KTM has opened a huge bag of new and innovation for 2017 and we headed to Spain to play with some faster and lighter EXCs
Word by Damien Ashenhurst | Photos by Sebas Remerom Marco Campelli and Damien Ashenhurst
The launch starts, as they usually do, with a trip to the airport. Sometimes it’s domestic but with KTM it’s almost always international. Something you learn the more you fly to other countries is that Sydney International airport is a lot like a shitty shopping centre that planes park at. Duty Free is pretty much never cheaper than the prices at Harvey Norman and there is nothing to do in there except shop or eat or if you haven’t a heap of disposable cash…sit.
The 2017 KTM EXC launch was held in Spain so our plane left Sydney, stopped at Dubai (which is a way bigger shopping centre) and then some 24 hours later planted us firmly on Barcelona soil. We headed to the hotel, got changed and then sought out to find the beers that they serve a litre at a time. The next day we spent a few hours riding pushies around the city which is one of the most stunning and welcoming you could ever visit. We even joined in on a police chase through the city on our rickety rental rigs while the cops rounded-up illegal street vendors. After a few laps and some quality tourist moments we were gathered up and taken to our final destination, about an hour into the country and under the gaze of the mighty mountain called Montserrat.
At the tech presentation that night we were taken through an incredible array of changes to the line-up. To be precise there aren’t changes as such – all the bikes are new. The 2016 models haven’t been changed, they’ve been replaced and in front of us were eight new engines, a new chassis, new suspension and even new grips. We’ve never been to a model launch as comprehensive as this and the several stripped bare engines, forks, shocks and components that were laid out in front of us had salivating.
Starting with the new XPlor fork, the open cartridge fork features compression adjustment on the left and rebound on the right (both at the top of the fork – no need to ever get under the bike), with the compression side featuring a cone adjuster which regulates the oil flow from the top.
Both forks still house a spring and the whole lot weighs in at 200 grams less than the previous units.
With a smaller piston (46mm) and larger reservoir the new XPlor shock has managed to buy back an astonishing 600 grams from the 2016 model and due to changes to the frame and swingarm, is now mounted more centrally and 5mm closer to the centre of gravity.
Instead of a needle the shock houses a second piston that works together with a closed cup at the end of the stroke which KTM claimed offered far better damping characteristics.
The new frame is claimed to have increased torsional stiffness by 20 per cent, but also produce 30 per cent less longitudinal stiffness, which is to say they managed to keep the fast steering characteristics of a KTM but at the same time increase comfort levels. There was also a 350 gram weight saving as well as a decrease in vibration.
A small but clever facet of this chassis is the mounts for the genuine bashplate.
A new airbox intake helps reduce noise levels but the good news is that the filter is now even easier to remove and replace (as demonstrated by Barney using just one hand). No longer can you get the angle wrong as it sits in new brackets that make the orientation really obvious.
Another huge gain in the same geographical area was the loss of the traditional lead battery and the introduction of the new lithium ion unit that weighs in at a kilogram less.
In the electrical department KTM has fitted a new and more powerful ECU (computer brain). The ECU features a gear sensor and for the first time. Traction Control, which is operated via an optional switch ($189.99) on the bars, which also acts as a dual position ignition map switch.
We arrived at the testing sight early on what I think was a Thursday but it was hard to tell as the time difference is a brain smasher.
There spread out before us in a customary Austrian uniform fashion was 39 gleaming new KTMs just waiting to be made less…gleaming.
As often happens the Euro journos scrambled to get onto the smaller bikes while the Aussie journos took the 300, 450 and 500s out first. That’s pretty much the sales trends in both regions in a nutshell too.
We’ll go into more detail in issue 205 of DIRT ACTION magazine but in the meantime here’s a brief rundown of our ride impressions.
It’s almost sacrilege to mess with the 300EXC. Especially to Australians who have had a long love affair with the big two-stroke rig but it’s worth noting that the engine in the 2016 300EXC was first introduced in 1992 and has seen many upgrades and updates since then (to give you some perspective, Microsoft released Windows 3.1 in 1992). Now we have a completely new engine which features an integrated electric start instead of a bolt-on unit which now sits underneath the engine. The biggest stat thrown around was the fact that in part via a new crankshaft and crucially a central balancing shaft the vibrations felt on all touch points (handlebars, seat, footpegs), have been reduced by a mind blowing fifty per-cent.
This business of cutting vibrations by 50 per cent is a game changer and I suspect a few journos will use that phrase because to a man we were all blown away. The front fender doesn’t even shake when the bike starts!
A two-stroke is far less fatiguing when it feels like the 2017 250/300EXC and for all of us for all time, that’s been a part of riding a two-stroke that it feeds back in so many ways from sound through to vibrations that to have one of those things almost completely removed is a bit odd at first but so rewarding on the trails.
The 350EXC-F was one of the biggest surprises for me. I‘ve always loved the bike but it’s so much better for 2017 for two reasons – it’s a superior ride in almost every way but most importantly it now has an identity of its own. It doesn’t feel like just a bigger 250 or smaller 450 or that bike you get when you’re not sure whether to go big or small bore. It’s a peaky engine that bolts from the bottom and stretches out further than you expect. It’s probably the most purely fun engine in the range and for guys that love to shred single trail you’d be hard pressed to find a better bike.
In my mind the 2016 450 has lost something of that X-factor that it once had and there is pretty clear competition on the market these days. The 2017 450EXC-F however has raised the bar once again.
The 450 puts down 56Hp but has had a weight reduction of an incredible five kilos over the 2016 model. The body work is lower and the bike is thinner so you’re riding a smaller, lighter but more powerful 450 and 500 (62Hp thanks very much) and that’s so obvious on the trails. They’re more manoeuvrable in the slow and tricky sections but thanks to the clever chassis changes they maintain they ability to destroy open tracks.
The 500 has been the better overall bike for a few years now but while its improved yet again, this 450 is a standout in its category.
And it’s with these big bores that the new traction control system really comes into play. I found it a reasonable tool on the 250/350 but once I started using it on the 450/500 it made complete sense and I went back to it all day.
The Weighting Game: Weight loss figures across the range
250 EXC – 98.5kg was 101.9kg
300 EXC – 99.9kg was 102.1kg
250 EXC-F – 104.1kg was 105.5kg
350 EXC-F – 104.4kg was 107.2kg
450 EXC-F – 106.3kg was 111,0kg
500 EXC-F – 106.6kg was 111.5kg
Important notes: The stuff that stood out
- LITHIUM ION BATTERY
- TRACTION CONTROL
- NO KICKSTARTER ON 4Ts
- WP XPlor FORK AND SHOCK
- MIKUNI CARB on 2Ts
- NEW CHASSIS
- 64HP ON 500EXC
- OPTIONAL PRELOAD ADJUSTERS ON FORKS
- NEW MAXXIS TYRES
- ALL NEW ENGINES
125/150 XC-W: Cross country crazy
There’s good news and bad news in regards to the new XC-W models. As you may already be aware, the 200 EXC was dropped due to the difficulties of meeting environmental laws and sadly a drop in sales. To bolster the small bore enduro dinger offerings, KTM have created the XC-W which is a closed course racer that won’t be available in Australia as a registered model. In fact the 125 won’t be available at all while limited numbers of the 150 will be brought into Australia for those in rec-rego regions like Victoria.