We?ve seen it before. A giant electromagnet is lowered into the parts warehouse. It pulls out 300 pounds of wires, parts, mousetraps and warehouse debris then dumps it on a junior engineer?s desk with a Post-it note that says “do something with this.” Presto! Another parts bin bike is born. Dirt bike history is full of them; some good, some bad, almost all quickly forgotten. The question here: is the KTM 625SXC a collection of left-over parts or is it another step in the evolution of a great line of motorcycles? The LC-4 first arrived in 1987, when a “liquid-cooled four-stroke” was something special. It was hard to start, heavy, ill-handling and unremarkable in most ways. But it had potential, and got a little better every year. Over 16 years, that adds up to a lot better. But the whole LC-4 dynasty got kind of forgotten when the newer, lighter RFS line (the 525s and 450s) came into being. So what is the SXC and why is it still here?
ONE BIG BIKE Actually, the RFS KTM line is the best thing that could have happened to the SXC. Now the 625 is no longer expected to be a lightweight race bike. It?s been liberated to become something much more appropriate; we?ll call it a dirt cruiser. You can call it dual-sport material or an Austrian Honda XR650. Accordingly, it grew a battery and an electric starter. Even more important, the price fell into XR territory. That?s pretty amazing considering that the bike probably costs more to manufacture than KTM?s new four-strokes. And even more amazing when you consider that current international exchange rates have the dollar at an all-time low versus the euro. The bottom line is that KTM is taking a bit of a beating with the SXC in order to get it established in its new role. The motor is still a liquid-cooled, four-valve thumper with a wet sump design and a five-speed gearbox. It?s still 625cc in actual displacement. It uses older WP suspension components and is the only KTM with rear shock linkage. That?s right, no PDS, no twin-piston shock; it has good old fashioned linkage. We don?t know if that makes it a KTM from the past or the future. One very significant new addition is the Mikuni CV carb. The bike already meets the emissions requirements for a California green sticker and probably isn?t far from street specs. Combine that with the keyed ignition and we smell dual sport all over this bike. KTM hasn?t gone the extra mile for the governmental smile. You?ll have to supply blinkers, mirrors and hook up the brake light switch.
TRAIL TIME If you?ve ridden an uncorked Honda XR650R, then you can skip this paragraph. The KTM?s power is so Honda-like it?s amazing. It?s all about torque. You virtually idle up steep hills and all it takes is a slight twist of throttle to instantly leap up to crazy speed. It?s a blast. The KTM 625 isn?t much of a revver, but it?s still making power at 8500 rpm. There?s just no real incentive to scream the motor when it?s so much fun down low. Outside of the XR, there truly is no other bike that compares for this type of throbbing torque; not the 525, not an ATK, not any of the 450s, not even a KX500 (although that?s the closest). The XR and the SXC are two of a kind. To the KTM?s credit, it already makes that kind of power without any monkey motion. A stock Honda, as delivered, barely runs. You have to remove airbox baffles, cut a restrictor out of the intake manifold and figure out something to do about the exhaust. The KTM runs great from the moment you buy it. The stock exhaust is reasonably quiet and allows the bike to run. We will offer only one complaint about the KTM motor. The jetting is goofy. It?s obviously lean?that much we expect. But it?s very inconsistent and hard to jet. That?s typical of CV carburetors. Even so, we have to point out that a stock Honda is crazy lean as delivered, too. The KTM has another advantage over the Honda: the electric starter. It?s powerful and spins the motor easily, whereas the Honda can be a beast if it doesn?t want to kick. The KTM even kickstarts fairly easily if you get the hang of having the starter on the left. Remember, this motor is straight out of the ?80s. Euro motors were all backwards back then. The starter?s on the left and the countershaft sprocket is on the right. That starts a chain reaction of backwards parts; the ignition and the rear brake are different from the more modern parts that run on the new KTMs. Everything works, though, and the magic button means you might not ever realize where the kickstarter is.
TRAIL MAKER Here?s some advice. If you ride with a guy on a 625, let him go first. He?ll make great big berms and knock all the brush out of the way. It?s no light, petite motorcycle. It?s a great, big beast that makes even a Honda 650R seem small. The bike doesn?t steer without a lot of effort. The front end sits a little high so you really have to sit forward in an almost awkward position to make the front wheel bite. It?s a rear-wheel steering bike, just like it was in the old days. The best way to make it turn is to slide the back around. The only real bright side is that it?s much more manageable than any of the real dual-sport bikes in its category, including the Honda 650L air-cooled bike. KTM knows what the bike is and set up the suspension for casual cruising instead of hard racing. It?s a big sofa. That?s great for the comfort factor, but probably makes the bike feel even heavier than it really is. When you gas it, there?s a lot of chassis movement. We know that the suspension has a lot of potential, though. A few years ago, Nick and Russ Pearson won Vegas to Reno on basically this bike. Pro Circuit set up the bike into a real racer. Back in the old days we used to complain about odd gaps in the gear ratios of the LC-4 motors. We don?t notice that so much any more, probably because the bike?s torque is so awesome that you don?t really notice what gear you?re in. But shifting is a little weird. At first we thought we kept knocking it into neutral. Then we realized it wasn?t our fault. Grass and brush will actually push the gear selector from first to neutral. The solution is to use second all the time. A much bigger complaint is vibration. It?s a shaker. That puts a very big damper on the whole dual-sport idea. We?ve ridden several KTMs that use the same motor, including the 640 Adventure. Some vibrate more than others. It?s simply a matter of how well the crank is balanced from the factory. If you get a shaker, it?s probably worth the time and money to split the cases and rebalance the crank. You?ll be happier when you?re halfway to La Paz and you can still feel your fingertips. So, getting back to the original question: is the 625 a parts bin bike? Sure, but it?s a very smart one. There?s nothing else quite like it. A Honda 650 is close, a big ATK is close, a KTM 525EXC is close. But nothing puts together price, power, electric starting and easy dual-sport conversion this way. For a surprisingly large group of riders, the bike is absolutely perfect. If you?re in that crowd, you know who you are.