From its origination in 2007, the KTM 250XC-F was a bike built to perform at the highest level of competition. Though it’s a 250 four-stroke, KTM thought this motorcycle could compete in the two-stroke class and eventually take over. They were right. As the years have passed, the crisp sounds of premix-burning machines have given way to a high-pitched, valve-floating roar. There are situations where the two-stroke still proves to be the better motorcycle, but in others, the 250 four-stroke is now the off-road racer of choice. Now, the 250XC-F is all new for 2023. Can it continue where its predecessor left off?
KTM’s engineers didn’t mess around when they decided to upgrade the XC-F. Naturally, when the MX models get an upgrade, the off-road models follow suit. For 2023 the frame was beefed up to improve rideability, alter flex characteristics and avoid the squat tendencies that have drawn criticism in the past. KTM also came up with new placement for the foot mounts, pushing them inward to reduce the risk of catching rocks, ruts and whatever trail terrain might be a risk. In conjunction with that, the new mounting areas allowed KTM to equip this machine with broader footpegs, allowing for more control and feel while riding. While the upgrades to the frame are significant, even the small changes are a benefit. Brackets for the skid plate were lowered on the frame rails to help with easy removal and installation.
In coordination with its all-new chassis, KTM also installed its new, 4-pound, two-piece, polyamide-reinforced-aluminum subframe to help with rigidity and overall feel. This also allows for all-new bodywork. Upgrading the bodywork provides a new rider triangle and an upgraded seat to help improve overall grip. The bodywork was also designed to help keep mud, dirt, and grime out of the tighter spaces and prevent soil from sticking to the plastic.
Helping the rider to log extended rides, the 250XC-F model comes with a 2.24-gallon fuel tank. With the extra capacity, this motorcycle can see well over an hour of hard racing time without having to refuel. The larger fuel tank is unnoticeable, so this bike maintains its overall narrow feel. Like its sisters and brothers, this XC-F model comes with a two-map switch on the left-hand side of the bars, along with a traction-control option and a launch-control option to help capture the holeshot.
Located on the throttle side of the bars is the new start/stop combo switch. It’s confusing at first, as your left thumb is searching for the kill switch, but KTM has combined the switches to allow for more space on the handlebars. After the makeover, the 2023 250XC-F gained some weight and is now 231 pounds without fuel.
READY TO RACE
KTM’s signature “Ready to Race” tag couldn’t be a more appropriate description of this bike. This is the ultimate, lightweight, off-road race weapon. Coming equipped with a redesigned DOHC cylinder head on top, a new crankshaft and a more spread-out six-gear transmission, the XC-F is built to tackle a diverse range of terrain. In testing, you will notice that this bike likes to be ridden hard to reach its full potential.
The roll-on power delivery is smooth and generates immediate traction, but seems to have a hiccup if you sign off too early. Grabbing a handful and staying on top of the power, you see where the 250XC-F shines. It’s highly competitive with any off-road or MX bike in its class. In recent years, the 250XC-F has seen more race wins and podiums stateside than any other 250 four-stroke. From the gruesome woods, mud and tree roots of the GNCC series to the high, dusty speeds on the West Coast, this lightweight machine has won on a variety of terrain.
The six-gear transmission is particularly useful in National Hare & Hounds, NGPC and WORCS racing series, which tend to see higher speeds for longer durations. For off-road racing, KTM developed a softer suspension setup for the XCs. The bike is equipped with 48mm WP Xact air forks that have a new hydro-stop, anti-bottoming system this year.
In the rear, the WP Xact shock is completely new. It doesn’t have traditional flat-blade clicker adjustments, but instead uses a hand-adjustable compression knob that allows for quick and easy adjustments. The same feature is applied to the rebound clicker, making all adjustments accessible by hand. In stock form, the standard settings afforded our test riders a smooth ride in slow, choppy areas, but they blew through the stroke on high-speed, square edges. In racing conditions, it’s easy to out-ride the capability of the stock suspension. That doesn’t mean you can’t take off a few bolts and have your local suspension tuner help you get the setting you’re looking for. When the XC-F is set up well, it’s hard to beat the comfort it offers.
KTM offers this model as a closed-course competition motorcycle, which may scare weekend warriors away. As we said before, this motorcycle is a well-diversified platform. If you’re a play rider looking for a 250F that can handle the trails yet have a little extra grunt, don’t be afraid to jump on the XC-F. You have access to power delivery changes at the touch of your thumb. Map one provides smooth power delivery, which is perfect for the trail.
With traction control, the power delivery comes off tamer, making the ride more enjoyable and less taxing. If you’re looking to race your buddies up a hill, we recommend turning the traction control off, as it can make the bike feel sluggish. While trail riding, the terrain may become rocky or technical, which doesn’t scare this bike away. The suspension settings provided are almost perfect for low-speed, rocky terrain. The Brembo hydraulic clutch gives off a smooth and consistent feel every time it is engaged and is very hard to disrupt or overheat.
When it comes down to it, the KTM 250XC-F is an excellent bike, whether you are racing or not. It provides a platform for all riders and racers looking for a lightweight machine that can be used in any conditions. We still believe KTM’s goal with this bike is to make it the king of the 250 class in competition, but it can easily play the role of a trail terrorizer. We were smiling from ear to ear every time we took out our XC-F, whether it was to the track or the desert. From the West to the East Coast, we look to see the KTM 250XC-F at the front of the pack, continuing its winning ways.