KTM

2020 KTM 250 SX-F First Impression

Coming off the heels of our Husqvarna test last week, KTM came in this week and delivered our  2020 250 SX-F for us to shake down at the infamous Glen Helen Raceway. Glen Helen is one of the most used motocross facilities in California for most manufacturers to test their production machines before they arrive to dealerships. I managed to gather up 10 important things about the 2020 KTM 250 SX-F that I feel would benefit a possible future consumer and here they are. 

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Engine Feeling: The KTM 250 SX-F is fast! It doesn't feel fast on low rpm, but is it’s so easy to roll on the throttle early in corners that it makes you a better rider without you even realizing. The 2020 KTM 250 SX-F has more bottom end power than the FC250, but both bikes are similar from mid to top end. The 250 SX-F top end is so impressive because it can rev out incredibly well in third gear and will surprise you on how far you can let this machine eat. The controlled engine character of the KTM 250 SX-F doesn't have the excitement of the YZ250F, but to me I can appreciate this controlled character as the rear of the KTM feels more connected than the YZ250F under throttle. You will not be able to use third gear in corners on the KTM like you can with the YZ250F, but having a second gear as long as the 250 SX-F doesn't make me really want to use third gear because second gear is so useable. If you are a third gear type of rider through corners the KTM does have a decent amount of recovery time, but going to a 14/52 gearing ratio (14/51 is stock) will help your cause even more. 

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Suspension: The new 2020 WP XACT settings are firmer than the Husqvarna, but to me that is a good thing. The standard air pressure on the AER fork is 10.3 bars, but we ended up with a 10.6 bar base setting for both riders (170 and 185 pounds). The added air helped the fork hold up on de-cel yet still had a decent amount of comfort on the bigger braking bumps that Glen Helen provided. The WP KTM 250 SX-F shock has more damping feel than that of the FC250 on the end of its stroke, but doesn't have the comfort on acceleration bumps like the FC250 does. We stiffened up the low speed compression a couple clicks and that helped prevent the KTM from squatting too much under a heavy throttle hand. If you still feel like it’s soft at the end of the stroke on jump landings or g-outs try going in a quarter turn in on the high speed compression. Overall, I don’t think the 2020 WP suspension spec is that much better than the 2019 setting, but it was comfortable enough for me to push it hard around Glen Helen when the track got rough in the afternoon. Basically I wasn't dreading my time there in the afternoon and that to me is a win.   

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Chassis: The KTM 250 SX-F feels light through corners and lacks a little front end traction once you add some air to the fork. The positivity of the front tire on lean angle will decrease when going up in air pressure on the AER fork, but this is only felt on corner exit. Initial lean and mid corner the KTM gives the rider a lot of confidence and doesn't require a lot of input by the rider to make an inside line. Straight line stability is also predictable as the KTM will react the same way every lap when hitting bumps at speed. The steel frame has a very connected/positive feel around the track. 

Transmission: We did have an odd feeling when shifting from second to third, under load, on the KTM. When coming out of a corner, under throttle, it was very hard to find third gear. I had to  let off the throttle and pull the clutch all the way in to make the shift. This was odd because our FC250 had zero trouble with shifting when we tested it last week. The Pankl transmissions are usually the best in the business, so having this issue could be just do to not having enough break in time on a new bike. Our KTM 250 SX-F test bike had under two engine hours on it, so maybe it wasn’t fully broken in, but we wanted to mention this. We will get back to you once we get over the 5-6 hour mark to see if this improves.  


Engine Braking: We mentioned in our FC250 test that the Husqvarna had a lot of second gear engine braking. With the KTM 250 SX-F this wasn't as apparent, which makes this transmission talk even more interesting. The KTM has a very free feeling engine character in both maps and this makes the whole bike feel very playful. 


Engine Maps: On the KTM 250 SX-F, Map 2 was a great all around map for both testers we used. Map 2 pulls strong through the mid range and gave us more “meat” feeling up the hills. Map 2 didn’t come on stronger than map 1, but gave the KTM more rpm response and mid range recovery time, while pulling harder up top. Map 1 was a little stronger off bottom end, but was too short for our testers taste. The TC button simply doesn't get enough play with test riders, but the TC button does work well for conditions that are slick, hard pack, and/or slippery. Find the preferred map you like to ride in and use the “TC” button when the track turns for the worse. I tried Map 2 with the TC in the afternoon and it does actually help the rear of the bike stay straighter upon accelerating. 

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Rider Triangle: Gone are the days where the KTM feels foreign or weird when coning off Japanese machines. The cockpit fits a wide range of riders and never feels too cramped even with the low bar bend (unless you’re 6’2 and up). I do however despise the stiff natured stock Neken handlebar on slap down landings or on square edge. To get less vibration and more flex, get yourself a Pro Taper handlebar ASAP. If you like the stock bend, order yourself a Husqvarna stock bend and you will be in the spec range of the stock Neken handlebar. The KTM seat is also much friendlier than the Husqvarna seat! Thank god! 

Airbox Cover: For 2020 KTM gives the consumer an extra left side cover (upon purchase of vehicle) with holes to help the 250 SX-F breathe better. We tested both covers (with holes and without) and while the cover with holes installed made the KTM pull better up on top end, the cover without holes gave the 250 SX-F better bottom to mid range rpm response. If you’re riding wet conditions, it’s nice to know that you have a cover that will not allow water inside your airbox. 

Dunlop MX3S Tires: Thank you KTM for not falling for the Dunlop MX33 front tire trap just yet. The MX3S tires come standard for 2020 again on the KTM and we hope Dunlop allows manufacturers to run the 3S tires for 2021. Orrrrr. Design another soft to intermediate tire that is as good on lean angle as the 3S is. 

Husqvarna Or KTM?: I get this question a lot! If it was me I would prefer the KTM 250 SX-F because of the free feeling engine and the stiffer suspension spec. I do like Husqvarna’s rear end compliancy and handlebars more, but the engine rules the roost in the 250F class and to me the KTM engine is a little better. Yes, I am splitting hairs, but I try not to waffle on your questions! 

If you have any questions about this test or any others, you already know that we are here for you. We try to make your purchase the correct purchase. Email Kris@keeferinctesting.com for any burning q’s.









































 50 Hours On The 2019 KTM 450SX-F



I have been hammering down a lot of motos on the 2019 KTM 450SX-F before it has to make its way back to the KTM offices to make way for the 2019.5 KTM 450 Factory Edition. There are still some consumers out there that are concerned about KTM’s durability and wonder if you can trust the Austrian machine over the course of several hard hours. Well to try and give some real world feedback, I have purposely been a little “over abusive” on this particular test steed to see if in fact we can trust the KTM engineers and their R&D department. I have just went over the 52 hour mark last week and have accumulated over 20 of those hours in the past three weeks on rough test tracks near my home. This KTM 450 SX-F has seen its fair share of the testing workload on many parts, accessories, and product evaluations in its 50 hour lifespan. A 50 hour engine, on my scale, is like a 75-80 hour engine on a regular blue collar average racer/rider. If you’re looking for shiny new photos of the 2019 KTM 450 SX-F you came to the wrong place. You might as well go hit the back button and look at the 2019 450 MX Shootout photos because these pictures are of a work horse and not a show pony. Below are some of the key points I wanted to share with you current 2019 KTM 450 SX-F owners and maybe potential KTM buyers about our test unit. 

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Engine/ECU Settings: KTM’s R&D department is well aware that they may have missed the mark on stock ECU settings on the 2019 KTM 450 SX-F, but that doesn't mean you should just dismiss this engine. Some “other” media outlets are claiming that it’s too difficult to ride with the rich down low and lean up top feel of the standard ECU setting. There are a couple things to consider here: one that this engine does take some time to break in and feel like it should and two it does get slightly better with some time. Let me explain… When you first get your KTM 450 SX-F and ride her it may feel very tight, sluggish off the bottom end, have some de-cel pop, and may even flame out on you in corners. Some of these symptoms die off after 8-10 hours of riding time on the engine. I used the stock ECU box/settings for the first 16 hours and I had some of those symptoms until around hour 9, then the de-cel popping went away and also some of that sluggish feeling coming out of corners. The rich feeling still seems apparent under low RPM’s no matter what, but KTM is aware of this and will be making some changes to the ECU come factory Edition time. So does that mean you current 2019 KTM 450 SX-F owners are screwed? No. I just wanted to make it clear that this bike is very much rideable in stock form without a ECU re-flash. 

If you DO NOT want to spend the money on a Vortex ignition you can get your standard box re-flashed from Jamie at Twisted Development or Chad at XPR Motorsports. Both of these companies have a better ECU setting for you current orange brigade riders out there. Either one of these guys have a map that gets some more excitement and a cleaner air fuel setting to make the power even more useable. If you DO want to spend the extra $800.00 or so, the Vortex is simply magic for this engine. The engine delivery still remains so smooth yet easier to ride and increases the use of second and third gear. Going to the Vortex ignition gives you the option to ride with less effort while deceasing your lap times because the workload is simply less with the power character the Vortex gives the orange machine. I repeat you DO NOT have to have the Vortex to make the KTM 450 SX-F engine better! You can save some money and re-flash your current ECU!

What about durability once you go with a Vortex ignition? I have yet to have any durability issues with going to an aftermarket ECU that is correctly mapped from either said company above. It is one of the only modifications you can make to your machine that will make a noticeable difference in power without sacrificing the lifespan of your engine. 

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What about clutch life? I am notoriously hard on clutches and I usually only get 9-10 engine hours on any given Japanese manufacturer clutch, but with the KTM I can almost double my lifespan. The KTM 450SX-F has only seen two clutches in the past 50 hours and I have been letting my engine run on the same oil for 5-6 engine hours at a time. To me that is impressive. I also DO NOT notice slippage under load when the engine gets hot. The hydraulic clutch is something that I have come to appreciate more through the years and although the engagement of the KTM is a little on/off feeling the overall performance of the clutch itself is amazing under heavy race oriented type stress. 

What about engine maintenance? I am not going to sit here and tell you I am some great mechanic and I am busing out valve clearance checks every 20 hours. I did check the valve clearance after 25 hours and they were within spec and I haven't checked them since. Like I mentioned above I have used Blud Racing 10/40 or Maxima Premium 10/40 oil in this bike and have only changed the oil every 5-6 hours. I am usually a 2-3 engine hour oil change kind of guy, but the KTM has held the rigorous amount of riding time that I have put on it. 

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Chassis/Suspension: During the course of the 50 hours I spent on this machine I went back and forth with the stock WP suspension and the WP Cone Valve fork/TRAX shock. The Cone Valve fork provided me with more front end traction (under lean angle) and I could just be more aggressive with getting over my front end without it being inconsistent on a longer moto. The TRAX shock has more of a dead feeling than the stock shock yet provided only minimum comfort gains (over stock). The stock WP shock is very good for my weight and for the combinations of trans we ride here in California. If you’re serious about racing and performance than I would recommend this set up. IF you’re a weekend warrior and want to improve your riding, DO NOT worry about this as the stock stuff will be just fine.

I ended up running the stock AER fork for the last 20 or so hours on the KTM just to see if I can push around the track and found out that running the standard air pressure at 10.5 bars, with the compression at 20 clicks out, and the rebound at 14 clicks out was sufficient. This setting provided me the comfort without getting too harsh through the mid stroke during longer motos with bigger braking bumps/square edge. If you find this setting to be a little harsh on your hands and you're around 185 pounds go with a 10.6 bar setting, compression at 24 clicks out and a rebound of 14 clicks out. This will help hold the front end up on de-cel and help with harshness. 

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What about the 2019 KTM’s stiffer frame? The stiffer chassis takes some time to get used to if you're coming off of a 2018 model. Don’t be scared off by the 10% increase in torsional rigidity stiffness. Just like the engine, the 2019 KTM 450 SX-F frame took me a little longer to break in to feel some quality bump compliancy (compared to Japanese machines). I see/hear riders complaining about the 2019 frame stiffness, but to me as a long term owner/consumer I prefer this. Why? A couple reasons: one the 2019 has a more positive cornering character than the 2018 does, feels lighter through mid corner, and doesn't feel clapped out at 50 hours! The 2018 frame (at 50 hours) felt worse than a 100 hour Yamaha YZ450F frame. With the stiffer chassis that KTM came out with in 2019, my test bike feels better now than it did when I was at 25 hours. The overall compliancy has softened up a little bit, but not so much where I feel the frame flexing under load like I did with the 2018 chassis.       

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Gearing: I have ran the stock gearing, tried going to a 14/52, but have settled on a 13/49 for my final spec that I prefer at most tracks. I liked the 14/52’s traction character out of corners, but I feel like I lost a a little third gear recovery. I like running third gear through corners and with the 13/49 I feel like I can leave the KTM in third gear (with stock ECU) and fan the clutch minimally to get the orange brigade back into the meat of the power. The 13/49 gearing also doesn't hurt second gear pulling power that much to where I am forced to shift earlier than I did with the 13/48. I am fairly certain that Husqvarna will be making that 13/49 gearing change to their 2019.5 Rockstar Edition models as well. Give it a try if you're a third gear kind of rider. Oh and did I mention I have only changed out one set of sprockets/chain? Yep. 


Handlebars/Grips: I have been on a crossbar kick lately, so the Pro Taper Fuzion “SX RACE” bend has been on the KTM 450 SX-F for over half its life. I was in search of a slightly taller bar bend than what comes stock on the KTM (height 79.5mm, 52mm sweep) and a bar that flexed more, so going with the Pro Taper SX Race bend was great for me, especially in corners. I can still get over the front of the bike, but my elbows are up a little more naturally and I feel better when standing on the bike. If you're a crossbar kind of guy, the Pro Taper Fuzion bar has a EVO-ish flex character and will not feel as rigid as some other crossbar brands. Also note that the stock lock-on-grips/throttle tube also can get heavy after around 20 hours, so check your plastic tube for wear. The plastic on the lock on grips can get rough inside and make your throttle pull hard. IF you ware looking to put standard grips on go with a Motion-Pro throttle tube. I prefer plastic tubes more than aluminum ones for flex reasons. I am not a full time racer guy anymore so I don’t need the durability of an aluminum tube .   


Air Filter: Buy yourself a KTM 250SX two-stroke air filter cage because they come without a backfire screen and then go get a Twin Air filter. Just doing this little modification gave me some added RPM response which helps the KTM feel even lighter in tight sections of any given track. 


Wheels/Tires/Axle Blocks: You will have to check your sprocket bolts and spokes religiously, but if you use a little blue Loctite on your sprocket bolts you should be good. You can also increase the rear wheel traction by going with some Works Connection Elite axle blocks that will eliminate the fixed left side axle block from your axle. This allows both axle blocks to float under heavy load (acceleration) and will not give you a binding rear end (harsh) feel. It sounds minimal, but makes a difference on acceleration chop. You can also run your wheel a little farther back if you're changing your gearing to get some added straight line stability that the KTM can use at times. 


Rear Brake Pedal Spring: The stock one sucks! I break my brake pedal spring every 3-4 hours! You either are going to have to load up on brake pedal springs or go with a CRF450R brake pedal spring with the rubber over it (condom style). This helps with the vibration that the spring experiences, so it doesn't break. 

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FMF 4.1 Muffler System: I have tried a lot of systems for this bike, but there is only one that I liked better than the stock system. The FMF 4.1 helps bottom end roll on power out of corners, gives you some added mid range meat, and keeps the stock system’s top end intact. You will shed almost 1.5 pounds and the exhaust note is not obnoxiously loud. I leave the insert out of this system and run it how it comes in the box. The KTM R&D team in Austria worked together with FMF to develop this muffler so it ensures that the air/fuel ECU mapping is correct when purchasing this system. Smart. 

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Seat: I went with a Selle Della Valle seat for added butt traction out of corners. This seat is really good, but also really hard on your butt! I have been chaffed more times than I can remember, but it keeps you locked in that’s for sure! It also is super durable and takes washings well.

2019 85cc MX Shootout 

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Nothing brings me more joy than watching my son share the same passion that I do for dirt bikes. However making the decision (as a parent) to purchase the correct machine can be somewhat confusing, difficult, and expensive. That is where Keefer Inc. Testing comes in! We decided to do a 2019 85cc shootout for you moto loving parents out there, but also give you some insight on which bike might be best for you and your little one. This was a big undertaking for myself as it’s tough to get kids to open up on how each bike feels, but we can officially say that the 2019 85 MX Shootout has officially taken the checkered flag after three days of testing, over 50 pages of testing notes, eight test riders, and after countless engine hours have racked up on thee little bikes. The tracks we chose to test at were good for a wide range of abilities and wasn't so gnarly that your typical 85cc novice couldn't have some fun. We feel the tracks we tested on were the best tracks (combined with the prep that was performed) that brought out each machines strengths and weaknesses. In doing this we know the information gathered was the most accurate we could offer from our 11-14 year old testers. Below are the final rankings and a brief evaluation summary that were tallied up by using an olympic style scoring. If you want to hear more about each bike, get a much broader breakdown of each machine, and hear from one of the testers, click on the podcast tab to listen to the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Keefer Tested Podcast Presented By Fly Racing And Race Tech this week!

Check back soon for a “Best Settings” article for each machine and a full photo gallery. We also will be doing some “Living With” articles with a few of these throughout the 2019 year, in order to give you parents some feedback on what is breaking and what you can do to make these bikes even better. Just don’t go all mini parent on your kids! Let them enjoy riding their dirt bikes and having fun with their family and friends. #KeepKidsOnDirtBikes

The 2019 Suzuki RM85 wasn’t available when we had photo day, so look for more action shots of the RM85 when we post up the “Best Settings” article.

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First Place: Tie KTM 85SX/Husqvarna TC85

MSRP: KTM 85SX $5,899.00

MSRP: Husqvarna TC85 $5,999.00


Unlike its bigger brothers, the KTM and Husqvarna are identical on paper and most of our test riders couldn't feel the difference between the two on the track, hence why we chose to have a tie for first place. Both engine packages are powerful enough to make even our pro test riders smile. Every test rider underestimated the power of the small but mighty engine, however it wasn't so gnarly that it scared our novice kids. Make no doubt about it though, these are racing that want to go fast. The KTM and Husqvarna have a smoother delivery down low (similar to their bigger four-stroke counterparts), but once both hit the midrange, they explode with a pulling power that gets you down the track in a hurry. Simply put the engines in both of these machines out perform all of the others in class and put smiles on every one of our young testers faces. Heck, I even rode them and it put a smile on my face! I wish I had these engines when I was on minis! The beauty of these motors is if you wanted to tame the power or move it around, you could very easily do so with the power valve adjuster. You can turn the power-valve adjuster on the right side of the engine 1/4 of a turn clockwise, have your little one ride the bike, come back to the pits and turn it 1/4 of a turn counterclockwise (from stock), and have them tell you which one he or she prefers. Doing this makes a big difference in the power delivery, so it’s worth the time and effort to give it a try to make the rider feel comfortable. Plus it’s a good evaluation to test their “test rider skills”. The top end and over-rev is what really sets these engines apart from the Yamaha. The Yamaha is better down low, but once opened up, the KTM and Husqvarna simply out pull it down the straights. You can just hear how much further the KTM and Husqvarna rev out when watching/hearing the kids ride each machine.

The hydraulic clutch was well perceived by each tester and the overall abuse that the KTM and Husqvarna clutches can take is better than the other colored machines. Usually air forks are a nightmare on big bikes, but in the world of small bikes, I don't think it’s as critical. Not one test rider complained about the 43mm WP AER fork and in fact it was easy to dial in for our wide range of testers. We normally stuck with the recommended 5 bar of fork pressure, but dialed it down to 4-4.5 bars for the lighter kids with great success. The KTM and Husqvarna do sit a little taller than the other bikes in the shootout so that is something parents will have to know going in before purchasing. Some of our smaller testers could quite touch the ground when seated, so be forewarned that you may have to lower the seat height for smaller riders. The handlebar bend is tall, wide, has some rise to it, but gives room for riders to grow into. The bar pad that KTM/Husqvarna use are horrible and should be replaced immediately with a foam style pad. The downside to these two machines? Price! They are over a grand more than any other bike in this shootout, so be sure you’re ready to pay for that “Race Ready” motto.

Positives:

Incredible mid-top end engine delivery

Balanced Suspension 

Hydraulic Clutch 

 

Negatives: 

Lack of bottom end power (compared to Yamaha)

Hard feeling bar pad

Could be tall for smaller riders

Who Are These Bikes For? Riders that want to go racing and ride very aggressively.  


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Third Place: Yamaha YZ85

MSRP: $4,599.00

Yamaha came in with a new YZ85 for 2019 and it was well perceived by most testers in our shootout. The engine on the 2019 Yamaha YZ 85 is very strong coming out of corners, but doesn't pull quite as far as the KTM and Husqvarna on top end/over-rev. The Yamaha has more of an exciting hit down low than the orange and white bikes, but just doesn’t have the recovery through the mid range like the front runners do. When some testers made a mistake coming out of corners they had to cover the clutch way more than they did with the KTM and Husqvarna. If the clutch was abused (like some novice kids can do) the YZ85 started to slip and drag during the course of the day. You could hear it starting to slip, so we were forced to change out the clutch plates after our second day of testing. The tighter the track we tested at the more the testers liked the power and RPM response of the Yamaha. It is a very exciting power delivery. The good news is that the jetting is clean and crisp with the Yamaha and comes ready to go right from the crate.

The 2019 Yamaha YZ 85’s suspension has a plush feel to it and to most testers had more comfort (in fork) on braking bumps than the Husqvarna and KTM. However our heavier testers couldn't quite get it to hold up enough for their aggressive style and had to really pay attention to downsiding jumps perfectly. Straight line stability was also praised as testers thought they could hit bumps faster at speed and the Yamaha remained stuck to the ground/planted. Compared to the KTM and Husqvarna though the Yamaha corners a little slower. Entering corners some testers thought it felt tough to lean the YZ85, which forced them to use outside lines more instead of getting into a tight rut. The handlebar bend was well liked by every test rider and the way the Yamaha fit all of our testers was amazing. Simply moving the bar mounts forward or back help create a smaller or larger rider triangle for each test rider. The ground clearance seemed to be just right for the wide range of riders as each felt comfortable right away. If you’re looking for a competitive bike that isn’t a KTM or Husqvarna, look no further than the YZ85. The blue bike should be your top pick simply because it’s a great bike that costs less than the top two machines. With a pipe and silencer the YZ85 could be as fast as the orange and white on top end.

Positives: 

Great bottom end power delivery

Ergonomically fits a wide range of riders

Stable at speed 

Negatives: 

Clutch life

Slightly slower cornering compared to Husqvarna and KTM

Black frame paint chips way too quick 


Who Is This Bike For? Riders who like a lot of RPM response and like to be aggressive on fast tracks. 



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Fourth Place: Kawasaki KX85

MSRP: $4,349.00

Fourth place goes to the Kawasaki KX85. The green machine honestly doesn’t do anything bad, but from what we heard from each test rider, doesn’t have any real stand out “this is the best” qualities (compared to the other machines) either. The engine delivery is calculated and easy to ride, which did make our younger/novice test riders more confident in charging around the track. There is no real explosive hit out of corners, but instead the rider has tons of traction at the rear wheel that is exceptional under slippery conditions. The Kawasaki gets pulled through the mid range and top end at faster/deeper tracks and our more experienced riders were just looking for more power throughout the power curve. The jetting comes a little rich so raising the clip up one or two really helped the rich/lethargic feeling on low end. The suspension is plush yet very soft for any test rider over 100 pounds, so if you are on the bigger side, a set of heavier springs and a re-valve might be in order. The lighter/smaller kids that tested the KX85 loved the bump absorption and raved about how stable the bike was for them on rough tracks. The KX85 corners well and to most testers had the best overall cornering stability that allowed kids to push past their limits through fast sweeping corners. The Kawasaki feels longer and lower to the ground, which makes it planted once under a lean angle. The KX85 is tailor made for smaller riders as the bars are swept back/low and the rider triangle is very small. Kawasaki needs to update their bar spec and quality of handlebar as it is dated compared to the others (besides Suzuki) in the shootout. We do know with a little work the KX85 is a weapon of choice for a lot of young amateur racers, but in stock form needs some updates to make it better than the top three. 

Positives: 

Stable at speed

Plush suspension for smaller riders

Rider triangle great for kids coming off of 65’s

Negatives:

Vanilla power delivery

Small cockpit for bigger kids

Soft suspension for aggressive riders over 100 pounds


Who Is This Bike For? Riders that race motocross and grand prix’s that prefer stability.


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Fifth Place: Suzuki RM85

MSRP: $4,199.00

The Suzuki ranked fifth, but although the looks of the RM85 look dated, the engine is actually quite good. I would say this is the most underrated/peppy engine in the shootout. The test riders felt the RM85 had better bottom end/RPM response than that of the KX85, but couldn't quite match the top end pulling power that the other bikes ahead of it had. Top end was short and the jetting was also a little rich for sea level riding conditions. We raised the clip up one (leaner) and this helped RPM response a little through the mid and top end range. Once jetting was leaned out most testers thought the Suzuki RM85 had a lightweight feel coming in and out of corners because of the snappy throttle response down low. Lightweight testers didn't mind the mellow mid-top end pulling power feeling, but riders that were over 100 pounds and more aggressive, simply needed more engine. The suspension is soft stock and compliments lighter riders well, but if you're an aggressive or heavier 85cc rider, you will want to get some heavier springs ASAP. The ride attitude of the RM85 on the track was tougher to figure out (with aggressive riders) because most of them complained about the front end feeling low on de-cel. With some of that front end dive though came increased front end traction through corners. Just like most Suzuki’s, the RM85 turns as well as the front runners in the class and likes tight inside lines the most. If the corners are sweeping and long the Suzuki can get a little unstable/twitchy for lighter riders. Straight line stability was well perceived with larger testers and was a little harder to handle with lighter riders. A couple testers complained about vibration coming through the handlebars and the grips hurting their hands. Suzuki desperately needs to update this area of the RM85 as we think these are the same bars that were on Buddy Antunez’s Suzuki when he was an RM80 rider back in the day. Although on paper the Suzuki is heavier it feels light on the track! Even thought the Suzuki RM85 is fifth we think this is a great bike for any local or novice/intermediate racer. My son Aden says this was one of the most fun bikes he has ridden at Milestone to date! Trust me, that says something as he is pickier than his old man.  

Positives: 

Good bottom end snap

Gives riders confidence in tight corners

Lightweight feel 


Negatives: 

Mid-Top end power

Soft suspension 

Dated handlebars and grips (cockpit)


Who Is This Bike For? A lighter novice rider that needs to gain confidence through ruts/corners.  


Best Overall Categories: 

Best Bottom End: Yamaha

Best Mid Range: KTM/Husqvarna

Best Top End: KTM/Husqvarna

Best Over Rev: Husqvarna 

Best Fork: Yamaha

Best Shock: Yamaha

Best Cornering: KTM/Husqvarna 

Best Straight-Line Stability: Kawasaki

Best Lightweight Feel: Suzuki 

Best Brakes: KTM/Husqvarna

Best Ergonomics: Yamaha

Best Shifting: KTM/Husqvarna









































































2019 450 MX Shootout

The 2019 450 MX Shootout has officially taken the checkered flag. After three days of testing, over 100 pages of testing notes, 16 test riders, countless engine hours racked up, and over seven hours of testing information sent to your ears (via podcast) we finally have a winner. The results changed dramatically from last year’s shootout and for 2019 the top five were all miserably close for each test rider. The tracks we chose to test at were also chosen by four out of the six manufacturers to evaluate their production machines before we got our hands on them. These tracks provided deep, loamy soil conditions in the morning that turned hard pack and slick towards the end of the afternoon. We feel these were the best tracks (combined with the prep that was performed) brought out each machines strengths and weaknesses. In doing this we feel the information gathered was the most accurate we could offer (from the west coast) from an evaluation standpoint. Below are the final rankings and a brief evaluation summary that were tallied up by using an olympic style scoring. If you want to hear more about each bike and get a much broader breakdown of each machine, click on the podcast tab to listen to the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Keefer Tested Podcast Presented By Fly Racing And Race Tech right now!

First Place: Yamaha YZ450F

The Yamaha YZ450F won because it provided the riders with the most comfortable suspension, an easy to ride engine character, and a new found planted cornering ability. The small changes that Yamaha made did make a big difference out on the track. It’s also one of only a couple bikes that can use third gear through corners an get you out in a hurry. “Recovery Time” on this engine is impeccable and forgives riders when they make mistakes when shifting too early. Testers agreed that the YZ450F is much more confidence inspiring than that of the 2018 version through corners (cornering stability). It split wins/days with the Kawasaki, but the Yamaha had nine “individual test rider opinion wins” throughout the shootout that tipped the scales in its favor. Small changes on paper equals big changes out on the track for 2019. Congratulations Yamaha!

The Yamaha YZ450F won because it provided the riders with the most comfortable suspension, an easy to ride engine character, and a new found planted cornering ability. The small changes that Yamaha made did make a big difference out on the track. It’s also one of only a couple bikes that can use third gear through corners an get you out in a hurry. “Recovery Time” on this engine is impeccable and forgives riders when they make mistakes when shifting too early. Testers agreed that the YZ450F is much more confidence inspiring than that of the 2018 version through corners (cornering stability). It split wins/days with the Kawasaki, but the Yamaha had nine “individual test rider opinion wins” throughout the shootout that tipped the scales in its favor. Small changes on paper equals big changes out on the track for 2019. Congratulations Yamaha!

Second Place: Kawasaki KX450


The most improved machine in the 2019 450 MX Shootout belongs to Team Green. The KX450 won the first day of the shootout and was a favorite of most testers throughout the week. The chassis is well behaved and can be pushed hard by the rider without it doing anything out of the ordinary. The lightweight feeling of the KX450 is noticed immediately around the track and the free-feeling engine character makes it a very fun/playful bike to ride. With four “individual test rider opinion wins” it was the only other bike in the shootout to keep the Yamaha honest. Kudos to Kawasaki for making a great first year/generation KX450. That is not easy to do!

The most improved machine in the 2019 450 MX Shootout belongs to Team Green. The KX450 won the first day of the shootout and was a favorite of most testers throughout the week. The chassis is well behaved and can be pushed hard by the rider without it doing anything out of the ordinary. The lightweight feeling of the KX450 is noticed immediately around the track and the free-feeling engine character makes it a very fun/playful bike to ride. With four “individual test rider opinion wins” it was the only other bike in the shootout to keep the Yamaha honest. Kudos to Kawasaki for making a great first year/generation KX450. That is not easy to do!

Third Place: Husqvarna FC450

The Husqvarna FC450 is one of the most connected throttle to rear wheel bikes in this year’s shootout. There is so much traction that it is deceiving to some testers to figure out how much throttle to give, to clear obstacles immediately out of corners. It doesn’t feel or sound like the Husqvarna is really hauling ass down the track, but you end up over jumping certain jumps at times because the FC450 is hooking up so well. All of the riders preferred the black throttle cam on the Husqvarna/KTM for more a snappier/quicker RPM response. The WP suspension isn’t holding this bike back as much as it did in year’s past and leaning it over in corners is made easy with its lightweight feel. The Husqvarna fell down the ranking because riders did want a little more throttle response in deeper conditions (even with the black throttle cam installed). The FC450 was one of only three machines to score more than one “individual test rider win”.

The Husqvarna FC450 is one of the most connected throttle to rear wheel bikes in this year’s shootout. There is so much traction that it is deceiving to some testers to figure out how much throttle to give, to clear obstacles immediately out of corners. It doesn’t feel or sound like the Husqvarna is really hauling ass down the track, but you end up over jumping certain jumps at times because the FC450 is hooking up so well. All of the riders preferred the black throttle cam on the Husqvarna/KTM for more a snappier/quicker RPM response. The WP suspension isn’t holding this bike back as much as it did in year’s past and leaning it over in corners is made easy with its lightweight feel. The Husqvarna fell down the ranking because riders did want a little more throttle response in deeper conditions (even with the black throttle cam installed). The FC450 was one of only three machines to score more than one “individual test rider win”.

Fourth Place: KTM 450SX-F

The KTM 450SX-F has more bottom end and RPM response than the Husqvarna, but lacked some compliance/comfort when the track got choppy and rough. The KTM still feels lightweight through corners and gives riders, that lack cornering technique, more confidence through ruts. The Neken handlebar is a little more rigid than that of the Pro Taper bar that is on the Husqvarna and that doesn’t help on slap down landings. The engine character is smooth and linear thus helping/forcing riders carry more speed through corners. The WP/AER front fork lacks some small bump absorption, but once you break through that initial part of the travel, it is quite nice. The KTM 450 SX-F is one of my favorite bikes to ride with some minimal modifications done to it. The is how close all of these bikes really are! A little massaging here and there can make a fourth place bike a first place machine.

The KTM 450SX-F has more bottom end and RPM response than the Husqvarna, but lacked some compliance/comfort when the track got choppy and rough. The KTM still feels lightweight through corners and gives riders, that lack cornering technique, more confidence through ruts. The Neken handlebar is a little more rigid than that of the Pro Taper bar that is on the Husqvarna and that doesn’t help on slap down landings. The engine character is smooth and linear thus helping/forcing riders carry more speed through corners. The WP/AER front fork lacks some small bump absorption, but once you break through that initial part of the travel, it is quite nice. The KTM 450 SX-F is one of my favorite bikes to ride with some minimal modifications done to it. The is how close all of these bikes really are! A little massaging here and there can make a fourth place bike a first place machine.

Fifth place: Honda CRF450R

Ride Red. No Wing No Prayer. The Honda CRF450R has the fastest feeling engine character in the shootout. If you’re looking to get from point A to point B in a hurry, the Honda’s engine will oblige. As fast as the CRF450R is, it still feels connected to the rear wheel without much loss of traction, but the rigidity balance is what hurt it the most. When the track gets hard packed and rougher, the Honda suffers from lack of stability. The front end gets a little twitchy and can be difficult to ride fast when track conditions get worse. The suspension has a lot of comfort, but that comfort needs to come from the frame more, in order to be a shootout winner. Riders did like the on-the-fly handlebar mounted map switch and its three modes. Each mode has a completely unique feel to it unlike other machines where switching maps didn’t make a “huge” difference.

Ride Red. No Wing No Prayer. The Honda CRF450R has the fastest feeling engine character in the shootout. If you’re looking to get from point A to point B in a hurry, the Honda’s engine will oblige. As fast as the CRF450R is, it still feels connected to the rear wheel without much loss of traction, but the rigidity balance is what hurt it the most. When the track gets hard packed and rougher, the Honda suffers from lack of stability. The front end gets a little twitchy and can be difficult to ride fast when track conditions get worse. The suspension has a lot of comfort, but that comfort needs to come from the frame more, in order to be a shootout winner. Riders did like the on-the-fly handlebar mounted map switch and its three modes. Each mode has a completely unique feel to it unlike other machines where switching maps didn’t make a “huge” difference.

Sixth place: Suzuki RM-Z450

The Suzuki RM-Z450 is the best looking bike out of the bunch. However, looks alone couldn’t get the Suzuki up the charts in 2019, but the zook has improved slightly since last year. The BFRC shock still unloads (kicks) off throttle, which causes the rider to have a lot of pitching coming into corners. Most riders didn’t mind the engine’s delivery, but just wanted more from the powerplant (especially on deep tilled tracks). The white coupler was almost unanimously used by all riders which helps “wake up” the bottom to mid range, but the Suzuki still signs off too quickly up top. The cornering of the RM-Z450 is still great, but other machines are as good, if not better than the Suzuki for 2019. This bike would be great for a rider who wants to spend less money and still have a good bike to go race/ride on the weekends. Small modifications can really help the Suzuki become a better machine. In fact, we will be doing a project 2019 RM-Z450 this year, so stay tuned!

The Suzuki RM-Z450 is the best looking bike out of the bunch. However, looks alone couldn’t get the Suzuki up the charts in 2019, but the zook has improved slightly since last year. The BFRC shock still unloads (kicks) off throttle, which causes the rider to have a lot of pitching coming into corners. Most riders didn’t mind the engine’s delivery, but just wanted more from the powerplant (especially on deep tilled tracks). The white coupler was almost unanimously used by all riders which helps “wake up” the bottom to mid range, but the Suzuki still signs off too quickly up top. The cornering of the RM-Z450 is still great, but other machines are as good, if not better than the Suzuki for 2019. This bike would be great for a rider who wants to spend less money and still have a good bike to go race/ride on the weekends. Small modifications can really help the Suzuki become a better machine. In fact, we will be doing a project 2019 RM-Z450 this year, so stay tuned!


If you have any questions about the shootout please feel free to email me at kris @keeferinctesting.com. As usual we have an open door policy over here and love to bullshit about dirt bikes. If you see me at the track, come over and say hey!






2019 KTM 450 SX-F Review

 

We got our hands on the 2019 KTM 450 SX-F recently and wanted to divulge some quality testing information to all of you interested orange brigade riders out there.... 

 

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Engine: The new 2019 KTM 450 SX-F engine isn’t any different than the 2018.5 machine besides mapping. I do feel with the updated mapping you’re getting a little more mid-range pulling power and a slightly added RPM response (at mid-range rpm) increase over the 2018.5 model. The 2019 is still silky smooth and has a very linear power, which doesn’t wear the rider out easily like some other 2019 450cc models can. The map switch is a great tool for riders that want a more smoother roll on delivery (map 1) or want a more frisky and peppy bottom end hit (map 2). I prefer map 1 in 2019 as it’s still linear enough on hard pack portions of the track, but has a cleaner hit down low to get me out of soft pockets of the track better than map 2. 

 

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FI Setting: I do feel KTM missed the mark when it comes to the ignition/fuel mapping. The 2019 KTM 450 SX-F feels a little rich/dirty down low and a little lean on top end (de-cel popping). If KTM can get their mapping figured out, the already great engine character would be even better. I am going to go test some other maps and see if it helps with a cleaner power delivery. I know going to a Vortex ignition, that is mapped by Jamie Ellis of Twisted Development is a thing of beauty on this machine. Just FYI….

 

Chassis: This is where most of the changes (from the 2018) are felt on the track. The 2018 450 SX-F flexes a little too much at times off throttle (de-cel bumps) especially when the track is tilled deep or very loamy. I noticed this more when I went back east to go race than I did on the west coast. The 2019 KTM 450 SX-F is stiffer, but not harsher on choppy de-cel. This is important! Stiffer doesn’t always mean harsher! This creates a more precise feel coming into corners and also a better planted front end (yes, even with the AER fork). Did I mention it was light feeling? The 2019 KTM 450 SX-F feels like its five pounds lighter than the 2018. It’s only one pound lighter, but it feels much more lighter on direction changes. I am able to feel this on tip in leading into corners or on longer ruts. For example, a Yamaha YZ450F feels planted coming into corners, but also takes some effort to be able to lean it over (and keep it there) on longer ruts. The KTM just needs your body positioning to think about leaning over and it does it ASAP. It’s like the orange brigade is reading your mind coming into or through corners! Straight line stability is as good as the 2018 standard model, but everything is better on the 2019 model once off-throttle, which I prefer.

 

Suspension: I told this to Dave O’Connor at KTM. “If this bike came with a spring fork, every shootout would be yours”! You all know I am not an air fork kind of guy, but the WP AER stuff is pretty damn good (for an air fork). Does it have the front end bite of a spring fork? No, it doesn’t. Does the AER fork have mid-stroke comfort? Yes, it does. Now don’t get me wrong, the Yamaha KYB SSS fork is still better, but the AER fork isn’t atrocious like the Showa SFF-TAC Air fork was. Where the AER fork suffers is the consistency over a long day of riding. When I am riding the track at 3PM and have been there all day, the AER fork doesn’t react the same as it did at 1:30PM. It’s not as drastic as it used to be, but I still want a little more consistency in my front end. I am however getting used to how much front end feel I have with the AER and trust it more than I ever have. It gives me decent front end grip on lean in, but I would like a little more grip on flat corners where this is nothing to bank off of. Like I said, mid-stroke comfort is good on straight-line and the KTM 450 SX-F reacts well on braking bumps. The WP AER fork does have a little harsh spot on the top of its stroke when accelerating, but that is only when I went to a stiffer air setting (10.7 bars versus 10.5 bars). I would like to see a little less deflection than the KTM front end has (on acceleration). The shock is quite good on the 2019 KTM 450 SX-F and as usual has a dead feel to it. This is a great feeling on the track! Tons of rear wheel traction and less side to side movement is felt on the 2019, which gives me a feeling that I can twist the throttle harder and sooner out of corners. 

 

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Ergonomics: The 2018 KTM 450 SX-F had a bend in the shrouds that annoyed my legs when I cornered. People complain about the Yamaha YZ450F being fat in the middle, but the 2018 KTM 450 SX-F was as fat in the shroud area (with that bend in it). The 2019 KTM doesn’t have that fat feeling or that bend any more in the shrouds! Hallelujah! The 2019 bike is very narrow feeling in the mid section and you are now able to ride up on the tank even better with the lower mounted radiators. The rider triangle (peg/seat/handlebars) is both short and tall rider friendly, but KTM needs to cut their bar width to a 803mm spec. The longer spec of the Neken bar gives me a wide feeling when I am cornering and makes me feel uneasy. I cut last year’s handlebars down to 803mm and it gave me an even better feeling coming into corners without my arms resting out too wide. You would think 7-10mm isn’t that big of a deal, but once you cut them and see, you will thank me for your new found confidence in corners. I am not a huge fan of the looks of the new seat cover, but it is much friendlier to the butt on longer rides. 

 

Things To Check/Carry On A Consistent Basis: I have put many hours on the 2018.5 Factory Edissssssh and know a few things that you want to check/carry more often than not. Check your spokes after break in, check your sprocket bolts every other moto or so (and blue or red Loctite them), carry a couple fuel filters in your toolbox and make sure to have an array of torx bits in that toolbox. You're welcome! 

 

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Black Throttle Cam: The stock “gray” throttle cam to me uses a long pull (twist to full throttle). I almost have to double chicken wing it to get there at times. In order to combat that and get some more bottom end feeling, install the black throttle cam that KTM offers you. Doing this will make the KTM 450 SX-F feel more exciting out of corners and hit slightly harder/sooner. I stayed on map 1 when using the black throttle cam. 

 

Pankl Transmission: Under load the new 2019 transmission is much easier to shift. Not to say that the transmission on the 2018 is bad, but the buttery smooth shifting is somewhat reminiscent of some factory transmissions that I have spent some time on, in the past. Another thing that I noticed that the 2019 does better than the 2018 is that I am able to find neutral much easier (when at a stop), before I put the machine on the stand. However, while riding I have yet to hit a false neutral! Knock on wood! 

 

Adapting To A KTM: If you're thinking about making the 2019 KTM 450 SX-F your next bike, but are nervous about that European feel, don't stress on it. The newer KTM’s feel less foreign then they did just a few short years ago. I am able to adapt to the orange machines after coming off of Japanese machines easier than ever. 

 

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Specs: Here are some baseline settings to start with on the 2019 KTM 450 SX-F:

 

Fork:

 

Air Pressure: 10.5-10.7 bars (depending on weight, I am 170 pounds and I like 10.7 bars to keep the front end up a little more de-cel)

Compression: If going with 10.7 bars try softening the compression up a 2-4 clicks to aid in mid-stroke comfort. If going with a stock air pressure reading go up 1-3 clicks on compression. 

Rebound: Standard

 

Shock: 

 

Sag: 105mm

Low Speed Compression: 2-3 clicks stiffer

High Speed Compression: Heavier riders (180 and up) might want to try and go with a 1/4 turn in (stiffer) on high speed compression. If you’re less than 180 pounds you can stick with stock to 1/8 turn in.

Rebound: Loamy/deep tracks go with 1-2 clicks slower. Hard pack tracks, stick with stock to 2 clicks faster. 

 

 

 

2019 KTM 450 XC-F Review

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Take a look at any major off-road racing series right now and you will see that the majority of them will have at least one KTM up front. This is no coincidence because KTM has been working diligently to prove themselves as the premier brand that sells bikes “Ready To Race” over the last several years. The KTM 450 XC-F seems to be a popular pick when it comes to winning races and even for that weekend warrior type of rider. Being an off-road guy I was excited to finally get off of the moto track and on to the trails. Although some of the parts have stayed the same on the 450XC-F, a lot has changed for the 2019 model, including the engine, which has been put on a diet and now only weighs 59.5 pounds. Also in the engine department is a new SOHC cylinder head, new cam with updated cam timing and a new cam chain guide with DLC coating for less friction. The on-the-fly map selections have been updated, along with the ever so important traction control that you can actually feel on the trail. The chassis dimensions have stayed the same for 2019, but the chassis is now made of a high tech, lightweight, chrome-moly steel, including hydro-formed parts to help improve chassis stiffness. Included with the new frame material are brackets that are pre-welded on the frame for mounting a KTM Power Parts skid plate (more on that later). The sub-frame has been extended under the fender by 40mm to help with rear body work strength. The seat and bodywork also have been changed for 2019 giving the bike a slimmer look and feel. The swingarm slot has been made slightly longer to give more adjustability to the rider if they want a longer wheelbase for certain tracks. The headpipe on the 2019 450 XC-F now has an FDH resonator system for improved performance along with a new muffler that has a screen inset. The suspension settings have been updated for 2019 and the bike is still fitted with the AER 48mm fork. 

 

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Now that you know about the changes to the 2019 KTM 450 XC-F here’s how all that correlated when I hit the dirt: For starters the trail conditions in Southern California have been less than ideal lately between the dust and heat, but I’m always up for some trail riding. Once running, the KTM 450 XC-F has a throaty sound to it, not raspy or loud, just a solid tone that made me excited to see what this engine was all about. Off the bottom, the roll on power is a bit deceiving to the riders and surprising. What I mean by this is that it seems a bit soft like it’s lacking bottom end torque. BUT…… After putting more time on the bike, I don’t think my original testing diagnosis was correct. Although other 450 off-road bikes may have more excitement or bark down low, this KTM seems a bit more linear/refined. The low end feel is connected to my throttle hand, which provides maximum traction to the rear wheel. This sensation makes it feel like its lacking bottom end, but in reality it’s just very smooth and linear from bottom to mid. The only time I really wanted more bottom end torque was when I was being a bit lazy, riding a gear too high and trying to lug the bike too much. The KTM never fell on its face, it just didn’t have the snap off the bottom (throttle response) that other red or blue bikes (in the same category) have. From mid to top is where this bike really seems to shine and makes me smile under my helmet. Unlike a lot of other 450 machines, this KTM doesn’t mind being revved more. After the smooth bottom end this bike comes alive and seems to make consistent pulling power all the way to the rev limiter. First gear is a bit tall for my liking, but it wasn’t the end of the world because the smooth bottom end power never made the bike bog (or have a dirty FI setting feel) when I was lugging it at low speeds. I’d also like to add how much I like the clutch feel and engagement, as there is a consistent engagement and a buttery feel that I’ve come to love with this Brembo hydraulic clutch. 

 

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 Being able to use the map selector switch on-the-fly is a nice feature because you never know when you’re going to come upon a technical section and want to soften the power delivery. Map one is the softer map and has a smoother power delivery from bottom to top. Map two is the aggressive map and takes away some of the smooth bottom, ramping the power up quickly and giving the bike more of a free revving power characteristic. One thing I did notice was that map one lights up white and map two lights up green, but when map two is lit up, it illuminates map one in green as well. Traction control on a dirt bike is still a foreign thing to this old soul, but in the slippery dry California desert it was a welcomed sight. Don’t think of it as traction control for a car where it cuts 50% of the power and 100% of the fun. Think of it as more of a little traction fairy that watches over the rear wheel and doesn’t let it spin quite as much as it would without traction control. (Editor's Note: I guess this "traction fairy" is much like your designated driver at a party where he or she lets you have a good time, doesn't suck the fun out of the room, but at the end of the night you end up getting home safe. That's how I take this, right?) Where I found it most helpful is on slick faster trails where the KTM’s rear wheel really wants to come around when you get too much wheel spin. The TC makes riding more aggressively in these situations much easier on the rider. 

 

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When it comes to the chassis it’s clear that this bike was designed for high speed racing over rough terrain. The faster I rode the better the handling characteristic’s seemed to get no matter the terrain. When I tried to slowly trail ride the bike I felt like there was a lack of front end traction and the front end had a slight push. However once I started to ride at more of a race pace and weighting the front tire more (my race pace, not Taylor Robert or Kailub Russell) the front end started tracking more consistently as well as gave me more confidence. I will admit I’m not a fan of air forks, but it’s clear that KTM has the best air fork on the market and is slowly starting to win me over. My main gripe with any air fork for that matter is just that I’m a bit lazy and I don’t want to deal with having to check my fork pressure before heading down the trail. Other than that the AER fork has a comfortable feeling on the trail especially when the speeds are higher and the bumps get bigger (this fork has superb bottoming resistance). The front end had a tendency to get some deflection in slow rockier sections, but it wasn’t so bad that it was a huge problem. This was just noticeable because I have tested other heavier, spring fork equipped off-road machines. The rear of the bike felt planted in almost all conditions and just like the front has excellent bottoming resistance. Overall the suspension has a fast feel to it, but I like that feeling as it helps make the bike feel lighter and more nimble on the trail. 

 

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Being that this bike was created to be an out of the box off-road competitor (and by all means it is) I was happy to see it came with the basic off road goodies like an 18” rear wheel, kickstand, hand guards, spark arrestor and off-road specific tires. Speaking of tires, although they are off-road specific, I’ve never been a fan of the Dunlop AT81 front or rear tire. In my opinion the front and rear tires lack side bite (lean angle) in turns (flat turns especially) when conditions are dry and slippery. You may have noticed in the beginning of this story that KTM has pre-welded on tabs for a skid plate, you may have also noticed that I didn’t mention a skid plate in the off-road goodies list that come on the 2019 KTM 450 XC-F. Maybe I sound like an old man, but for god sakes, if it’s an off-road bike and it comes with handguards, it NEEDS to come with a skid plate too, even if it’s just a glide plate. After logging mile after mile on the orange off-roader it’s clear that KTM is still one of the leaders in the off-road competition bike category. One of the cool parts about KTM is that they make a bike for everyone and if this bike sounds too aggressive for you because you’re either a slower racer, or mainly a trail rider, take a look at KTM’s EXC line (hopefully we will get our hands on that line soon). However, if you’re an avid off-road lover like me or are an aggressive trail rider, the 2019 450 XC-F should be at or near the top of your list of bikes to buy. If you have any more questions about the 2019 KTM 450 XC-F or any other burning questions, feel free to reach out to me at Michael@keeferinctesting.com.

2019 KTM 250/350 SX-F First Impression

As most of you know I choose my "core" evaluators wisely here at Keefer Inc. I don't just hire fast dudes that rip. They have to first have a good heart, be kind, haul ass, be able to joke around, be able to write, be able to evaluate, have a firm handshake, feel things on a track and of course translate that back onto your computer screen. Dominic Cimino is all of those things. This is why he is one of only a very few that I call my "core" guys. He is your normal hard working, blue collar rider that can give you all some honest feedback about any first impression. If you want to listen to what I think you can click on "Podcasts/Keefer Tested" and listen to my first impressions of both machines right there. However, if you prefer to read yours, here are Dom's initial thoughts. -KK

 

 

New bike season is always hot and heavy, and KTM kicked off the festivities today at Chaney Ranch with their 2019 250SX-F and 350SX-F new model introductions. For all you readers out there in Keefer Land, this is my first impression of both bikes, which on paper and in person, are practically identical. They utilize the same 2019 chassis (which is all new for this year and going onto all SX-F models), each bike has updated body work & ergonomics, a new Pankl transmission, and more... which I’m getting to in just a second.

 

2019 KTM 350 SX-F

2019 KTM 350 SX-F


First off, the 350 - I personally own a 2016 with a decent amount of upgrades, so this quick comparison might come in handy for those in the same scenario looking to renew. Of course nothing compares to a new bike... they are just so crisp in every way. But beside that, the 2019 350SX-F power-plant is noticeably improved. It’s response is quicker - when you flick the clutch, it wakes up (but do not confuse this with torque, because the 350 will never be a 450). What I mean is, the lag-time to get into the revs’ is much less, and KTM can attest to these improvements by way of these updates (from air to exhaust): updated air box, fuel management system, velocity stack, and exhaust pipe/muffler. The cylinder head has been downsized (and most of the components associated with it) to claim about 200 grams of weight savings overall. As for the transmission, Pankl Racing Systems is owned and operated by KTM, which allows them the ultimate control in production and quality-control of superior transmission components. Does it make the bike go faster? No. All of the gear ratios were retained from last year. Just know that everything is of better quality overall.

 

2019 KTM 250 SX-F

2019 KTM 250 SX-F



The 250SX-F motor has also been improved with similar updates listed to that of the 350 above. A standout feature to make mention of is the split injection inside the fuel control unit, which in specific areas of the fuel map, greatly improve throttle response. Ignition timing has been revised, as well the exhaust cam being retarded 1.5 degrees, all of which combine for a better power output and an easier way to rev out to it’s 14,000 max rpm. The new 250s have come a long way, and this bike is really fun to ride!

 

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Both the 250 and 350 see revised suspension settings, including new pistons in both the fork & shock, as well as updated dampening cartridges (keep in mind, each bike has it’s own specific settings). Each year KTM continues to get better in the suspension realm, and 2019 is feeling good so far, but further testing on different tracks will really help see where these bikes land in later tests. As for the chassis and ergonomics, both bikes feel great. The shrouds are narrower, the radiators have been lowered, and the new body-work not only looks beautiful, but allows you the ultimate freedom to move as you wish when in the cockpit. I did notice the front end being slightly twitchy at speed and also push in some areas, but keep in mind our debut test track wasn’t the best place to really dig into the nooks & crannies. On another note, for all you weight-weenies out there, KTM continues to innovate new ways to trim weight everywhere on their motorcycles. For 2019, here is what the bikes weigh in at: 250SX-F - 218lbs. 350SX-F - 219lbs. 450SX-F - 221lbs. It’s pretty damn impressive, considering how many other changes they make every year to get better than the rest.

 

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So, should I sell my 2016 350 to upgrade to a 2019? I mean, that’s ultimately what we are getting at, right?? If you are asking me this question right now after only one day of riding the new bikes - my answer is no. I have not had enough time to dissect it thoroughly, and I love my 2016. But, I will tell you that the 2019 250SX-F is a damn fun bike and this year’s shootouts could be very interesting, knowing what’s on the horizon in Japan-land. Nonetheless, stay tuned to keeferinctesting.com for more 2019 bike intros, tests, and long-term updates on these new steeds coming your way soon. New bike season is amongst us... “new bike, who dis?”

First Impression: 2018.5 KTM 450SX-F Factory Edition

For those of you that don't like listening to your bike reviews via podcast, have no fear, I have smashed the computer keys for you all, so that you may read what it's like to ride the 2018.5 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition. KTM did a ton of revisions and have even made the bike slightly lighter than it already was in 2018. The frame, swingarm, engine, muffler system, suspension settings and bodywork all have been changed on this 2018.5 FE. Here are more than a few key attributes of the new KTM Factory Edition.  

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1. Engine: The new Factory Edition engine isn't that much different than the standard 2018 version KTM 450 SX-F. What you’re getting is a little more mid range pulling power and a slightly added RPM response (on low rpm) increase over the 2018 model. The FE is still silky smooth and has a very linear power, which doesn't wear the rider out easily like some other 450cc models can. The map switch is a great tool for riders that want a more smoother roll on delivery (map 1) or want a more frisky and peppy bottom end hit (map 2). I prefer map 2 as it’s still linear enough on hard pack portions of the track, but has better “hit” down low to get me out of soft pockets of the track better than map 1. 

 

2. Chassis: This is where most of the changes are felt on the track between the standard 2018 and FE models. The standard SX-F flexes a little too much at times off throttle (de-cel bumps) when the track is tilled deep or very loamy. I noticed this more when I went back east to go race than I did on the west coast. The FE version is stiffer, but not harsher on choppy de-cel. This is important! Stiffer doesn't always mean harsher! This creates a more precise feel coming into corners and also a better planted front end on the Factory Edition. Did I mention it was light feeling? Well stand by because this new FE feels like its five pounds lighter than the 2018 not one pound. Where you feel this on the track is on tip in coming into corners or on longer ruts. For example, a Yamaha YZ450F feels planted coming into corners, but also takes some effort to be able to lean it over (and keep it there) on longer ruts. The KTM just needs your body positioning to think about leaning over and it does it ASAP. It’s like the FE reads your mind coming into or through corners! Straight line stability is as good as the 2018 standard model, but everything is better on the FE once off-throttle, which I prefer. 

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3. Suspension: Let’s not beat a dead horse here….You all know I am not an air fork rider, but the WP AER stuff is pretty damn good! Does it have the front end bite of a spring fork? No, it doesn’t. Does the AER fork have mid-stroke comfort? Yes, it does. Now don't get me wrong, the Yamaha KYB SSS fork is still better, but the AER fork is not that far behind it. Where the AER fork suffers is the consistency over a long day of riding. When I am riding the track at 2PM and have been there all day, the AER fork doesn't react the same as it did an hour or so ago. It’s not as drastic as it used to be, but I still want a little more consistency in my front end. I am however getting used to how much front end feel I have now with the AER and trust it more than I ever have. It gives me decent front end grip on lean in, but I would like a little more grip on corner exits. Like I said, mid-stroke comfort is good on straight-line and the KTM FE reacts well on braking bumps. The KTM FE WP AER fork does have a little more comfort on the top of its stroke compared to the Husqvarna Rockstar Edition, but I am looking for that supple feel when accelerating while hitting those bumps at speed. I want a little less deflection than the KTM front end has (on acceleration). The shock is quite good on the FE and as usual has a dead feel to it and is not reactive. This is a good thing! Loads of rear wheel traction and less side to side movement on the FE, which gives me a feeling that I can twist the throttle harder and sooner. 

 

4. Ergonomics: The 2018 KTM 450 SX-F had a bend in the shrouds that bothered the crap out of me when I cornered. People complain about the Yamaha YZ450F being fat in the middle, but the 2018 KTM 450 SX-F was as fat in the shroud area (with that bend in it) than the Yamaha. The new FE doesn't have that fat feeling or that bend any more in the shrouds! Hallelujah! The FE is very narrow feeling in the mid section and you are able to ride up on the tank even better with the lower mounted radiators. The rider triangle (peg/seat/handlebars) is short and tall rider friendly, but KTM needs to cut their bar width to a 801mm spec. The longer spec of the Neken bar gives me a wide feeling when I am cornering. I have cut last year’s handlebars down to 801mm and it gave me an even better feeling coming into corners without my arms going out too wide. You would think 9-10mm isn't that big of a deal, but once you cut them and see, you will thank me for your new found confidence in corners. The Selle Dalla Valle gripper seat keeps you in place so good that it will eat your ass up! Literally! Seriously guys, I am typing this with Bag Balm on my butt right now. Dear KTM, make the seat a little less aggressive. Thank you, -Keefer’s Ass. 

5. Expected Release Date: Eaaaaaaasy tiger, pump the brakes! Don't expect to go to your local KTM dealer and grab one of these bad ass machines right away. Make sure to talk to your wife about this purchase (I know I may have to as well) first and expect these beauties to be in dealers in early March. KTM only brought 500 of these suckers in so you might want to get that deposit sorted out ASAP. MSRP is going to be around the mid 10’s (yes, that’s ten grand), but to me the extra grand or so is worth it if you were going to buy an 2018 KTM 450 SX-F anyway. To me, the chassis improvements alone is worth the extra money. Basically you are buying a 2019 model in March, look at it that way. 

 

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6. KTM Vs. Husqvarna: “Keefer….Isn’t the 2018.5 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition and 2018.5 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition the same bike, but different colors”? That is the question on the heading of hundreds of emails that I get. On paper they are very close, but have differences. Just think of that movie “The Interview” with James Franco and Seth Rogan. “We are same, same, but different”. Here is the deal guys…..The KTM has a different spec muffler, airbox, swingarm, handlebars, plastic and of course color/graphics. They feel different on the track and if you listen to my podcast you will hear Eric Grondahl and I talk about which bikes we prefer. I chose the KTM because it has a little more hit down low, while coming out of corners. Eric chose the Husqvarna because he likes that smoother delivery and feels the front end is more compliant on steeper downhills while turning. The bikes are very close and it wouldn't matter to me which one I would get, because if I wanted more throttle response out of the Husqvarna, I can drill holes in the airbox and run some race fuel. Boom! Done! I do like the orange color way better, but like I said we are splitting hairs here. 

 

7.  Things That I Didn't Like: No bike is perfect right? The KTM FE has a long throttle pull. It feels like I have to chicken wing it to get it to the throttle stop. If I want to hold the KTM FE wide open I almost have to do a double twist of the throttle in order to get it to full throttle. I tried the black throttle cam that KTM and Husqvarna offers, but it made it too jumpy rolling the throttle on through corners. However, if I was riding sand or a soft track I would stick with the black throttle cam. If you're having that problem, look into that option of a different throttle cam. I mentioned the seat and how it eats up my rear end, but it also loses it’s color quick as well. It seems the sun fades the seat cover out within 20 hours of use. I am not a huge fan of lock on grips yet, as I can feel some handlebar stiffness compared to standard half-waffle soft grips. The spokes still need to be checked constantly, so make sure you are on the ball, at the track, with that. 

 

8. Pankl Transmission: Under load the new FE transmission is much easier to shift. Not to say that the transmission on the 2018 is bad, but the buttery smooth shifting is somewhat reminiscent of some factory transmissions that I have spent some time with in the past. Another thing that I noticed that the FE does better than the 2018 is that I am able to find neutral much easier when at a stop, before I put the machine on the stand. While riding I have yet to hit a false neutral, so that is a great thing! 

 

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9. Conclusion:  At the end of the day I am very happy with the changes KTM did to the 2018.5 Factory Edition. It makes me smile when I ride it and it opens up the track more for me to explore new lines. When you have a bike that is this easy to ride, with tons of rear wheel traction, is lightweight, it lets you explore options on the track that you normally wouldn't otherwise. It’s pretty damn cool! KTM sets the bar high for other manufacturers R&D departments and forces them to keep evolving their motorcycles. This is great for all us moto heads out there! Look for more setting tips and tricks as I get more time on this orange number 1 steed. Stay tuned to pulpmx.com and keeferinctesting.com for continual developments with the KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition.