KTM dominates sales of machines in the enduro market, offering a range of two-stroke and four-stroke machines that no other manufacturer comes close to matching, from the zingy 125 smoker to the ripping 500 thumper.
Yet, simple as it would be for KTM to just keep churning out the same-old, same-old, Team Orange has come out swinging for 2017 with a stunning range of new models that could leave the opposition reeling.
All share a re-designed chassis, there are completely new engines for both the two-stroke and four-stroke ranges and new WP Xplor suspension both front and rear.
AN all-new chrome molybdenum (CroMo) steel tube chassis, used for all models, is very obviously KTM but it is not the geometry that is radically different but the stiffness that has been worked on.
The factory claim that while torsional stiffness has been increased 20 per cent the longitudinal has been decreased by 30 per cent, giving the bike a softer feel aimed at a softer ride and reducing fatigue over long races.
Then there’s a new, lighter rear sub-frame and an all-new airbox which features easy access to the filter without tools. All plastics are new, with ergonomics first and foremost in mind.
Suspension on all models is new WP Xplor. The 48mm front forks feature conventional springs in each leg but the damping is split with the rebound in the right and compression in the left.
At the back, the PDS shock has also been redesigned and also repositioned on the frame and swinging arm for optimum performance.
The new chassis is a significant and very positive move as the Austrian giant moves the off-road goal posts.
KTM remains firmly committed to the two-stroke cause and of course reaps the benefit of this as the simplicity, light weight and sheer fun of riding strokers is appreciated by many, many riders the world over.
And with the Japanese factories having given-up on two-strokes they have simply handed a significant market to their European rivals – and that market is set to grow with the introduction of brand-new engines for 2017.
Both the 125/150 and 250/300 pairings have been given a ground-up re-design with all shafts re-positioned to aid mass centralisation. All models now share a brand-new six-speed gearbox and Keihin carbs have been ditched in favour of Mikuni TMX 38mm flat-sliders. All new exhausts complement the change of carb.
The 250/ 300 models now benefit from a designed-in balance shaft that cancels out the natural inbalance of all engines.
KTM claim that this results in a 50 per cent reduction in vibration at the handlebars and footpegs, which ought to mean considerably less rider fatigue.
Test rider Martin Craven reported that the 250/300 two-stroke performance is significantly improved.
Electric start is now standard on all models except the 125, with the new crankcases now incorporating the starter motor.
Previous KTM two-stroke electric starters have been bolted-on externally, which worked fine but looked a bit Heath Robinson.
That is now a thing of the past, though, and this is a whole new and very exciting generation of two-strokes from KTM.
WITH KTM having really shot for the moon with all-new two-strokes you would be forgiven for thinking that was it for 2017
and a quick polish would see the thumpers right.
But no – there are two brand-new
four-stroke motors as well for the 250F/350F pairing and 450/500F siblings. The 250 is again a double overhead camshaft (DOHC) design but again all shafts are repositioned including the crank.
There is also a brand new multi functional balance shaft which again vastly reduces vibration and thus fatigue.
Exactly the same goes for the 450/500F motor which is of single overhead cam design (SOHC).
The updates are far too many to list, including balance shafts, but the end result is to provide engines and bikes that are easier to ride fast for longer periods.
All four-strokes sport Kokusan supplied efi and all new exhausts which also contribute to more centralised mass.
The vastly experienced MARTIN CRAVEN has ridden and ragged everything worth riding off-road over recent years and the enthusiastic FatCat operator got to grab his passport and toothbrush, zip off to Barcelona and sling the first British leg over the exciting 2017 portfolio of enduro offerings from Team Orange…
THE all new 125/150 XC-W two-strokes are probably the market leaders in ready-to-race Enduro bikes right now.
With the amazing agility of the ultra lightweights – sharing the all-new 2017 chassis – and enough muscle to fight the 250 EXC-F, this pair really punch above their weight.
Absolutely everything is all-new, from the WP Xplor suspension to the newly designed lightweight ChroMol steel frame.
Handling wise, hardly surprisingly, they are very similar.
The going at the test was very stony and hard packed, so there was no issue with any potential bogging down and definitely no worrying about not getting up anything.
The 125 initially felt sharper and more responsive than its slightly bigger brother and it was only when things got a little tougher when the 150 started to show its true colours.
Both bikes for 2017 have a newly-developed power valve unit which help provide what feels like a massive power increase right through the rev range.
And this really showed on the big, shaley climbs with the 150 just feeling a bit more comfortable with it.
But to be honest both bikes felt so light that no terrain seemed impossible on both featherweights.
ON to my favourite bike of the bunch.
Yes I may be slightly biased… seeing as a 250 two-stroke is the current weapon of choice for me.
It used to be 300s but in recent years they have got a bit unruly – although for 2017 this has drastically changed. Damn, this bike rips.
Not only is it super light and nimble and perfect for extreme going but also in between and on special tests this bike is just so fast.
The power delivery straight off the bat is simply awesome.
But the second you stand on the equally awesome Brembo brakes – which incidentally sport a 10mm longer rear brake pedal and come with lighter discs – the ability to coast over large rocks on not much more than tickover is incredible.
On the flip side, I’d have to describe the motor as ‘pipey’ with a slightly soft mid-range and a tendency to get into the power much sooner. As a result I could still lug the bike low down but you need to do it in a higher gear.
The overall feel to the all-new engine is that it is really fast and loves to be on the pipe, making it a real fun package on the high speed sections.
I knew going into the tests that the suspension from stock was sprung towards lighter guys, and this created a slightly squatty feel.
Saying that, the suspension on both ends had great initial feel and performance, one benefit of the plush set up is that it soaked up all the initial golf ball sized rocks perfectly.
You could barely feel the repeated hits.
This was great, although this soft set-up definitely sacrificed its ability on the big steps. Sprung correctly for my weight though, the new WP Xplor suspension front and rear looks like a great package.
THE 300 two-stroke is, in my opinion, probably the teacher’s pet out of all the classes, and for good reason. It’s won a hatful of Erzberg-rodeos – the hardest
single-day event on earth – and many, many other similar type of events.
For me, though, the 250 EXC has gradually risen to the top over the last couple of years, simply because I (and I’m certainly not alone) thought that the 300 was becoming just too fast and too aggressive, to a point where you weren’t actually riding it, just hanging onto the thing.
So to my immense pleasure, when I set off into the lion’s den for what I thought would be a scary, blurry lap of pain and sheer finger-nail hanging on I quickly discovered that it was in fact a super mellowed-out, completely manageable 300 Super two-stroke.
At last KTM have taken what was the finest two-stroke off-road machin on the market a couple of years ago – and turned it back into what was quite simply one of the best bikes I’ve ever ridden.
One of the biggest changes to the 300 is, of course, the all-new engine which features a new counter-balancer shaft to eradicate vibration. And you can tell instantly, there really is next to no vibration on this wonderful machine.
On the tight, technical sections the 300 EXC performed best in a taller gear compared to the 250, giving it a much wider option on different obstacles – a considerable advantage.
I was so impressed with how the 300 pulled through the power band and more importantly was very predictable.
Just like the 250, this bike feels incredibly light and again this is such an advantage over its rivals, especially in tough conditions, where you need all the help you can get at the end of a race.
Make no mistake, the 300 two-stroke is back.
IN Enduro circles there’s a lot of debate over which bike is better, the 250 EXC-F or the 350 EXC-F. And with the introduction of all-new 250/350 double overhead camshaft engines – with balance shafts – the debate just got a whole lot hotter.
The 250 is comfortable on the throttle and has the performance fully capable of competing in a national Enduro straight out the box.
The 350F is one of few bikes that I would feel confident racing motocross on the Saturday then riding it in a hare and hound on Sunday.
Both have strengths in their class and they are truly outstanding bikes that have proven to be perfect for their target riders.
But which is better?
On the dry, dusty trails the 250F actually lost just a touch of response down low compared to the 350F, there was a slight feeling of hesitation just off idle.
But what the 250F lost here it quickly gained in the mid-range where you could be a bit more slap happy with the throttle, whereas on the 350F when up to speed you were very wary of its power difference.
The 350F definitely felt a bit more ‘motocrossy’ but without sacrificing the overall enduro performance as the delivery was still clean throughout. On the bigger hits, the 250F took a little more clutch to stay in the rpm, which wasn’t a problem and I had no trouble singing the 250F down the rocky sections.
Interestingly enough the throatier 350F will, I think, suit the more novice to intermediate rider better, with its superb linear power delivery.
Single-track riding will never be a problem for the 350 but even high up on the real steep sections the motor would just pull and pull.
The 350 still retained a somewhat mellow attitude yet it also achieved more zip all through the range. Despite the 350 not having a vicious hit, which enables it to find immense traction and usability, the added torque for 2017 allowed me to leave the bike in higher gears in certain sections, where on the 250F I would need to select the right gear to be spot on.
To help complement the new-found power, WP has listed the new Xplor suspension front and rear for better performance at higher speeds, while also working to retain plushness.
I found it worked great straight from stock.
For your info, on each bike I went down four on compression and up six on rebound.
That is purely personal as is all suspension set-up – and it worked for me.
Both bikes feel very well balanced front to back.
As to the question of which is the best – there is no answer.
Both bikes do the same job, just in a slightly different way.
ON to the big guns now. The no-nonsense, self-harming, I’m the boss, 450-F/ 500-F.
One of the first things to hit me on these bikes (apart from the awesome power) was the high degree of overall chassis flex introduced to the bikes for 2017.
The frame has a certain amount of ‘give’ that is transmitted to the rider in a soft and comfortable feel and most obvious with the more powerful machines.
And it was highly appreciated on the flowing single track.
One of the benefits of the increased power from the two heavyweights is the initial zip straight off the pipe, which allowed me to feel as if I could change direction more quickly. Using the throttle to pivot me out of a turn was much easier done with the big bore capacity bikes.
Handling wise, both the 450 and 500 were fantastic on the loose tracks at high speed. The added grunt on the 500F amazingly made it seem lighter overall than the 450.
However, the front end tended to push a bit in corners but fortunately the 500 slid very well.
And with just an ounce of throttle movement both bikes were outstanding for flat-tracking around turns as well as navigating tricky rocky sections.
Yet again KTM have virtually removed nearly all of the vibration from the bikes with superbly designed single overhead cam engines.
The end result was a smooth, comfortable ride that I’m sure could be enjoyed for very long and exciting races.