Orange brigade

2019.5 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition First Impression

It’s only February, but are we really seeing a 2019.5 model already? Yes, that’s right, KTM introduced the 2019.5 450 SX-F Factory Edition to us media dweebs out at Fox Raceway in Pala, California Tuesday morning. I have been putting a lot of time on an orange bike lately for an article that is up right here (50 hours on the KTM 450 SX-F) on, so this model release came at a perfect time. A time where I can really dissect the differences between the 2019 KTM 450 SX-F and the 2019.5 KTM 450 FE. Now even though this is only a first impression, I managed to come up with ten things about this fresh orange model that you may be interested in. These beauties will be arriving in dealerships come early March. 


What are the changes to the 2019.5 KTM Factory Edition?   


Red Bull KTM Factory Racing graphics
New CP box-in-box piston & new PANKL connecting rod 

New Factory machined Anodized triple clamps 

Factory start for front fork
Orange frame
Composite skid plate

 New Akrapovič Slip-On muffler
 New Factory D.I.D DirtStar wheels

 Factory seat with Selle Dalla Valle logo
 Semi- Floating front disc
 Front brake disc guard
 Orange rear sprocket 


Engine: On paper there are only two pieces to the engine that have changed… The CP box piston and the Pankl connecting rod with brass bushing. Now with those two things in mind I wasn't expecting much change from the 2019 version, but to me the free-feeling of the engine is very noticeable in 2nd and 3rd gears. When revving the Factory Edition out in second gear there is much less engine de-cel drag than the 2019 version. The FE also feels like it pulls farther in second gear than the 19, but the overall bottom end delivery is smoother because of the Akrapovic slip on muffler. The stock muffler has more bottom end hit, but the Akrapovic, along with the engine changes, make for a stronger pulling mid range. There are two points of the Fox Raceway track where the 2019 must be shifted to third gear (out of corners), but the FE doesn’t need to be shifted and can pull second gear to the next obstacle. The top end and over-rev seem to be the same as the 2019, but that is just fine with me as the KTM FE has enough power for me. 

ECU Settings: I was told from the KTM R&D staff that the FE’s ECU settings are the same as the 2019 and that left me bewildered. Why? Because out on the track the ECU settings are so much better on the 2019.5 version than the 2019 machine that there is NO WAY they could be the same. Now I am not into conspiracy theories, but to me someone from KTM Austria must not have passed on the “updated” ECU info to the guys at the North American office. On the track the rich low end 2019 feeling is not apparent on the FE and the lean top end de-cel pop, that comes standard on the 2019, is also not there on the FE (no matter how hard you rev the 2019.5 out). Map 1 (linear pulling power with less throttle response down low, but more top end pull) and Map 2 (more pulling power/RPM response down low and slightly less pull up top) also have a distinct difference on the track and are more noticeable than the 2019 mapping choices. This is all good news for future FE buyers.  

Chassis: If you're a KTM owner you know that it takes more time to break in the 2019 steel frame compared to a Japanese aluminum framed motorcycle. I have only a few hours on this chassis and it still has that firm feel. It takes a good 7-8 hours on this frame to feel broken in or “relaxed” on the track. The FE turns as good as the 2019 version and all the same excellent “change of direction” qualities are apparent on the FE as well. Straight line stability is not the best of the 450 bunch, but not the worst neither. You can drop the WP XACT fork down to the first line (2.5mm up) like I did to help straight line stability.  


Suspension: WP has changed their branding strategy so don’t freak out about the XACT name just yet (we can explain that one in another article). I do like the silver color change that WP has done for the FE line of suspension and that color change will also be on the 2020 production models. The WP AER fork has an updated piston that allows for a tighter tolerance along with valving updates. The standard air pressure fork setting has also now gone up from 10.5 bars to 10.9 bars on the FE. The rear shock likes a sag of around 106mm now instead of 105mm, but the overall feel of the FE’s WP suspension is slightly firmer with more hold up than the 2019 model. Would I rather have a spring fork? Of course, but the updated AER fork does have some qualities that I like. I like that the front end feels light (de-cel/off-throttle) while keeping front end traction high enough so I don’t have to change my riding style up. I am a front end steering rider and the AER fork will give you what you need on initial lean. The mid stroke of the FE’s WP fork has a free-er feel and the action seems smoother than 2019, which makes for a plusher ride. The shock doesn’t feel that much different to me than the 2019, but then again, I never had a problem with the 2019 shock.  


Gearing: It comes with a 13/48, but with this Akrapovic slip on muffler I think I want a 13/49 to help with throttle response to help with recovery and second to third gear pulling power. I have also tried a 14/52 with good results as well, so feel free to try that too. 


Lightweight Feel: You would think with an engine character that is so smooth down low and linear feeling that the orange machine would feel heavy on the track, but it feels quite the opposite. It’s light, flickable, and if you want to make a sudden line change, it can do that exceptional as well. Leaning into corners and keeping it leaned all the way through the corner is the KTM FE’s strong suit. No one in the class can beat an orange bike in this category. 

Dunlop MX3S Tires: Even though you can’t purchase them anywhere anymore, these tires are still going strong on the KTM production machines. Well…. At least for another year anyway. 

Vibration: Every time I get back on a KTM from a Japanese bike I notice more vibration. The updates that KTM have made to the FE internally have improved the vibration slightly. The 2019.5 doesn't give you as much feedback to the hands as the 2019 does. Good news!  

Selle Dalla Valle Seat: This factory seat is very grippy, but also will eat your butt cheeks up on a long day of motos. The foam itself is not the problem, it’s just that the pleats on the seat are very aggressive. Just be ready to spackle the cheeks up with some Bag Balm if you're riding sand or plan on doing a long day of riding. 


Factory Trips Clamps: The KTM Hard Parts aluminum Factory CNC-machined triple clamps feature optimally tuned steering stem stiffness, in order to try and achieve perfect alignment and precise fork clamping for a highly responsive and smooth fork action. They can be adjusted to an offset of 20 or 22mm that gives you the option to change your KTM FE for different track conditions. I noticed zero added rigidity riding with KTM’s Hard Part FE clamp compared to the stock 2019 clamp. I also didn’t notice any improvements on the track (with the the FE clamp), but the orange does look factory!    

If you want to learn more about this 2019 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition listen to the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC Keefer Tested Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, here on, and or right now. We try hard to give you a couple different avenues to diet your dirt bike information.   

 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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.       


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. 


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. 


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.