Once upon a time, there was no distinction between a race bike and an off-road bike. They were the same thing as far as the U.S. government was concerned; they were both just dirt bikes. It’s not like that anymore. People with clipboards and entirely too much power ask a lot of questions about where a motorcycle will be ridden before it can be sold in the U.S. That led to the creation of very different bikes for track and trail.
The 2012 KTM 250XCF-W turns back the bureaucratic clock. It makes the off-road distinction almost irrelevant by passing all the proper tests and jumping through all the proper hoops to be classified as an off-road bike—and it does this without compromising a thing. Is that important? Absolutely! The 250XCF-W can’t be turned away from any public riding area in the country, which is a scenario that is becoming more common—even outside the already over-regulated state of California.
THE 250 STATE OF AFFAIRS
This year, the W is completely different from the 2011 version, but it isn’t fair to say it’s an all-new bike. The motor draws much from the 2011 250SXF motocross bike, which was, in turn, the product of the massive development project surrounding the 350SXF. Last year’s W, on the other hand, was from an earlier era. It had a carburetor and an older chassis, but it was a legitimate off-road machine. For 2012, the W has the same EFI motor as the SX, but the fuel injection has been cleaned up enough to please governmental pipe sniffers. It also keeps a kickstarter as a backup for the electric starter, has a little more flywheel weight and has a wider gear ratio.
As far as the power-producing hard parts, the only difference is the pipe, which is quieter and now has a screen-style spark arrestor. The cam, valves, head and piston are all the same as those on the motocross bike.
The W’s motor is almost identical to the motor in the motocross version—with the exception of mapping, the kickstarter and the gear ratios.
The chassis really is new. It looks like the new motocross chassis, but it still uses a PDS shock with no shock linkage. All the motocross bikes in the KTM line now have shock linkage, but the off-road community never had much of an issue with the old PDS. The angle of the shock has been changed, but it’s essentially the same layout. In front, the W has a new WP open-bath fork. The cartridge WP fork is still on the motocross version and the XC (closed-course, racing) version.
All of the off-road goodies are in place. The W has a headlight, a multifunction odometer, a kickstand, an 18-inch rear wheel and a 2.5-gallon tank.
ON THE GAS
So, does the 250W run like the motocross bike? No, but it’s not that different. You need to remember that the KTM 250F motocrosser starts off with a very mellow personality, so much so that it was actually handicapped in our 250F MX comparis. It really didn’t have to change that much to be a good off-road bike. The W shares so many parts with the motocross KTM that it couldn’t help but have some similarities. The differences in fuel mapping and spark advance make the bike slower to gain revs. There’s more power on the very bottom and a bit less on top. All that is perfectly appropriate for the redirection of a motocross motor, which shows the power of tuning by software. For the record, the KTM is still way, way faster than the Honda CRF250X and the Yamaha WR250F. It makes more bottom; it’s just as smooth, and it makes much more on top.
The triple clamp holding KTM’s new open-bath fork is said to be flexier for less harshness this year. “Harsh” isn’t a word that even occurs to you when you ride the bike.
|On flat trails, the power output is more than enough. You don’t have to rev the W to make it go. You can leave it low in the revs and save your central nervous system. That’s the problem with trail riding most 250Fs off-road. The unending high rpm can take a mental toll—even on a short ride—making you feel like you’re racing even when you just want to play. The KTM doesn’t need to rev, but it can. When the trail pace increases, you dial up the revs and go. Even though the power peak is lower than that of the SXF, it’s still excellent. It’s still a 250F, though, and that means the faster you want to go, the higher you have to rev. Always be ready to shift and you’ll find you can easily hang with the big boys. The KTM is far and away the fastest 250 off-road bike that you can buy.
All the bikes in KTM’s W-line have PDS suspension with no linkage. For 2012, the shock angle is slightly different from the traditional KTM setup.
But having said that, it still isn’t quite up to the level of a YZ250F or KX250F motocrosser, which is what it will likely be racing against. At a full race pace, you might need more steam from the engine room to be competitive. There’s more power to be had, but the government dudes that control such things want to make it difficult. A full-race pipe will get you about halfway there, but you will start noticing some lean symptoms. The W’s ECU is sealed and can’t be altered with a software package. There are some piggyback EFI mod boxes available, but they don’t address spark advance, which is the real issue. The easiest way to take the W racing is to install the ECU from the motocross version. Problem solved.
HANDLING IN HEAVEN
If you’re a 450 guy and you hitch a ride on the 250W, you’ll be amazed. It’s brilliant. The bike feels like a feather. The weight itself isn’t the whole story here. At 230 pounds, the bike is light, but not nearly as light as it feels. It has something to do with displacement and rotating mass. You feel like you just became a better rider.
If you’re already familiar with this effect from riding other 250s, the W is still impressive. It’s excellent in turns and decently stable at high speeds. It has no real handling shortcomings. The suspension gets some credit here too. The fork and rear-end changes definitely resulted in a new feel. The W is cushier than it was in the past. The fork is aimed more at the trail rider than the racer and sucks up trail junk, even at very low speeds. The same goes for the shock; it’s soft, but not mushy. The target rider for the 250 class is probably around 160 pounds, which is lighter than most of our staff. Still, there were no real complaints. We might go to stiffer springs for a fast race; otherwise, we’ll add a few clicks and enjoy the ride. For the record, the compression clickers for the fork are on the bottom, just like in the old days.
In the world of trail-legal 250 four-strokes, the KTM is a thoroughbred. It’s super fast and effective. Its Japanese rivals seem heavy and slow by comparison. But the W’s real-world competitors are the closed-course 250 four-strokes, which it more closely resembles. In this field, KTM has a 250XC which is almost identical to the motocross bike. Husqvarna has a 310 (tested in this issue) that is smoother and torquier down low, but with less on top. And there’s a gaggle of motocross bikes that can be equipped with larger tanks. The W holds its own against that crowd. In the end, it’s the only bike to occupy the narrow zone between racer and trail bike, and it does it legally. o
• EPA legal
• Excellent overall handling
• Smooth low-end power
• Outrageously good brakes
• Hydraulic clutch
• Difficult to alter fuel mixture
• Small odometer readout
• Weak headlight
Engine type Four-valve, DOHC 4-stroke
Bore & stroke 76.0mm x 54.8mm
Fuel delivery 42mm Keihin EFI
Fuel tank capacity 2.5 gal. (11.5l)
Lighting coil Yes
Spark arrestor Yes
EPA legal Yes
Running weight, no fuel 236 lb.
Wheelbase 58.6′ (1482mm)