ktm350xcf16_1The American off-roader is winning big with KTM’s constant appetite for technical gains in an array of equipment that already owns the front row. This year the Austrian giant has rebuilt the motocross and closed-course off-road line with all new engines, frames, suspension and bodywork. We’re talking re-tooling from ground zero here, a decision that the Japanese manufacturers make every three to five years! We know the hype that the limited-edition motocrossers have received, and this evolution has morphed straight into the new 2016 models. And this month we’re testing the all-new 350XC-F, a machine that bristles with the identical brilliance of an SX-F, yet is equipped with the basic essentials of a closed-course, GNCC-type racing weapon.
Just like the 350SX-F, the 350XC-F is based around the all-new 250 engine, albeit with a bigger hole for the piston and a longer rod (88.0 x 57.5mm versus 78.0 x 52.3mm). They’ve pushed the crankshaft up 6mm and cut off 20mm in the overall length of the engine, carving off 2 full pounds. A new cylinder head features revised combustion chamber geometry, two overhead camshafts, new finger-followers with a harder DLC coating and high-flow ports. There are new valve springs and retainers for the four titanium valves, and the flow rate has been maximized with more performance that peaks at 13,400 rpm and 58 horsepower (KTM numbers).
KTM350XCFlogIt, too, is fit with the brand-new 44mm throttle body, a unit that has a vastly improved idle circuit and works through an EFI system that is stronger via a beefed-up ECU system. With the bike’s computer system enhanced, there are two switchable ignition modes on the front brake perch—stock and aggressive. And yes, there is a noticeable difference between them, plus it has a launch control for more efficient starts (a bit odd for an off-road machine, but in the norm of relevant for an SX-based racer).
The powerplant is fit with an all-new and lighter, six-speed, semi-close-ratio gearbox. One of the new features on the bike is an advanced No-Dirt gear lever design, which prevents dirt from blocking the joint of the lever. As in the past, the 350 is equipped with a button start, but this year they’ve sawed off a good chunk of weight by fitting it with a lithium-ion starter battery.
A new airbox design improves airflow, plus has a new material on the intake snorkel that aids in power since it doesn’t deform under power from intake pulses. It uses a new Twin Air filter and a new mounting system, which once again is tool-less. For the first time in several years KTM has totally changed the seat, both in its mounting and its design and consistency. The target is improved comfort and durability. With the gas tank there’s a new design, and 2.25 gallons should offer a good range for the fuel-injected machine.
ktm350xcf16_2With the chassis, the frame is all new, has altered flex characteristics for improved handling, with less wheelbase, a steeper head angle and a weight savings. The cast-aluminum swingarm is lighter; the footpeg has been changed to a No-Dirt solution that prevents dirt from blocking the pegs even when dragging in deep ruts. Additionally, the bigger pegs are lighter and offer improved grip. KTM lightened up the Brembo brakes using weight-reduced Galfer Wave rotors and has returned with CNC-machined hubs, Giant rims, black spokes with aluminum nipples providing maximum stability and Dunlop Geomax AT81 tires, a favorite among the GNCC and National Enduro elite. It uses an 18-inch rear and has been fit with a sidestand.
In the suspension department the WP 4CS returns, though it has totally new valving specs designed to improve plushness and off-road hack absorption. The shock is totally new, featuring a new reservoir with a larger gas chamber that reduces premature fading. The linkage has been altered via longer pull rods. CNC-machined triple clamps return, but for 2016 the upper triple clamp features a newly developed rubber damping system designed to reduce vibration. The clamps can rotate either forward or back so that taller riders can open up the cockpit. This year’s handlebars are Neken. They are fit with lock-on ODI grips, and there is a new throttle assembly with a pull cam designed for smoother throttle action.
This bike feels lighter  as the slimmer chassis and a tidy power increase are the main catalysts. Starting is a non-issue, the clutch pull via the hydraulic system is smooth but overly firm (really fine for MX, but too strong for longer events or rides), and the new ergos courtesy of a handlebar bend that is unique (low and a strange sweep), and the saddle with its new foam and footpegs that offer more bite get you into the machine nicely. Love the new ODI grips, and everyone over 5-foot-10 swapped the handlebar mount to the forward position almost immediately.
14 KTM 350XCFwebThe power is superb; in fact, a very feelable improvement over last year’s, which was no slug. The ’16 comes out of the hole smoother, sooner and stronger, and this is big for the off-roader. It still likes to ping the rev limiter and makes serious juice at the mid-to-peak power range, but it’s the stronger low to mid that will make this into a serious piece of off-road equipment. The six-speeder mates nicely to the powerband, with a first gear that’s a tractor cog only, with a nice gap between second and fifth that lets you work the gearbox to effectively make speed by keeping you in the usable portion of the power. Honestly, we had no drama with the SX-F tranny for off-road; the XC-F six-speed is better and enhances the versatility of the machine.
In the handling arena the 350XC-F is thin, mobile and maneuverable. It darts and flicks more like a malnutritioned two-stroke than a beefy four-stroke, yet is planted and reacts with none of the irritating flightiness of a high-strung machine. It pushes the scales to the 227-pound point, lighter than any current four-stroke motocrosser, and it has an electric starter! It is zeroing in on the 300XC-F weight factor and, more important, has handling skills that nurture speed and fun on the trails. The new 4CS fork is improved, it’s plusher, it chews on rocks and roots, it takes the big hits okay. Overall, it’s a nice compromise for the (165- to 185-pound) off-roader. Out back the WP shock mates to longer pull rods and does a rock-solid job of smoothing out hack, maintaining traction and getting the rear tire to bite. The rear end stays up nicely and works well, with the fork action spitting out positive feel without squatting or seesawing to offend the overall manners of the machine.
Overall the handlebar bend gets a C and the ODI grips get an A. The slim tank totes enough fuel for us to cover 60-plus miles in sandy, hilly terrain—nice. And, the majority of the staff and testers loved the new seat, its foam consistency and the ability to push on it to make traction. Tall guys not so much, especially since their old, beefed-up saddles won’t work with this frame.
The shifting is smooth, the shifter didn’t clog, and the spokes look cool but need constant attention when new. The Dunlop AT 81s are our favorites for off-road, doing a better-than-respectable job in a variety of conditions. Again, the sidestand, new airbox and filter maintenance get an A.
The clutch pull gets a C and the feel a B+. New radiators pull more air and do a superb job of fighting overheating, though we’d still like to see a fan on it. A C-rating goes to the exhaust simply because it’s loud! It’s too brutal for any off-road, and it lacks a spark arrestor. We’ll address that in the future. The brakes are the best in the business. The chain and sprockets are high-end stuff and up there on the food chain.
Trail-ability, one facet of the machine that we demand, had been improved with the strong and smooth flow of power. This bike can tractor quite well, torquing under a load far better than last year’s bike, and this makes it a good choice for the woods/enduro rider. When you match this to the fact that the 350XC-F is very at home on a motocross track, the versatility factor pushes the thermometer into the red zone.
While we can chew the fat for hours about the 350XC-F accolades, it was the main target for the KTM engineers to offer a massive weight reduction in conjunction with improved handling for their ’16 XC-F. They sawed off a bit more than 7 pounds and then had the time to fit in stronger and more usable power, enough off-road accouterments to keep the GNCC rider pumped and a package that pushes the 350 into the racer zone that few machines could imagine. Overall the 2016 350XC-F has risen to the lofty accolades as one of the most versatile dirt bikes ever.
2016 KTM 350XC-F
Engine type Electric-start, four-valve,
DOHC four-stroke
Displacement 349.7cc
Bore & stroke 88.0mm x 57.5mm
Fuel delivery 44mm Keihin EFI
Fuel tank capacity 2.25 gal.
Transmission 6-speed
Lighting coil No
Spark arrestor No
EPA legal No
Wheelbase 58.5″
Ground clearance 14.6″
Seat height 37.8″
Tire size & type:
Front Dunlop AT81 100/80-21
Rear Dunlop AT81 100/90-18
Front WP 4CS inverted, adj. rebound,
Rear KYB, piggyback, adj. preload,
comp., rebound/11.8″
Country of origin Austria
Price $9899
Importer www.ktm.com/us/

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