In the motorcycle biz, there are lots of ways to measure success. If you are talking units sold, revenue and stock value, it’s one thing. If you’re talking dreams, passion and performance, it’s quite something else. Right now, KTM is on top of the dual-sport word for real-world enthusiasts. For a long, long time, the KTM 500EXC has been able to set the bar for both performance and price in that segment. This year the KTM 500EXC has undergone a significant change. The frame is new, the suspension is new and much of the motor is new. Now, the rank and file of the dual-sport world has to reconvene and decide whether or not to elect a new leader. The votes are still being tallied.

KTM hasn’t been shy about pushing dual-sport bike prices higher than ever. The 2024 500EXC sells for $12,949.



Unlike most other motorcycle companies, the wall between the racing department and the production department is paper thin. In general, the bikes that the company races at the pro level are closely related to the bikes that are sold in every KTM dealership. That’s not only true for the motocross bikes, but there’s a trickle-down effect for trail and dual-sport bikes as well. So, in KTM’s long-term plan, the changes that were implemented for the 2022 Factory Edition motocross bikes were to spread to the standard motocross bikes in 2023 and to the dual-sport/trail bike in 2024. Thus, the new 500EXC has changes that were inspired by Supercross bikes.

To be fair, that’s a bit of simplification. The 500EXC does not have the same frame as the motocross bike. The most obvious difference is that it uses PDS rear suspension without linkage. But, the frame design from the shock forward is very much like that of the SX-F. Likewise, the changes to the engine, bodywork and overall layout are similar to the current motocross line. Additionally, the EXC has a very significant suspension change. The fork is now a premium-level WP Xact fork rather than the more budget-driven Xplor unit. The new fork is very similar to what comes on the current motocross/cross-country models, but uses steel coil springs rather than air.

The EXC remains a true dual-sport bike that is blessed by the EPA, DOT, CARB and the authorities in all 50 states. That means it’s quiet and clean. It also means that the end user is not supposed to modify the motor, airbox or fuel system. Thankfully, there’s no way this can be policed other than fix-it tickets issued by local authorities. For aftermarket companies it’s a different story; they can and have been fined for offering non-compliant accessories. The California Air Resources Board hasn’t been shy about using this tactic, but increasingly, the EPA has been getting in on the act on a national basis. The bottom line is that getting more performance out of a legitimate dual-sport is a shady business. That’s one reason why KTM sport bikes are so highly desired. The EXC line has a history of decent performance despite the various bureaucratic obstacles.

For 2024, the EXC has stiffer suspension, but still loves its trails tight and nasty.


So, how well does a stock KTM 500EXC motor perform? It’s pretty darn good. To put a number on it, a box-stock 500EXC produces more than 40 horsepower. That’s about the same as a current 250F motocross bike. The difference is that the EXC gets to that level with torque rather than revs. The 500 starts making power at 4,000 rpm and stops revving at 9,000 rpm, whereas a 250’s prime zone is from 8,000 to 12,000 rpm. So, when you’re on the trail and you come to a big, ugly hill, you don’t have to downshift or abuse the clutch. You open the throttle, it goes up the hill. End of story. In truth, the only reason anyone ever wants more power is when they take the EXC out of its primary environment. This is a trail bike first and a street bike second. It’s not a race bike. The fact that people race them is beside the point. KTM actually makes other versions of the same bike that are more appropriate for that. The 500XC-W is basically an EXC without the DOT lighting and emission stuff. The 500XW-F is another version without DOT lighting, but it still has most of the emission stuff so that it’s eligible for a California green sticker.

KTM’s dual-sport bikes still use Brembo brakes at both ends.

The motor changes for 2024 result in a slightly more responsive power delivery and perhaps a little more meat on top, but it’s not significant enough to warrant a trade-in. The chassis changes are more dramatic. If you’ve been paying attention, you probably know that the new frames for the SX models have drawn criticism for being too rigid. If it was too rigid for Supercross, that sounds like it would be a terrible move for a dual-sport bike, right? Actually, the suspension is so completely different for the EXC that the frame rigidity isn’t a significant factor. Hard-core PDS fans will love it as much as ever, but any frame change has been lost in the move from a progressive 63/69 N/mm spring to a straight 72 N/mm spring. In front, the new fork still has a 4.6 N/mm spring set, but the damping characteristics are completely different—and stiffer.

The PDS no-link rear shock got a straight-rate spring this year.

When you put all that together, it’s inevitable that the EXC is stiffer overall, but only in a good way. Suspension action was a limiting factor with the previous model. It was great in rocks and tight, twisty chaos, but it would dive and wallow in whoops. At high speed, even moderate braking would result in fork dive in front and shock unloading in the rear. The new bike is much more stable at speed. In slow-speed sections, it’s still more compliant than most bikes. You still have excellent ground clearance due to the lack of linkage, and you still have all the traits that have made PDS suspension so popular in the off-road world. Now, however, the bike works in a broader range of terrain and conditions.

KTM is as quiet and clean as they come, but has performance that has become the primary influence in the dual-sport world.


We expected the new bike to be a little heavier this year, because that’s what happened to all the other KTMs that got the new frame. On our scale, it’s 246 pounds without fuel, which is 2 pounds more than last year. No big deal. We were hoping that KTM might equip the bike with new rubber for 2024, but no such luck. We left the stock Continental TKC80s on the bike as long as we could, but the darn things never seemed to wear out. Eventually, we installed full knobbies and life got much better. When you do that, you have to install rim locks as well. KTM knows that and gives you a set in the toolkit. If you plan on riding long pavement stretches, you will probably want to balance the wheels as well. Other things on the we’re-not-fans list include the fact that you can’t adjust the lever position very far because the handlebar switches take up too much space, the infernal push-button gas cap is as hard to open as ever, and the mirrors are always in the way and hard to adjust. On the other side of the ledger, the headlight is much brighter, the license-plate bracket is more durable, and the electrical switches are improved.

When you tally up the score card, the 2024 KTM 500EXC is measurably improved over last year’s model. Considering that the bike was already the most desired and talked-about dual-sport bike, that means that KTM will continue to call the shots in the dual-sport world. The EXC has earned its place on top.

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