2016 PREVIEW: RIDING THE KTM 250SXF FACTORY EDITION

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We just got our first glimpse of the 2016 KTM 250SX-F, and it’s exactly what we thought it would be: the production version of the 250SX-F Factory Edition.  That means it’s a complete redesign, from top to bottom. The only real differences are cosmetics and a few high-bling items.  Expect the production bike to be about $$1000 cheaper and the production run to be about 10 or 15 times bigger. We got a chance to ride the Factory Edition a couple of months ago and it gave us a good indication of what the 2016 KTM 250SX-F will be like.

Benny Breck puts the 2015 1/2 250SX-F through a workout.
Benny Breck puts the 2015 1/2 250SX-F through a workout.

EVERYTHING IS NEW
Aside from a few nuts and bolts, there’s only one thing that’s the same as on the standard 2015 250SX-F. The description. It’s a 250 four-stroke with an electric starter and a very sophisticated double-overhead-cam design with four titanium valves that are opened by finger followers. The goal of rethinking every single part was to reduce weight. The standard 250SX-F is 229 pounds without fuel. In truth, it isn’t that heavy. Despite carrying around an electric starter, it’s the same weight as the Kawasaki KX250F and the Suzuki RM-Z250. But, KTM engineers found plenty of places where the bike could lose a gram or two. The new engine is 6mm shorter and has a connecting rod that’s 6mm shorter, making the whole engine 6mm shorter. The crank was moved rearward and upward to provide for more centralized mass. The Keihin throttle body is completely new. It’s more compact, does away with throttle linkage and is 100 grams lighter. It also has a new CPU with electronic launch control and alternate fuel/advance maps that can be selected with a handlebar toggle switch. The generator lost another 100 grams. The cams lost 150 grams. The cylinder lost 130 grams, and the piston lost 10 grams. In the transmission, the KTM lost an entire gear; it’s now a five-speed, whereas previously it was the only six-speed in the class. The gears themselves are wider but no heavier, with material trimmed from strategic locations. The shifting mechanism is new. The clutch hub is new but still uses coil springs and a hydraulic system for actuation. The only place where KTM was able to lose a lot of weight in one step was the battery. The lead-acid battery was replaced with a lithium-ion unit that weighs 2.2 pounds less. KTM also paid attention to where the weight was carried. The new muffler is 40mm shorter and was moved 60mm forward.

Even though the KTM’s horsepower is still located mostly at high revs, it gets there much more willingly.
Even though the KTM’s horsepower is still located mostly at high revs, it gets there much more willingly.

The chassis got the same gram-by-gram weight-loss treatment. The chromoly steel frame lost 280 grams and has more torsional rigidity with less longitudinal stiffness. The subframe lost 250 grams, and the swingarm lost another 250 grams. The airbox, footpegs, shifter and triple clamps are all new and all lighter. Even the rear shock has a new body that, despite being 12mm shorter, provides 10mm more travel because of the revised linkage.
So, what’s the bottom line on the weight loss? The new bike checks in at 222 pounds without fuel on the fabulously accurate Dirt Bike scale. That places it in a three-way tie for lightest in class, with the Honda and Yamaha logging identical numbers. And, those bikes don’t have electric start.
FASTER AND FASTER
KTM already had the fastest bike in the class. The horsepower was a product of rpm; the bike didn’t really start going crazy until the revs reached critical mass. Unfortunately, most riders don’t operate in that zone. In the middle of the powerband the bike wasn’t anything special, and that tended to make the motorcycle less appealing to novice and intermediate riders. As delivered, the Factory Edition has a little more of everything. It makes more power down low, has more in the middle and makes even more on top. It’s still the fastest 250F you can buy, only more so. A much more significant improvement comes in accessibility. You can get up to the power much easier because the motor revs more freely. It responds more readily to a quick hit on the clutch lever.

Almost every part is new, resulting in a total loss of 7 pounds. The lithium battery accounts for 2.2 pounds of that loss but has the drawback of poorer performance in cold weather.
Almost every part is new, resulting in a total loss of 7 pounds. The lithium battery accounts for 2.2 pounds of that loss but has the drawback of poorer performance in cold weather.

You can choose from among three ignition maps. A handlebar switch lets you choose between two of them on the fly. Position number one is always the standard map. Position two can be anything you like, as determined by a dial in the airbox. It can be mild, standard, aggressive or even something you dream up on your own, providing you have KTM’s programing software. Much to our surprise, almost all our test riders liked the aggressive position best. It seemed to make the bike much faster everywhere, with no penalty in rideability. It isn’t a subtle change; you know exactly which map you’ve selected. KTM engineers say that the difference is hard to document on a dyno. This is probably because dyno runs are generally made with the bike wide open. The aggressive map makes the bike respond more quickly to partial throttle openings. It also seemed to make the powerband wider. It’s a no-loss option.
The only weakness in the KTM’s power output remains at the bottom. It’s not as torquey as the 2015 Yamaha YZ250F. You still have to rev the KTM to enjoy the bike’s power advantage. The good news is that, now, revving the bike seems much more natural. It wants to scream, and you don’t have to force yourself to hold the throttle open in search of that narrow band of joy.

On the long list of new parts, there’s a new air filter that’s easier to install.
On the long list of new parts, there’s a new air filter that’s easier to install.

A NEW FEEL
We were surprised that the KTM didn’t exactly handle like a KTM—at least not like we expect KTMs to handle. The overall feel is more responsive. It steers much lighter and quicker. For lack of a better description, it’s more Honda-like. Part of this is because of the weight loss, and part is because of changes in geometry. There’s a little less weight on the front end, so it takes less physical effort to point and shoot. The flip side is that the bike is a little busier. It never gets to the point where you would call it nervous, unstable or head-shaky, but if you’re a hardened KTM rider, you’ll have to adjust to a new deal.
On the other hand, long-time KTM riders will be delighted with the improvement in the WP 4CS fork. Without question, this is the standard 250SX-F’s most severe shortcoming. It rated poorly for comfort on hard-packed choppiness. Many riders took the bike straight from the showroom floor to a suspension shop. That’s not entirely necessary with the Factory Edition. The internal components weren’t drastically redesigned, but KTM’s U.S. test riders worked hard all year to come up with valving and settings that would work in America. Their efforts paid off. We still can’t say that the 4CS is our favorite fork, but it’s much better. As always, it works well on big hits and rolling whoops, but now it doesn’t torture you as badly on the little stuff between obstacles.
KTM250FELengwebIT’S ALREADY LATE
The KTM 250SX-F Factory Edition is an amazing piece of engineering. The designers started with a bike that was already fast and made it faster. They started with a bike that was light, considering it had electric start, then made it lighter. It still has the best brakes in the business and a hydraulic clutch. The suspension is better; everything is better.
KTM hasn’t announced the price yet, but it should be around $8000. If you missd the short run of Factory Editions, don’t worry. We think KTM will make plenty.

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