The stage for the 2014 KTM test is the beautiful island of Sardinia where the backdrop is the sea and there are plenty of trackside cactus dotted around the place to make sure we stay on the track to avoid crashing into them and feeling a prick!

So why would KTM travel all the way to Sardinia to let the world’s press have a rip on their latest machines? The big news for the 2014 models is based around the enduro machines which have received spec updates that will make the rock riding, tree root ripping racing machines even more competitive than they already are. It just so happens that the 100th ISDE is being held here in Sardinia later this year – the connection is made.

As well as getting to grips with the motocross models for me it was also a great opportunity to get on a two-stroke enduro bike and go off-piste and chase DBR’s enduro tester Mr Wakker as he disappeared off into the dust leaving me to bounce off rocks on the single bike trails. It was great fun having a play around. However, I’m sure there was something else I was supposed to be doing!

Not all was plain sailing though. As we landed in Sardinia it turned out that Wakker’s kit bag hadn’t made it on to the plane in Rome. Apparently a couple of other journalist had seen it as they looked out of their window as the plane taxied off and commented ‘I feel sorry for the guy whose kit bag that is!’ as the solitary piece of luggage was left stranded.

It sucked for Geoff as he had to wait for his kit to arrive before he could ride. Fortunately for me it was only my race shirt that Geoff had brought for me so I got in to the spirit of things and wore the federation’s 100 year ISDE race shirt that had been given out as a gift in the morning until the lonely kit bag had been reunited with its long suffering owner. During this time we listened to what KTM had to say about the new bikes.

You know when there haven’t been many modifications to the bikes when the presentation starts off with how well KTM have been doing in the market over the last few years… But they should shout about it!

After a dip due to the recession sales figures are back up to where they were beforehand and I think it’s safe to say that KTM do an amazing job of marketing their machines and the effort that they put in to winning championships both here in Europe and now in America is obvious. I like the motto that KTM use too – win on Sunday sell on Monday!

With the MX machines getting a major overhaul a couple of years ago – plus significant changes to the 2013 orange brigade – KTM have spent a lot of effort on the enduro machines leaving little time for development in the motocross department. However, some changes have been made – subtle ones that make a difference.

For example, the fuel cap has been modified in shape and has a reworked, deeper thread making it more reliable and easier to use. The seat foam – we were told in plenty of detail – has been developed to provide a more comfortable ride. ‘Cairoli, likes to have a comfortable ride’, we were told ‘and the foam manufactures have produced an improved quality foam!’.

I wished they hadn’t mentioned this though because as I was riding around the circuit, over bumps sat down, I could feel the hard, plastic seat base quite easily… I’ve taken it personally and I’m now on a diet because I guess I need to be the same weight as Cairoli to get the comfort!

All SX machines have a new rear chain guide that reduces noise. It’s stronger and weighs 120g less than the old one which is a relief because now I don’t have to lose so much weight on my diet! There’s another 300g I don’t need to lose as well because all the bikes have crankcases without the kick-start dome now. KTM have only ever sold a handful of kick-start kits for their bikes and see no point in providing this as a future option. Take note Japanese manufactures – kicking is so old school!

The 250F helps further by now only having a five-speed gearbox. Jordi Tixier explained quite simply when asked about the sixth gear during the presentation ‘we just don’t use it’. Bang, and the gear is gone – just like my diet! It’s the same story for the 450 which is back to a four-speed box…

Other boring things, erm, I mean details are the stickers that now include the colour red and something which I think is actually quite cool – the fact that both the reservoir for the front brake and hydraulic clutch are matched in design. They now look the same – well, exact mirror images of each other – which is a neat touch.

So what are the biggest changes? One mm is about the biggest, most dramatic change on the bike! The front brake now has a nine mm piston instead of a 10mm one which translates in to better stopping power – so much so that KTM have put a harder wearing compound brake pad in that will last longer but still have plenty of power to rip the knobblies off your front tyre!

The 450F gets the DDS clutch which stands for Damped Diaphragm Steel. Instead of having coil springs this clutch uses a diaphragm spring which means the clutch lever is even easier to pull in. It also means that the plates are going to grip better and last longer, especially with the new wear-free steel basket. The clutch in the 250 and 350 still use the traditional coil springs but these models get the rock hard steel basket too.

The end-can on the 450 has had a funky update, reducing the noise by an extra 1.5dB and smoothing out the power delivery of this arm-wrenching machine.

Refinements are what KTM are giving you with the 2014s, things that just make the bikes that bit better to have sat in your garage.

Suspension wise, White Power has done some fine-tuning too. The rear shock has a higher bottoming resistance which is great for guys like me who need to go on a diet. And as it turns out, it’s a good job WP were there to make sure the bikes were set up really well because the track we rode was certainly going to test it.

As always, I was feeling uber-giddy to get out on to the track for a blast and the suspense was killing me as I purred down the vine lanes, on the 450F with clear blue skies and 25 degrees of heat eventually arriving at the track five minutes after setting off!

But after doing a couple of laps I was struggling to find any pleasure at all in riding the big four-fiddy. Only because the track has had four days of riding abuse, then been disked by the tractor and then flooded by a tsunami! I’ll come back to the 450 when the track has dried up a bit.

The next bike to ride was the 250 two-stroke. I fell in love with this bike last year and with the carb being set up slightly better it’s still a lovely bike to ride with an engine that picks up clean and easy off the bottom and smoothly in to the mid and top-end power.

This bike tracks around corners with no effort. However, each of the two-stroke bikes that I rode the chassis felt quite rigid in comparison to the four-bangers. This made the bike feel a little harsh when riding over the gnarly bumps that had developed all over this tight and twisty track.

Again the 125 is the same, a really easy bike to ride with smooth, strong power that picked up easily and felt stable, tracking well in both the turns and on the straights.

After missing out on the 150cc bike last year I made sure it was on the list of bikes to ride and I’m pleased I did because even though this bike behaves just like a 125 – the extra power is massively noticeable! The punch off the bottom-end is as strong as an ox but what I wasn’t ready for was the kick from the last half of the mid-range and into the top-end. Wow, this thing just takes off and put an immediate smile on my face!

With the two-strokes done and dusted it was time to get the 450F dusted off again and take it on to a track that was continually getting better. This bike is a weapon! Building speed each lap, riding this bike gets easier as you carry your speed using the torque of the motor and the higher gears. The motor is very strong and sits on the extremity of smooth… providing you are using tall enough gears which the bike can handle like a doddle.

In a couple of places where the straights were longer and I was unable to change gear quite so easy I would open the throttle fully (another quarter of a turn) and hold it. When I did the bike took off like the shuttle leaving its launch pad. Its top-end power is insane! The bike felt tight and shaky as it screamed its nuts off and I had to hold on tight which used extra energy up as I held on for dear life but just for the thrill of it it’s worth doing a couple of times a lap!

The bike makes it easy to pick and choose lines as you dance it off bumps and in to berms with a fairly light feel – for a 450. The suspension soaks up the bumps great with a really plush, soft feel to the point where the rebound felt too fast, mostly at cruising speeds, although as soon as you ride with intention it all clicks in to place.

This soft plush feeling is just the same for the 350 and 250 too. It’s quite amazing how the action of the suspension for each of the four-bangers is so similar. What else is similar is the difference with the front brake – I love the front brake! It’s much stronger than last year’s with a great, powerful feel that meant I could really squeeze the lever hard and notice how much extra stopping power I was getting without the wheel even thinking about locking up. Happy days.

The 250F has a feeling more like the 150 two-stroke! As with the ’13 model it’s strong at the bottom but more noticeably this thing rips at the top-end and totally comes alive as it’s been revved to the moon. It feels like a really strong bike that you can do anything with. Scrubbing, whipping and just leaning it right over when you stick it in a berm – this bike is solid and leaves you thinking that you can do impossible manoeuvres on it almost continually.

The 350 is still my favourite machine. This bike has the characteristics of a 250 for jumps and turns and has very strong power but it isn’t ridden like a 250 or a 450. You can brake slide the bike into turns, dumping the clutch and banging the throttle on immediately after letting go of the brake and when you get the timing right it feels so fast as the bike just rips off out of the turn. You better be looking far enough ahead to make sure you’re hitting the right line. On the flipside if you are just riding with the intention of cruising or riding relaxed then little effort and energy is required making it a really enjoyable bike to ride!

In a nutshell the 2014 KTMs have some really good and very practical modifications built into what were already solid bikes. This makes them easier to ride all-round and let’s not forget – they have an awesome front brake. Over to you Wakker…

KTM have given the EXC range of enduro bikes a host of upgrades as well as going all-out on their championship winning 250 EXC-F. There can be no argument in the fact that the guys in orange are pulling out all the stops to gain momentum in the quest for dirt biking pleasure on whichever capacity bike you could ever desire. For the 2014 range there is another step forward with improvements to frames, motors, batteries, ergonomics etc etc.

It’s the 250 EXC-F that has had the most work though and the list of newness is fairly extensive on the little four-stroke ripper. For starter there’s a new DOHC engine that shares technology with the 350. The motor runs with a valve train operated by an intermediate shaft from the crankshaft. This drives the cams and coolant pump.

The new cylinder head incorporates optimised ports that increase the flow into larger intake valves. The valves are controlled by enduro specific camshafts and DLC-coated followers. The water jacket is also improved for greater cooling.

The cylinder and piston are also optimised to offer more torque as the new motor runs a shorter stroke allowing a two mm larger bore to be used. The piston is larger yet lighter than the previous year’s which should make for quicker throttle response.

The crankshaft is heavier though for traction control while a blind bearing brings the service interval from 105 hours to an outstanding 135 hours...

The crankcases are made by a pressure die casting process which allows for lighter cases than the normal gravity die casting process would allow.

The DDS clutch is now used on the 250. The feel and lack of wear on the basket is good with this system as everything about its design is there to look after your gearbox and fingers with great modulation and feel.

The six-speed gearbox runs with slightly shorter fourth, fifth and sixth gears than on previous models. The final drive gearing matches the new gearbox running with a 52/13 instead of 50/13.

The new motor gets a new ECU which processes the data quicker and increases ignition energy. The final addition is an all-new exhaust system that incorporates a double cone design in the tailpipe to take care of noise and flow.

The 250 EXC-F frame is now the same as that 350 model. All the four-strokes are 300g lighter than previous model thanks to a frame with thinner cradle rails.

The bodywork is now the same as the MX range with a new headlight to match the new, more rigid front mudguard. The lower triple clamp is redesigned to accommodate this new front mudguard.

The 250 EXC-F runs with the same suspension settings as the 350. The already great Brembo brakes have come in for some attention. The front brake gets a new master cylinder with a smaller nine mm piston and there are new Toyo B169 sinter brake pads.

The swingarm receives only slight attention – a new chain guide offers increased strength with reduced weight.

The airbox offers more room and better sealing. The new style cover also has two extra fixing points which are a great idea as no one likes their air box cover to get ripped off out on the tracks/trails.

Seating is now improved with new sponge being used to keep our butts in good shape. We will see how much it is improved after a wash or three but the seats felt in great shape throughout the test.

The fuel cap retains a push button design but the button is now centralised for easier release for those with no hand power. Improved, two-component polymer hand guards take care of close encounters with the bush.

It’s not just the 250 EXC-F that has been worked on and every bike in range receives and shares some tweaks.

Limited riding time is always a factor at any major launch so it is important to get a feel for the terrain and each bike quite quickly. The enduro test loop set out by the team in Sardinia was great fun and perfect to get a solid handle on each bike.

As the most updated model, the 250 EXC-F got the most attention. Right from the off the improvements were evident as throttle response and improved torque was on offer while riding to the main part of the test lap. There is a lighter feel to the bike due to the more snappy availability of power. The bike can be thrown around with ease and comfort and with more time on the bike came the knowledge of how to get the most from the motor. It will not pull your arms out of the sockets but the 250F makes solid power from low down. The motor has a very racy feeling as the engine braking is minimal allowing for full on attack when necessary.

As is now expected everything felt in place and comfortable with all the proven components used. The front brake took a while to get used to as the stopping power seems to have increased by about 30 per cent... I found myself tucking the front while braking hard on the tight special test lap until I got used to the extra braking power and eased off on the lever pull. The stock suspension felt balanced and as is now normal with my personal setting I increase rebound damping on the forks and compression damping on the rear before each ride.

The 250 EXC-F has improved in every way over its predecessors and it’s now a great package for every level of rider and type of competition.

The 350 EXC-F is KTM flagship model and comes with improved camshafts, head gasket, valve spring retainers and seats, plain big end bearing, water pump cover, inner clutch cover oil flow, piston oil jet and a reinforced DDS clutch inner hub for 2014. It is clear that the 350 has been tweaked to a new level for reliability and performance.

The ride on the bike shows the same characteristics as the new 250 with balance and ease of ride allowing for fun filled riding. Basically the 350 EXC-F can be ridden as hard or soft as you choose. The increased power over the 250 suits many riders who would not necessarily be able to manage a 450 or 500.

Improvements to the big guns of the range include new piston rings with improved sealing, 40 per cent lighter valve spring and retainers for less friction in the valve train, stronger head gasket, lighter camshaft, plain big end bearing crankshaft, cooling fan with an improved thermo switch and a strengthened DDS clutch inner hub.

Smooth power and plenty of it is the order of play for both the 450 and 500 EXC-F bikes. The 450 has been improving in its ease of ride over the past couple of years and I have gone from not being a fan to being a great admirer of the power. The 450 is now one of the easiest bikes to ride and from a personal point of view I now like to race with the big boy power it delivers in the smoothest of ways. There was nothing to give the 450 a hard time on the test loop as it consumed the up and downhills on the going. The weight is obviously evident on both the bigger capacity bikes in tight sections but this is a fact of dirt bike life...

To wrap up on these two 'man' machines I would say the 450 is a very strong UK style bike from a racing point of view and the 500 offers amazing and fantastically useable power for those of us who weigh more than a whippet...

The 125 EXC is not made for my human form but it is a fun bike to ride. The newly developed reed valve coupled with new carb settings and piston shape give the little ripper a new lease of life. There’s great throttle response to pull through the rev range and allow you to ride the bike hard yet still have enough roll on power from low down to find grip when needed.

The electric start 200 EXC is a joy. The new e-starter is now stronger and more powerful and this works with the new stronger battery. When thinking about a fun bike which is not competition class bound the 200 is top of the list. The torque and overall useable power from this capacity never fails to bring a smile to my chops.

The technical improvements on the 250 and 300 EXC are the same with new Boyesen reeds, a new cylinder head for combustion efficiency, modified ignition mapping, new carb settings and a stronger battery.

The 250 is simply a great bike. The power delivery is all about increasing confidence and on a bike which feels super light to ride, it is important to feel the power delivering the goods to the rear wheel in a controlled way. The motor is settled in its current state of development which allows it to work for you as the rider. There is no need to mess with power valve tensions etc as everything is set and proven to deliver. This bike does nothing negative and the fact it feels like a toy increases the fun factor beyond belief.

This bike is well known as a favourite to me as I’ve raced the biggest two-stroke all over the world. The power knows no bounds on the newest model and the torquey feel never fails to impress. This bike is fast, indeed it is very fast and coupled with the friendly chassis you can cover any terrain with ease.

As is tradition with KTM there are a range of Six Days specials which will be available to riders competing in this year’s event in Sardinia. There will be limited numbers of bikes available to customers and with the upgraded parts including suspension, wheels, triple clamps, graphics, orange frame, black anodised handlebars, Supersprox rear sprocket, solid rear disc, camel seat, skid plate, radiator protection bars, radiator fans for four-strokes, carbon pipe guard for all two-strokes, Six Days anodised silencer, front axle puller, orange radiator grilles and chain guide and MAE Speedometers. This is quite a list of upgrades and having ridden a couple of the models I was blown away with these bikes...

The WP 4CS forks fitted to the Six Days models have now improved after a year to take things to a new level. I rode the 250F and 250 two-stroke and these two bikes kicked ass in stock trim but took another big step forward in six day trim. Great work...