If any bike should be put into a time capsule to represent this period in motocross evolution, it’s the 2022 KTM 450SX-F. It is, quite simply, state of the art right now. That’s why it’s no big deal that the 2022 model year presents a temporary ceasefire in the ongoing development cycle in the world of dirt bikes. The new KTM 450SX-F arrived in a state of suspended animation, unchanged from the previous model, which was mostly unchanged from the one before that. Even before COVID-19 changed everyone’s plans, the KTM 450 platform wasn’t scheduled for a major revision until the ’23 model year, so 2022 gives us a chance to stop and access where we are and what needs to be changed.
THE STATE OF BEING
To be technically accurate, the new KTM does have a number of cosmetic changes, as well as a small change to the oil pump. The frame is orange, which is a trick usually reserved for the Factory Edition later in the year, and there are new graphics that look like a newspaper page that’s slightly out of register. The reason that no one is shedding any tears over the lack of mechanical change is because the 450 is in a pretty good place. The motor design has been undergoing steady evolutionary development with the last big change coming in 2019 in the form of a smaller, more compact head. It’s still a single-overhead-cam motor with a five-speed gearbox and a hydraulically actuated clutch using a single Belleville spring. That clutch design was once a KTM-only feature. Now, Kawasaki and Honda both have hydraulic clutches, and Kawasaki even uses a Belleville spring.
KTM continues to stand apart from Japanese manufacturers in its use of a steel frame with a central backbone. A few years back, KTM made big changes to the rigidity of that frame, even though it didn’t look any different. It’s still considered much less rigid than any of the frames that come out of Japan. You can debate aluminum versus steel all you want, but the bottom line is that the KTM remains the lightest 450 motocross bike on the market. It still weighs 223 pounds without fuel. That’s freak-show light. The Yamaha and Suzuki are around 238 pounds.
You can account for 2 pounds of that difference in the fork. KTM uses the WP Xact AER 5448 air fork on all its motocross bikes. There was a mad dash towards air forks a few years ago. The advantages in weight and expense made them attractive, but Showa and KYB reversed course. WP was the last company on board and is still developing the air-spring concept. The air chamber in the left leg is opposed by a clever self-filling balance chamber. Rebound and compression are both adjusted on the right leg (compression on the top). The design was revised last year with a more sophisticated mid-valve and an elastomer bottoming cushion. That represented a big step forward.
The KTM 450SX-F is a known quantity in the motocross world. Its strengths are well established and fall into two broad categories: its smooth power delivery and nearly flawless handling manners. The two strengths are related. The main reason the KTM handles so well is because the power is delivered gradually and smoothly without any rush and very little hit. That means the whole package is calm and steady. It’s very difficult to walk that narrow line between having a whole bunch of power on top and making it controllable, but KTM has done it as well as anyone. A few years ago the 450SX-F was the horsepower king of the class and a little bit of a brute. Since then, both Honda and Yamaha have stepped it up as far as peak power, while KTM has concentrated on smoothing things out. If you like the more aggressive hit, you can still have it. KTM supplies the bike with several extra parts. One is a vented airbox lid, and another is a more aggressive throttle spool. On top of that, the number-two map on the multi-function switch is considered by most riders to be slightly more aggressive, although the difference isn’t that great. KTM also has a traction control mode, although few riders really find it that useful. Again, the difference is subtle.
Last year KTM offered a feature that allowed riders to tailor their power delivery through a smartphone Bluetooth connection. You had to purchase a connectivity unit that replaced the handlebar pad and then download MyKTM to your phone. The connectivity unit was only offered for a short period and then went on semi-permanent back order. It reemerged with the 2021 ½ Factory Edition, but only offered limited adjustability. That feature might be available again this year, but KTM hasn’t yet committed and can’t say if it will offer additional capabilities.
Even in its most aggressive configuration, the KTM is still a fairly mild-mannered bike, at least as far as 450 motocross bikes are concerned. As we have often said, we consider that one reason the bike handles so well, but you can’t discount the weight as a contributing factor. You often hear people make excuses for heavy bikes by saying that they feel lighter than they are. The KTM feels light because it is light. You can’t ignore physical laws; the reduced mass helps with acceleration, braking and direction changes. Is the weight worth the use of air forks? In KTM’s case, absolutely. There’s nothing wrong with the WP air fork. It’s still the best fork to adorn any KTM motocross bike; it’s extremely adjustable, and it’s easy to maintain. Does it rate as well as the coil-spring fork on the Yamaha, Kawasaki or Honda? That depends on who you are. If you are a novice/intermediate rider in the 175-pound range, you are the exact rider KYB and Showa have targeted, and you will probably prefer Japanese hardware. If you fall slightly outside that range, the WP air fork’s adjustability will allow you to make quick and easy adjustments. In either case, the WP fork might still be a little harsh on sharp-edge bumps, but it’s still very, very good everywhere else. In the rear, you won’t find anyone who doesn’t like the KTM’s linkage rear suspension. The stock spring is perfect for the aforementioned mainstream rider, and the clickers are effective for fine-tuning. We only wish that the plastic preload adjuster would go away.
THE BIG PICTURE
Through most of 2021, the best motocross bike to buy was whatever you could find. Demand was up, supply was very limited and prices were high. Now, that chapter should be drawing to a close, aside from the part about high prices. The 2022 KTM 450SX-F will carry a suggested retail price of $10,299. That’s an increase, but you can’t ignore the fact that the bike is a quality piece of equipment and KTM knows it. The 450SX-F is the state of the art in motocross right now, and we don’t expect that to change any time soon.
• Smooth and powerful
• Light weight
• Extra airbox cover
• Powerful brakes
• Durable hydraulic clutch
• Air fork has drawbacks
• Runs hot
• Price is up
KTM 450SX-F SPECS
Engine type: SOHC, electric-start, 4-valve 4-stroke
Bore & stroke: 95.0mm x 63.4mm
Fuel delivery: Keihin EFI, 44mm
Fuel tank capacity: 1.9 gal. (7.5 l)
Spark arrester: No
EPA legal: No
Running weight, no fuel: 223 lb.
Wheelbase: 58.5” (1485mm)
Ground clearance: 14.6” (370mm)
Seat height: 37.8” (960mm)
Front tire: 90/90-21 Dunlop MX33F
Rear tire: 120/80-19 Dunlop MX33
Front suspension: WP Xact 48, adj. reb./comp., 11.8” (300mm) travel
Rear suspension: WP aluminum piggyback, adj. prld, hi & lo comp., reb., 11.8” (300mm) travel
Country of origin: Austria
Suggested retail price: $10,299