Everyone has a basic need to be special. We like being allowed backstage with a special pass that says, “VIP.” KTM knows it, and the Factory Edition capitalizes on that fundamental desire. This is a limited-edition ticket under the rope at the Red Bull KTM factory pits. Every year KTM offers a short run of bikes that look like what Cooper Webb, Marvin Musquin and Aaron Plessinger ride. Honda and Kawasaki do something similar. Where KTM differs is that each season the Factory Edition is a preview of what’s coming down the road. Last year this was the first time we got to see the massive changes that were in store for 2023. Accordingly, the mid-season release of the 2023 Factory Edition reveals that the 2024 KTM 450SX-F will not have significant changes to the frame. It would have been a little weird to have back-to-back redesigns, so this is one of those years when the Factory Edition is more of a Cooper Webb replica than a preview of “the next big thing.”
This year’s Factory Edition might not have a new frame, but it offers more special parts than usual. It has:
—Red Bull graphics
—An orange-anodized split triple clamp
—An Akrapovic exhaust
—A WP holeshot device
—A Selle Dalla Valle textured seat cover
—Orange-anodized billet hubs
—D.I.D Dirt Star rims
—An orange-anodized sprocket
—An orange frame
—A Hinson clutch cover
—Carbon reinforced front brake disc guard
—Carbon-reinforced skid plate
—Vented airbox cover
The only items on that list that should affect performance are the Akrapovic slip-on silencer and the vented airbox cover. Yes, it is faster and you notice the difference; it’s almost 1 horsepower on top. The standard bike was already incredibly powerful. It was the dyno champion of our 2023 450 motocross comparison. That comparison did not include special editions, which were not out at the time. That includes the Kawasaki KX450SR and the Honda CRF450RWE. Both of those bikes have head modifications in addition to racing exhaust systems and will produce more power than stock. Based on what we already know, however, it’s very unlikely either one will outperform the KTM 450SX-F Factory Edition. Stock for stock, the KTM has a head start of almost 4 horsepower. Okay, so you get the point; the KTM is fast.
WHAT ABOUT THE FRAME?
Much has been said about the KTM’s current frame, which is stiffer than the previous one. That was particularly noticeable in back-to-back testing against the older chassis, and most riders described it as a comfort issue. It might have also been about familiarity. Now that we have more time with the new-generation chassis, we have a better understanding of its strengths and weaknesses. First of all, it is a more stable platform. This really comes to light on rough tracks and at higher speed. In those conditions, it’s actually difficult to go back to the older chassis; now, the old one feels more old-fashioned than ever. When Tony Cairoli came to the U.S. at the end of last year, he was forced by AMA rules to ride a production-based bike just like the current Factory Edition. He thought the frame was far too flexy compared to the works frame he was used to. We can only imagine what he would have thought about the previous frame.
We also have noticed that there’s a break-in time associated with the current KTM chassis. All motocross bikes have this to a certain extent, and for some bikes it’s a negative factor. In this case, the KTM actually gets more and more comfortable after 10 to 20 hours. Even then, the KTM frame still is stiff, which puts more of a burden on good suspension setup. The WP Xact air fork remains the Mason-Dixon line of suspension; you’re on one side or the other. In general, most of our staff and test riders are fans. We like the added dimension of adjustability it offers, we like how it’s consistent and predictable, and we like the overall performance. It isn’t the most comfortable on small chop, but we can live with that. There are, however, riders who can’t adjust to the way it acts in corners and say it doesn’t provide a level platform through the different phases of the turn. Maybe. We can all agree that the rear suspension is more stable in turns, although this is probably less about the shock and more due to the different angle of the motor, which is said to offer anti-squat tendencies this year. Overall, we still think the KTM offers the ideal balance between stability and good cornering traits.
THE NEXT BIG THING?
We love the way the Factory Edition looks, and we think that’s still the biggest selling point. You can’t just order Red Bull graphics for your standard bike; Red Bull won’t allow it. In fact, if you need to replace the plastic on your Factory Edition, you will have to provide your frame number and prove you own it. In terms of performance, the bike doesn’t offer anything that you can’t provide for yourself; it’s just a slip-on pipe. The biggest news offered by the 2023 Factory Edition is that it doesn’t have any drastic changes. If history is any indicator, that means that the 2024 standard KTM will be unchanged as far as major components like the frame and engine cases. Our spies have already spotted KTM test riders in the field with what appears to be a 2025 model; that bike does have frame changes. Is it worth waiting for? No, of course not. The 2023 Factory Edition is a great motorcycle, and it’s here right now.