In spite of the fact that KTM has owned the off-road world via a truckload of niche-driven hardware designed to occupy every aspect that an off-roader could possibly embrace, they’ve pretty much shelved their entire lineup and started from scratch. The new off-road KTMs are based entirely on the SX machines that feature the new ovalized frames, a revised link-less shock and cutting-edge bodywork. When we heard that the four-stroke off-road line was going out to pasture in favor of the new frame, suspension, ergo setup and motor our voices actually got a bit shaky. Most of our off-road world has been based around the KTM four-stroke and the thought that the tried and true, button starting, incredibly effective and easy to pilot motor had been retired left us empty. Well, one twist of Mr. Throttle pretty much summed up our feelings about the new KTM 450XC-F. It’s seriously wicked.
The new engine features a four-valve head with a dual overhead cam and carburets through a Keihin 41mm FCR unit. Like the SX it has no kickstarter and life starts via a button poke. The KTM engineers looked to soften the four-stroke pulse on their engines so the 2008 crank is lighter and helps let the motor make more inertia. A new exhaust cam and lighter counter balancers induce the smoother heart beat and transmit through to a five-speed gearbox that was designed to be both just wide enough, and close at the same time. The exhaust note is soft, and coaxing life requires a gas valve turn, choke pull and voila-breathing erupts. And that’s when the soft side of the KTM 450XC-F vacates the premises. This machine makes serious power, and we’re not talking un-useable violent wheel spinning, throat-rattling spit. It yanks smoothly down low, but the acceleration is well muscled. The power segue into the mid-range is very MX like with a mid-hit that is broad and controllable. It’s hugely powerful, but wonderfully meaty, expansive and big. She doesn’t like to throttle down. Slower speeds tend to dredge up a case of the coughs. But if you’ve got the hair, she likes to be man handled and screams hard and long. During one of our test sessions we hooked up a GPS and screamed it across a dry lake. It tapped out at 97 mph! Not bad for a close course off-road motorbike.
Since KTM divides their line to embrace all segments of the sport, the XC lineup is their ‘closed course’ equipment. That means no spark arrester, no lights, and no luggage. If you want an enduro machine their XC-W line handles those exact chores. This bike shares nearly identical genes with the 450 SX, but the ones that have mutated have been well structured. The SX has a 4-cog tranny, XC-F is a five speeder. Everything else in the motor is a mirror image. The fuel cell is larger (9.5 Liters, 2.4 galllons) and while the suspension shares identical spring rates (.48 fork/6.9 shock) the valving is lighter and more appealing to versatility than hard-core moto. The new leverage ratio allows KTM to fit a lighter spring (8.0 last year/6.9 now) and since the shock exhibits more shaft speed they can valve in more progression to the damping curve. It’s softer initially yet firms up more on the mongo hit. The fork is a 48mm WP unit with a closed cartridge system that uses an internal bladder to regulate modulation. The XC-F is fit with a side stand and we welcome this. Also, an 18-inch rear wheel is fit with Bridgestone rubber along with the black Excel rims. Stopping power comes via Brembo caliper, master cylinder and rotors. The graphics have been in-molded and won’t scratch off and it comes fit up with a Brembo hydraulic clutch. The new bulge bar is a Nekan and the bend feels similar to the 997 Renthal. TRACK & TRAIL TEST The fit and feel of the XC-F is still remarkably KTM-ish, though it’s narrow and well orchestrated.
KTM installs excellent mobility into their triple clamps and this helps make rider setup an easier task. We chatted about the motor and it’s quite a package. Honestly, if you’re an enduro guy this thing makes way too much power for tight, snotty applications. You need the XC-W four-stroke, which is fit with a single overhead cam and a softer spread to the powerband. The XC-F is purely serious and well focused to be competitive against any machine on a motocross track, GP application or closed course racing conditions. We had no issues with jetting, starting or bogging. The power is linear in feel, less throbby than past KTMs and is eye-wateringly forceful. Overall-superb pretty much covers it. As far as the handling package is concerned it retains a KTM heritage so if you’re comfortable aboard the Austrian mark you will have no problems adapting. For hard-core moto the damping is on the soft side, though brutally hacky tracks fit right into the hot zone.
The spring rates are good for most sized pilots and considering that its focus is off-road, we give the suspension compliance a B, motocross absorption a C+ and overall effectiveness a B-. For MX applications we added 1/4 to a 1/2 turn on the shock’s high-speed compression and ran the sag at about 105mm. For the fork we added between two and three clicks of compression depending on the tracks severity and jump sizes. In off-road where big jumps don’t come into play we truly stayed very close to stock, though our bigger guys did add about a 1/4 turn on the high-speed compression. The fork felt a shade divey once the rear got stiffened, so adding a click of compression usually softened the seesaw effect and let us attack the terrain. Concerning the other amenities like the brakes, they’re big-time strong. The hydraulic clutch-great feel being both smooth and effortless. The new fuel cap-weird. It has a push down locking button and takes some time to get used to. For starting, the machine comes with two batteries: a 4amp and a 5amp. The 5amp model weighs one pound more than its little brother and KTM supplies both mainly for the cold weather starting issues and so that the owner has a spare. Good plan. The airbox-one of the best, since it makes servicing such a non-issue. The saddle-too low and soft and this includes our lighter riders. And the price tag-$7698. A major pill, yet on a machine that seethes with versatility the KTM 450XC-F is a rock solid winner.