Don’t get me wrong, they’re not re-inventing the wheel - but it’s great to see the goalposts being moved forward which is always a good thing. I am of course talking about the all-new 350SX-F and although I was in Spain to test the enduro range from the orange crew it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of this ground-breaking machine.
Okay, back to the job in hand and as usual KTM went large for the 2011 range launch at the Everts training facility on the east coast of a very sunny Spain. There seemed to be 100 bikes lined up when we rolled in which always bodes well for a quality test with plenty of saddletime guaranteed. The mountains unfolded all around and a quality test loop was promised to give the machines a good workout which is pretty much business as usual for the Austrian manufacturer.
KTM tests are awesome for providing gnarly terrain which to be fair to them usually ends up with damage to many of the bikes but, on the flip side, many happy riders. KTM pride themselves in making tough motorcycles so they like to lay on a challenging loop which sometimes tests the quality of some of the riders more than the bikes!
The range once again comes out swingin’ with 125, 200, 250 and 300cc two-strokes as well as 250, 400, 450 and 530cc four-strokes. Add to this the ISDE specials and cross-country specific models which will be officially arriving in the UK for 2011 for the first time and Toomer fans are in for a wide choice of vehicles to well and truly float ze boat! Good times.
Ahhh, what can I say, the subtle changes to the 300 have taken it to yet another level. The bike performs flawlessly and the development engineers at HQ have not completely rested on their laurels with the inclusion of a new six-speed gearbox for when the going gets super-tough and technical. This change is to alleviate stress on the clutch as well as cater for a wider range of going without any need for a gearing change.
The ride as usual is solid on the 300 and it cruised everything in its path on the technical loop as well as nailing the special test. To say this bike does everything at the highest level is an understatement. The suspension can even take some fairly big hits on overjumps without any problem. The electric start worked perfectly over the two days although I do find when the weather is cold back in Blighty it’s best to start the bike with the kickstart first thing so as not to stress the starter gear.
This bike has undergone the most change throughout the range and I was looking forward to the ride. First off there is the ‘magic button’ as standard - leccy start is simply the best thing. Then there’s the six-speed gearbox for low-speed terrain, together with a slight increase in power like its MX brother.
The 250 ate up the rocky terrain with ease and the balance was good after a slight slow down on rebound damping at both ends of the vehicle. This took a little bit of the liveliness out of the chassis as it tends to ‘ping’ around in the loose rocks if it is working too fast. The power was brilliant on the bike pulling from nothing on both the ‘easy’ and ‘full’ power settings. I have found the 250 to be a little inconsistent in its delivery at times before but these bikes on the test performed with silky smoothness in every situation I got into.
The development team have hit the 200 with an improved feel for 2011 as it was getting a little stale. They have pumped up the jam a little and given the bike a new lease of life, making it an awesome all-rounder for all humans to hop on and simply grip and rip! This bundle of fun delivers the goods - the goods being a big smile on your chops…
I am simply too big for the 125 and the sooner I come to terms with this fact the better… I came to this conclusion as I slung the awesome little lightweight weapon over my shoulder and legged it up through the extreme section of the lap!
That is fiction but the 125 does give that feeling of feather lightness on the going. It dances around with ease and only struggles producing the ponies when not being ridden clinically by my good self. Jetting was perfect on the test and the bike would take every shift well even when short-shifting.
This bike turned out to be the perfect tool for the terrain on the Spanish test. The little four-stroke ate the rocks up and allowed for absolutely flat-out descending on some of the longer more technical downhills. The bike was planted a lot more than any of the two-strokes and inspired confidence and speed due to it seemingly being glued to the loose ground.
Controls, gearing and all-round feel made the two fiddy eff the bike of the test for me. One of the test bikes was fitted with an all-new 2011 Akrapovic slip-on tailpipe which is designed for noise reduction as well as extra power due to a complete re-design using both titanium and stainless steel. The 250 fitted with this pipe was a pleasure to ride as it encouraged even more attack.
Smoother than Sutty in his prime – that folks is the 400EXC. The power delivery on this bike never allows anything to get wild but there is enough to let you know what’s going on as the grip it finds whips you along the trails at an alarmingly superb rate of knots. If you want an all-rounder for trail riding this could be the tree you need to start barking up. The 400 is one of the most user-friendly dirt bikes on the planet and it just goes about its business in an, er, business-like manner.
A terrain-munching weapon - get it, race it and hang onto it. The 450 has it all with a real will to be raced and raced hard. This is a bike made for competition and it delivers great power to send you into warp speed as the trees whistle past.
The chassis enjoys the challenge of keeping up with what’s going on but it might just be time to think about fitting the link to this bike and possibly its bigger brother to bring extra smiles in the chassis feel department. The bigger bikes would really benefit from some extra subtlety from the chassis and as these bigger models do not usually get used in the most extreme races the ‘hook up’ you experience with a rear link system would not come into play quite so much.
I don’t believe there is a motorcycle out there which produces more linear power than the 530EXC. It’s an incredible engine with the perfect capacity. This bike will make your eyeballs bleed if you really want to twist it but it has such fantastic manners you could take it to a five-star restaurant for a posh dinner!
The bike felt planted on every inch of the enduro loop and it is only on certain parts of the special test where I think the linkage system could work on entry to the turns and taking a little bit of whip out of the chassis when it catches naughty edges. Keep this weapon smooth and you can blaze out fast times.