and downsized ergos. We like to think of it as the ‘Americanization’ of KTM.”

WHAT WE LIKED

(1) Consumer complaints. Last year the MXA wrecking crew hated the cartoon graphics, tall seat height and four-speed gearbox. For 2010 those issues have all been addressed.

(2) Handling. This bike corners like it’s on rails, is easily adjusted by changing fork height and remains stable in the rough. KTM deserves kudos for lowering the frame. Not only does this make the bike easier to climb aboard, but it has an appreciable impact on making it feel more centered. The KTM 450SXF corners better than many Japanese bikes (only the RM-Z450 can turn sharper).

(3) Sound. Last year the 450SXF made a very quiet 95.4 dB. This year, thanks to the stock resonance chamber, it came in at 93.3 dB. That makes it the quietest 450 motocross bike made.

(4) Power. The 450SXF has a very nice powerband. It produces power that is not scary to use but pulls across a long range. This is a deceptive powerband. It feels slow but goes fast. The mellow low-end makes it easier to use in tight corners and bumps, while the massive gain in the middle gobbles up ground.

(5) Five-speed tranny. Choosing the right gearing on the 2009 four-speed gearbox was always a compromise. For tight tracks the gearing was too tall in second gear, but on fast tracks the gearing could be too short in fourth gear. Plus, the four-speed tranny had large gaps between each gear in order to have the same speed profile as a five-speed. Not so with the 2010 five-speed gearbox. It is a revelation on the 450SXF.

(6) Jetting. This is the first 450SXF to get a leak jet. Leak-jet and fuel-screw adjustments were the only jetting changes we had to make.

WHAT WE HATED

(1) Weight. It’s heavier than we would like, but that extra tonnage is offset by the fact that it has an electric starter. As amazing as it may seem, the KTM is actually lighter than the YZ450F, RM-Z450 and KX450F. Only the CRF450 is lighter. And none of them have a battery or electric motor.

(2) Suspension. There is little doubt that KTM’s no-link rear suspension is not accepted by the vast majority of motorcycle consumers. The blame for this falls on KTM’s inability to get its rear suspension to work properly and the ignorance of the consumers. KTM has mishandled the selection of damping, spring rates and shock angles over the last decade. Thankfully, since 2007, KTM has made major improvements to its shock settings. The rear suspension of the KTM is comparable to most linkage bikes. It should be noted that not every bike with linkage is as good as KTM’s linkless system, which illustrates that it is not the system that you use but how you set it up. Is KTM going to switch to a linkage system? If we were betting men, we’d say yes (and would expect that linkage system to appear on the 2011 KTM).

“Unless you’ve been sharing a two-room walk-up in Mumbai with Osama bin Laden, you know that the 2010 KTM 450SXF was the best 450cc motocross bike made last year. Guess what? The 2011 450SXF is better than the 2010 model. This bike is a gem. Why? Because it has the same great brakes, superb handling and incredible powerband as last year in a smaller, shrink-wrapped package—all the good stuff in fancier clothes.”

WHAT WE LIKED

(1) Handling. Nothing handles as well as a KTM. If you went back about five years, however, the MXA test crew was saying that nothing handled as poorly as a KTM.

(2) Powerband. This is an awesome powerband. It produces the kind of power that offers the benefits of a manageable low-to-mid powerband with an impressive, high-rpm top end. The power is not scary to use, because it pulls across a long range. There is no herky-jerky throttle response like on some fuel-injected 450s. The KTM 450SXF builds power as the rpm increase, which means that if you want to go faster, all you have to do is leave the throttle pegged.

(3) Airbox. No tools needed. All you have to do is pop the side cover to access the Twin Air filter.

(4) Plastic. We think that we could design a more attractive front fender in about 10 seconds, but the rest of the plastic on the bike is very appealing. The cladding design, with panels that overlap the panels behind them, is unique.

(5) Rising-rate linkage. The 2011 KTM 250/350/450SXFs come with rising-rate linkage, while the KTM 125SX, 150SX and 250SX two-strokes stick with a modified no-link PDS system. It is no secret that KTM’s engineers did not want to go to a Japanese-style rising-rate linkage, but they had no choice. Public opinion forced the move to linkage. We like the KTM linkage system. Equally surprising was that the big gain that we expected in the pesky G-out area, where the shock bottoms in high-G situations, was not there.

(6) 450SXF versus 350SXF. Does the new mid-size 2011 KTM 350SXF make the 450SXF obsolete? No—a big, giant, gorilla-in-the-room, unabashed no. Given a choice between the 450SXF and the 350SXF, every MXA test rider chose the 450 over the 350.

WHAT WE HATED

(1) Radiator overflow tube. Whenever the radiators spit water out of the overflow, the hot pipe produced a steam cloud. We mounted a longer vent hose and routed it under the engine cases.

(2) Shock preload ring. This is the worst preload ring in history (albeit accessible when compared to the preload rings of the Japanese brands). It’s harder to use than last year’s aluminum ring (last year’s ring will not fit on this year’s shock because the thread pitch has been changed). The all-new nylon preload ring deforms easily, and, for some reason, it is very hard to turn (and at some point impossible to turn). KTM says not to hit it with a hammer and punch, but sometimes we had to—and on more than a few occasions, we wanted to.

(3) Weight. At 242 pounds this KTM 450SXF is heavy. But, with the exception of the CRF450, it is comparable to its blue, green and yellow competition on the scale.

(4) Backfire screen. After we had the backfire screen on our 350SXF fray on its edge and get sucked towards the intake, we switched from the SXF air filter cage (with a wire screen) to the 250SX two-stroke air filter cage (without a screen).

(5) Spokes. When the bike is new, watch the spokes carefully. We’ve never had this much trouble getting the spokes to take a set on a KTM. The rims seem to be weak, as they show flat spots where the rim lock is tightened down

(6) Gas cap. We don’t like the locking gas cap because it is a hassle, and we don’t like the lipless  filler hole because dirt falls into the tank. We cut off the locking tangs on the gas cap to disable the locking device.

“The fact that the KTM 450SXF is relatively unchanged for 2012 might seem like a deal-breaker, but since most of its competitors are changed even less, the big Katoom doesn’t suffer by comparison. As the winner of the 2010 and 2011 450 shootouts, the 2012 KTM 450SXF has a high-class pedigree. This is a very good bike—better than three of the four Japanese-made 450s.”

WHAT WE LIKED

(1) Rear brake seals. On past Brembo rear brakes, the seals inside the rear master cylinder could get nicked at extremes of pedal travel. For 2012 Brembo repositioned the brake bleed hole so that it doesn’t touch either seal.

(2) White plastic. The airbox and side number plates are now white instead of black, which means that you don’t need white backgrounds to put numbers on the 350 or 450—although 250 riders will need black backgrounds.

(3) Handling. Is it better than a Suzuki, Kawasaki, Honda or Yamaha? Yes. It is significantly better than the Honda, Yamaha or Kawasaki, but only better than the Suzuki in that it’s more versatile—the RM-Z450 is tuned to corner like a banshee and little else.

(4) Powerband. No powerband can be perfect for every rider, but the KTM 450SXF produces the best overall spread of power. It delivers something for everybody—from slow to fast.

(5) Clutch. Instead of six separate coil springs to provide tension, the 2012 KTM clutch uses one large cupped washer (called a Belleville washer) to provide the tension. This is a bulletproof clutch that will last a rider a lifetime. Better yet, clutch abusers will get it to last longer than any other clutch on the market.

(6) Keihin versus EFI. History has proven that fuel injection, for all of its hype, does not make an engine better in the first year of its development. Think about how awesome the 2008 Honda CRF450 engine was and how one-dimensional the fuel-injected 2009 CRF450 was. Given our druthers, we’ll keep the big, broad and bold power that a carb produces until all the experimenting is done (on someone else’s dime). On the news front, KTM has a new, fuel-injected, die-cast, 450cc engine in its 2012 450EXC enduro bike that will be next year’s 450SXF engine.

WHAT WE HATED

(1) Handlebar bend. They are too low. We installed KTM Power Parts risers to raise them 5mm, but most test riders preferred 12mm-taller Renthal 603 (Windham) FatBars or 19mm-taller Renthal 604 FatBars.

(2) Gearing. The faster the MXA test rider, the more he wanted a harder and more abrupt hit. The Vets and Novices loved the easy, roll-on power, but the Pros wanted it to go now…or sooner. Our solution was to gear the 450SXF down (from a 52-tooth rear sprocket to a 53). This punched up the low-end and made things happen quicker (and allowed us to get to third sooner). In the end, the Vet and Intermediate test riders preferred this gearing also. The gearing could go even lower for a Pro by switching countershaft and rear sprockets for a 13/50. The stock 14/52 has a 3.714 ratio. Our preferred 14/53 generates a 3.786 ratio and 13/50 yields a 3.846 ratio (the equivalent of a 14/54).

(3) Weight. According to studies, 60 percent of Americans are obese. That may sound terrible, but 80 percent of the Big Five’s 450 motocross bikes are obese. The YZ450F, RM-Z450, KX450F and KTM 450SXF could all stand to take diet advice from Honda. Oink!

The Big Four are in danger of letting ‘Number Five’ get away from them. At a time when the Japanese manufacturers are being careful where they spend their R&D dollars (yen actually), KTM has produced totally new 250SXF and 450SXF engines and redesigned its frames, air boxes and engine components, adding fuel injection. Even more impressive, each and every four-stroke in its 2013 lineup saw a massive horsepower jump. The 2013 KTM 450SXF should be at the top of your potential new bike list—way at the top.”

WHAT WE LIKED

(1) Plain bearings. KTM doesn’t use roller or needle bearings on the big-end or top-end of the 2013 450SXF; instead, KTM uses plain bearings, which means no bearings.a Much like the old-school bronze bushing used on road racers, the KTM doesn’t have any bearings to blow out. KTM claims that maintenance life on the crankshaft is double.

(2) Five-speed tranny. The Euro-spec 450SXFs have four-speed transmissions—just one more reason to be thankful for the American way of life.

(3) Bars. The 12mm-taller Renthal 827 bars are a big improvement over last year’s low riders.

(4) Brakes. If you are the designer of the Kawasaki, Honda, Yamaha or Suzuki brakes, you should hang your head in shame.

(5) Power. If there is one thing that every bike company wishes it could advertise, it is “most powerful.” The 2013 KTM 450SXF blows the 2012 model out of the water from the middle on up. Oh yeah, it makes more power than any other 450cc motocross bike. The 2013 KTM 450SXF erases all the records with a startling 56.95 horsepower.

(6) Hydraulic clutch. Most MXA test riders love KTM’s hydraulic clutch, but we do have a quibble that KTM ignored us when we complained that the 450SXF’s Belleville washer-style clutch spring was not stiff enough. After Dungey got his stiffer clutch spring, it was put in the KTM Power Parts catalog. We heartily recommend it for the 2013 clutch.

(7) Shock. The rear suspension setup isn’t all that different from 2012, but it does have a different feel because of increased rigidity in the rear end. The rear axle is 5mm larger in diameter, and the one-piece swingarm is beefier. The result is a better-tracking rear end, with less tendency to kick or yaw in the rough.

WHAT WE HATED

(1) Exhaust pipe. You can’t remove the stock exhaust system without removing the shock from the bike (and even then it is a wrestling match). Thankfully, aftermarket pipes have separate mid-pipes that eliminate this hassle.

(2) Gearing. Gear it down to perk it up.

(3) Seat foam. It is too soft when it breaks in. A simple trick is to buy an aftermarket seat cover and put it on over the stock seat cover to stiffen up the feel, but don’t wait until the foam breaks down.

(4) Weight. At 240 pounds it is 3 pounds lighter than the 2012 KTM 450SXF. Although the switch to fuel injection added about 5 pounds, KTM saved weight with its single-overhead-cam engine and die-cast cases.

(5) Front fender. I-beams are perfect for holding up the roofs of warehouses, but does a front fender really need to meet local building codes?

(6) Torx bolts. We get tired of complaining about KTM’s oddball mix of 13mm hex heads, Torx sprocket bolts and wood screws. We’d like to see 12mm hex heads instead of 13mm heads and Allen sprocket bolts instead of Torx bolts.

(7) Suspension. Everything on this bike is world class except the suspension; it is third-world class.

“This is the greatest four-fifths of a motocross bike ever built. It is missing the one piece of the puzzle that would make it untouchable—and that is a puzzlement. If you are a Pro who knows a suspension tuner with KTM experience or are part of KTM’s target audience, this bike is a winner.”

WHAT WE LIKED

(1) The bike. This bike has the best all-around handling, best brakes, best clutch, best shifting, best overall powerband, an electric starter, no-tools airbox and good durability. Other brands might have better suspension, more focused power or weigh less, but no brand has as many superlatives as KTM.

(2) Hydraulic clutch. MXA has harped on KTM’s engineers since the introduction of the Belleville washer clutch, complaining that we wanted more tension. Last year MXA borrowed the stiffer clutch spring out of Ryan Dungey’s race bike. It was an instant improvement to an already good clutch. For 2014 all the 450SXFs have the stiffer clutch spring.

(3) Powerband. What is the most significant feature of the 2014 KTM 450SXF? Well, it certainly isn’t the suspension. Nope, it is the powerband. KTM has dialed in the exact kind of power that the typical KTM 450SXF owner needs and wants. The powerband doesn’t have the brutal rush of the KX450F, but it can easily run with the KX450F. Plus, because of the way the power is delivered, it seems to pull twice as long as other 450s.

(4) Muffler. Last year’s KTM mufflers were odd ducks. Each model’s muffler was different. The 250SXF muffler was 40mm shorter and had a wire screen. The 350XF muffler had an inverted perforated cone in the muffler, and the 450SXF had two perforated cones in its muffler. MXA learned early on that using the shorter and less-restrictive 250SXF muffler improved throttle response and bark (without drastically increasing the sound). For 2014 all three KTM four-strokes come with the 250SXF muffler (40mm shorter and with a wire screen only).

WHAT WE HATED

(1) Rims. Never go to the starting line without checking the spokes, especially the spoke next to the rear rim lock. Odds are good that it will be loose. In truth, there is nothing wrong with KTM’s spokes; it is the rims that are suspect. If you don’t want to risk wheel failure, you can lace the existing spokes and hubs up to Excel A60 or DID rims.

(2) Shock. The shock is considerably better than the forks, but when one end of a bike doesn’t work, it transfers the bulk of the load to the other end. Until you get the forks to absorb everything thrown at them, the shock will continue to suffer.

(3) Forks. We originally blamed WP’s bad forks on the Dutch, but a few years ago KTM moved the WP facility to Austria (and got the Dutch off the hook). It is true that KTM upped the compression damping for 2014, but that was just a baby step in the right direction. If it were us, we would bite the bullet and send these forks to MX-Tech, Factory Connection, MX1 or Pro Circuit.

(4) Overall suspension. KTM has focused strategically on the biggest group of 450SXF buyers—older, richer, heavier slow guys. There is a speed and rider weight where the WP forks and shock are good—not great, but good. Any rider under KTM’s target weight or over the target speed is in trouble. When we switched from Novice and Vet test riders to Pros, they bottomed the suspension everywhere. And since the 0.50 kg/mm fork springs are Freightliner stiff, this points to insufficient damping (front and rear). If we were KTM and were so close to winning every 450 shootout ever printed, except that our suspension kept nixing the deal, we’d put more effort into fixing the Katoom’s biggest flaw.

(5) Shift lever. When the shift lever is in the stock position, it is too low, and when you move it up one notch, it is too high. MXA places its shift levers between two blocks on a hydraulic press and bows the middle of the shift lever to raise the tip.

“Did you notice that we never mentioned the electric starter, hydraulic clutch, powerful brakes, indestructible chain guide, no-tools airbox, FIM-legal sound rating, SKF fork seals, quick-release fuel lines, resilient chromoly frame, CNC-billet bell crank, in-mold graphics, marine-grade wiring harness, inline fuel filters, or CNC-machined polished hubs? If we had, this test would have read like a love note to the Austrians. Well, in a way it is.”

WHAT WE LIKED

(1) Weight. You asked for it. The 2015 KTM 450SXF is 1.3 pounds lighter than last year.

(2) Tires. The 450SXF is spec’ed with Dunlop’s new MX52 tire combo. This tire will replace the MX51 on the dealer shelves. And even though we run the MX32 on intermediate terrain, the hard-pack MX52 is a good OEM tire choice because it has solid wear characteristics.

(3) 4CS forks. Gone are the WP bladder forks of the past, and in their place is the new 4CS fork. 4CS stand for “Four Chamber System,” and these new forks are only offered on American KTMs. They aren’t perfect out of the box, but by WP standards they are a lot closer to perfection than what came before. If you aren’t bottoming, you should lower the oil height by 10cc, which is the equivalent of 10mm. The front axle offset has been changed at the fork lugs by moving the axle 2mm rearward (from 35mm in front of the fork center line to 33mm in front). This change required a switch from last year’s 25mm front axle to a smaller 20mm axle. The steering-stem bolt now has a 17mm hex head instead of the previous 27mm hex.

(4) Wheels. The suspect rims of the last four years have been replaced by what KTM promises are true-to-life black-anodized Excel rims. The spokes are silver; they were black in the past.

(5) Handling. A few years ago the MXA wrecking crew recognized a major change in KTM handling. KTMs used to have flexy frames that felt like they had hinges in their middles. Then, suddenly, that changed. KTM’s chassis got stiffer, more accurate and well mannered. Today, KTM has one of the best all-around-handling bikes on the track.

(6) Power. How fast is the 2015 KTM 450SXF? It runs like a runaway metronome. It starts out with a fairly pleasant rush of power. It goes tick-tock, tick-tock and, in musical terms, is largo. As the rpm climb, the tempo begins to pick up. It goes tickity-tickity, tickity-tock and the tempo becomes adagio. Then, in the meat of the midrange, the arm of the metronome flies off and the engine goes full-on prestissimo.

WHAT WE HATED

(1) Fork guards. We vastly prefer the old full-coverage fork guards. No, they weren’t as attractive or as light, but they extended fork-seal life by stopping rock dings caused by roost from the rear of the front wheel.

(2) Air-filter cage. Never stick the air filter into the airbox without double-checking to make sure that the filter’s back edge is sealed against the intake tract. KTM should give it a distinct shape that instinctively slips into place (with a notch to let you know it is secure).

(3) Black frame guards. It’s kind of pointless to paint the frame orange and then install black plastic frame guards, especially when KTM has orange frame guards in stock.

(4) Forks. Although they aren’t perfect for everybody, they are perfect for somebody. And, the WP bladder forks couldn’t say that.

(5) Shock. We kept the compression clicker on the stock setting but slowed the rebound damping way down. We ran a stiffer shock spring. We preferred a 2014 orange shock spring on our 2015 KTM 450SXF instead of the white 2015 spring. Both springs were rated at 5.7 Nm, but the orange spring tested out at 5.76, while the white spring was only a 5.62. We needed the added stiffness.

“What’s the best part of the 2016 KTM 450SXF? Don’t be silly. We are talking about the lightest 450 bike on the track—and it meets that weight limit with a battery and electric starter. It has awesome brakes, a bulletproof hydraulic clutch, flawless shifting, an air filter that plugs into the airbox (without tools), a marine-grade wiring harness, quick-release fuel lines, Dunlop MX32 tires, black Excel rims, in-line fuel filters, rubber-mounted bars, plastic frame guards, direct-connect throttle cables, in-mold graphics and close to 58 horsepower.”

WHAT WE LIKED

(1) Weight. We were impressed that the 2015 model was 1.3 pounds lighter than the 2014 KTM 450SXF. The 2016 bike is 7.9 pounds lighter than the 2015 model at 227 pounds. Only the Husqvarna FC450 is close at 229 pounds. The KX450F is third lightest at 231 pounds, while the Suzuki RM-Z450 weighs 13 pounds more at 240 pounds.

(2) Powerband. If you are from the school of thought that thinks 450cc motocross bikes are too powerful for mortal men, you are about to have your psyche realigned. While Honda has promoted the idea that the only way to make a 450cc motocross bike manageable is to make it slow, KTM blows that idea out of the water with a very powerful engine that is super easy to ride. In fact, with five more horsepower than the CRF450, the KTM is actually more pleasant than the CRF450 at throttle tip-in.

(3) Tires. Last year KTM spec’ed the 450SXF with Dunlop MX52 tires, which replaced the MX51s, which replaced the old-school Bridgestones. For 2016 the 450SXF gets Dunlop MX32 intermediate tires. We love these tires, because we race on intermediate dirt. If we were to ride them on hard dirt, the knobs on the sides of the front tire would tear off. They will even tear off if you ride on a track with soft corners and hard exits.

(4) Radiator design. Every manufacturer should look at the thought that KTM’s engineers put into getting air to actually flow through their radiators’ cores.

(5) Handling. Once you balance the front and rear, you can go anywhere and do anything—without trying. Part of the KTM 450’s charm is its handling. Thanks to its 2016 diet, electric powerband and improved suspension, this bike can be steered with your knees.(6) Air filter. The plug-and-play air filter is a very creative idea.

WHAT WE HATED

(1) Frame color. The frame is now powdercoated black in a move that makes very few KTM owners or buyers happy. Most KTM owners lusted after the orange frames that the works bikes used for a decade. Now, after one year, the orange RAL2009 powdercoating is gone. Boo. We didn’t beg, plead and cajole for an orange frame for a decade just to have it taken away so that the black plastic frame guards would match.

(2) Gas cap. It sticks. Take a body-building class; you’ll need it at some point.

(3) Forks. The faster MXA test riders thought that KTM went too far in making its 4CS forks work better for the vast majority of KTM owners, who tend to be older and more sedate. They felt that the forks dove too much and were prone to bottoming. As for the riders whom KTM designed the damping for, they felt that the new forks were light years better than last year’s forks.

(4) Fork clickers. Although we love the ability to change the compression and rebound stetting on the WP forks without having to dig in the toolbox for a screwdriver, the cog-shaped clicker needs to have longer cogs.

(5) Brake pedal spring. Turn the brake pedal spring around so that the tang that goes through the top of the brake pedal is facing inward. We had the spring accidentally pop off the brake pedal when the tang faced outwards. We also crimp the tangs so the spring fits tighter.

“The most important aspect of any KTM is its forks. WP forks have been the weak link in KTM’s almost-flawless chain for decades. The only people who don’t know that work at WP. But, finally, the engineers at WP put their thinking caps on and hit the jackpot with the 48mm AER air forks. Even a blind squirrel finds a set of forks that don’t chatter like joke false teeth in the braking bumps every 20 years or so. And so it is with WP. How good are the 2017 WP AER forks? So much better than what WP offered in the past that it’s not enough to say that they are improved—because they are so much more than that. WP’s take on air forks is so unique that its forks share very little with other air forks on the market.”

WHAT WE LIKED

(1) Powerband. The 2017 KTM 450SXF proves that powerful engines don’t need to be detuned to make them easy to ride. The KTM 450SXF has the perfect powerband for riders from Beginners to National Champions. It is the most powerful bike of 2017, makes the most torque, has the broadest powerband and is the easiest to use. What else do you want?

(2) Handling. This is the best all-around handling bike on the track. It handles instinctively. You just have to think about choosing a line and it takes it.

(3) Weight. We were impressed that the 2016 bike weighed 227 pounds and are equally impressed that the 2017 KTM 450SXF now weighs 222 pounds. That’s11 pound slighter than the new 2017 Honda CRF450.

(3) Tires. We run Dunlop MX3S intermediate tires on our race bikes, so the fact that KTMs come stock with them just makes life easier for the MXA test crew; however, the front knobs on an MX3S will tear off if you run it on hard-packed dirt. The rear is a 120 width, and once it wears out, we switch back to a 110—especially for tracks with ruts and flat sweepers.

(4) Launch control. MXA test riders rarely use launch control on dirt starts, but we use it all the time on concrete. Everybody has his own method for using launch control off the line, but the majority of MXA test riders hold the throttle wide open and dump the clutch. The retarded ignition curve knocks off several horsepower to decrease the chance of wheel spin. You should practice starts to find out how much throttle works best for you.

(5) Clutch. There are people who don’t like the feel of hydraulic clutches, but KTM’s DDS clutch goes way beyond personal taste. Its steel clutch basket can never get notchy. The Belleville washer provides even pressure across the complete clutch pack. Riders who burn up KX450F, CRF450 or RM-Z450 clutches in one or two motos will go months on KTM’s plates. This is a clutch designed for the ham-fisted among us. You can’t hurt it.

(6) Suspension. This is the lightest 450 made, even with an electric starter and hydraulic clutch, and that takes a lot of load off the suspension. KTM has rocketed from lowly position in the suspension rankings to near the top—not just because the WP AER air forks work so well, but because, for a change, the forks don’t hamper the rear shock. It doesn’t hurt that KTM spec’ed the correct spring rate for 2017.

WHAT WE HATED

(1) Sprocket bolts/spokes. Watch them for as long as you own the bike. The same goes for the front and rear spokes. We broke 5 spokes on a front wheel that had no loose spokes, didn’t get hit by a footpeg or show any signs of wear.

(2) Neutral. We love how well the KTM shifts from gear to gear but hate how hard it is to get into neutral when standing still. We normally use are hand to find neutral.

(3) Bike stand. When the bike is sitting on a bike stand, the front wheel is on the ground. This is a hassle when checking the spokes or working on the front end.

(4) Front brake hose. Be very careful when hooking tie-downs onto your handlebars that they don’t crimp the L-bend tube coming out of the front brake’s master cylinder. We would prefer more room between the brake line and the bars to lessen the chance of damage.

(5) Fork clicker. We want a large diameter compression adjuster clicker. Yes, KTM’s no-tools clicker beats having to find a screwdriver, but if the tangs were bigger it would be even better.

(6) Gas cap. It sticks. You might think this is a silly complaint, but it’s not funny at the gas station.

(7) The pipe. You can’t take the pipe off the bike without removing the shock. Not fun.

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